Circassian Dance


Kinds of Circassian Dances

Адыгэ къафэхэр

Dance as a religious ritual

It was believed that performance of special rites of worship in which supplicants encircle a venerated object, like a holy tree, or a spot stricken by lightning, invoked the resident spirits and unlocked their latent powers. Some accounts tell of solemn processions round a tree with the supplicants carrying torches. These formed a significant part of a complex system of prayers. The most sacred class of dances was called «удж (хъурей)» [wij (x’wrey)], which was performed by dancers forming a circle round a venerated object. It later turned into a dance performed by couples with music, losing all religious significance. A special dance consecrated to the supreme god, «Тхьэшхуэ удж» (Theshxwe wij) [Wij of the Supreme God], was executed with the bodies of the participants in compact formation. It was revived recently, but merely as a dance form.

Religious rites were sometimes accompanied by chanting. Songs were intoned during feasts in honour of thunder, during sacrifices and other pagan festivals. When lightning struck a place or an object, a special kind of «удж» (wij) was performed round the stricken spot accompanied by «Щыблэ уэрэд» (‘Schible Wered’)––‘Song of Lightning.’

«Къафэ» (Qafe) is a stately slow dance, performed with pride touching on aloofness and with a great measure of self-control. It is verily the dance of the princes. There have been hundreds of tunes devised for this dance throughout the ages. Neighbouring peoples, like the Balkars and the Ossetes, adopted and adapted this dance form. The Ossetic version is called «Кашкон кафт» (Kashkon Kaft) [‘Kabardian Dance’]. Most old dances had a measure of 6/8. Recent melodies are lighter and more brisk, having a 2/4 measure.

«ЗэхуэкIуэ» (Zexwek’we; literally: ‘going to one another’) is a slow ‘romantic’ dance.  Sub-divisions of this dance include «зэхуэкIуэ кIыхь» (zexwek’we ch’ih) [long zexwek’we], and «щIалэгъуалэ зэхуэкIуэ» (sch’aleghwale zexwek’we) [zexwek’we of the youth]. «ЗэфакIу» in Adigean.


«Ислъэмей» (Yislhemey) [Islamey] is an energetic dance that was either introduced recently or adapted from an ancient dance form. It may be performed by a soloist, a group of dancers, or by a couple. Its meter is similar to that of «къафэ» (qafe), 6/8 for old versions and 2/4 for new. On its catchy melody and old meter, the Russian composer Mily Alexeyevich Balakirev (1837-1910) based his ‘IslameyOriental Fantasy for piano’, which he finished in five weeks on 13 September  1869. Balakirev’s fascination with North Caucasian music goes back to 1863 when he visited the Caucasus. He fell in love with Circassian music and he wrote a number of musical pieces based on Kabardian folk songs.


Balakirev built this ‘oriental gem’, which is still performed today, around three themes: the first, ‘allegro agitato’, uses a fast repetitive dance rhythm in the Caucasian style, the middle part, ‘andantino espressivo’the central theme of the piecewas built up climactically, when a switch is made to ‘allegro vivo’. This work was revised in 1902, when a new passage was included between the first and second parts. It was quite fitting that a great pianist, Shura Cherkassky, a descendant of the Russified Kabardian Cherkassky clan, performed on a recording of this work. [Islamey-Oriental Fantasy. Concert. Shura Cherkassky. Academy Sound & Vision. November 1968; re-issued: February 1985 (ALH9654ZCALH965)]


Dance en pointe «лъапэпцIийуэ» (lhapepts’iywe), or «лъапэрисэу» (lhaperiysew)is one of the alluring features of Caucasian dance in general. This technique, only performed by male dancers, requires rigorous training and a perfect sense of balance. The Adigean version of the dance is «лъэпэрышъу» (lheperischw).


«Зыгъэлъэт» (Zighelhet) [the hop-flit] is a lively (Adigean) dance also performed by couples.


Lezghinka, as the name indicates, is an energetic dance of the Lezghin people in Daghestan. It was borrowed in the Soviet period, but due to its vivaciousness and popularity it has been retained in the repertoire of most dance troupes in the Caucasus.


«Удж» (Wij) is an ancient (ritual) dance that has gone through the significance transformations. It has many varieties, including «удж хэш» (wij xesh), «удж пыху» (wij pixw), «удж хъурей» (wij x’wrey). It is nowadays performed by couples who go through the ancient ritual motions.


«Хъурашэ» (X’wrashe) is Shapsugh «удж». The Shapsugh are ‘Black Sea’ Circassians. There are about 20,000 Shapsugh in the area of Sochi, where the 2014 Winter Olympics will be held.

Modern-day Circassians celebrating the Birth (or Return) of the Sun (дыгъэгъазэ; Digheghaze) on 22 December 2007 in Nalchik. This is the time when the sun reaches its lowest apparent point in the sky and starts to rise up, a propitious occasion for an agrarian-pastoral society. This is one of a number of pre-historic festivals that have been resurrected in the new millennium. The pole in the background is the principal emblem of this celebration. The round loaf of bread high on the pole is an ancient folkloric depiction of the sun-god.


Names of dances, such as Sozeresh (Созэрэш), Mezdegw (Мэздэгу), Elbrus (Iуащхьэмахуэ), etc., are choreographies devised in relatively recent times. The rites associated with the deity Sozeresh obviously go back for millennia, but Kabardinka’s dance is a modern depiction of the ancient ceremonies of the adoration of the god. Mezdegw refers to the dance style of the Christian Circassians who live in the area of Mezdegw in North Ossetia....

Circassian dance music influenced Russian, European, and American classical musicians. More information in the Circassian music section.


Examples (audio files) of each dance genre are provided on this webpage. Efforts shall be made to also make available video files of the principal dances.


Traditional Circassian Dance Party



Partakers in a dance ceremony (джэгу; jegw) divided into two groups on the edge of the dance-floor, males on one side, females on the other. Music and song were supplied by the bards (джэгуакIуэ; jegwak’we). No one was allowed to sit while the dance was in progress, no matter how long it lasted. The two groups provided background and choral singing, but only the members of the male group clapped their hands in rhythm with the music. In the olden days, a bowl of «махъсмымэ» (makhsima) was passed round. The management of each group was assigned to a specialized class of individuals called «хьэтиякIуэ» (hetiyyak’we), masters of (the dance) ceremonies, who were given presents for their work. If present at the guest quarters, professional bards took up the role of masters of ceremonies. Among the tasks of the master of ceremonies was to pick and match the dancers by pointing his decorated staff («хьэтиякIуэ баш»; hetiyyak’we bash).[1]


A dance party was started with the stately slow dance «къафэ» (qafe),[2] and ended with the solemn round dance «удж» (wij), in accordance with the saying, «Джэгур къафэкIэ къыщIадзэри, уджкIэ яух» (Jegwr qafech’e qisch’adzeriy, wijch’e yawix) [‘A dance party is started with «къафэ» (qafe), and ended with «удж» (wij)’]. Male dancers had to follow the moves of their female partners and harmonize with them. A female dancer always stayed on the right of her partner, and never associated with dancers of lesser social rank.[3] When a prince joined a dance party and took the floor, the bards paid deference to his noble demeanour by playing songs associated with his family and lineage, clapping and chorus assuming more sober and measured rhythms.

[1]  The staffs (almost sceptre-like in appearance and splendour) were about a metre long and were made from the twigs of small (forest) hazel-nut trees and were decorated with threads and golden threads, passed through equidistant openings perforated along the staff. On the staff itself, and on each of the threads, seven hazel-nuts were pinned and tied. The ends of the threads were fringed. It is markworthy that the number seven had special significance in Circassian culture. The staff served several functions, including as a baton for the master of ceremonies to conduct the orchestra.


[2] «Къафэ» (‘Qafe’) is both a generic term for ‘dance’ and the name of a kind of dance.


[3] In accordance with the saying, «Зэхуэмыдэ къызэдэфэкъым, зэмыфэгъу къызэдэуджкъым» (‘Zexwemide qizedefeqim, zemifeghw qizedewijqim’) [‘Those dissimilar in their social rank do not dance the «къафэ» (qafe) and «удж» (wij) together’].

Dance troupes


In the Soviet period, national dance academies were established. Traditional dance was modernized and professional choreography introduced. At first, the main institute specializing in Caucasian dance and choreography was the Tbilisi State Dancing College in Georgia. Circassian graduates went on to establish national troupes in their republics. Later, institutes were set up in Kabardino-Balkaria and Adigea, like the Professional Art College in Nalchik, which spawned a number of dance troupes.
Circassian dance troupe from the Shapsugh Region of Circassia.

The Kabardian Dance Ensemble, one of the first national troupes, was established in 1934. It started out as an amateur group, and attracted the best local dancers and musicians. The debut of the troupe was performed in the village of Zeyiqwe in the same year. The troupe was re-named the Kabardino-Balkarian State Song and Dance Ensemble. Abraamov developed part of its repertoire. In 1938, a choral group was added to the Ensemble, for which the cream of the republican musicians and poets, Abraamov, Sheibler, Ryauzov, Keshokov and Ali Schojents’ik’w, combined to write new songs. The troupe was again re-named the National Folk Dance Ensemble Kabardinka’. The current official name of the troupe is ‘Kabardinka Academic Dance Ensemble’. It is considered one of the finest dance troupes in the Caucasus, and has performed in the Russian Federation and abroad. Its repertoire includes many traditional dances with developed choreographs. These convey reserved inner temperament, majestic beauty and eleganceliterally enchanting the spectators.


The debut of the State Dance Ensemble of Adigea took place on 1 May 1972 on the stage of the Pushkin Drama Theatre. Mahmud Beshkok, Honoured Artist of the Russian Soviet Federal Socialist Republic, was one of the more influential choreographers. He published a book on Adigean folkloric dance in 1990. Another troupe of note is the Adigean State Dance Ensemble ‘Nalmes’, a folk song and dance group which was set up in the early 1970s, although it was first established in the 1930s, but was later dissolved. The ‘vocalic’ component of Nalmes separated in 1991 to form the Adigean State Folk Song Ensemble ‘Yislhamiy’. Both troupes went on tours in Russia, the Caucasus, Turkey, Syria and Jordan. The Adiga troupes introduced the world to the ancient and exotic national dances.


The Caucasus State Folk Dance Company was set up by Igor Atabiev (’Etebiy) in 1992. Atabiev represents the new generation of choreographers who combine academic excellence with folkloric flare. The troupe continues the Soviet era tradition of presenting dances from many regions of the Caucasus.


Other troupes include Nalchanka, which, as the name suggests, is based in Nalchik. There are also provincial and amateur groups, like the Folk Dance Ensemble.


The repertoires of all troupes consisted of a melange of folkloric dances from various North Caucasian nationalities to reflect the multi-cultural traditions of the Soviet peoples, as was dictated by Party dogma. Graceful steps erupted into dizzying wild movements. Battle scenes were preceded by delicate dance of the warrior and his fiancée.


In the diaspora, dance is the main, and often the only, manifestation of national folklore. In many societies it is the activity most identified with Adiga culture and is readily associated with it by non-Circassians, perhaps to the detriment of other folkloric genres.

References on Circassian dance


Beshkok, M., Adigeiski folklorni tanets [Adigean Folkloric Dances], Maikop, 1990. [Will be made available on line on this website]


Beshkok, M. I. and Nagaitseva, L. G., Adigeiski narodni tanets [Adigean Folk Dances], Maikop: Adigean Branch of the Krasnodar Book Press, 1982.


Ghwch’e, M., Adige Pshinalhexer [Circassian Melodies], Nalchik, 2006. [Dance melodies, including ‘Wij x’wrey’, ‘Gwascheghase’, ‘Dance of the Nobility’, and ‘Party Dance’; with sheet music]

Naloev (Nalo), Z. M., Rol dzheguako v natsionalnom i mezhnatsionalnom obshchenii [The Role of the Minstrels in National and International Intercourse], 1976. [Manuscript]

— ‘Dzheguako v roli hetiyyak’we [The Bard in the Role of the Master of the Dance Ceremonies]’, in Kultura i bit adigov [The Culture and Way of Life of the Circassians], The Adigean Science and Research Institute, Maikop, issue 3, 1980.


Shu, Sh. S., ‘Adigskie tantsi [Circassian Dances]’, in Sbornik statei po ètnografii Adigei [Collection of Articles on the Ethnography of Adigea], Maikop, 1975.

— ‘K voprosu o mnogogolosii v narodnom pesnopenii adigov [On the Question of Polyphony in the National Psalms of the Circassians]’, in Kultura i bit adigov [The Culture and Way of Life of the Circassians], The Adigean Science and Research Institute, Maikop, issue 6, 1986.

Narodnie tantsi adigov [Folk Dances of the Circassians], Nalchik: Elbrus Book Press, 1992.

Sokolova, A. N., The Caucasian-Scottish Relations through the Prism of the Fiddle and Dance Music’, paper presented at North Atlantic Fiddle Convention, The Elphinstone Institute, University of Aberdeen, July 2006.


Tletseruk (Lhets’eriqwe), K. (compiler), Adige Pshinalhexer [Adigean Dance Melodies], Maikop, 1987.

A longer account of Circassian dance with more photos:

Circassian Dance.pdf Circassian Dance.pdf
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Circassian Dance.doc Circassian Dance.doc
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Audio files of Circassian dance tunes


1.  Къафэ; Qafe (Dance)Kabardinka Academic Dance Ensemble.


This elegant dance tune was played when princes joined a dance party.

Qafe (Dance), Kabardinka.mp3 Qafe (Dance), Kabardinka.mp3
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Къафэ; Qafe
(Dance) – Hetiy Dance Ensemble.
Qafe (Dance), Hetiy.mp3 Qafe (Dance), Hetiy.mp3
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3.  Къафэ къуаншэ; Qafe Qwanshe (Oblique Dance) – Sirin Ensemble.


This is a dance form found among the Circassian diaspora in Turkey. The Sirin Ensemble is directed by Zubeir Yewaz, who also plays the Circassian violin (shich’epshine).

ЗэхуакIуэ; Zexwak’we
– Sefarbiy Amschiqwe (Амщыкъуэ Сэфарбий; Amshokov).
Zexwak'we, Amschiqwe Sefarbiy.mp3 Zexwak'we, Amschiqwe Sefarbiy.mp3
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5. ТIурытIу къашъу; T’urit’u Qaschw (The Dance of Couples) – Asker Ghwenezchiqw (Gonezhuk).


This is a Western Circassian dance tune.

6. Зыгъэлъэт; Zighelhet – Bzchamiy. 

Zighelhet, Bzchamiy.mp3 Zighelhet, Bzchamiy.mp3
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7. Ислъэмей; Yislhemey (Yislhemey) Kabardinka Academic Dance Ensemble.

Yislhemey, Kabardinka.mp3 Yislhemey, Kabardinka.mp3
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8. Бжъэдыгъу ислъамый; Bzchedighw Yislhamiy (Bzhedugh Yislhamiy) – The Adigean State Dance Ensemble ‘Nalmes’.


Accordion player is Zalim Zemanbiy (Зэманбий Залым).

9. Лъапэрисэ; Lhaperiyse (Dance en pointe) – Aslhen Dudar (Aslan Dudarov).


Dance on tiptoe that gets you right into the thick of things.

10. Лъапэрышэ; Lhaperishe (Dance en pointe) – Ali Lijide (Лыджыдэ Алий; Ligidov).


From Lijide’s album ‘Fijegw, fiqafe!’ (‘Fire up the dance party!’), track no. 10.

Лъэпэрышъу; Lheperischw
(Dance en pointe) – The Adigean State Dance Ensemble ‘Nalmes’.
Lheperischw (Dance en pointe), Nalmes.mp3 Lheperischw (Dance en pointe), Nalmes.mp3
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12. Хьакулащ; Hakwlash – Asker Ghwenezchiqw (Gonezhuk).


This is a Western Circassian dance tune. 

Hakwlash, Ghwenezchiqw Asker.mp3 Hakwlash, Ghwenezchiqw Asker.mp3
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13. Удж; Wij – The Adigean State Dance Ensemble ‘Nalmes’. 

Wij, Nalmes.mp3 Wij, Nalmes.mp3
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14. Удж; Wij – Kabardinka Academic Dance Ensemble.

Wij, Kabardinka.mp3 Wij, Kabardinka.mp3
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Удж хэш; Wij Xesh
– Kabardinka Academic Dance Ensemble.
Wij Xesh,  Kabardinka.mp3 Wij Xesh, Kabardinka.mp3
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16. Удж пыху; Wij Pixw – K’wratse Qashirghe (Къашыргъэ КIурацэ).


This is an old recording by the legendary (female) bard. 

Wij Pixw, Qashirghe K'wratse.mp3 Wij Pixw, Qashirghe K'wratse.mp3
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17. Удж хъурей; Wij X’wrey (Round Pantheonic Dance) – M. I. Quandour (Qandur).


Modern treatment of a very ancient round dance melody. The cultic quality in the tune is still intact, evoking visions of ancient groves and sacred rites and rituals. Arranged by Lyuba Balagova (Belaghi) and M. I. Quandour (Qandur), with the accordionist Firas Valenteen. The piece is introduced (in Kabardian) by Belaghi (a poet of note).

18. Хъуращэ; X’wrashe (Shapsugh Round Wij) – Aslhen Dudar (Дудар Аслъэн; Aslan Dudarov).


This is from Aslhen Dudar’s first album ‘Gwxelh’ (‘Tender Feelings’). His album ‘Kavkaz: Instrumental Hits’ came out in 2007. The young bard is stalking the flames of the torch of national culture.

Interesting links:

Adighastory's Dance Page
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