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From Khattak to Kathak

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Pashtun classical dancer marries dance forms of the subcontinent to tell a story of peace and positivity

By Zulfiqar Baig

ISLAMABAD: Be it the ghunghroo on his feet, the nimble movement of his hands or the Anarkali Kurta which flows with him as he pirouettes ever so gracefully; for Islamabad-based folk and fusion dancer Khanzada Asfandyar Khattak, every aspect of his performance is a means of storytelling.

But as public gatherings remain suspended and fear lingers, the dancer has turned to his art to send a message of peace and hope to the world.

As evident from his last name, Asfandyar Khattak, a descendent of Afghanistan’s national poet, belongs to a Pashtun tribe famous for the Afghan dance form of Attan, which is also called the Khattak dance.

But what makes this Pashtun dance artist truly unique is his ability to fuse the dance of his people with that of Indian classical dance forms of Kathak and Bharatanatyam in a performance which speaks to the soul; beyond words, language and borders. “I have always been very passionate about dance; I often say that it is the poetry of my body through which I share my message of love.”

Asfandyar Khattak, who belongs to Gumbat village in Kohat, holds the honour of being the first and only classical dancer of his caliber to hail Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Afghanistan.

“I started learning Kathak in 2001 in Islamabad but it was in 2007 that I landed the opportunity to be trained in the art of South-Indian Bharatanatyam by the legendary dance guru Mrs Indu Mitha Jee herself,” he told. “Once I had mastered the two dance forms, I fused them with Attan- the dance of my people- and other regional dances such as Logari, Uzbak Qataghani and Persian Afshari, to create my own style of dance. Since then, I have performed on various platforms across Pakistan, Afghanistan and Malaysia,” he added.

If dance were a language, Asfandyar Khattak would surely be considered nothing shy of multi-lingual, but enchanting footwork is just one among the many feathers in the 40-something-year-old’s cap.

Khattak, who holds a master’s degree in Business Administration, other than being a choreographer and dance instructor, has also been working for the country’s social sector for over two decades now. “A great deal of my work has been focused towards using dance as a means of fighting for gender rights and equality,” shared the dancer.

It was the same spirit of justice and resilience that recently pushed Khattak to share his art with the world by joining the Pomegranate Garden Dance, an online dance academy which focuses on Persian and Central Asian dance forms.

Speaking about his latest venture, the dance artist said that he wanted to follow in the footsteps of his great grandfather Khushal Khan Khattak and use his art as a weapon against war and hatred.

“My first Zoom class on Attan drew more than 100 people from around the globe, which not only introduced the dance form to the world but also made people forget their differences and unite for their shared love of art,” he told The Express Tribune. “After that, I have also conducted a class on Logari dance while I continue to share the message of my art through my Youtube channel as well,” he added۔ This feature was first published in The Express Tribune

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