Библиотека нематериального культурного наследия Республики Башкортостан
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«Seven girls»: a beautiful legend known all over the world thanks to a dance

Slim, dark-eyed
barefoot Bashkir girls,
All are as pretty as a picture.
Pure souls came to the deep lake

but not for water...

– Edik Shakirov
«Seven girls»: a beautiful legend known all over the world thanks to a dance

Slim, dark-eyed
barefoot Bashkir girls,
All are as pretty as a picture.
Pure souls came to the deep lake

but not for water...

– Edik Shakirov
It is not known for certain when the «Seven girls» legend appeared, which in the middle of the 20th century was embodied in a dance. However, based on the legend's details, we can assume that this happened in the late 17th – early 18th century, when the Kazakh and Bashkir clans raided each other.

The main scene is a lake in the Bashkir Trans-Urals, in the Baymaksky district, ten kilometers from the city of Sibay.
Seven sisters (in some versions of the legend – seven girlfriends) lived in a village near a pond. Everyone loved them for their beauty, hard work, and, of course, dances.
One day the Bashkir horsemen gathered to show their prowess and stole a herd of horses from the Kazakhs' nearest camp. The Kazakhs cherished their horses very much. They became furious and they did not leave this act unpunished – they killed the Bashkir men, captured the most beautiful girls, including seven sisters, and took them away. To prevent the captured girls from escaping cruel Kazakh warriors incised their feet and put fine horsehair in their wounds. The cuts healed, but it was impossible for the girls to walk, much less run away, because of the intense pain. For a whole year seven girls lived in captivity, and one day they managed to deceive the Kazakhs. They waited until they fell asleep and escaped. The warriors, having discovered the loss of the captives, set off in pursuit. The girls reached the lake, and there the Bashkir horsemen were already galloping to the rescue. But the pursuers overtook the sisters, and the desperate girls, holding hands, jumped into the lake.

Today this lake is called Kultuban («kul» – lake, «taban» – sole, deep). However, in some interpretations the name Kyltaban is found, which means «horsehair». The lake also has another name – Yaugul.

There is another interesting detail in the legend. One of the sisters allegedly survived. The girl was taken to her parents; her wounded legs were healed. After that the Bashkir beauty came to the lake and recalled a dance that she used to dance with her dead sisters. The memory of them was passed down by the surviving sister from generation to generation in dance. This is how the legend of seven girls has survived through the ages.

There is also an older legend that reflects the cosmogonic views of the Bashkir people. It explains the origin of the Ursa Major constellation. Seven beautiful sisters at the sight of the king of daevas («god» or «deity» in Sanskrit) jumped from the top of the mountain in fright and ascended into the sky. Since then they are called «Etegen yondoz», which means «seven stars». This interpretation is given in the book by Fanuza Nadrshina «Bashkir stories and legends».
Transformation of the legend into the dance language
In the middle of the 20th century the dancer, choreographer and art director of the folk dance ensemble Faizi Adgamovich Gaskarov began to study the Bashkir legend of seven girls. The student of the famous choreographer Igor Aleksandrovich Moiseyev, he went his own way with the teacher's instructions: «Faizi, return to your homeland, collect the art of your people piece by piece and create your group».
One of the first performances of the Gaskarov ensemble was the legendary dance «Ete kyz» («Seven girls»). As Zilya Rakhmatullina, Ph.D. of Philosophical Sciences, wrote in her work, «...in creating folk dances Gaskarov formed realistic "pictures of the world" containing large-scale thoughts of a universal level».

The researcher notes that the peculiarity of the woman's dance «Seven girls» lies not only in lyricism, pathos, grace of gestures and plasticity, despite the fact that the main semantic load is carried by the hands. The dance is inextricably linked with the inner essence and appearance of a person, it is an external reflection of his inner world, expressed through a specific plasticity of the body. Chastity, modesty, dignity, a special aura of mystery can be seen in every movement of the dancers.
«Bashkirs are Muslims, that's why women's dance has a colorful combination of tenderness, modesty and coquetry. Whatever garment the Bashkir woman is covered with, she will find an opportunity to attract attention. The canon of female beauty is the "Seven girls" dance. In the film "Cry of the soul" about the group Gaskarov comments: "Only once do the girls look up at a horseman, making him fall in love for life»,
– the People's Artist of the Republic of Bashkortostan, the former art director of the Faizi Gaskarov ensemble Aidar Zubaidullin recalled.
Faizi Gaskarov wrote in his book «Bashkir dances»:
«An old legend narrates about seven Bashkir beauties. No one could distinguish one beauty from another: they were so similar in face, stature and character. They were the best in songs, in dances and labor among their friends».
Gaskarov was the first and only one to translate the legend about the captives of the Kazakhs into the language of dance. According to the choreographer's idea, all seven performers move in the same way, very restrained, modest, soft, without wide and abrupt movements. The body is straight, the head is proudly raised, but the gaze is lowered. «It's like the girls want to hide their eyes from prying glances», – Faizi Gaskarov writes.

Faizi Gaskarov also clearly described the costumes of the dancers for the performance «Seven girls». The long dress should be made of dark red material with a small stand-up collar and long sleeves. The skirt has several wide frills trimmed with a colored ribbon. Black velvet or repp zilyan (elyan) (robe. –Translator's note) with a modest trim of coins and silver brocade along the sides and hem. Kukrekse is a necklace made of corals and silver coins. At the back of the head a syasmau (an ornament made of corals and coins strung on the red cloth) is woven into two braids. Sulpas (badges of white coins) are woven into the ends of the braids. Black boots are on their feet.

From a physical point of view the «Seven girls» dance is not difficult. The Bashkir choreographer used a simple tapping with a step and a stomp, a variable move in his performance. However, the main figures that captivate the viewer are the gentle, «curly» hands of girls.
Video of 1993
Russian beauty in Bashkir guise
Ekaterina Nikolaevna Varlamova became one of the first performers of the legendary dance «Seven girls». This dancer, a native of Leningrad, survived the siege during the Great Patriotic War and accidentally ended up in the Bashkir city of Birsk. Then she was invited to a casting in Ufa at the end of the 40s of the last century. After the Russian dark-haired beauty won the jury with her Hungarian dance, she was invited to work at the Bashkir State Philharmonic. She met Faizi Gaskarov there.
«In 1951, when there was a decade of Bashkir art, Faizi Gaskarov returned from Kazan, and we met at a rehearsal. The "Seven girls" dance was the easiest one for me. There were only a Bashkir tapping, smooth arms and the ability to toe the line. However, when I was included in the professional part of the ensemble, I had to improve my skills since it was impossible to lag behind Magazova and Idrisova»,
91-year-old Ekaterina Varlamova recalls.
The woman who survived the siege of Leningrad learned the legend about the Bashkir beauties who threw themselves off a cliff into lake Kultuban from master Gaskarov himself. The dancer recalls that he had been putting his group in the mood for quite a long time to convey the seven girls' character and fate properly.

The big premiere of the dance «Seven girls» performed by the Faizi Gaskarov ensemble took place in the early 1950s on the stage of the Moscow Bolshoi Theatre. Although before that the girls had already given the performance in their native land.
According to Ekaterina Varlamova, the Bashkir dance has some unique charm, and not a single ensemble in the world, not even Moiseev ensemble, can convey the character and soulfulness of the «Seven girls».
Equally beautiful
Not every dancer is destined to become a soloist of the «Seven girls» dance. According to the Merited Artist of the Republic of Bashkortostan Aisylu Gainetdinova, the performers are carefully selected. Dark long hair, slender waist, soft arms. «Dance sisters» even have the same makeup. In this performance individuality is not welcomed.
«Before going on stage we do not speak, that is, we are try to focus on conveying the modesty and charm of the Bashkir performance "Seven girls". Certainly, it seems to the audience that we are just "floating", performing tapping and not spending much strength. However, the moral component requires some kind of philosophical introduction and immersion»,
– says Aisylu Gainetdinova.
The modern performance differs from the original Gaskarov's one only in one detail – seven girls look up three times, not once, as stated in the book of the famous choreographer. First, they raise their eyes before the «serpentine» element. This is because the girls are trying to escape from their pursuers and look on the road. The last two times before the very death: a look into the sky, when the body moves slightly back, and just before fall – bow.
«Of course, the dancing art keeps developing. We add more movements with the body and arms, but we are trying to retain Faizi Gaskarov's performance in its original form. This is the property of Bashkir culture, which requires a reverent attitude towards itself. Today it is difficult for young people to join our tour schedule and in the hustle of everyday life to preserve the art created several decades ago»,
– says the soloist of the Faizi Gaskarov folk dance ensemble.
The pool is four meters deep, the breath is held for at least 30 seconds, open eyes underwater and a weight that does not allow the dancers to float. In such conditions a presentation video of the Faizi Gaskarov folk dance ensemble was created, a part of which was the «Seven girls» performance in the water. Besides soloists, art directors, scuba diving operators and professional swimming coaches also worked on the performance.
The legend embodied in sculpture, fountain and film
In addition to the dance, the legend of the seven Bashkir beauties who drowned in the lake was embodied in monuments. The first sculpture based on the legend was installed in front of the Bashkir State Philharmonic within the framework of an international symposium held in Ufa in 1999. Then the capital celebrated the 425th anniversary. The sculpture was carved from solid marble by the Merited Artist of the republic Vladimir Gennadievich Lobanov. It took the sculptor a little over a month to create the figure.
In the summer of 2015 one of the most beautiful and favorite places of Ufa residents and its guests – the singing fountain «Seven girls» was opened in Bashkortostan's capital. The author was a well-known sculptor, a member of the Union of Artists of Russia, laureate of the Salavat Yulaev State Prize, Merited Artist of the Republic Bashkortostan Khanif Khabibrakhmanov. During the creation of the bronze figures of seven beauties the Faizi Gaskarov ensemble's soloists posed for the sculptor. The height of each figure is two meters.

A distinctive feature of the fountain is its musicality. In summer evenings special lighting is turned on, in the rays of which the girls seem to come to life and spin in a dance. To fully reveal the spiritual message of the ancient legend a screen next to the fountain is installed, which shows both the views of the republic and the performances of the Faizi Gaskarov ensemble's dancers.
Five years ago on motives of the Bashkir legend «Seven girls» in the film industry was created the movie of Riyaz Iskhakov – «Etegen». It was directed by Aisiuak Yumagulov.

  • Аuthor (compiler): N. V. Ovcharuk, 2019