Culture
An Artistic Embodiment of life

4 min read · May 18, 2022

A nomad woman gets up at the break of dawn, removes the ger covers (urkh) for the day, and collects firewood and dried dun for fire, prepares milk tea and makes an offering to the mother nature. Her morning continues with drying and tanning hides. These daily tasks of Mongolian women are forever preserved in a traditional dance: biyelgee. Dancing is an expression of desire, and a representation of life.

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The hypnotizing dance under soft Morin Khuur melodies irresistibly invites one to join in. The dance involves sharp and energetic movements in the shoulders and upper body area and emanates history, mystery and desire.

Distinctive, rapid arm and shoulder motions with distinct leg movements all combine to express the intriguing lifestyle of Mongolian nomads. It may be difficult to understand and fully appreciate this art for someone who is not familiar with life of nomads.

Biyelgee expresses feelings through physical movement, and is described as though “the mind dances on physical accomplishments” by biyelgee dancers.

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Biyelgee dance has been inherited by many different ethnicities of Mongolia, all with their own distinct culture and lifestyle incorporated into the art. The Oirat people in particular have greatly developed biyelgee over time. The Oirats consist of Uriankhai, Torgut, Durvud, Bayd, Zakhchin, Khazakh, Khoton and Myangat people, and their use of different musical instruments are what distinguishes each of their biyelgee dances. The Torguts and Uriankhai dance biyelgee under the tunes of topshur, a traditional string instrument, while the Durvud, Bayd, Zakhchin and Khotongut’s preferred musical instrument for biyelgee is the ecip. Over the years, each ethnicity shaped biyelgee folk dance, adding and infusing parts of their culture. Clothing worn for biyelgee differs as well.

In Torgut, they sing of magnificent horses of tremendous endurance, accomplished warrior-heroes, a life of freedom and honor to their ancestors. Torgut biyelgee differs from other cultures due to a relatively free movement in their dances – as seen in Arsgal, Khelkhee Agsal, Savardakh Bii, Eree Khavirga and Judar biyelgee styles.

In Torgut, they sing of magnificent horses of tremendous endurance, accomplished warrior-heroes, a life of freedom and honor to their ancestors. Torgut biyelgee differs from other cultures due to a relatively free movement in their dances – as seen in Arsgal, Khelkhee Agsal, Savardakh Bii, Eree Khavirga and Judar biyelgee styles.

Bayd biyelgee also has distinct features of its own: the dances are known for firm leg placements and focuses on chest and shoulder movement unlike other styles. Anyone who learned the Joroo Mori dance is considered a master biyelgee dancer.

Murguul and Tatlagaare are well-known Uriankhai biyelgee dances that have been preserved over many generations. In their tradition, biyelgee dances such as Tsatsal, Murgul and Khudulmur differ from others with additional, quick movements in the chin, shoulder and arms. As for Durvud biyelgee, the dance begins and ends with paying respects to the elderly.

Zakhchin biyelgee is performed without any movement of the head. There are even dances which involve placing a cup of milk on their heads. The dance they are proudest of, and indeed the one they are best known for, is Eriin Gurvan Naadam, which characterizes their specialty biyelgee and that express shrewdness and skill.

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Every dance is unique in that they each present a story of their own. One Khoton biyelgee in particular, called Seeten Zaluu, tells of a young man who is not able to express his feelings for the woman he loves, until he runs into her in a crowded place and shows his feelings through an exceptional biyelgee, with strong, quick expressive movements. This dance’s peculiarity lies in everyone’s involvement – from an eight-year-old boy to an eighty-year-old man. The life of a Mongolian nomad can be seen in biyelgee dances: a woman’s dance clearly shows combing her hair, knitting, and taking care of a baby, a man’s dance would show herding and working leather. In 2009, the traditional Mongolian dance was inscribed on UNESCO’s List of Intangible Cultural Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding.

On July 10th of 2013, 5204 biyelgee dancers from all over Mongolia arrived at Sukhbaatar Square for an unprecedented biyelgee performance. Dancers of Torgut, Kazakh, Buriat, Uuld, Khoton, Uriankhai, Durvud ethnicities all came together in this awe-inspiring event celebrating and sharing the folk dance from each of their cultures. The youngest performer was a three-year old boy named Zolboo, while the eldest was a 92-year old elder, performing some of the most famous dances in biyelgee: Joroo Morinii Yavdal and Khamag Mongol Uria with the intention to raise awareness to help preserve this traditional dance by leaving its name in the Guinness World Records. The event was conceived and organized by folk tradition ensemble “Khugsuu.” Biyelgee has been quietly passed on from generation to generation by the western clans in Mongolia; today, thanks to the efforts of Mongolian State Honorary, Dance Instructor of the People Sevjid Ts., biyelegee dance has become a Mongolian folk culture the chance to shine on the world stage and most definitely avoided extinction.