World Arts West
SF Ethnic Dance Festival


Aliah Najmabadi

GENRE: Traditional
First appearance in SF EDF: 2016

Dedicated to preserving and revitalizing performing arts of Central Asia, Iran, and diaspora communities, Aliah Najmabadi has served as Program Director in Tajikistan of the Tajik Dance Initiative; Assistant Director/Principal Dancer of Ballet Afsaneh, 1998-2008; dancer, Wan-Chao Chang Dance, 2008-2011; and on the Isadora Duncan Dance Award Committee, 2010. Her Masters of Music, Performance degree is from SOAS, UK; UCLA Bachelor’s degrees are in Iranian Studies and World Arts and Cultures.


DANCE ORIGIN: Tajikistan
GENRE: Traditional
TITLE: Ayomi Ishq
COMPOSER: Nerya Aminov
MUSICIANS: Sonja Drakulich (vocals), Gary Haggerty (tarhu), Yasin Sumits (dutar)

Photo by Mark Muntean


In Ayomi Ishq, soloist Aliah Najmabadi presented a traditional Tajik form called shashmaqom, meaning six maqoms. A maqom is a musical form with a set tonal scale, rhythmic pattern, melodic development, and expression of emotion. The maqom for this dance is called rast, known for expressing the spiritual resonance of God.

Shashmaqom has a unique vocal style of sung poetry, devotional songs. In the poem for this piece, by Persian poet Saadi Shirazi, human love is used as a metaphor for The Beloved, who is always The Divine. The dancer brings the poetry to life, her movement in space drawing us into the meeting place of poetry, music, and dance. As she spins, punctuating her movements with sharp, staccato wrist articulations, she personally identifies with each poetic line. Her expansive gestures create elongated lines as she reaches in longing. The defining moment of a shashmaqom performance arrives with the singer’s climactic “awj,” building in intensity, a spiraling towards the cosmos and return to Earth again.

This excerpt from the poem Ayomi Ishq is in Persian/Tajik, translated by Marus Noyostov:

Ishq ra aghaaz hast too anjom nist
Komi har jooyandara akhi rist
Orifaan ra intihaya komi nist
Har kasi ra nomi mashuqhe ki hast
Mebarand mashuqhe maa ra nom nist

Love has no beginning and no end
The goal of every seeker is the path’s end
The enlightened ones’ thirst never ends
Whoever has a name of the beloved
Our beloved has no name

The dancer’s Northern Tajikistan dress is also symbolic. An old text on Sufi color theory by Najm al-Din Kubra connects the color white to the soul and spiritual aspiration. The fitted dress enhances spins; the dancer also wears jewelry, a crown, and a brocade coat embellished with gold embroidery. The shashmaqom form has been designated a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage shared by Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. Shashmaqom lyrics were politicized in both countries, supporting nationalism after the collapse of the Soviet Union. The bilingual canon is being revisited, and this piece is in Tajik.

Aliah Najmabadi choreographed this piece in 2015 based on years of study in Central Asia, with grateful acknowledgement to her tireless teachers and mentors.

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