The Biyelgee is a traditional Mongolian Folk Dance which originated in ancient Western Mongolia and is steeped deeply in the Mongolian way of life. However, what struck me while watching the Biyelgee is its perceptible similarity to early modern dance. There were set dances people would perform in front of others. It wasn’t social dancing where people danced with others for enjoyment. There was highly symbolic movement. It was not a court dance reserved for the wealthy. The arm movement and use of the legs reminded me of dances of Ruth St. Denis. It is even able to be appreciated through the modern dance aesthetic. So what distinguishes this dance form if it isn’t perceptibly different from modern dance. Is it the music? Is it the costumes? These don’t seem like logical conclusions to make because we are not longer talking about qualities inherent in the dancing, and even if we try to make the claim that the music and the costumes affect the dance, then there is still the problem if someone decides to use traditional Mongolian music and costumes in modern dance. It still seems as if we would still claim that the piece resultant from it would still be modern dance and not Mongolian Folk Dance. So what can we use to explain this difference if there does not necessarily have to be a perceptible difference between Mongolian and modern dance? The difference would probably be one of artistic vs. aesthetic difference. If we appreciate something aesthetically, we are appreciating it for its qualities, how it makes us feel when we observe it. We can appreciate trees, rivers, blocks of cement, works of art all aesthetically. The difference between the aesthetic appreciation and the artistic appreciation is that artistic appreciation requires something to be a work of art which means that there needs to be an entity creating the work of art. (We will set aside questions about the sentience of Nature and/or God for now as this is not intended to be a work of theology). This means that what we appreciate as a work of art is bound by its creator and the creator’s place in the cultural and historical narrative. So the appreciation of a work of art, artistically at least, is reliant upon a knowledge of the cultural and historical factors leading up to its creation. So if modern dance and Mongolian folk dance are to be appreciated artistically as separate entities, what about their cultural place in history are divergent? Well, modern dance was a reactionary movement from the world of classical dance, seeking for more freedom and its own way of expressing itself. Mongolian folk dance was not a reactionary movement. Mongolian folk dance was developed as a result of the cultures and customs of nomadic people. Each aspect was intended to express different aspects of the culture. Milking cows, hunting, household labor, all were symbolically expressed through the Biyelgee. The meaning of the Biyelgee and how it ought to be viewed artistically are highly steeped within the culture of Mongolia. Even though it is possible to appreciate the Biyelgee aesthetically through the culture of modern dance, it ought to be recognized that a lineage of knowledge of and ways of living similar to the culture of traditional Mongolians are necessary for the proper artistic appreciation of the Biyelgee.
– Ian Heckman