Urumqi: At 84, Slaam Musa is still hoping to lead his band to perform the traditional Uygur style ballads and dancing in Beijing.
"It was a pity we missed a chance to perform in Vienna in 2007," he said. "We had wanted to go but authorities turned down the invitation for us, fearing our advanced age would be a problem. But we are all in perfect shape."
Musa's band is a group of seven folk artists at an average age of 75. They are experts at singing and dancing Dolan Muqam, whose libretos are all based on popular Uygur ballads in Dolan region northwest of the Tarim Basin, especially in Awat County of northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region.
In their showbiz, which is more like drama than dance, Slaam Musa and his partner, 82-year-old Aimer Shadi, often act as "hunters" who search for preys in dense bushes, fight with the beasts and eventually drink liquor to celebrate their victory. Other members of the troupe sing ballads, play stringed instruments or beat tambourines.
"It's hard to imagine they are still so agile and energetic at this age," said Ablimit Eysa, an official in charge of culture and sports in Awat County. "I feel dizzy after spinning three rounds, but these elderly dancers can keep twirling on and on."
Musa and his band became famous in 2005, when they left their home county for the first time to debut at an international folk art festival in Wuxi, east China's Jiangsu Province, and later performed in Hong Kong and Taiwan.
"At the end of our performances in Hong Kong, the entire audience stood up and clapped for a long time," said Abliz Eziz, head of the county's folk art ensemble, a non-official body that groups
about 30 active Dolan Muqam performers. "They might not understand a word, but they could easily read the postures and the music and were apparently fascinated."
Musa never concealed his pride in his new title as "Dolan dance king", awarded to him after the 2005 performance. "I enjoyed every bit of it," he said.
"Dolan" originally referred to a group of Uygur nomads living in the western Taklimakan Desert in
the 15th century and was later used to describe their artistic form.
The "Dolan" known to China's music lovers, however, is singer Luo Lin, a native of Sichuan Province who "stole" the term for his own stage name. "Dolan" became famous in China after Luo got overnight fame in 2004 with a pop song entitled "The First Snowfall of Year 2002".
Awat County, at the center of the Uygur Dolan Muqam, began to preserve the unique art form in 2001. Its 30 veteran folk artists are each getting a monthly subsidy of 530 yuan (US$78).
"We hope they will each train at least one inheritor to sustain the unique art form," said Ablimit Eysa, a county official in charge of culture and sports.
Musa is determined to pass on his dancing skills to his 16-year-old grandson. "We are looking forward to performing in Beijing together."