First Kazakh professional dancer Shara Zhienkulova

Shara Zhienkulova is a first Kazakh professional dancer and a schoolmaster. She was born in 1912 and died at the age of 78. She had an amazing and incredible life story.



Her full name is Gulshara. She was 15th daughter of her father. Her father Baimolda was a molda, a religious figure. He had 2 wives which were common for Kazakh families till the beginning of the XX century. His first wife brought forth 14 girls. To have a son - a heritor - was very important for Kazakh society and Baimolda married for the second time to a girl Tynybala. He hoped his young wife would produce an heir. When Tynybala gave birth to her first child - Gulshara, the old molda was not upset too much. He was fond of his young wife and celebrated his daughter’s birth very wide. A little bit later Tynybala had the second daughter - Khadisha. People say when Baimolda heard about it he cried in despair and pulled his hair out. After that Tynybala could not become pregnant for a while and broken his husband’s hope to have a son. Things of the old rich man went wrong. But then she produced three sons one by one: Anuarbek, Zhorabek, and Talghatbek. And happy father’s things started looking up.


When Shara was 7 years old she went to the religious school. One day her uncle Sultan, a Komsomol activist visited her father and advised him to give Shara to the Russian school. The advice was not accepted well, because Shara’s father believed the foreign education is not admissible for Kazakh girl. Uncle Sultan appealed that the time is changed and needs are changed, Baimolda is old and he should think about the children’s future. Baimolda thought a lot. Then he called Shara and told her that she would start her classes in Russian school the next day. But meanwhile, she had to learn Quran and complete her classes in religious school too.

After that conversation, Shara went to two schools: to the religious school in the morning hugging the Quran and wearing a scarf. After the lunch break, she changed her clothes, tied her hair into braids and went to the Russian school. Father did the school run - with carts in summer and sleds in winter. Baimolda was waiting for her daughter at the schoolyard all the time.

Day-time prayer was a great challenge for young Gulshara. When it was a time to pray her farther excused her from the class, laid down 2 mats in the schoolyard and then they were praying for a while when other students stared at them from the windows and laughed. When she finished and entered the class after praying her schoolmates teased her calling “Molda kyz” (saint girl) and blessed themselves making bata.

Gulshara completed 9 classes in 7 years. She also learned the Quran. Her father was very thankful for working hard and sent her to Kazakh-Kyrgyz Pedagogical Institute in Almaty. She was only 15 by that time.


Gulshara’s family used to lead a nomadic life. They spent winter in town and moved to the mountains Jaylau in spring. The place is located in Kazakh-Kyrgyz border in Alatau Mountains. After setting yurts people started to celebrate Nawryz, inviting each other, organizing concerts, horse races, kokpar, aitys, and wedding ceremonies. Kazakh and Kyrgyz poets entered competition demonstrating their skills on dombyra. Gulshara was 7-8 years old when she saw a dancing competition at Jaylau for the first time in her life.

A tall man with deep-set eyes came into the arena. He fixed the bottom of his chapan to his belt. A Malakhai is on his head, high boots are on his feet. He stopped in the center and looked at the musician. When the musician started to tick his dombyra, the dancer started to move. He threw up his hands and shuttled his neck. Then step by step he started to move other parts of his body. He shook his knees and sit and stand. He danced during the time enough for milk to be boiled. His dance impressed little Shara very much. She even overlooked the fact that she was standing in the center of the arena when the artist had done. She looked around confused. She was a very shy child. “This girl is going to dance!” cried one from the crowd. “Dance, Gulshara, don’t be shy!” cried another. The accordionist whose name was Hussain started to play his instrument. And Gulshara started to sweep away. At that time she thought “What is the dance exactly?” And started to translate into dance language everything she knew: sewing, rolling a felt, riding a horse and so on. Since that day she danced every day. People cried calling her “Come on, Shara, dance!”And every day she thought up something new. That’s how she started to dance.

First love

Unfortunately, Shara could not complete her university. Her education was interrupted suddenly. Her father was persecuted, tried and committed to prison. The family left without a supporter. Shara went back home and applied for the work to the job center. She was hired by the center as an interpreter-secretary. Her knowledge of Russian made a good deal and she could provide for a family. She also had a career development: Secretary, Book-keeper, Office manager, Typewriter. She worked in confectionary, forestry. She did well. Only her father’s destiny made her upset.

She earned enough money to support her family and to be dressed well and attend concerts and cultural events. It was a time when Kazakh Drama theatre had a tour in Almaty. Shara and her friends used to go to the theatre often. Young ladies especially loved one artist - Kurmanbek Zhandarbekov. As it comes he also noticed his beautiful fan ladies, especially Shara. Soon afterward he sent a delegate to her mother to ask her daughter hand in marriage. Mother refused his asks when she knew he was an artist. Moreover, he was divorced and that fact made old lady suspicious. He came by himself with molda demonstrating his respect and trying to make everything according to the religious procedures. It did not work. Shara’s mother chucked out them both. After that, he sent Shara a letter proposing her to run away together. She agreed.

Mother could not forgive her daughter’s escape for a long time. Father, on the contrary, accepted their marriage. He was set free when the newly wedded couple had just started their cohabitation. He invited his son-in-law to talk. They talked a lot. The old man blessed the marriage and entrusted him his daughter. A little later he died.

Shara is an Artist

Shara’s career as an artist started in 1928. Kazakh Drama theatre which was settled 2 years before in ex-capital Kyzylorda moved to Almaty. She was accepted to work in the theater. She acted in the plays and made little figures.


The theatre located in Orion club. There were three newspapers in Almaty that year: Tilshi in Kazakh, Iskra in Russian and Kambargharlar auazy in Uigur. The newspapers organized a concert for the printing office staff in Orion club. All youth in the city were invited to participate in and show their talents. Shara participated in the concert too. It was her first performance and it was very successful.

She made her tours with a theater as a dancer. She made tours with her husband and such famous persons as Issa Baizakov, Amre Kashaubay, Kazhymukan Munaitpasov. Issa agha piped her with dombyra, Amre Agha with accordion. It was a good time.

Temirbek Zhurgenov who was the Minister of Education in 1933-1937 played a great role in Shara’s career. Once he told her she should start her professional dancing career and became the first professional dancer in Kazakh land. He invited the famous choreographer from Bolshoy Theatre in Moscow Aleksandrov who taught her and directed the first ballet studio in Kazakhstan.

Shara practiced 6 hours per day. To learn ballet was very difficult for 22 years old lady, a mother of two kids. Aleksandrov taught her for 5 years. Training made her looked drown. Sometimes she lived to regret a decision to be a dancer.

Nevertheless, all those troubles and sacrifices were repaid a hundredfold as far as Shara Zhienkulova became the first professional Kazakh Choreograph, Famous artist in USSR and abroad, and took the lead of Almaty School of Choreography envolving new talents.