Turkey has a rich history and culture of dancing. There are many different types of folk dances performed in various ways in Turkey. Folk dances have different characteristics based on region and location and are generally engaged in during weddings, journeys to the mountains in the summer, when sending sons off to military service and during religious and national holidays.
Zeybek are the folk heroes of Western Anatolia (today’s Turkey). From their first appearance in history around 1600 until the consolidation of the modern Turkish state in the 1920’s, they played a key role in defending the little guy from rogue militias, rapacious landlords and tax collectors, and even aiding armies in repelling invading Russians in 1877-8, and Greeks in 1922.
They hid in the highlands, lived off the land, elected their chief, called Efe, and had a strict code of honour. The name Zeybek is said to derive from the Turkish “bekneg”, meaning durable, healthy, reliable, and “zey”, meaning almost the same thing.
In this Aegean dance, colourfully dressed male dancers, called Efe, symbolize courage and heroism. Zeybek dance is formed, in general, of 9/8 measures and has a variety of tempos such as very slow, slow, fast and very fast. It is rendered by one person or two or by a group of people. Some differences are seen in their figures of walking, turning, rising, knee-downing and holding up their arms (the walking with or without ricochets) and turnings in the Zeybek plays display Zeybek’s self-assurance, honesty, braveness and challenging.
Today, Zeybek is the most popular dance of Western Turkey, and one of the most popular in the country. There are said to be over 150 different Zeybek dances, varying by region and type – fast, slow, solo man & solo woman, group, couple, etc. Most are solo men’s dances, however it is becoming more popular for women also to dance. If you are a fan of Turkish serial dramas then I am sure you will have seen this version of a Zeybek dance…
Performed mainly during weddings is a Eurasian dance form known as Halay. This “celebratory” dance is said to have originated from central and southeastern Turkey. The music that accompanies this dance begins extremely slowly and gradually picks up rhythm. Furthermore, traditional Turkish musical instruments such as “zurna” and “davul” are used to produce music for this form of dancing. However, due to technological advancements, electronic instruments are also now being used regularly to produce music for this dance genre.
Men’s costume: The attire worn include short jackets with split sleeves, an elaborate headgear, a coat made of coarse wool, baggy trousers, colourful socks, and peasant shoes.
Ladies costume: The attire worn include a short jacket known as “cepken”, a single, double, or triple skirts, a collarless jacket known as “salta”, baggy trousers, decorated aprons and socks. In addition, a female performer may also adorn jewels.
Horon appears very different from the folk dances in other parts of Turkey with its formation of tempo, rhythm and measure. This typical Black Sea dance is performed, in general, by groups and their characteristic measure is 7/16, dressed in black with silver trimmings. The dancers link arms and quiver to the vibrations of the kemence, a primitive type of violin.
The way the dancers sweep upwards, tighten ranks, open up their arms like wings, or strike their knees on the ground: the sounds of drum and fife, bagpipes, and kemence: the shouts, and joining arm, hand and shoulder, all have their symbolic meanings. This Black Sea dance is performed by men only, dressed in black with silver trimmings.
How can I not mention his form of dancing. Belly dancing is a widely debated topic. Some people think it originated in Turkey, while some believe it started in Egypt or India. Surprisingly, this unique dance comes from all three of these countries. As one of the most ancient dance forms, you could say that belly dancing is Egyptian, ancient Orient, Arabic or Middle Eastern since it has been cultivated for centuries by different regions.
Belly dancing was also widely performed during the Ottoman Empire. In the imperial harems, women used to dance for sultanas as well as sultans. There are many steps found in the various styles of belly dancing performed all over the world, but the classic steps that come back throughout several periods in the history of belly dancing are:
Shimmy – vibrating hips using the muscles of the lower back. You may shimmy front to back or side to side to create this vibration, and occasionally it is also performed in the shoulders.
Undulations – flowing, fluid movements throughout the body, including a pulsating rhythm of the chest and a circular twist of the hips and stomach regions
Hip hits – a sharp and quick pulsation of the hips moving out from the body. When performed up to speed, it looks as if the pelvis is swinging, but it is actually the weight of the legs pulsing quickly in alternation that creates the hip illusion.
Early belly dancing costuming consisted of a fitted bra top, a belt that rides low on the hips, and then a long skirt or flowing pants. These are usually covered in embellishments of fringe, coins, jewels, or sequins. This historical look, first portrayed on the earliest of belly dancers, is often still used today.
Take a look at this video showing an amazing example of belly dancing.
There are various folk dances in Turkey, here are two more of the popular ones.
Kilic Kalkan: from Bursa represents the Ottoman conquest of the city. It is performed by men only, dressed in early Ottoman battle dress, who dance to the sound of clashing swords and shields without music.
Kasik Oyunu: is performed from Konya to Silifke and consists of gaily dressed male and female dancers clicking out the dance rhythm with a pair of wooden spoons in each hand.
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