Background of Turkish Dancing

The Turks came from Central Asia and settled on the Anatolian plateau. They were there for centuries before they gained possessions of other parts of Anatolia, captured Istanbul and advanced into Europe, Africa and Asia to create an empire. Their original religions were Shamanism, Buddhism and Manichaism which still survive among some Central Asian nations. Later they accepted the faith of Islam. Anatolia has long been viewed as the bridge over which the great cultures crossed, and Anatolian Turkey possesses a rich and splendid vocabulary of gestures and movements of dances.  Over a period of thousands of years it has been inhabited by representatives of various civilizations Hittite, Greek, Phrygian, Lydian, Isaurian, Cappadocian and Byzantine to mention only a few. Turkish culture is heir to the traditions of many civilizations and surely its dancing has also assimilated their influences, though it is not always an easy task to trace them. Another and the most important influence on Turkish dances is that of Asia, in part directly with the shamanistic rituals of the Ural-Altaic region from which the Turkish nation takes its origin, and part indirectly from other cultures of Asia, such as China. Another influence on Turkish dance is that of Islamic culture. It is largely negative since the Islamic religion was antagonistic to dance, and especially introduced the taboo forbidding women to dance together with men. In modern times there is another trend in Turkish culture: this is Western civilisation. Westernisation has set modern Turkey apart from other Muslim countries as the Turks seem of more receptive nature. Elements from all these sources have blended and integrated into something that today we call the dances of Anatolian Turkey. When we speak of Turkish dances we must bear in mind that there is no single national Turkish dance. There is not one which is widespread over entire country, although attempts have been made to popularize certain dances. It was always be remembered that each region, even each village, has its own dance. Though widely different in character and origin the regional dances of Turkey may be classified in seven groups according to geographical boundaries, in many cases overlapping.



Zeybek region: Western Anatolia have been called “Zeybek” region. More specifically on the Aegean Coast. Danced by  a single dancer or by several. Dances keeps a solo character. They hold their arms outstretched with elbows as high as the shoulders and snap their fingers.   The male dancers are called "Efe" in this dance. Efe is the name of the soldiers in the older times of Uzbekistan, which was a county of Ottoman Emperor. Then the Uzbeks moved down to the Aegean Region and settled there. The name of their local dance is called "Zeybek".
Zeybek has become the local dance of West Anatolia Region then. Most of the Zeybek dances start with a part called "strolling around". Until the end of the first part of the music, dancers stroll around in the stage and get used to the stage in a way. And then abruptly, with the music, they start dancing with also shouting out. This shouting out is called "nara" in Turkish and it is important because it is a signal that the main part of the dancing is starting.
However, this shouting out part is only for male dancers, female dancers start playing just as the same but they don't shout out.
Zeybek dances are played slow but splendid , with one or three dancers. They can be played as a group also, and there are the figures of sitting, turning around are the most common figures of the dance. Most of the Zeybek dances' music is the Turkish national folk songs and their rhythms are 9/2, 9/4 and 9/8.
Zeybek dances can be played with male and female dancers together. However, there are parts that only male or female dancers dance. These dances can be played with pairs or with a crowded group with wooden spoons in the hands of the dancers. They use these spoons as a percussion according to the rhythm of the music. The rhythm of the music can either be slow or quick. The musical instruments are usually shrill pipe accompanied by a drum, lute with three double-strings or two-three strings and earthenware kettle drum.

Horon region: The eastern part of the Black Sae coast called “Horon” region. Sometimes Black Sea or Horan which are characterized by alert, tense, shivering movements, the trembling of the entire body from head to foot. Greeks who lived in Asia Minor called it chorontikon  but there is also khorumi dances of the Caucasus.  Horon as a word means different things: it means black from colors. It was the name of the dance that was played in very old ages in religious ceremonies. It also means the bunch of reaped crops after harvest. Especially, it is the name of the dance played with small three-stringed violin called "kemence" and shrill pipe in the Black Sea region of Turkey. It can also be called as "horum, horun or horan" in some parts of the country.

Halay region: Central Anatolia called “Halay” region. The word halay refers to getting together with people. It is performed by men and women alike, who stand closely linked in a line, circle or semicircle. Relying on a leader to announce the step changes, done by calls and/or waves of an accompanying handkerchief, the dancers begin slowly. Gradually over one, two or three sections, they increase their speed. Often, hand clasp are featured, which may be done by individuals or with opposing partners. When performed outdoors and also in the East, the powerful voices of the zurna and davul are generally preferred. Indoors, and elsewhere in Anatolia, the halay is accompanied by the gentler sounds of the wind instruments mey, kaval and more recently the clarinet as well as the stringed instrument, the bağlama. Halay is a type of dance which is more widespread than any other from Anatolia. Also in eastern en south Anatolia, in this large area nearly every Turkish village has its own Halay with is own special tune. In halay dancers usually place themselves in a line or in a semi-circle, holding each other’s  hands or shoulders. One dancer acts as their leader.  Halay dances are played with a shrill pipe accompanied by a drum. It can be played minimum three people. Dancers can be both male and female. Dancers hold their hands and form a row and then a circle, according to the rhythm of the music, feet combinations are very important.
Halays are usually played in the open air, they are not saloon dances. The dancer who is the first dancer in the row is called the "halaybasi", and the last dancer in the row is called the "poccik". They both have a handkerchief in their hands which they swing according to the rhythm of the music.
There are four different halay musics according to their various rhythms. They gradually speed up.
Bar region: Eastern Anatolia called “Bar” region. Bar as a word means unity, the kind of dance which is done by holding hands, a kind of Shaman drum, and especially it means a kind of dance played in a unity with also holding hands in a row. It was also called as "barca, baru" in older times and it also meant unity then.
"Bar" dances are played side by side, shoulder to shoulder and hand in hand. They are noble and aesthetic dances. The first dancer in the row is called "barbasi" , and the last dancer is called "poccik"; and different from the other dances the second dancer has also a name which is "koltuk". They can either be played with songs having lyrics or instrumentally. The dances that female dancers play are soft and have songs in them. However, the bars that male dancers play have drum and shrill pipe played in them. At the beginning of the dances male dancers shout out to tell the name of the region of the bar. The ideal number of dancers is 9 in the bars. The handkerchief that the "barbasi" holds in his hand has an important role to direct the action and the spirit of the dance. There are special parts of the bars which only 2 dancers play. In these dances hands are free, these dances start slow, they gradually speed up and end with kneeling part. The rhythms of the bar dances are 2,5,6,9,10, and12.
The coming of the dancers to the stage is called "bar tutusmak"; the position in which the dancers stand still in a shoulder to shoulder position is called "closed bar" ; the music of the dances are called "bar havasi"; the bars that only female dancers play are "dugun dances" meaning wedding dances in English; and finally the style of dances which are played as dancers are not standing close to each other are called "open-bars".
The bar dances are played in the East Anatolia and especially in Erzurum, Erzincan and Agri regions.
Spoon (Kaşık) dances: South of Anatolia called “Spoon” region. The dances are characterized by the fact that the dancer marks the rhythm by means of the wooden spoons are struck against each other rather frequently. The treads with very small steps in a confined space while undulating the lower part of the body. Spoon- kasik in Turkish- is a very old Turkish word. Dances with spoons used to be played in the Middle Asia to the emperors, and the dancers used 2 plates and 2 spoons.
In dances with the spoons , which are wooden spoons , the dancers don't hold on to each other, they dance freely and apart from each other. The dancers hold their spoons in their each hand ,which do change from region to region. They have one spoon in one hand. The dance is done by forming a circle or standing face to face opposite. The spoons also define the rhythm of the music.
The music of most of the dances with spoons are not instrumental, they have songs with lyrics. The rhythm of the dances are 2/4, or 4/4. They are animated, active, rhythmic, lively and flowing dances.
There are instruments such as spoons, drums, four stringed violin , "baglama" which is a national instrument-that is a 4 stringed smaller form of a guitar.
Dances with spoons are played in the Middle Anatolia and in the south parts of the country especially in Konya, Ankara, Nigde, Kirsehir, Afyon, Antalya, Isparta and Anamur.
Hora (Karşılama) dances: The dances of Trakya, the European part of Turkey called “Karşılama“ dances. These dances are also popular in the Balkans. One of the most outstanding characteristic of this region is the use of two drums and two pipes (Zurna). Greeting -"karsilama"- in old Turkish meant to be facing each other, to show a particular negative or positive reaction to an event, and to invite a guest into the house.
The dance starts in a slow rhythm but it gradually become faster and faster. The instruments are drums, shrill pipe, tambourine with cymbals, lute, and earthenware kettle-drum. There are two shrill pipes and two drums are played; one of the shrill pipes play the melody and the other one accompanies to the melody. The steps and figures of the male dancers are attractive. In the whole of the dances , there is a stylistic view. The male and female dancers play their figures separately from each other.
The names of the dances are either is called with the region they belong to or with the person who plays the dance perfectly. Turning around, kneeling and applauding are the most common figures of the dances. The cloth that the male dancers put on their heads are hand-made embroideries. The figures are accompanied with holding hands, shoulder to shoulder and facing each other. The role of the handkerchief in the hand of each female dancer is important.
Greeting dances can be seen in the whole of the country. But they are mostly played in Marmara and Black Sea Region. In Marmara-in Edirne, Kirklareli, Tekirdag, Canakkale, Izmit, Adapazari,Bursa, Bilecik and Bolu; and in Black Sea Region , in Giresun, Ordu.
Seymen region: Zeybeks are, in general, the widespread folk dances of the Western Anatolia. It is rendered by one person or two or by a group of people and its name changes for example as 'seymen' in the central parts of Anatolia. Zeybek dances are formed, in general, of 9/8 measures and have a variety of tempos such as very slow, slow, fast and very fast. Very slow zeybek dances have the measure of 9/2, slow ones 9/4 and some others 9/8. Seymen dances have measure of 4/4 or 2/4.