Listening about dancing is similar to reading about the taste of wine — one can evaluate the object of the discussion only when he tries it himself.
What is the first thing which comes to your mind when mentioning Turkish dances? I think most of you would imagine beautiful women gently rocking their hips to the oriental music, doing a belly dance. Indeed, this dance, which is known in Turkey as oriental dance or chiftetelli, is still popular in the country. It originated in the Muslim East, but its present form is a modified, modernized version of the ancient dance. In the Ottoman Empire this sensual dance was often performed not only by the women but by the men as well. Few people know that there were even professional associations of men-dancers, who performed this erotic dance dressed in women’s clothes. Such men were called kocek and tavsan. The only difference between them was that kocek wore skirts, while tavsan wore bloomers. By the way, it was a very highly-paid kind of activity. Good-looking boys started to learn this lucrative craft at the age of 7. However, at the age of 25-30 they were already getting a well-deserved retirement.
A belly dance
If you have ever been to Turkey, you might have also seen the dance of Dervishes spinning to a charming music. This was originally the ritual of members of Sufi order of Mevlevi known as Sama, which has turned eventually into a popular tourist attraction, and a figurine of a spinning Dervish is now one of the most recognized symbols of Turkey. Formerly the dance was a religious mystical inspiration and carried hidden meanings. The rite itself was symbolic as well as the poses that the performers strike and every element of their costumes. For instance, a cylinder-shaped hat represents a gravestone, white costume means a shroud, and the black cape that the performers wear when they enter the scene and then take off is a symbol of a grave. However, the dance itself has lost its spiritual meaning and is now performed by pro-dancers who have nothing to do with the mystical Islamic Dervish order.
In modern Turkey people dance very often — at weddings, birthdays, family holidays. If you ever get a chance to visit a big Turkish celebration, you will most likely notice that Turkish people venerate their traditions and are quite good at folk dancing. They do it in groups or solo, in a row or in a circle. One cannot simply leave without noticing the diversity of Turkish folk dances. The dances vary depending on the region: Zeybek (Aegean-Mediterranean region), Hora (the European part of Turkey), Halay (Eastern, South-Eastern and Central Anatolia, Çukurova), bar (North-Eastern Anatolia), Horon (Eastern Black Sea region) and many others are widely spread across the country. Each of the dances has quite many variations in terms of the region. Specialists list up to 3000 types of Turkish regional folk dances.
Turkish folk dances by region
The national divergence affected the variety and special features of folk dancing. Historically many Balkan nations were located in the European part of Turkey, which is why elements of Hora, a traditional type of dance in this region, can be observed in the Bulgarian, Macedonian and Rumanian dances. In the Eastern Black Sea region, on the Georgian border, the musical accompaniment and costumes remind of the Caucasian ones. In the Southern and South-Eastern Anatolia it is easy to trace the Arabian and Kurdish cultural influence.
Certainly, Turkish folk dancing has a long tradition. However, during the last years the relatively young type of dancing called Kolbasti, which appeared in the 1930-ies in the city of Trabzon, has been gaining popularity. Kolbasti is rousing and in this dance traditional and modern movements are in harmony with each other, that is why the dance has become so popular among younger people.
One can spend ages talking about Turkish folk dancing or any other type of folk art that depicts the national character and everyday life. However, as the proverb goes, one eyewitness is better than two hear-so's.