From the very ancient times humans used dances to protect and express themselves, their thoughts and emotions or to ask supernatural forces for what they wanted.
With its vivacity, colorful costumes and live music Turkish folk dances are truly a visual feast.
The effects of Middle Asian, Islamic, Anatolian and European cultures can be clearly seen in Turkish folk dances.
Usually, there must be some special occasion in order to play a folk dance. Dancing is optional.
Folk dances are performed at weddings, engagement ceremonies, when sending young men off to perform their military service, at national and religious festivals, in seasonal festivals like Hidirellez and Nevruz, after victories, going to and coming back from the high plateaus and at meetings such as ferfene, yaren talks, barana or sira gezmesi.
Dances are generally performed in all suitable open areas, but may also be performed in close areas as well. Some dances are performed only by men or only by women and there are some in which men and women perform together.
Folk dances can be divided into several groups according to the cultural elements they reflect, presentation style, number and sex of performers, regions or some other common features.
According to the number and sex of performers, folk dances are divided into; single woman performances – Estireyim mi? (Bolu), Yogurt (Eskisehir); single man performances – Zeybek (Aydin), Misket (Ankara); two women performances – Ordek (Bolu), Mandalar (Kirklareli); two men performances – Hancer Bari (Erzurum), Kirka Zeybegi (Eskisehir); collective women performances – Guvercin (Erzurum), Comudum (Kutahya); collective men performances – Coskun Coruh (Artvin), Kocaklama (Agri); and men-women performance – Delilo (Elazig), Dokuzlu (Gaziantep).
Turkish folk dances are divided into four groups according to the performance form – circle, half moon, straight row and two rows facing one another. In front of this crowd there is a person who controls the performance. Many different names are given to this person in different regions of the country depending on the type of the dance. In districts like Erzurum, Bayburt, Agri, Kars and Erzincan they are called barbasi, from Ankara to East and Southeast Anatolia regions they are called with such names as dogru halay basi, govenk basi or ceken, in the Black Sea region they are called horon basi and in Ege and Trakya regions they are called efe.
This person standing in front of the dancers is very important. These people are chosen are chosen among the ones who well know the music and dances of the region. These group heads sometimes leave for a while and make their own performances in order to show off their skills. Meanwhile other group members continue to perform some other elements. As the ones on the head of the row, the ones in the end of the row are also given some names like pocuk or son adam (the last person).
Collective dances usually start with slow tempo dances, because performances are started by older people. Young people usually perform dances with a fast tempo. Some dances are accompanied with one or several musical instruments or without any instruments and just with a folksong.
Folk dances may be divided into those that describe the relationship between man and nature, those that deal with rain, mist and rivers, those that describe plants, those that are defined as numbers, those that describe the relationship between man and animals and those that take social events such as fighting, war, love and courtship as their subject matter. Then there are those that reflect the ceremonies performed when a young man is about to go off to do his military service.
Examples to dances that are named after region names are Sivas Halayi (Sivas), Tavas Zeybegi (Denizli). Names that describe colors are Sari (yellow) Zeybek (Antalya), Yesilim (green) (Konya). Those that define numbers are on dort (fourteen) (Artvin), Bes (five) Ayak (Malatya). Examples to those that take their names from job or profession names are Kasap (Edirne), Yagcilar (Izmir), Ormanci (Kastamonu).
Most Anatolian folk dances have a dramatic structure with imitations. These type of dances imitate natural events, everyday life, man and woman relationships, battles and animals. For an example, Tavuk Ban (Erzurum) dance imitates chicken’s walking, Ceylani (Kars) imitates walking of gazelle, Serce Dance (Gaziantep) imitates jumping of a sparrow. In the similar way Horoz Dance (Yozgat), Kurt Kuzu (Diyarbakir), Ordek (Bolu), Keklik (Icel), Ayi Dance (Bitlis), Kartal Oyunu (Bingol) are examples to this type of dances.
From the dances that reflect everyday life, Tesi (Artvin) imitates spinning wool, Koy Halayi (Sivas) reflects various aspects of the everyday life and Turkmen Kizi (Icel) imitates making dough, bread and spinning wool.
Sari Zeybek (Sivas) and Bicak (Elazig) dances that reflect man – woman relationships start with the sweet talking of a man to a woman and ends with them being together.
Hancer Bari (Erzurum), Bicak Horonu (Trabzon) dances that reflect a battle or a war are based on imitation of atacking, fighting and defending. Candirli Tufek Dance (Giresun) includes shooting with a gun at a certain target by the performers. Kilic ve Kalkan Dance (Bursa) includes the battle imitation under the sound of swords and armors.
Among the dances that describe the natural events, Uzundere (Kars) and Coskun Coruh (Artvin) reflects the flow of a river and Kavak (Erzurum) dance imitates the movements of poplar tree in the wind. Other examples to folk dances that reflect the natural events are Burcak Tarlasi (Yozgat), Yayla Yollari (Icel), Yagmur Duasi (Diyarbakir), Yagmur Yagar (Nevsehir) and Sis Dagi (Trabzon).
According to the dance moves, folk dances can be divided into two main groups. Some common moves seen in every region of the country are double-left, double-right, three legs, sitting, spinning, clamping hands, hitting ankles, cross-walking etc. Examples to regional dance moves are atik, kollu and kolsuz walking in Ege Region dances and ücleme (trippling), halay sallanisi (halay swinging), omuz sallama (shoulder swinging) and titreme (shaking) in East Black Sea, East and Southeast Anatolian regions.
Various objects are very widely used in Turkish fold dances. These include spoons, swords – armors, sticks, knives, drums, pumpkins, sieves, candles, handkerchiefs, sickles, plates, animal fur, tambourines, pot taps, guns, blankets, bells and mirrors.
The most popular one is a spoon that is used both by men and women as a rhythm tool, especially in the folk dances of the western parts of the country. In other regions spoons are not used, because, dances in here are performed by holding each other.
Sword – armor dances are performed by men and symbolize wars and battles. Since the performers were frequently wounded during these performances, swords have been replaced by sticks in many regions (e.g. Elazig-Sanliurfa). Sword – armor dances that were accompanied with music before are performed without music only in Bursa region.
Every region has its own folk dresses and costumes. Depending on the occasion people are performing dances either in their casual clothes or special folk dresses.
Regional distribution is an important measure in aggregating folk dances. Some regions in Anatolia are named after folk dance names. For an instance, Ege and West Anatolia is also called Zeybek Region, Middle and South Anatolia is called Halay Region, East Black Sea region is also known as Horon Region, East Anatolia is also called Bar Region and Trakya is also called Hora Region. However, this sort of aggregation cannot be defined with definite borders. Firstly, the passage of folk dances between the regions cannot be neglected. For an example, Halay folk dance can be seen not only in Middle Anatolia but, also in the East and North regions of Anatolia. This makes it difficult to assign a certain folk dance to a certain region.
Folk dances are classified according to their regional distribution in the following way:
When one mentions Ege, Zeybek is the first thing that comes to mind. Almost in every region of Western Anatolia you will find “Zeybek” type dances. Aydin, Izmir, Mugla, Denizli, Bilecik, Eskisehir,Kutahya, Canakkale, Kastamonu, Usak, Manisa, Balikesir , Burdur Zeybek are the cities located in this region. Dances that are performed by women are called “Kadin Zeybek” (Woman Zeybek) and ones performed by men are called “Erkek Zeybek” (Man Zeybek). Dances performed by women are faster as compared to men’s dances. Men’s dances in this region are also called “Agir Zeybek” (Slow Zeybek). The slowest of this type of dances performed in many region of Ege are performed in Izmir, Aydin, Mugla, and Manisa districts. The most obvious distinction of Zeybek from other folk dances (Bar, Halay, Horon etc.) is that it is performed freely. Even in those Zeybek dances that are performed by more than one person, there is no relationship between the dancers other than the music and rhythm. The dancing person does not have to obey any rules and performs as he can. Since Zeybek is performed in a group, the circle form is used regionally.
Zeybeks consider brave, manly, gutsy and aggrieved people as friends and see injustice as an enemy. This is a typical example of a Turkish villager. The heroism they showed during the war of liberation has increased their fame even more. Today, Zeybek history lives in the memories.
Efe is the head of Zeybek groups. They are chosen from brave and manly people who demonstrated heroism. It is not necessary to be the oldest one among Zeybeks in order to become an efe. Young Zeybek attendants are called “Kizan”. Zeybeks are brave men who are very proficient in using weapons and demonstrated more heroism than kizans. Zeybeks educate their kizans under the command of efe.
Cakici Mehmet Efe, Yoruk Ali Efe, Cakircali Efe, Sacli Efe, Mestan Efe, Gokcen Efe, Sari Zeybek, Kamali Zeybek, Pepe Efe, Killioglu Huseyin Efe, Demirci Mehmet Efe are some Efes and Zeybeks whose fame have reached till our times.
Zeybeks had very active lifestyles. Sometimes they were carried away with enthusiasm, excitement and aspiration and performed actively and sometimes slowly demonstrating their nobility. During the performance they were able to evoke the feelings of respect and admiration of the audience with their voice tones, movements and even mimics. Efes and their zeybeks would never tolerate any theft, plunder, injustice or impertinence. When necessary they would punish those who try to invade honor and estrange them from the society.
In Zeybek dances performed in open air, musical instruments like baglama, cura, drum and horn. In closed areas, darbuka, tef or zilli masa are also used. The fact that clarinet has also started being used since the beginning of the last century shows the tendency towards sazs (stringed instrument) of the Western origins in this region.
Zeybeks also have a very rich dressing and costumes. Because they have to perform fast, live and actively their clothes must be such that they won’t restrict these actions. They wear short, baggy trousers above knees that don’t cause difficulties when walking. Dark blue and black are the preferred colors. The legs are covered with leggings. Thick leggings protect legs from scratches and grazes when dancing in thicket, thorny and groovy places. Although some efes would wear boots with bellows, most of them wore shoes or flat-heeled shoes. The most preferred shoes color is red. Boots with bellows are black however.
Zeybek’s upper clothes are also very colorful. On their heads they wear fez or bork that are covered with yemeni or posu made of silk and decorated with thin and colorful flower embroidery. When the weather is cold they also put on a silk scarf with long tassels around their necks. Over a shirt of a single complexion made of tulle, cotton or flax they wear either a jacket or work clothes. The sleeves are long with slash ends. The collar is steep and buttoned. The sleeves of camadan that is worn over on collar have very thin decorations and motives. A cepken (a type of a short cloth without collar) called wing of an eagle is worn over camadan. The reason it is named a wing is that starting from about the shoulders’ level the parts called sallama become open and in a fashion that makes the movements easy.
This is a dance mostly performed on the East of Black Sea coastline, Samsun, Ordu, Rize, Giresun and Trabzon districts where performers hold on to each other and form rows.
The horon performed in East Black Sea region is usually accompanied by a fiddle. It can also be performed with drum, horn and bagpipe. Like halay, horon is performed by performers forming a row. Horon performers somewhat mimic the natural phenomenon and reflect coping with difficult life conditions and dangers. East Black Sea region people have to deal with a lot of difficulties. The region is very bumpy, steep, and mountainous. On the North, the region is completely surrounded by a very rough and stormy sea. Local people constantly struggle with the wild, heavy waves of the sea and go up and down between the huge waves. The darkness of skies is reflected on the waves of the Black Sea as if referring to its name that later abates again letting them to go back to their families. The traces of this vivacious lifestyle, harsh nature, unpredictable sea and weather and unforgiving nature can be clearly seen in horons. It can be said that horon is the sea’s breathing, heart beating and fluctuation. Horon is ramping of a man and nature holding hand in hand. People hold each others hands forming a circle as if they are trying to protect themselves. The expression “Let’s assemble a horon” that is used in the begging of horon is call to gather and hold each other very tightly. First, under the high tempo music they harshly hit their feet against the ground until all grass is gone from the ground. Then they slow down and continue with calm arm and shoulder movements. Then suddenly they start jumping fast as if caught by a storm or a lightning. This is why it is said that a grass won’t grow for another seven years where horon was performed. Sometimes, this dancing is accompanied by songs. Especially when migrating to or from uplands, the songs that make people forget about the long journey and exhaustion are told. Sometime groups sing songs to each other expressing their plans for the future or some intentions. In the East Black Sea region almost everybody who hears the sound of fiddle hurries up to join a horon.
Singing songs accompanied by fiddle, drums and horn, performing horon in circles for hours, holding on to each other and shooting guns to air while going to the mountains with their cows, sheep, children, guns and clothes is the expression of aspiration for the spring. Horon is performed during happy times like a religious festival, wedding, when sending young men off to perform their military service or among friends. The happiness that fills their hearts is expressed in horons. Wherever there is flatness, a break, it is also a “Horon Place”. There isn’t a single flatness in the Black Sea region where horon is not performed.
Since it is very difficult to do anything alone in the Black Sea region, it is as if horon is symbolizing the togetherness of the people of that region to always work together. Moves specific to Black Sea region horon dances seem to also symbolize the corn agriculture of the region that is achieved by hard work. Bending forward and pulling and swinging arms elements of horon remind digging and pecking up the ground actions. Hand holding and stepping forward action of horon performers are the same as “VOL ATMA” actions of spade users.
Horon starts at with a slow tempo. For this reason this section is also called the “slow horon section”. The dancing circle spins in the counterclockwise direction. The rhythm of songs is also supported by hands. As the tempo of the song increases so do the movements of dancers. As the rhythm becomes faster the bodies straighten and arms move upwards. The dancers are alerted with commands like ''Yenlik yenlik'', ''alasagı'' (down) or ''ufak ufak'' (little by little) and may proceed to the yenlik section or directly to the sert (fast) section.
Arms move down, legs are slightly bent at knees and waist is bent forward at an angle of knees. Arm throwing and shoulder swinging actions predominate in this section. Dancers walk in the certain area by stepping back, forward and to the sides. Body movements are slow and soft. The rhythm of the dance is faster compared to the duz horon section. With the commands like ''alasaga'', ''aloglum'', ''kimola'', ''taktum'', ''yikoglum'' or ''islik'' dancers pass to the sert (hard) section.
In this section the movements are more hard and live compared to the previous sections. Shoulders swinging faster and feet hit the ground harder. This is the most grandiose and fast section of the dancing where performers demonstrate all their talents. If the dance will continue, the performers go back to the duz horon section.
This dance performed in groups, in a disciplined fashion, generally as a row or semi-circle of people holding on to each other. This folk dance is popular in Northeast Anatolia, Erzurum, Kars, Agri, Artvin, Gumushane, Bayburt and Erzincan regions.
This folk dance is performed in Middle and Southeast Anatolia, Bitlis, Bingol, Diyarbakir, Elazig, Malatya, Kahramanmaras, Gaziantep, Erzurum, Erzincan, Sivas, Mardin, Mus, Yozgat, Corum, Adana, Ankara, Siirt, Hatay, Tokat and Sanliurfa regions, in a group form, where dancers hold on to each other forming a straight row. Halay is one of the most popular Turkish folk dances. Starting from Mid-Ege Region and going east, this folk dance is performed in almost all districts and known as “halay cekmek“. Halays that are usually performed in wide, open areas are accompanied by drum and horn and in the past, was performed mostly be men. Women were usually performing in closed places and used more quiet instruments like wood spoons, bells, tambourines and tabors. They were singing, dancing halay and strengthening their friendship. However, these hard rules have changed with time and now women are performing halay together or together with men.
This folk dance is performed in Trakya, Edirne, Kirklareli, Te¬kirdag and Canakkale regions. Like halay, bar is a disciplined dance form performed in groups where dancers form rows by holding on to each others’ hands or arms.
KASIK (SPOON) DANCES
Kasik dance is a general name given to the dances performed in Eskisehir, Afyon, Kutahya, Bilecik, Kirsehir, Konya, Mersin, Antalya, Bolu, Bursa and surrounding regions. In these dances, the performers hold wood spoons in their hands and use them to keep the rhythm. For this reason, these regions are also known as Kasik Dances Region.
This dance is most popular in Kirklareli, Edirne, Tekirdag, Kocaeli, Sakarya, Canakkale, Bursa, Bilecik and Bolu districts of the Marmara region. For this reason, those regions are also collectively called Karsilamalar Region. Karsilama is performed by two people facing each other. It can be also performed by several pairs forming a group.
This is a folk dance mostly performed in Balikesir, Manisa, Bursa and Canakkale regions.