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Turkish Folk Dance
By Catherine Green, 1988

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Turkish Dancing 1830

Turkey Map It should be noted that there is no one national dance of Turkey and each region, indeed, each village, has its own dances. Organizing them into a typology is not easy, for there are several hundreds of dances and many ways to classify them: for instance, by sex, formation, musical accompaniment, or style.

Metin And, in his book "A Pictorial History of Turkish Dancing," makes several interesting comparisons between dances based on a classification into abstract vs. mimetic dances. The former are not based on any particular theme, while the latter are marked by their inclusion of imitative gestures and/or pantomime. These can be further subdivided into themes such as actions of animals; representations of daily work and village life; personifications of nature; depictions of combat; and courtship and flirtation (And, 1952).

I have chosen to consider six main types of dances that relate generally to certain geographic regions. Though their boundaries often overlap, the regions and dance types to be considered are:

  1. Halay (Central, Eastern, and Southeastern Anatolia, the Asian part of Turkey)
  2. Horon (Black Sea Coast)
  3. Zeybek (Western Anatolia)
  4. Kaşıklı or "spoon" (Central and Southern Anatolia)
  5. Hora/Karsilama (Thrace, the European part of Turkey)
  6. Bar (Eastern Anatolia)

Some scholars have attempted to approximate the percentage of the total number of extant folk dances each type occupies (Ataman, 4), but these figures seem difficult to verify. One could also argue that this brief list be lengthened to include other styles and regions. For example, the Azerbaijan and Caucasian dances found in Kars in Northeastern Turkey. Admittedly, any survey of Turkish regional dances conducted in as brief an article as this cannot be considered even remotely comprehensive. One has only to compare this skeletal outline with the 800+ page tome by Cemil Demirsipahi to grasp how extraordinarily rich the tradition of folk dance in Turkey remains, despite major historical changes.


The word Halay (aka Haley, Alay, Aley, among other spellings) refers to getting together with people; found in three different regions, the Halay is frequently associated with two cities, Sivas and Corum, in Central Anatolia (And, 159). It is danced by men and women alike, who stand closely linked in a line, circle, or semicircle. Relaying 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 claps are featured, that may be done by individuals or with opposing partners. When danced out of doors and also in the East, the powerful voices of the Zurna (double-reed conical-bore woodwind) and Davul (a big drum played with a wooden club on one side and a reed on the other) are generally preferred. Indoors, and elsewhere in Anatolia, the Halay is accompanied by the gentler sounds of the wind instruments Mey (shepherd's flute), Clarinet, as well as the Baglama (long-necked plucked mandolin-type stringed instrument).

Two examples of unusual Halay dances are the Omuz Halay (or "Shoulder Halay) from Tokat in Central Anatolia, and Simsim from Adıyaman in Southeastern Anatolia. In the former, men and women dance next to one another in a circle. Then the women separate and skillfully and in complete unison, climb onto the men's shoulders until they are all standing on top of the men, their arms linked in a shoulder hold. The entire group forms a kind of double-decker ring of dancers who continue the basic step in a standing position.

Simsim is danced at night by men who dance around a fire to the beats of the Davul and the intense pitch of the Zurna. A leader dances first to the Davul player, then begins to make a ring around the fire. As another man enters this ring, a chase ensues in which the leader tries to hit or slap the new man. This pattern continues, with a new man entering and replacing the one tagged, while the other men watch intently and clap loudly. Simsim may be a descendent of the dances of the ancient shamans of Central Asia, to whom fire and the other elements were considered sacred. The shamans believed that the Davul contained malevolent spirits, and by beating it, they would drive away the evil forces (Lüleçi, 1).


The origin of the term Horon (spelled variously as Horom, Horum, Foron, Oran, and Korum, among others) is unclear. Commonly, the word refers to cornstalks that are cut and tied together; from a distance these stalks resemble a group of people standing together with arms raised and hands clasped. This image is one that is captured in the Horon dances. Like other movements and poses, it evokes a feeling of life along the Karadeniz, or Black Sea.

In this region, corn is a major crop and the sea plays an important role in the local economy and social life. One of the types of fish that lives primarily in the Black Sea is the Hamsi, a kind of anchovy; this small fish is caught in great numbers by the fishermen's nets. So, too, in Horon dances, one of the most characteristic movements is a fast shoulder shimmy and a trembling of the entire body that imitates or suggests the movements of the Hamsi as it swims in the sea or struggles in the nets for its life. Another characteristic movement in Karadenis dances is a rippling or waving of the entire body that evokes the movement of the sea.

Horon dances include a number of other steps and figures, many of which are physically demanding, especially because they are often done in quick succession. Usually an ever-increasing tempo is kept up by the Kemençeci (fiddler) who stamps the beat with his feet as he plays, or by the Zurna and Davul players working together. These figures include: kneeling, sudden squats, sharp turns left and right, stamps, kicks from the knee, high thrusts from the thigh, walking while squatting, hopping forward on the left leg while "pawing" on the right like a horse, sudden outward arm thrusts, and others.

The dancers, who may be male or female, form a line with the leader in the center. It may be interesting to note that the women's Horon dances are just as quick as the men's and involve many transitions between challenging figures, along with a virtually constant shoulder shimmy. When men and women dance alongside one another, the dance is often referred to as the Rahat Horon ("comfortable" Horon). Usually the dancers clasp fingers and extend their arms just below or above shoulder height standing comfortably apart from one another. At other times, their bodies are closer together, with arms at their sides or bent at the elbows.


In contrast to the feverish pitch common to Karadeniz dances, the Zeybek dances of Western Anatolia, near the Aegean Coast, are slow and graceful. While not done exclusively by men, they are commonly associated with them. The word Zeybek, elsewhere known as Efe, refers to a man who is a brother, a friend, a protector of his people. In a sense he is akin to a Samurai-type of figure.

Danced individually, in a circle or often as a solo, the Zeybek dance usually begins with the man strutting boastfully to tight strains of music. The accompaniment may be a Zurna and Davul; or the melody may be played by a Baglam, Kaval (an end-blown flute), Kemençe (also Kabak Kemane, bowed instrument), or Clarinet, while a Dumbek (single head goblet drum) marks the rhythm. Individual dancers move proudly and strongly, their arms extended to their sides at shoulder height, their legs taking large steps, bending the knees occasionally and swinging the bent leg forward or behind the straight leg. With dignity and poise, the Zeybek man kneels on one knee, gently touching it on the ground while twisting his body to one side.

Although I witnessed a number of outstanding Zeybek dances by young men and women, none impressed me so well as did one in Izmir. The largest city on the Aegean Coast, Izmir was celebrating Kurtulus Gunu (independence day). It is the ninth of September, a day in 1922, when the city remembers its salvation from the hands of foreigners. I witnessed a few elderly men dancing a Zeybek dance alongside younger men. Dressed in boots; short, baggy, turquoise-colored pants; a matching jacket with sleeves draped over the back; and a cap strung with hundreds of Oyalar (tiny crocheted decorations). Each of these men also wore a strap of bullets across his chest and entered carrying a rifle. The older men looked as if they might have taken part in this heroic battle, and they moved with great pride and honor.


In Central and Southern Anatolia, there are many dances such as Kaşıklı that are danced with a pair of wooden spoons in each hand. A few centers of this type of dance are Dinar, Bolu, Konya, and Silifke. Many of the spoon dances from Silifke, located along the Mediterranean Coast, features spoons with which the dancers click out a lively rhythm while executing quick, agile movements with their feet and arms. Frequently, the songs tell of the migratory Turkmen people. The lyrics describe their nomadic journeys, or their daily routines when settled (Lüleçi).

The formation of Kaşıklı dances varies and is done in lines, circles, or semicircles. In many cases, the dancers are face to face as they dance apart, their hands clacking the backs of the bowls of the spoons together. Their arm movements are prominent, as is often the case in dances that incorporate accessories, such as handkerchiefs or tools.


The Hora is also called Karsilama, which means "across from, or facing, one another." It is found throughout Thrace, and the westernmost part of Turkey, and resembles some of the Thracian dances of Bulgaria and Greece. (One must imagine this area as a geographic entity before modern-day political borders divided it). Danced by men and women alike, it is done in lines or circles or semicircles. The tempo begins with a comfortable walking pace, then slowly increases in tempo.

One of the better-known dances of this type is Kabadayı; starting slowly, the dance begins with a shoulder hold and large, strutting steps, sometimes with one knee sharply bent and positioned in front of or behind the weight-bearing straight leg. As the pace quickens, the arms bend and hands join in a "pinky" or little finger hold, and the steps become faster and smaller. The word Kabadayı conjures up an image of a rough and tough man who should best be left alone. Many of the names for these dances refer to heroes or tyrants from myth or legend (Lüleçi). The musical accompaniment varies, but traditionally the Zurna-Davul combination is favored; elsewhere, the Kemençe, Tulum (or Guda, bagpipe), and Clarinet play the melody.


The Bar is found throughout Eastern Anatolia and is especially well-known in Erzurum, Kars, and Artvin. The term Bar has been defined in different ways; one meaning is "unison." This line dance may be danced by men or women, with the leader and the Poçuk (second in command) at opposite ends. It begins with a slow and heavy section and proceeds to faster and lighter movements. Up until this point, the Bar may resemble the Halay, but unlike the Halay, which is often done as a joyous celebration of everyday events, the Bar traditionally celebrated a victory in battle, or more generally, heroism (Demirsipahi, 206).

The women's Bar dances are often folk songs and are also done as wedding dances. They are usually danced more slowly than the men's dances. One popular women's Bar from Erzurum is Ben bir Kavak (I am a poplar), in which the women gently sway their bodies a swing their arms, as if they were young trees blowing in the wind (And, 155).

[Other Bars are: Asirma (bucket), Baş Bar (head or leader dance), Dello (dangerous), Hançer Bar (dagger dance), Hoşbilezik (good bracelet), Ikinci Bar (second dance), Kurt (Kurd) or Yayvan (flat), Sarhos (drunk), Sekme (ricochet), Tamzara (a former Armenian village), Tavuk Bar (chicken dance), Temiraga (Lord Temir), and Uzun Dere (long valley).]



Printed in Folk Dance Scene, July/August 1988.

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