The Society of Folk Dance Historians (SFDH)
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Information: Ezher N. Üremez, teacher of Turkish and international folk dance.
Ezher said, "My obsession and love of folk dancing can be attributed to most of the Turks, including Ataturk. (For me it's become my religion.) I have a video of him doing a zeybek and a waltz at a ball. My mom's father lived on the same street as Ataturk in his childhood in Solanika, they were Slavic Turks; my grandma lived in Nevrikop, Bulgaria, they were Pomak Turks; and my father's parents and grandparents in Crimea were Crimean Turks. [This was] before they all emigrated to Turkish soil during the Balkan Wars. Therefore, I consider myself a true citizen of the world, just like most of us kindred souls. Every dance touches my heart and soul, every dance means something very special to someone. And the music, that healing music . . . it has literally saved my life."
Ezher performed her first Turkish Folk Dances solo in l964 at various events in Arizona such as school assemblies and American Field Service student gatherings. Those dances were Delilo, Dokuzlu, and Tamzara. Her costume was blue satin shalvar and vest and a cute little cap with a scarf over it. All pieces had beautiful black embroidery on them and were made by her mother. But the very first folk dances she learned were Scottish and Irish and they were taught to her in the English High School for Girls in the years between l959 and 1962 in İstanbul, Turkey, by her Scottish Gym teacher. They would learn them in Gym classes and then they would have one performance for their parents during the school year.
From l954 to 1959, Ezher attended Fatih Elementary in Fatih, İstanbul, Turkey, and from l959 to 1964, she attended the English High School For Girls (Middle School) in Beyoğlu, İstanbul. She had actually caught the bug as a little girl, watching her dad dancing zeybeks, especially Harmandali Zeybek, his favorite, at home. He used to look so majestic to her that when she closed her eyes, she could still see him dancing in the middle of their living room. They lost him in l963. He would make her and her sister dance the zeybek, imitating him, taking big bold steps, spreading their arms like eagles. They'd take it so seriously.
After one year of High School in the United States, she graduated from Tempe High School in Tempe, Arizona. As an American Foreign Exchange Student (AFS), her life as a legitimate folk dancer began on her return to İstanbul. By that time she was 17 and had joined the Robert College Turkish National Folk Dance Ensemble. During 1965 to 1970, they toured in Turkey to Tarsus and Ordu on the Mediterrenean and Black Sea Coasts. They performed annually on campus, representing Turkey in international competitions in Dijon, Paris; Barcelona, Spain; and Ohrid, Macedonia. They were given round Turkish flag pins to wear on their costumes that signified they were national dancers.
They used to rehearse religiously from 10:00 a.m to 5:00 p.m. on Sundays on campus to live music. They had several teachers who would go to Anatolia and reseach the dances and bring them back. They had a zurna player, a drum player, a clarinet player, and an accordion player. Every detail of styling of each region would be hammered into their heads. Repetition and discipline were given and they were totally immersed in the culture and the dances for seven hours on Saturdays and Sundays as the performances got closer. They also had a very famous music teacher, Ruhi Su, who trained the chorus. He had an incredible voice and he played the baglama.
In 1965, she was enrolled at the American College for Girls (ACG), a Junior College in Arnavutkoy, İstanbul, working on her Bachelor's in English Literature. She used to listen to Balkan folk dance LPs in the ACG Library and was in love with the music. In 1968, she transferred from Robert College School of Business Administration and Economics, to St. Louis, Missouri, and started taking classes in History and Political Science at the University of Missouri.
During 1970 and 1971, she formed a Turkish Performance group from among the Turks in St. Louis, and they gave a few local performances at festivals. She believed she was one of the earliest Turkish folk dance teachers to teach Turkish Silifke spoon dances in the United States. From l971 to 1973, she attended Wake Forest University, in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, taking a Double Major in History and Political Science, graduating with a B.A., Cum Laude. She taught a group Turkish dances and they gave a few local performances. Also, she remembered corresponding with Bora Özkök. Although they had never met, he was intrigued by her skill in spoon dances.
From l974 to 1975, Ezher attended Bosphorus University in Bebek, İstanbul, taking a Masters in Education in Social Sciences. Then, from 1976 to 1978, she was back in the states taking a Masters in Education in Social Studies and French at Indiana University in South Bend, Indiana. From there, she went to Georgia State University in Atlanta, Georgia, in 1980 and 1981, taking fifteen credit hours in a Ph.D. Program in Higher Education. She invited Tomas Chavez to the Atlanta folk Dance Group in 1980 for a very successful Balkan Workshop.
Ezher was married from 1974 to 1988, and although her husband was not a dancer, he was supportive of her passion.
In 1976, in South Bend, Indiana, a whole new world opened up in front of her. She had discovered international folk dancing and even found a group and joined them. In Ann Arbor, Michigan, in 1978, she learned the dances of Pece Atanasovski, Atanas Koloravski, Dick Crum, Ada Dziewanowska, and Mihai David from Tomas Chavez. She had founded another Turkish Performance group there and they were getting a lot of support from the Turkish Society of Ann Arbor. She regreted not having stayed in Ann Arbor longer.
From 1979 to l982 she danced with the Izvorni International Performance Group in Atlanta, Georgia and with her Turkish Folk Dance Performance Group.
When she was pregnant with Emre in l983, she used to dance at home by herself in Salisbury, Maryland, where there was no folk dancing.
Then, in 1984, they moved to Rochester, New York, where she lived the next 17 years.
During 1984 to 2001, she taught international folk dances for Aesthetic Education Institute to teachers at workshops during the summer months then to students during the school year all over upstate New york. She taught an Artists-in-Residence Program through the National Education Association and was a Young Audiences folk dance teacher at public schools, music schools, and festivals. She became the Rochester International Folk Dancers president and teacher, and was a performing dancer with Da Igramo Folk Dance Ensemble, dancing in Bulgarian, Romanian, Macedonian, Hungarian, Polish, and Israeli suites.
She founded the Turkish groups Solen and Turkiyem and danced with Sharsharet Israeli Ensemble and Folkloristica Italiana, founded by David Valentine.
Her son Emre, and David Valentines' children, Mark and Nicole, were in the Children's Italian Folk Dance Group for about five years. A couple of times she substitued for a child if there was a kid missing. Ezher also taught Italian Folk Dances at Casa Italiana to Children at Summer Camp for several years and taught international folk dance at the Golden Link Folk Festival in l989 and l990.
Her Turkish ensemble participated in Turkish Day in New York City in l990 and in Caravan International Festival twice in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, in l989 and l990. They also did a television program.
In l984 she was the leader and founder of Turkish folk dancing at the Turkish American Society of Rochester, New York. She was awarded with the Most Valuable Citizen Certificate by the Turkish Society. There was a Turkish Festival on the grounds every year, and every year for ten years they put on six performances for the folks who came to see Turkish arts and crafts and eat Turkish foods. From 1984 to 2000, she was the teacher and leader of Solen and Turkiyem in Rochester, giving six performances a day.
Ezher taught Russian Folk Dances at a workshop in Canandaigua, in Sonnenburg Gardens, to gifted students. In fact, that's where she became an American Citizen in l989. She also was the teacher for the Israeli folk dance group at the Jewish Community Center for a year.
All the ethnic performance groups participated in various festivals every year such as the Rochester Science Museum Winter Festivals and the Lilac and Clothesline Festivals in Rochester. She taught at the Geneseo College and SUNY College, the Brighton, Pittsford, and Rochester School District special events, ethnic gatherings, and the Kodak Museum. Ezher was the recipient of two Arts Grants from the City of Rochester, which allowed her to bring Ahmet Lüleci for a workshop with her performance group.
In 1998, Ezher was the Folk Dance Instructor at the University of Rochester Dance Department, teaching Folk Dances from Around the World, Sacred Dance, Middle Eastern Folk Dances, and Turkish Folk Dances. In 1999, they invited Michael Ginsburg for a Balkan workshop at the University.
Ezher moved to Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2001 after her son Emre started at the University of Virginia. Then folk dancing faded out for Ezher. She was in poor health and had a brain surgery in 1993 and 2003. Later, in 2005, she revived international folk dancing in C'Ville at the Thomas Jefferson Church. Then she danced at the International Residence Hall with the students in 2006. She continued her classes with the public in the Libraries of Charlottesville until 2008. While there, Ezher taught folk dances to University wives and had a workshop with the United Nations Chapter of Charlottesville. She taught dances to a couple of schools, one being Tandem, and also taught folk dances to Richmond Folk Dancers. She learned one of her Turkish folk dances, Saza Niye Gelmedin, from Sam Storeman, the leader of the Richmond International Folk Dancers.
And now her son has his Law Degree from the University of Virginia.
In 2006, Ezher was invited by Judith Hook, Director of University of Rochester Dance Department, to conduct an international folk dance workshop accompanied by Karamfil, the local Balkan Band.
Ezher was an Honorary Member of the Society of Folk Dance Historians. She also loved Vyts Beliajus and Viltis and was crushed when he died, no longer having that connection to the rest of the folk dance world. Then Ron Houston and his dad gave it back to us. She was very grateful for all the knowledge and dances.
Ezher had learned dances from Tayyar Akdeniz, Sunni Bloland, Iliana Bozhanova, Dick Crum, Andor Czompo, Alexandru David, Shawn Donaldson, Ada Dziewanowska, Michael Ginsburg, David Henry, Nicholaas Hilferink, Ron Houston, Petur Iliev, Martin Koenig, Atanas Kolarovski, Steve Kotansky, Jaap Leegwater, Ahmet Lüleci, Yves Moreau, Dick Oakes, Lee Otterholt, Olga Sandolowich, Moshe Telem, George Tomov, Danni Uziel, David Vinski, and Yuliyan Yordanov, to name a few."
Ezher's brain problem returned in an even worse location and she had numerous treatments and surgeries to no avil. Her son, Emre, went back to Turkey with her in August of 2009 and she died there on September 29th.
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