TURKEY AND THE OTTOMAN EMPIRE
The Turks came from Central Asia and settled in the Central Anatolian plateau. They were there for centuries before they gained possession of other parts of Anatolia, captured Istanbul and advanced into Europe, Africa and Asia to create an empire. The Anatolian peninsula is the bridge between Asia and Europe and many major migrants have travelled its path. Over a period of more than two thousand years it has been inhabited by representatives of various civilizations - Hittites, Greeks Phrygians, Lydians, Isaurians, Cappodocians and Byzantines to mention only a few. Although there is no one Turkish national dance, there are several thousand folk dances which incorporate elements from many of these cultures. Islamic prohibitions against dancing mainly affected the city dwellers, and not the peasants in isolated villages.
Metin And, a Turkish expert on Turkish Folk Dances maintains that there are great similarities between many Turkish folk dances and the dances of the Balkans (Yugoslavia, Romania, Bulgaria and Greece), and that some dances claimed by the Greeks may actually have come from the Turks. This is vehemently denied by most Greek scholars. Mr. And particularly mentions a style of dance called the "zeybek" (Turkish) which the Greeks call "zeybeckikos". More to the point, the Turkish word for dance "Ciftetelli" is also the name of a dance performed in Greece. He attributes this to their common heritage on the Anatolian plains. The ciftetelli, both a fast and a slow version, are familiar to all dancers who use Turkish music. The fast ciftetelli (or chiftetelli) rhythm is more exclusively Turkish than the slower.
Many references to practices in Turkish folk dances hint at the meaning of several standard dance props used by belly dancers. In the Turkish wedding ceremony, there is a henna ceremony performed for the bride at night, which includes a large circle dance where the participants hold lighted candles on plates. Both the henna decoration and the candles are considered to have a magical protective function. Men and women attend separate henna parties for the bride and bridegroom. The exact tradition varies from region to region: In Arapkir, the only women allowed to dance with lighted candles on saucers are those who are happy in marriage and have been married but once. Similar kinds of dances can be found in other countries which have been exposed to Moslem influence such as Persia, North Africa and Malaya, where the dance is called "menari hinei". The wedding ceremonies also utilize a sword as a magical protective device; for example, the sword dances performed in front of the wedding procession. There is also a Syrian Bride's dance, where the sword reminds the bridegroom to give her the proper respect!
Metin And classified the dances of Turkey into three categories: Religious dance, Dancing for one's own pleasure (as in folk dances), and Dance as Spectacle. Under the category of religious dance, the long honorable history of Sufi dancing emerges. Dance was also part of the lives of everyday people, who danced for their own pleasure. But the institution of professional dancers was so highly developed that it deserves a more detailed look.
Turkish dances developed on two different planes, and in two cultural settings: Istanbul the capital of the Ottoman empire, a few other large cities, and the rural villages. Mr. And maintains that the geographic isolation of remote villages has helped to preserv over a thousand folk dances. These peasants are the pastoral unsettled fragments of the nomad hordes who strayed into Asia Minor in the Middle Ages, some of whom are still semi-nomadic. The second level of development was the court influence at the time of the Ottoman empire. The slightest event at court could effect the entire populace: the birth of a new prince, the circumcision ceremony, a marriage the accession of a new ruler, or merely the girding on of the sultan's sword. All entailed the need for a public ceremony.
These festivities were on a huge scale, including spectacular pageants consisting of mock battles between Moslems and Christians, water triumphs, various plays, circus acts, fireworks, horse races, dancing and music. One miniature survives which shows dancing boys performing on water, by means of each one standing on a small, round raft which is balanced by counter-weights under the water. The dancers are tied to the raft by a vertical pole worn under their long skirts to conceal the attachment. Levni, an 18th century miniature painter, clearly depicts the ropes used to manipulate these small rafts. The sultan is watching the performance from the shore. It is impossible to say when this dance might have originated.
In Istanbul these festivities would have occurred in the same Hippodrome where the festivities of the Byzantine Empire had been held. There were also the usual anniversary, religious, commemorative and patriotic holidays which included dancing as part of the celebrations. These would have featured trade guilds, amateurs, and professional dancing troupes. Unfortunately, very little is known about the dances done by the professional dancers who entertained at these events. The specific information which is available on these spectacles dates from the sixteenth through nineteenth centuries, because the foreign visitors who saw these dances wrote a great deal about them.
The dancing girls and dancing boys are a recognized institution throughout the Near East; they were the actors and actresses of their time. However so little is known about them because dancing was regarded by the scholarly writers of the past as an "improper and wicked sport", especially when indulged in by professionals. The name for both dancing boys and girls is of the origin of this word is its similarity to the word "ingene" meaning gypsy. The majority of these dancers were, in fact, gypsies. The " upperchested harp, which is sometimes called a "jew's harp". There are two other words for dancing boys: "kÕek" (and their music kÕekÕe), and "tav~anÕa". The "tavsan rasan" dance (tavsan=rabbit) refers to the grimaces, facial contortions, light steps, and jumps, and facial expressions which imitated the rabbit. The difference in tav~an and kÕek was more in the manner of their dressing according to Metin And.
The kÕek, or dancing boys, were organized into different guilds or companies of entertainers called "kol". By the mid 1600's there were said to be some three thousand of these dancers, in approximately twelve companies. They were usually gypsies, Armenians or Jews, as Turks were not supposed to enter such a degrading profession. Be that as it may, these dancers were so beloved by their audiences that poets sang their praises in verse, praising their physical beauty and their skills.
The dancing boys were young boys whose dance and external appearance suggested femininity. Sometimes they grew their hair long and decorated their locks with ornaments and wore pointed hats. On some occasions they even dressed like girls. Their dancing consisted of leisurely walks, finger snapping, short mincing steps, slow movements, suggestive gestures, somersaulting, wrestling, rolling upon the ground and other forms of mimicry. The boys danced as long as they preserved their good looks and could conceal their beards. This custom which so astounded western travellers arose because of Islamic prohibitions against association with women. The dancing boys were a safe substitute for the prohibited women and girls, and any sexual liaisons which might have resulted were very much a part of the culture, even if not considered respectable.
The dancing girls also had a following. They were very reported to be very popular and a delight to see. A kol or company of engi consisted of the Kolba~i, the leader of the company and her assistant, and usually twelve dancing girls and four musicians called straci, one of whom played the fiddle, the other a double drum called nekkare, and the remaining two played tambourines. Their age limit was thirty to thirty-five. The Kolba~i and her assistant were older women. Their dancing was described as suggestive contortions, a good deal of stomach play and twisting of the body, falling upon the knees with the trunk held back (a backbend) to the extent that the spectators were encouraged to put a coin on their forehead. This is the same custom observed in Egypt called "nukoot". Every muscle and both shoulders were made to quiver (i.e. a shimmy) and all this was alternated with graceful poses and feminine affectations. Sometimes they would perform a pantomime of physical love with an expression of restrained passion; retiring as if alarmed or humiliated and sometimes taking bold or daring attitudes, pretending to throw their breasts or lips to the spectators.
The homosexual tendencies which occurred amongst the dancing boys also occurred amongst the female engi dancers, who sometimes performed in the bath houses. There was a special name for this type of dancer, called Zrefa (lit. graceful). There was a special kind of handkerchief and a special symbolic language used to reveal their inclinations. Just as dancing boys chiefly impersonated females dancing, the female dancers occasionally impersonated males, as they had always done when women performed plays in the seclusion of the harem. Another interesting aspect of harem performances is that the musicians who played for the Sultan's harem dancers were expected to play blindfolded.
One accessory of the dancing girls was a silken scarf. Holding the two ends of the silken scarf in their fingers, they would either play the shy maiden or the flirting courtesan; of they would twist a colored scarf into a rope and wind it round the head or neck, or else they would hold the scarf in front of their face like a veil, hence the names of the dance which have survived are "kaytan oyunu" or "tura Oyunu" (kaytan and tura mean silk cord, braid, knotted handkerchief). It was described as a pantomime on amorous relations executed to the accompaniment of eng and tambourine. Modern belly dancers, in imitation of this practice use large rectangular or half-circle veil
The study of stylized miniature drawings of these dancers shows one distinctively Turkish dance step which survives in Turkish folk dance today as the "stomp" (see Fig. 6): One can find countless pictures with calpara sticks in their hands, one arm overhead, and one foot raised with soles parallel to the floor, as if ready to stomp. It is entirely likely that the two distinctive populations, city and country peasants, had some effect upon each other. Two other distinctively Turkish dance movements, listed by Metin And, are crouching or kneeling movements, and foot stamping.
The authors of a French treatise on Turkish dance dated 1583 noted that many writers believe that the style of engi dancing originated from Spain. Metin And notes that this is quite probable, since there was a Jewish emigration movement from Spain to Turkey in the late 15th and early 16th century. A description of a dance published in 1759 also made the comparison: "the agility of the dances is accompanied with several postures displeasing to modesty. Some danced in the Spanish manner, with tolerable gravity, and with castingets in each hand. The band consisted of flutes, and drums of different sizes, which they beat on the upper part with a stick, and on the under with a bowl forming by this means differents sounds." This was more likely a re-occurrence of cross-culturization, since both dances came from eastern roots.
In Europe, Mr. And notes, engi dancing is invariably called belly dancing or danse du ventre, though the use of the pelvic or abdominal muscles is only one of the forms of cengi dancing. In his opinion, belly dancing is more likely to refer to a widespread and degenerated form of comic dancing in Anatolia.
The largest contribution of Turkish culture to belly dance is a rhythmic one. Turkish finger snapping (a special two-handed finger snap) is common to both gypsies and eastern dance in general. Turkey has a history of the manufacture of metal cymbals of all sizes; the cymbal was used with warlike effect by the Janissaries, those feared mercenaries. Mr. And also notes that both the dancing boys and girls marked time with finger snapping, with the calpara clapper sticks, or metal finger castanets called 'zil'. At some point small finger cymbals were played with a pair on each hand in the modern manner by dancers and entertainers. In fact, the most common word for modern cymbals is "zill", which is the Turkish word for them (Fig. . (The Arabic word is sagat.) They also used pairs of wooden clappers, one set in each hand, as portrayed in numerous miniature drawings. These were called "carpara" or "calpara", which derived from the Persian word "chalpara", meaning literally "4 pieces" (fig. 7). They even had an instrument similar to the ancient crotales, which was a simple set of tongs with three arms,(or zilli masa) with small cymbals attached to them. It was called egane, or 'jingling johnnie'.
In addition, Turkish music features complex and unusual rhythm patterns, such as the "asak" or limping rhythms which are polyrhythmic and asymmetrical such as 9/8, 9/4, 10/8, 7/8. The 9/8, or karslima (or kashlima) rhythm is often used as the opening rhythm for dance sets by belly dancers. The word "karslima" means "facing", and Mr. And says that this dance was originally one in the folk genre where two rows of dancers faced each other.