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 veils.

[fig 6] 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.

[fig 8][fig 7] 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. 8). (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.


Arabic music reached its culmination during the reign of Harun-al-Rashid, and his successors, the Abbasids, who were immensely influenced by the Persians. They held court in Damascas and Bagdad (The previous Sassanid dynasty was the last truly Persian dynasty). During his reign a festival was organized in which two thousand slaves were gathered together to sing. One of his successors, Al-Amin continued the tradition: The musician Ibn Sadaka tells that on a certain Palm Sunday he entered the palace of Al-Mamun, "There were twenty Byzantine slaves present, dressed in garments of Grecian silk, with girdles, golden crosses at their necks, and carrying palm and olive branches in their hands. The Caliph commanded Ibn Sadaka to sing and play while the Byzantine slaves danced some of their native dances. All of which transported the Caliph to such an extent that he got drunk and gave Ibn Sadaka a thousand pieces of gold." The wealthy citizens of Badgdad and other large cities of the empire likewise kept talented slaves for entertainment purposes.

When the Arabs entered the Spanish Peninsula in 711, they brought with them the same prohibitions on music and dance advocated by Islam. The religious law they imposed upon native Spaniards considered only "slaves and infamous folk" fit to be musicians. Their testimony was not legal in courts of law, and books about songs could not be lawfully sold. It was also forbidden to rent a house if flute or "bandola" playing was intended within. But as in the Empire, music eventually won out and even respectable women established singing schools in their homes. Trained performers like the female singer and lutist, Ajfa, were brought from the orient to the court of Abdu'r-Rahman I in Cordova. Abdu'r-Rahman II was so enamoured of the oriental singers that he had three women brought from the school of Medina (Fadal, Alam, and Kalam), with their own special section of rooms in his palace. Fadal had been a slave to one of the daughters of Harun-al-Rashid and had grown up in Bagdad. Thus, the same songs and instruments were used in Spain as in the Orient through the middle of the ninth century A.D.

By the twelth century, nomadic, wandering poets and musicians who wandered from city to city on the Spanish Peninsula were so numerous that there was a special designation for them, "ahdab". This meant people who were fond of jokes, yarns, and cheerful verses, many of which were quite bawdy. These compare to the "gaya ciencia" or ministrelsy of Europe. When Granada fell to the Christians in 1492, the Moriscos (or Moorish) entertainers continued to be appreciated, even as many Moors, Gypsies and Sephardic Jews were escorted to the ports and driven out of the country.


[fig 9] The history of oriental dance is intertwined with that of Gypsies, in their various guises in each country they travelled through. They came from India and spread across Europe, and finally stopped in Andulasia, an isolated Spanish region. The Spanish Gitana in fig. 9 is the modern heir to this tradition. Wherever they went they made money in whatever way they could, including working as entertainers. The Gypsies who traveled westward brought many of these sounds to the west. The Gypsies took the combination of complex Indian rhythms mixed with the Islamic melodic themes to Andulasia. "One can hear the strong Arabic influence in flamenco music....the dance moments in flamenco with the hips and the portrayal of strong emotion and passion are essentially Arabic." Flamenco dances, primarily associated with the gypsies of Andulasia are considered to be of fairly recent origin. However, these dances probably incorporate many traditional characteristics of Spanish dancing, thus preserving them.

Perhaps the earliest record of Gypsy migrations is that recorded in the Shah Nameh (or King's Book) written about 1,000 AD. The Persian poet Firdawsi tells of twelve thousand itinerant minstrels, the Luri, sent to Persia from India about 420 AD, upon the request of a Sassanide prince, Bahram Gur, who intended that they should lighten the life of his hard-working people and charm away their misery. He provided them with grain and agriculture that they should support themselves. This plan was, of course, doomed to failure. The Luri used the supplies and made no attempt at farming. Furious at the waste, the prince sent them all away and condemned them to roam and earn a living by smuggling and begging. This account was confirmed in 940 A.D. by the Arab historian, Hamza.

[fig 10] insert map page, fig. 10 & 11

The connection of Gypsies to India has been proven by ethnologists and linguists. The story the Gypsies have always told about "being from Egypt", and therefore Gypsies has no particular validity. By the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries scholars had begun to question the theory of Egyptian origins. Grellman, one of the outstanding scholars of this era, analyzed Gypsy language, Romany, and found that it was "basically composed of Sanskrit words, many still in pure form, and that it most closely resembled the dialects spoken in northwestern India (1807:11-14)" (fig. 10). He therefore concluded that they did, indeed, originate in India. This theory was further confirmed by anthropological studies of Gypsy physical characteristics; Kroeber notes that the Gypsies "originated in India and they show definite evidence of that fact in their blood type and in the Romany speech of which they retain remnants".

The incredibly ancient & complex history of India does not lend itself to tracking one small group of nomadic people, but the arrival of the Aryans about 1500 B.C. as conquerors could have crowded them to less desirable areas. In addition, about a thousand years later the north of India suffered attacks from Greeks, Persians, Scythians and Kusheans. Gypsiologists speculate that their migrations might have begun about the year 1000 A.D. Their travels left them scattered throughout the countries of the East (fig. 10-map).

Indians themselves have been less than eager to claim the Gypsies. Jean-Paul Clebert obtained the following information from a Bengali man: "The only tribes which can be called Gypsies are the Vanjara, the Lamani, the Chhara and the Luri.... The Vanjara live in the neighborhood of Bombay, in the Gudjerat, the Maharashtra and Hyderabad. They are beggars and makers of trumpery objects; they live a nomad existence in groups, and use donkeys but not wagons. They sleep in tents. They may engage in magical medicine, but they are neither smiths nor mountebanks. The Lamani are a very handsome people with comparatively fair skins, and tattooed. Their women wear long dresses, heavy bracelets and little bells attached to their ankles. The people thereabouts believe that they come from Iran, and accuse them of kidnapping children. As for the Chhara, they are first and foremost thieves. A local proverb claims that a Chhara who is a bad pickpocket has no chance of getting married". Clebert speculates that this name Chhara may be related to that of the Churari, which designates one of the contemporary groups of Gypsies.

The Gypsies were given names by the inhabitants of each country they visited, and linguists have generated many theories based upon these names: Luri (Baluchistan), Luli (Iraq), Karaki, Zangi (Persian), Kauli (Afghanistan), Cinghan#s or Tchingan#s (Syria and Turkey), and Katsiveloi, Tsiganos, or Atsincanoi (Greek). Nevertheless, the first law of linguistics as stated by Martin Block says that 'The number of foreign words adopted by the Gypsies corresponds to the length of their sojourn in the different countries'. By applying this principle, the Gypsies remained in the Near East, Persia and mainly in Turkey and Greece between the 10th and 15th centuries. Basic Romany does, in fact, comprise many Greek, Turkish, and Armenian words.

The tradition of the Kalderash Gypsies, who consider themselves the only true Gypsies, tells that some Gypsies who were smiths were responsible for the maintenance or working stock, and followed the Tartar armies on their moves from place to place. MacMunn agreed with this in his treatise "Moeurs et coutumes des basses classes de l'Inde" in 1394, stating 'The Bohemians of Europe, without any doubt, followed the armies of the Huns, Tartars and Seljuks, and our own Gypsies who work in metals and grind our knives certainly sharpened swords and blades for the armies who traversed Europe in every sense.' Unfortunately, documents relating to the Huns and Tartars never mention the Gypsies, thus the existence of these camp followers remains unproven.

[fig 11]

Gypsies, or Rom, began to appear in Southeastern Europe over six hundred years ago (fig. 11-map): Clebert summarizes the dispersion of the Gypsies as follows: Byzantium (855 A.D.?), Crete (1260 or 1322), Corfu (1346), Serbia (1348), The Peloponnese (1378), Basle (1414), Transylvania and Moldavia (1417), Saxony (1418), France (1419), Denmark (1420?), Bologna and Rome (1422, Paris (1427), England (1430), Scotland (1492), and Russia (1500). as shown in fig. 11. They entered Northern Spain by 1447 to join with the colonies of Rom who had entered from the south earlier via North Africa. One unusual fact should be noted, though: the Gypsies had a distinct aversion to travel over water, and Clement notes that they set foot onto ships "with the utmost repugnance".

The Gypsies found kindred spirits in the region of Spain known as Andulasia. Not only does this area provide plenty of isolated areas to escape from law and regulation, it's inhabitants had been influenced by the occupation of the Moors. The legendary ruler Nasrid Granada left a heritage of romanticism, and oriental mysticism. Starkie notes that both Gypsies and Andulasians shared several common beliefs including a preoccupation with the death theme, and their inherent nature as a proud people intent on preserving their traditions. The Andulasians said of the Gypsies, "tienne la alegria de estar triste [rejoices in being sad]" (1953:96). In addition, both groups place a high value on individualism and familial loyalty. Thus was born the caste of Flamenco. "Flamenco" came to mean "Gypsy" and the class of Spainards who associated with Gypsies or led a Gypsy-like life. This lifestyle included the flamenco arts of music, dancing and bullfighting. Strangely enough, although numerous laws were passed specifically against Gypsies, the Spanish inquisition had little effect upon them. It was reported that the Gypsies were looked upon with such contempt that the holy officials were indifferent as to whether they had religion or not.

The Gypsy culture is one in which one tells the "Gadjo" (or outsider) whatever he/she wishes to hear, or whatever makes a good story. Although we think of them as a gay and happy people, the music which they make for themselves is invariably tragic, sorrowful or revengeful. For the Gadjo, they sing happier songs because they know it is preferred. Their private lives are distinctly separate from their public lives. "Public" is whenever they are forced to interact with outsiders to make a living. Although they have a well-deserved reputation as thieves, there are traditional Gypsy occupations, such as entertainer, metalworker, fortunetelling, and horsetraders. The trades practiced by certain castes in Northern India were traditionally those of smith and metal worker, musician and public entertainer as well as purveyor of herbal medicine - all trades linked to occult practices and pagan beliefs. To this day, many nomadic women in the Near East bear hand and ankle tatoos thought to be Gypsy in design, often a universal symbol meaning a traveler. This intense tribal pride is significant in maintaining their cultural identity throughout their travels, and is characteristic of true Gypsies.

It has been maintained by some that the gypsies have no true religious beliefs, and no music of their own, so successfully have they taken on the flavor of each culture where they have lived. However, in reality their entire culture centers around shamanistic beliefs in the spirits that dwell in nature, a distinct remnant of Central Asian shamanistic beliefs. Gypsies believe that certain demons and spirits hold sway over each individual's daily life. For example the Gypsy artist must wait and hope for his personal "duende" or demon, to enter into him and flood him with inspiration before achieving true artistry, even when he/she must perform to eat. Thus, the entertainment of Gadjo becomes a game of fooling the uninformed that the spirit has entered the performer even when it has not. This deep emotion helped create in Andalusia the "cante jondo" or deep song, which contrasts to the lighter "canto flamenco". Flamenco dance styling has a distinct similarity to classical Persian dance, as well as modern Central Asian dance, in the distinctive use of arms and the high body center. Whereas modern Arabic dance centers its moves in the abdomen and keeps the arms mostly at shoulder level, both Flamenco and Persian dance center the weight in the chest and use the maximum amount of space above the head to perform graceful and effect arm and hand movements.

Gypsy dancing is never "just to be dancing", comments Gypsiologist Barbara Sellers. "Instead it seems to be part of an immense and significant non-verbal vocabulary of Gypsy communication and behavior. It is at the heart of an essential transformation, a transcended state, an escape from the reality of their daily lives to a more satisfying state of mind". This is especially important to remember because oriental dance is consistently related to both religion and eroticism in various contexts. Modern Flamenco dance has developed its own styling and culture, but its roots are the same as those for belly dance styling. Sellers mentions the dance of the Turkish Gypsies, the Kocek(i) as one specific dance which encourages this much desired transcendent state. To this day in Istanbuhl, Turkey, there is a Turkish Gypsy quarter known as "Sukule".

[fig 9][fig 13] Gypsy women are considered by western culture to be extremely immodest because they have no shame about the upper body, exposing their breasts to nurse or for other reasons. However, they have many taboos about the lower body. Exposure of the lower half of the body, publicly or privately, is considered extremely defiling and therefore taboo. Therefore, the traditional dress of gypsy women is a wrap-around skirt with pleats, requiring nine to ten yards of material; it reaches to the floor, for women's ankles are not supposed to be seen. There are also taboos against a husband and wife sharing the same set of soaps and towels, the same set of dishes, and numerous taboos about how men and women may touch. The attire of gypsy women as they dance in the caves of Spain is traditionally, dancing barefoot, with a large full skirt, and a blouse which might not reach to the waist (Fig. 9). This costume bears similarity to the ancient court costumes of India, which featured a short top and a very full skirt and head scarf (fig. 10).

The elusive nature of Gypsy culture leads to much frustration on the part of the researcher. For instance, when tracing the history of finger cymbals, one finds them played, along with the calpara sticks, by the dancers of Istanbul (who were mostly Gypsies or Jews). Spanish Gypsies are said to have disdained the use of castanets, declaring them "false finger snaps", using even their fingers and mouth for rhythm. And when they did take up finger cymbals, often played them "in the old manner", placed over the middle finger. There is, of course, no record of when small metal finger cymbals began to be played in the modern manner by dancers with two pairs: one on each thumb and middle finger. Although Turkey, with its tradition of cymbal-making and use is a likely location. Any dancer would readily see that with a separate pair on each hand there is a much freer range of movement possible. And we remember, once again, that gypsies also had a long tradition of metal work.