Each country has a rich tradition of dances which are preserved for years. In Turkey, the folk dance is the most important component of people’s entertainment culture. The Turkish folk dance carries thousands of years old cultural traditions to the future and takes a principal role in preserving a heritage.
The dominant dance forms are types of line dances. Some of the folk dances describe the relationship between man and nature, man and animal, and some that even describe relationships with plants. Other dances reflect on social events such as fighting, war, love, and courtship as their subject matter. There are others that reflect the ceremonies performed when a young man is about to go off to do his military service. There are also multiple dances about agriculture, the harvest, and having damaged crops. Other dances describe different occupations, such as shepherds. Men can perform dances that mirror the everyday lives of women. Then there are dances that describe daily tasks such as baking bread and milking, and others that describe a production procedure such as spinning yarn. As you can see, there are many different types of folk dances performed in various ways in Turkey, and they reflect the cultural structure of each region:
The 'Bar' in Erzurum province
The 'Halay' in the East and Southeast
The 'Hora' in Thrace
The 'Horon' in the Black Sea
'Spoon dances' in and around Konya
'Lezginka' in Kars and Ardahan
The most traditional of the folk dances is kılıç-kalkan (sword-shield), which is believed to be more than 700 years old. The dance, which is unique to Bursa, the former Ottoman capital city, has sent a message of peace to the world for centuries. It is believed that the dance emerged among Ottoman soldiers who waved their swords and shields to celebrate the conquest of Bursa by the Ottoman Empire in 1326. The dance can be performed with six people and more as long as the dancers are paired.
Kılıç-kalkan is played without music; however, when the sword and the shield strike each other, a rhythm emerges that accompanies the dancers. Although kılıç-kalkan seems brutal at first, the folk dance is not about war; it presents a cultural value.
The dance begins with figures animating a scene where soldiers are bidding farewell before leaving their homes to complete their military duties. Following the opening scene, military practices, practices with weapons and ceremonies unique to Turkish soldiers are reenacted. The dancers walk around the stage holding their swords and shields. The experienced soldiers invite fresh ones to the middle of the stage to take their oaths. Then, the dancers hit their shields with their swords, animating a scene about preparing for war. Afterward, dancers pair up and act like they are fighting each other but none of them emerge victorious. They always sharpen their sword with their shield, which makes a rhythmic sound. The sound of the sword hitting the shield causes the audience to get excited. Both parties try to protect themselves with their shields, and later on, the dancers try to hit their opponents in the head. The most exciting scene of the dance is when one of the dancers loses his weapon during the part when opponents throw their swords at each other. The dancer who loses his sword tries to get his sword back, and following a few smart tricks, he manages to do so. If he can get the sword, he attacks his opponent and the audience enjoy a few minutes of acrobatic moves. Although the dancers animate soldiers who fight each other, neither wants to overcome their opponent. In the end they realize that there is no need to fight when there are good things like peace, brotherhood and friendship. All dancers hug each other stressing that peace should dominate human relations.
Turkish folk dances are performed at all social occasions, from weddings and celebrations held for young men leaving for military service, to national and religious festivals, or local festivities. They are taught at the schools and universities. Every school in Turkey has at least one folk dance ensemble and a folk dance teacher. Turkey also hosts many local, national and international folk dance festivals. If you are visiting for vacation, you will surely find local festivals in which folk dances are performed in any Aegean or Mediterranean city. If you join an entertainment in Turkey, you will certainly evidence one of these dances and your friends will invite you to dance with them.