Turkey, a bridge between two continents namely Europe and Asia, has been home to civilizations for about nine thousand years. Folk dancing dramatizes its rich cultural heritage. These have characteristics that are based on region and are generally engaged during weddings, gatherings, festivals, while sending their sons off to military services and during religious and national holidays. Different gender roles are demonstrated by these dances. Let us discuss about Halay, an important Turkish dance. Being the national dance of Turkey, it has originated from the empire of Assyrian. Hailing from Turkey’s eastern, south–eastern and Central Anatolia Region, Halay is accompanied by equally rich music and instruments. According to the Guiness World Records, the largest Halay Dance was performed by 904 dancers in Antalya, Turkey on 19th April, 2009.

How did the dance originate?

Halay, also known as Yalli or Dilan is a popular dance of the Middle East whose roots can be dated back to many centuries ago. It was held around a ceremony bonfire and hence it symbolise ‘hot, light and meal’. According to Azerbaijanis, the word ‘yal’ means row or a line of chain. On the other hand, a possible connection is suggested by one source of the Turkish Halay to Alay. Halay is derived from the word ‘Alay’ meaning ‘many people, unity, union or cooperation’. It is usually implied to a continuity of a human group. It usually refers to getting together with people. Although found in three different regions, Halay is frequently associated with two cities in Central Anatolia namely Sivas and Corum. 

How is it performed?

Halay has its own special form in nearly every village in most parts of Central Anatolia, Eastern Anatolia and the South. Performed by both men and women, the dancers hold each other’s hands or shoulders and place themselves in a line or in a semicircle. Every dance has a leader who regulates the steps and directs the figures by calls or waves of an accompanying handkerchief. The first dancer in the row is the ‘halaybasi’ whereas the last dancer is called the ‘poccik’. Both the first as well as the last dancers have handkerchief in their hands and they swing it according to the rhythms of music. The dancers begin slowly after the announcement of the leader and they gradually increase their speed over two–three sections. Claps are often featured by individuals with opposing partners. Unlike the saloon dances, Halays are usually played in the open air.

Which musical instruments are needed to perform Halay?

Halay has been the structure of simplicity as well as the symbol of creation for many folk dances in the world. It has very rich rhythmic elements. These include the drum–zurna combination with kaval (the shepherd’s pipe), sipsi (reed), cigirtma (fife) or baglama (a three double–stringed instrument played with a plectrum). Most of the time, claps and powerful voices of zurna and davul are preferred. In addition to this, the gentler sounds provided by the wind instruments include mey, kaval, the clarinet as well as the baglama.

Is there a costume peculiar to this dance?

Costumes are a fascinating part of the Turkish dances. Males generally wear short jackets with split sleeves, a distinctive headgear, an aba (a coat of coarse wool), baggy trousers, colourful socks and Yemeni (peasant shoes). Women, on the other hand, wear single, double or triple skirts complemented by a short jacket known as cepken, salta (a collarless jacket) or a camadan (a double–breasted waistcoat). Baggy trousers and salvar can also be seen. Coins, jewels, embroidery that adorn their heads, decorated aprons, socks bearing folk motifs and cariks complete their attire.

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