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My Favourite Planet > Blogs > Cheshire Cat Blog > 2011
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June 2011
Istanbul essentials - Part 3

Istanbul wedding dance
The Cheshire Cat returns to the streets of Istanbul and finds himself
in the middle of a wedding celebration and some pretty wild dancing.
Astonishment in Istanbul at The Cheshire Cat Blog

What the ...?
  Video, article and photos by David John

For Henrik Hofmann

While wandering the narrow streets around the 12th century Byzantine Church of Christ the Pantocrator (Molla Zeyrek Camii) in Istanbul's Fatih district, I was taken by surprise when a group of wedding guests suddenly appeared, a car arrived, two dancers, wearing bright red and yellow skirts, and two musicians got out and started performing immediately and without further ado.

The dance was sprited, energetic, playful and flirtatious. One of the dancers would approach a wedding guest who held out a bank note. The dancer would then perform various acrobatic bends and girations around them before taking the note - sometimes between his teeth.

Everybody was happy and friendly, and they indicated that I should use my camera. So I did. The adults took part in the fun, mostly unselfconsciously, while the younger children reacted to the whole spectacle with amazement or uncontrolled laughter and excitement.

Then, as suddenly as they had arrived, the show was over, the performers got back into their car and disappeared again. Perhaps they were off to the wedding reception, or even to the next wedding.
  Later, I discovered that this dance belongs to the Köçek tradition.

Just about every region and village in Turkey has its own dance traditions, including those of ethnic minorities such as Kurds, Arabs, Armenians, Gypsies and Greeks. There are also dances imported from other countries as well as those developed as entertainment for the general public and Ottoman courts. According to Turkish author Professor Metin And [1], there are around 1500 different village dances in Turkey, many with ancient roots, in the form of pantomime depicting village life, nature, combat and courtship.

If anybody knows more about this dance or the dancers, I would love to hear from you. See the contact page.

See also other "Istanbul essentials":

Part 1 - animals

Part 2 - street workers
Young boy in Istanbul astonished to see a male kocheck dancer in a skirt at The Cheshire Cat Blog

What the...? Good grief! It's a man in a skirt!
... Introducing ...
Köçek dancers at a wedding in Istanbul, Turkey at The Cheshire Cat Blog

The Köçek dancers.

You only have to watch the video see how skilled, energetic, dramatic
and humorous these practitioners of this dance form are. I was very
impressed and entertained, and would be delighted not only to
see them perform again but also to discover more about their art.

For further information about Köçek dance, see the links [note 2] below.
Musicians playing the davul drum and zurna at a wedding in Istanbul, Turkey at The Cheshire Cat Blog

The musicians playing the davul (left) and zurna (right),
traditional Turkish instruments.

Zills, finger cymbals worn by Turkish kocek dancers at The Cheshire Cat Blog
The davul (also known as tapan or tupan, from the Greek tympano, and by many other names in various countries and regions) is a large, hand-held, double-sided drum, used in tradtional music in Turkey, Central Asia, the Levant, North Africa, the Balkans and Greece. Made with a hardwood drum shell and animal skin heads, designed and stretched so that one side produces a deep bass and the other a treble sound. Various types and thicknesses of dumsticks are also used to produce different tones and effects.

The zurna is a conical, double-reeded, woodwind instrument, similar to the oboe
and Armenian duduk (a straight instrument with a history of at least 1,500 years).
Made of apricot wood, zurnas are found in many sizes, and like the davul, are used
in many countries.

The Köçek dancers themselves also wear finger cymbals, known in Turkish as zil.
Kocheck dancers and musicians at a wedding celebration on the street in Istanbul's Fatih district at The Cheshire Cat Blog

Köçek dancers and musicians at a wedding celebration in Istanbul's Fatih district.

Ibadethane Sok, Kücükpazarthe, near the Church
of Christ the Pantocrator (Zeyrek Camii).
Kocheck dancers and musicians in the Fatih district, Istanbul at My Favourite Planet

Swing them hips!
Kocheck dancers and musicians, Fatih district, Istanbul at The Cheshire Cat Blog

That's the way you do it.
Kocheck dancers and musicians in Fatih district, Istanbul at The Cheshire Cat Blog

What do you think of the show so far?
Kocheck dancers and musicians in Istanbul at The Cheshire Cat Blog

Lightly gliding across the cobblestones.
Köçek dancers and musicians in Istanbul at My Favourite Planet

Everybody dance now.
Children watching Köçek dancers in Istanbul at The Cheshire Cat Blog

Audience reaction.

Hilarity at The Cheshire Cat Blog Amazement in Istanbul at The Cheshire Cat Blog Turkish delight at The Cheshire Cat Blog
Who's under the kilt at The Cheshire Cat Blog Istanbul enchantment at The Cheshire Cat Blog Entertainment in Istanbul at The Cheshire Cat Blog
The reactions of the children to the dancing spectacular were varied. Generally, the girls were enchanted and delighted by the dancers' graceful movements, athletic antics and theatrics. The younger boys were openly astonished - shocked even - by the sight of men prancing around in gaily-coloured skirts; an amazement which turned to uncontrolled laughter. The older lads were not at all sure what to make of it, or whether they ought to show their inner reactions: a mix of bewilderment, incredulity and scepticism.

As in any big city, the pace of change is rapid in Istanbul. The lifestyle of young people here is very different to that of their parents, grandparents or even cousins in Turkey's villages. Contact with foreigners as well as the influence of television, the internet and other trappings of modern life have changed people's interests, tastes and priorities. Fewer youngsters show an interest in carrying on folk traditions. It was notable that apart from members of the wedding party, all the spectators in the street were children, middle-aged and older locals: no young adults were to be seen. Folklore? Seen that, been there. One wonders if these children will be able to call on the services of such dancers at their own weddings.
Old wooden house near the Molla Zeyrek Mosque, in the Fatih district, Istanbul at The Cheshire Cat Blog

Dilapidated old wooden house in front of the Molla Zeyrek Mosque, Fatih district.

Families actually live in this wreck, and other constructions in even
worse condition. Unfortunately, renovation would lead to higher rents,
which few of the families could afford. Many such houses are simply
squatted by people who scrape together a living on the streets.
Molla Zeyrek Camii (formerly Church of Christ the Pantokrator, 12th century), Fatih, Istanbul at The Cheshire Cat Blog

Molla Zeyrek Camii, formerly Church of Christ the Pantokrator
(12th century), as seen from the Vefa district, with the Fatih
Camii (18th century) in the background.

Mosaic of Christ the Pantocrator, Hagia Sofia, Istanbul at The Cheshire Cat Blog

Christ the Pantocrator mosaic,
Hagia Sofia, Istanbul
The complex is currently closed
for much-needed renovation
which will take several years.
Sultan Ahmed Mosque, Istanbul at The Cheshire Cat Blog

Sultan Ahmed Camii (the Blue Mosque).
Hagia Sofia, Istanbul at The Cheshire Cat Blog

Hagia Sofia (Church of Divine Wisdom).
Ghost writers in the sky. Calligraphic clouds over the Sea of Marmara, Istanbul at The Cheshire Cat Blog

Ghost writers in the sky. Calligraphic clouds over the Sea of Marmara, Istanbul.
A few snaps
taken on the
streets of Istanbul.

Put your mouse over an image to see further details.
Tulips at the Topkapi Palace, Sultanahmet, Istanbul at The Cheshire Cat Blog

Topkapi tulips
Cockerel in Istanbul at The Cheshire Cat Blog

egg production
Cat in the Cagaloglu district of in Istanbul at The Cheshire Cat Blog

Istanbul cat
The Galata Tower, Galata Kulesi, Istanbul, built by the Genoese in 1348 at The Cheshire Cat Blog

Galata Tower
The Beyazit Tower, Beyazıt Kulesi, built as a fire watchtower in 1828 in the grounds of Istanbul University at The Cheshire Cat Blog

Beyazit Tower
The Beyazit Tower as seen from the Fatih district, Istanbul at The Cheshire Cat Blog

walking up
Fatih Hill
Selection of nuts in a shop in the Fatih district, Istanbul at The Cheshire Cat Blog

Istanbul nuts
A cormorant on a buoy in the Sea of Marmara, near the Kumkapi fish market, Istanbul at The Cheshire Cat Blog

Cat on the prowl in Kumkapi, Istanbul at The Cheshire Cat Blog

Kumkapi kat
A cute cat in Sultanahmet, Istanbul at The Cheshire Cat Blog

Seraglio cat
A seagull brooding in a plant tray beneath a TV satellite dish on a Sultanahmet rooftop, Istanbul at The Cheshire Cat Blog

Satellite gull
Ottoman emperor Süleyman the Magnificent at The Cheshire Cat Blog

Sultan Süleyman
the Magnificent
Ottoman architect Mimar Sinan at The Cheshire Cat Blog

Mimar Sinan
Window of the Pantocrator Church, Istanbul at The Cheshire Cat Blog

Pantocrator Church
  Blog postscript – Istanbul, the land of cats

During my most recent visit to Istanbul I had the pleasure of meeting Dr. Henrik Hofmann, a vet from Butzbach in Germany, who was visiting the city with his family. Henrik is a man with ideals and an active interest in animal welfare. He runs a blog in German called Es Spricht (It speaks) about his works and interests. The 30 April 2011 edition, "Istanbul ist Katzenland" (Istanbul is the land of cats), features several of his wonderful photos of cats in Istanbul to accompany his article about the plight of the enormous number of stray animals in the city.

In the blog he also calls for information about animal protection organizations in Turkey.
If you can help him, please send a message through his blogsite.

David John, May 2011.
  Notes, references and links
Once again I would like to thank Ilker Erakin at Mavi Onur Guesthouse for his hospitality, help and information. Thanks also to Konstanze Gundudis and Francis Caruso for their cooperation and support, to Hugh Feathertone for making music worth listening to on long bus journeys, and to the people of Istanbul.

Since this blog first appeared the Mavi Onur has closed down,
as Ilker is planning to open a new hotel.

The video Istanbul wedding dance can now also be viewed on YouTube. Please feel free to leave a comment on the video's YouTube page and encourage your friends to do so too.;

1. Professor Metin And (born 1927, Istanbul; died 2008, Ankara) was one of Turkey's foremost authorities on Turkish theatre, dance, ritual and miniature painting. Many of his books and articles have been translated into English, including:

A History of Theatre and Popular Entertainment in Turkey. Forum Yayınları, Ankara, 1964

Drama at the Crossroads: Turkish Performing Arts link past and present, East and West.
Isis Press. ISBN 978-975-428-026-5

Istanbul in the 16th Century: The City, the Palace, Daily Life.
Akbank. ISBN 978-975-7880-03-5

Karagöz: Turkish Shadow Theatre. Dost Yayınları, Istanbul, 1975. ISBN 975-7499-17-6.

I recommend this book, especially for its illustrations (although some of the photos are rather small). It is a valuable source of information about the history of turkish puppet theatre, its cultural environment and origins within the context of other theatre, music and dance traditions, and its influence on puppet theatre in other countries. Available in many bookstores in Turkey and from online sources, from around 30 Turkish Lira (15 Euros).

A Pictorial History of Turkish Dancing. Dost Yayınları, Ankara, 1976.

Magic In Istanbul

See also:

"Yapıkredi Sanat commemorates Turkish theater legend Metin And",

Hurriyet newspaper article about the exhibition "A master, a world",
at the Yapı Kredi Culture Center, Istanbul. 5 February, 2011., Wikipedia article in Turkish about Metin And.

2. Köçek dance

The careful study of historical documents concerning the origins and cultural milieu of the Köçek (Kochek) dance tradition is a relatively new field, in which Metin And, once again, was a pioneer. Many of the modern works on the subject understandably focus on the gender and sexuality issues surrounding the art form. See, for example:

Prof. Ş. Şehvar Beşiroğlu, Music, Identity, Gender: Çengis, Köçeks, Çöçeks. Musicology Dept., ITU TM State Conservatory. (also available as illustrated PDF download)

Turkish Cultural Foundation, Court dance in the Ottoman Empire.

"A Question of Köçek – Men in Skirts", at Belly Dancer's Mind – Dance and Transformation, the blog by Aziza Sa’id, a Middle Eastern belly dancer, performer, teacher and coach in Riverside, California.
Video, article and photos copyright © David John 2011

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