Monday, May 25, 2015

Dance Lessons--How to Dance the Govend, part 2

Sorry for the long delay--it was a busy Spring.
The govend at our wedding

So let's begin with another dance essential to know, the şemamê. This is a relatively new dance cooked up by youngsters and based on an older traditional dance. Here’s how our teacher Sedat explains it.

“The ‘şemamê’ comes from the ‘şêxanî’ govend. Over time, the rhythms of popular music, in particular hip hop and disco, were added to the şêxanî as its rhythms were particular amenable to this. In Van this dance is called the  hêjirokê’, but the song is different. There is a general terminology problem with these dances—each one is named according to the song they are danced to it seems, instead of according to the steps, so that the same dance can have several different names just because one region chooses a different song to perform them too.”

The handwork in the şemamê is tricky—your feet are doing one thing and your hands another and the synchronization is a bitch to master and make look natural. The fancier versions of the şemamê involve all sorts of little half-steps and change-steps and tricks with the feet and legs. And everyone comes up with new variations all the time that you kind of half to catch whenever you join a dance with people you don’t know. The dance also is unique because it starts on the left foot while most govends start on the right.

Here’s the şemamê. Watch the boys on the left, at the head of the line. 
Learn it here, in Turkish, but she shows you step  by step so it's easy if you don't speak the language.

And here’s the şêxanî from which it sprung.

Now let’s get naughty. Close the curtains, switch off the phone taps. You just cannot ignore the existence of what’s casually known as the “guerilla halay”—you’ll see some of the kids at rallies dancing this one. Let me again refer to Sedat Hoca to explain this one.
The guerilla halay (or govenda şoreşgeran as I think it should be more properly known) is actually a slower version of the steps of the govend. Since mostly guerillas danced this govend or, since people saw guerillas while they were dancing this govend, it was referred to with a sentence like ‘the dance that they do’ or the ‘the dance the guerilla’s perform’ and eventually was shortened to ‘guerilla halay.’ In other words, under the most basic of circumstances, it’s just called the govend, but due to different factors and in different regions more ‘interesting’ names might be used. Typically it just takes the name of the song it’s danced to. We danced it to the song ‘Keleşo’ so some would call it ‘keleşo.’
Supposedly, once the public starts doing the dance that the guerillas do and starts copying them, the guerillas quickly drop it and invent a new one to be the next ‘guerilla halay.’ The one we learned has been public for a while now and the steps are symbolic. It starts off slow with simple bounce-steps but eventually builds into huge leaps. You take two double hops forward symbolizing an advance. Then with your left foot you come forward and down hard, then move back two double steps. The govenda şoreşgeran can be done with music but is more often done without, the dancers singing one song or another.

We learned to a ditty called Keleşo. Just before Delal’s Dad was released, as we waited in front of the prison gates, a group of young boys built a bonfire and started dancing the guerilla halay to Keleşo around the flames. They were then quickly shown up by two young girls from Hakkari who busted into moves so quick and furious, no one else could follow. They couldn’t have been more than twelve but they knew how to cut a rug.

I’ll introduce just one last dance—although there are lots more. It’s called the çepkî which means ‘lefty’—a name it sports because the line moves left instead of the usual right. It has a three step count starting with the left foot—on the second step you kind of crick your knee and then hop back on the fourth step as your right foot goes out. You repeat this three times, then do two side steps to the right before you launch into another hop. The hand work on this is tricky, too—completely different than what the feet are doing—circles, forward thrusts, back swings to various counts of one, two and three. You can also kick instead of step in a kind of Riverdance version. Here’s a video of what a really young and wild (and possibly drunk) çepkî might look like.

This video shows you the steps—though the dancers are not very animated.

These are just a few of the dances we learned. There are several other rather slow and dignified ones that resemble something out of the Aegean region. Sedat Hoca feels there is a basic problem with the nomenclature and has devised an alternative classification system based on the speed of the dance and the speed of the music. The slow dances are called granî (which means heavy in Kurdish). Each category after that grows greater in speed. Normally, you’ll see each dance classified according to region but then that leads to someone from Hakkari insisting that such and such is her dance while someone from Dersim, dancing the exact same steps, will call it by a different name, and argue that it is a Dersim tradition. Why not, Sedat says, classify them all more systematically according to speed and form?

Sedat, a professional dancer with the Kardeş Türkler who also performed in the über professional Anatolian Fire, sees the govend as a very political thing. His is the first class of its kind—in America or in Japan, there’d be hundreds of these dance classes all across the country. I think of the Cambridge Dance Complex in Boston or the Middle East dance studios all over Tokyo and Osaka. And though I have seen ‘Folk Dance’ courses here and there, nothing focuses on the dances of the Southeast. 

Apparently, he met a lot of resistance when he decided to start a course—his friends in the dance world resented the idea of a “Kurdish” dance class. They gave the usual arguments—these dances belong to everyone. How can you classify them as “Kurdish”? Of course no one gets their panties in a tangle when someone calls the horon a Black Sea dance or the Zeybek an Aegean dance. In my opinion, hell yeah these dances belong to everyone. I can take a ‘Black Sea’ dance course and not cry about how the name ‘Black Sea’ makes me feel uncomfortable. Why should the name ‘Kurdish’ be a problem?
Ah, well, we all know why. Call anything ‘Kurdish’ and it’s like you’re declaring war here—a mindset reinforced by the media and years in an education system created by a fascist military coup.

Sedat is definitely a nationalist young man. In his view, the assimilation policies of the last one hundred years have affected folk dance as well. Kurdish folk dances not recognized by the Turks were ignored, many lost, while dances similar to Turkish ones but with some different steps or flourishes were assimilated to get rid of the differences and make the dance exclusively Turkish. The same with songs. A lot of the Kurdish songs have been translated into Turkish and the Kurdish versions lost or forgotten.
Recently, Delal has been watching ‘Eyes on the Prize’ in preparation for our trip to Alabama. She couldn’t help but notice that as the young protesters were attacked with fire hoses or dragged off to prison or attacked by dogs they always responded with songs. Black people faced their aggressors with music. One man in Arkansas actually danced in the water of the firehouse. Music as defiance, as an integral part of a people and their struggle for justice.

‘That’s us, too,’ Delal says. ‘No matter what is happening, we are going to find a way to do the govend. We did it at Gezi. We did it at the hunger strike protests. Everywhere for every reason, the govend.’


radish said...

I've been reading your blog for some years. I've enjoyed your personal take on national matters, it has made the news more real for me. I also enjoy your references to your classroom, as I also teach - at a technical college in the Midwest. My wife and I are in Istanbul from time to time on vacation, usually on our way to an Anatolian farm where we work for a week or two. We'll be there next later this summer. Would you care to get together for tea, coffee, or lunch? Is there a better way to communicate with you? I just now "joined" your site.

Jeff Gibbs said...

Sure. my email is