Folk dancing has very deep roots here in North Cyprus and in fact, across Cyprus as a whole. The rich history of this island means that its culture and arts such dancing have been influenced by many centuries and the traditions of the latter are being kept alive and well with folk dancing displays being given to the pubic on a regular basis. Attend any of the yearly festivals and you will no doubt be treated to a wonderful example of traditional dancing.
Dances were usually performed on big occasions such as at weddings and harvest days, but because of their popularity with the visiting public, and due to efforts by local folk arts organisation HASDER, dancing has now become something of an international ‘sport,’ with folk dancing competitions taking place in TRNC in which countries from all over the world participate.
One dance you are likely to see in North Cyprus that features both men and women is the traditional ‘kartchilamas’, this is a series of different dances combined, where dancers hold each others wrists and form a circle. There are twelve basic steps and one main dancer leads the rest, with separate dances performed by both the men and women, with the men throwing swords into the air and catching them, and women dancing with clay pots, depicting their role as providers.
Dancers look brilliant in their traditional colourful attire, and dances can sometimes last for half an hour or so, meaning that training and practice is paramount to enable the performers to carry on for this amount of time! North Cyprus folk dancing dresses come in a variety of colours depending on which area they are from, and they feature a long colourfully embroidered overdress called the Ucetek. Brightly coloured headscarves with tinkling gold coins are also worn to finish off the costume. Men usually wear white shirts with black trousers and knee length boots, with a splash of colour provided by a bright waistcoat with a handkerchief, and a fez hat.
If you see a folk dance at a festival in North Cyprus it is likely to be performed to a taped version of the music, but sometimes you may be lucky enough to see the musicians accompanying them with instruments such as the ‘darbuka’ and ‘davul’ which are forms of drums, the ‘zurna’ which is a traditional reed instrument with a middle eastern sound, and also the violin – and sometimes even the mandolin and accordion.
There are also yearly international folk dance festivals and competitions on the island, and countries such as Russia, Serbia, Turkey and even Nigeria and Taiwan are invited to participate in a week-long celebration of traditional folk dancing. Municipalities from Gönyeli and Iskele amongst others have folk dancing groups that also get to travel and show their art in other countries and at worldwide competitions.
One organisation, formed originally in 1977, is HASDER, its a folk arts foundation and initiative that aims to promote traditional Turkish Cypriot culture – from folk dancing to furniture making – and they have done a lot to instil the importance of Turkish Cypriot culture.