Zeybek (L*) – Turkish – Revised and Expanded

*A Living dance is a 1st Generation dance that is still performed in the country of origin (or immigrant communities) as part of a social event like a wedding where others can participate (not for an audience) by people who learned the dance informally (from friends and relatives by observation and imitation, not in a classroom situation). For more information, click here and here.

For information about Zeibekiko, the Greek relative of Zeybek, click here

See also Zeybek Costume under CLOTHING.

Zeybek – the People

Video produced by Matin Akravi for the dance group “KaraKama”. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=udRl7lsvtj0

Zeybek are the folk heroes of Western Anatolia (today’s Turkey).  From their first appearance in history around 1600 until the consolidation of the modern Turkish state in the 1920’s, they played a key role in defending the little guy from rogue militias, rapacious landlords and tax collectors, and even aiding armies in repelling invading Russians in 1877-8, and Greeks in 1922.

They hid in the highlands, lived off the land, elected their chief, called Efe, and had a strict code of honour.  The name Zeybek is said to derive from the Turkish “bekneg”, meaning durable, healthy, reliable, and “zey”, meaning almost the same thing.

Zeybek – the Dance

Turkish dance regions
Regions of Turkey delineated by the dominance of a particular dance form.

Today, Zeybek is the most popular dance of Western Turkey, and one of the most popular in the country.  There are said to be over 150 different Zeybek dances, varying by region and type – fast, slow, solo man & solo woman, group, couple, etc.  Most are solo men’s dances, like the example above. 

A Google translation from the Romanian-language Wikipedia: “Zeybek is a type of dance that can be danced by one person, two people or in a group, both by men who have been called “efe” or “zeybek”, children called “kızan”, and by women. This dance can be of two types: slow (‘ağır’), 9/4 or 9/2 beats and fast (‘kıvrak’), 9/8 or 9/16 beats. Today there are about 20 types of zeybek, but the most popular are the following :

  1. Teke Zeybeği: also known as Teke Zortlaması, is a category of zeybek that appeared in Aydın and later spread in the Mediterranean area. The main dance figures are walking, rotation, bending, bending by rotation, this being the fastest type of zeybek, sung with a measure of 9/8, which has various types of songs. The best known dances are Tek Zeybek, Harmandalı and Sarı Zeybek.
  2. Ağır Zeybek: is one of the most characteristic dances of zeybek, played in a slow, pressed rhythm, which is an expression of courage and stability. It is practiced in almost every village in Antalya, the best known types being Alyazma and Kaz Ahmet Zeybeği.
  3. Kıvrak Zeybek: is a more rhythmic species of zeybek, with specific features such as snapping fingers, hitting the floor with the knee and heels, found mainly in the western part of Anatolia. The best known forms are Serenler Zeybeği and Bucak Serenleri.
  4. Kırık Zeybek: is a species similar to Kıvrak Zeybek, in which there are bending movements, bending, bending the knee, being danced in Denizli. The best known are Karaağaç and Kırık Tavas.
  5. Kadın Zeybeği: is a type of energetically danced female zeybek, with specific movements of the shoulders, swaying and bending slightly. The best known form is İğnem Düștü Yerlere.
  6. Avsar Zeybeği: is one of the slowest and most pressing categories of the zeybek, specific to the Burdur and Antalya areas, which has some spoon-like movements. It is danced by a single person, the most famous movement being the kneeling of the earth, and the most famous forms are Hasbahçe, Oba or Osman Zeybeği.
  7. Alyazma Zeybeği: has a measure of 9/4, and during the utterance of specific lyrics the dancer walks in harmony with the melodic line, starting the actual play with the completion of the lyrics.”

Below is one end of the spectrum, judged performances by trained groups.

2018 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OQU8TUyGw_k

The other end of the Zeybek spectrum looks to me like my definition of a living dance – performed for its own sake in an informal setting.

Village near Bodrum, 2009 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M8yagSLONMk

In between is what looks like a trend among the well-heeled – the groom’s wedding performance.  Apparently the groom & friends take classes [or hire a troupe] to make this look good. Notice some of the “efes” are women. (see comment below)

One of MANY comments, this one by Eren Bora Cakir, Google translated; “As you know, Emre Bey, Aydın province is the geography where the Kuvayi Milliye was founded during the National Struggle and this process was most vividly experienced, as you know, “Give us your rifles and wedges. Our female Efes, who say, “We will protect the honor of our girls from now on,” are famous. Efe Ayşe, Şerif Ali Kübra, Ayşe Hanım from Thessaloniki, Baltaköy Women and many others have shown us that Efelik is in the soul and has no gender. We now call them ‘Heeled Efe’. They put on their efe clothes and play [dance] ZEYBEK by banging their knees on the ground.” 2016 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PTx_FqgKeBk

Women also dance Zeybek, in what seems to be a growing trend.

Harmandali, a type of Zeybek 2007. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1EdA-jgX_CI
A Harmandali performance 2010. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WSqUeLo7qmM

Meanings of the figures in Zeybek:
Some differences are seen in their figures of walking, turning, rising, knee-downing and holding up their arms (the walking with or without richochets) and turnings in the Zeybek plays display Zeybek’s self-assurance, honesty, braveness and challenging.

Here’s some examples of various styles being taught, or at least demonstrated.  Harmandali style is one of the most popular, from the region around Izmir, known to Greeks as Smyrna.

Teaching Harmandali https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_sI5ZFmxASE
Bozdağ-style zeybeği, Izmir https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xHamqqJhSWA
Izmir (Greek Smyrna)
Yağar Yağmur-style Zeybeği. Fethiye https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UYIKxDJ7eyk

It turns out that humans are not the only animals that like to Zeybek.  

Camel Zurna and Köroğlu Zeybeği https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mAkQljfF18k

Origins of Zeybek – Greek claims

The origins of the Zeybek are still hotly debated between Greeks & Turks.  Greeks point to their ancient relatives who lived in the same area.  An example:

“In Xenophon (400 BC) we have an account of men dancing with their full military accoutrements, which indicates that (as might be expected) this sort of thing has gone on for a very long time.”  And:

“My first hit was Sir William Ramsay’s book “Asianic Elements in Greek civilization”. Definitely a reliable man, if you need info on Anatolian matters… His definition of a Zeybek was: A zeybek is, or used to be, a dashing young Turk of the mountain country fringing the Maeander valley, dressed in an exaggerated native style, with an armoury of lethal weapons displayed on his person and in his hands or waistbelt”.While having an etymological theory on my mind, those lines gave me more hope in what I was expecting to discover. I had two keywords… Maeander valley and people bearing armoury… After searching further I got more info where Zeybek is the name used for people of the Anatolian highlands (mountaineers).The Buyuk Menderes river (Maeander) is a river in Turkey that has it source in Phrygia. The armoured men, reminded me of the armoured Phrygian dancers, followers and high priests of Cybele. I’m referring to the Korybantes of course, that are referred in some Greek traditions as the first humans on earth. In some traditions they are referred as descendants of the Idaean Daktyls, mountain daemons of Crete and Phrygia! 

For those of you familiar with Greek dance, yes, the Greek Zeybekiko is a close relative of the Turkish Zeybek.  There are similarities in the dance, but the Greek version came to Greece with the flood of Rebetiko types in the 1920’s, and quickly morphed into an urban, highly individualistic dance – quite different from the more traditional, rural Turkish dance. 

Origins of Zeybek – Turkish claims

Turks have their own ideas about the origins of the Zeybek.  Turkey’s Turks originated in Mongolia, and arrived in Eastern Anatolia around 1000 A.D. “About Zeybek, here is something quite interesting, in Mongolian wrestling the winner performs an “Eagle dance” and in the Altay region there are “Eagle dances”. The Zeybek dance is sometimes referred to as an Eagle dance. The Eagle was of spiritual significance to Shamanic communities.

Before the match begins each wrestler does the traditional “Eagle Dance” which symbolizes power and invincibility and is based on the flight of the mythical Garuda bird.
As nothing remains stagnant, could the original form of Zeybek have been morphed over time due to changes in lifestyle, exposure to different cultures and rulers?
The dance does come across as very “macho”, the use of arms shows the rebellious nature of it .After all Zeybek gangs and their Efe’s were Robin Hood type characters, also it seems to be connected to nature with references to eagles and the article Kotumeyil shared refers to some religous connotations, similar to a Sema.”
Be sure the CC button is on. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hbXaryiZFwM
Wrestling (covered in olive oil) is also the national sport of Turkey. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XhSE6rJByyA

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