Turkish Roman Dance

Aslahan performing Turkish Roman dance

Turkish Roma from Smyrna around 1900

Oryantal vs Roman, and the varied cultures of Turkey

A lot of dancers treat Turkish and Turkish Roman as interchangeable, but they really aren't. Turkey has a long, rich history, and has different styles of dance and music from the many regions and subcultures involved - the 7/8s of the Black Sea region, the 9/8 spoon dances of eastern Turkey, the Azeri, the Kurds, etc... A fantastic resource for exploring the different styles of music in Turkey is the website www.tulumba.com - they sell Turkish goods, but have an extensive music selection categoried by genre, with many samples you can listen to online. (Keep in mind, not everything on this site labeled as "Rom" is Turkish Roman - for example, Esma Redzepova is a fantastic Romni singer, but not Turkish, and her music is not suitable for Turkish Roman dancing.)

In the bellydance universe the dance and music we use from Turkey is Turkish Oryantal. Oryantal has strong roots in Turkish Roman, and so many dancers choose to study both, and sometimes fuse the two. The line between the two can be fuzzy; many of the famous Oryantal dancers in Turkey are Roma as well. But it's important to realize that they are not the same dance.

Both Oryantal and Roman make use of pelvic moves that aren't seen often in Arabic styles, but Turkish Roman dance also has some very complicated footwork and gestures that, while not unused in Oryantal, definitely have their home in Roman. Romany dancers also tend to use gestures and arm movements that are more enthusiastic and expressive than graceful. This is in contrast to Oryantal dancers who usually have beautiful floating arms.

Many dancers think of skirt work with Turkish style, especially Turkish Roman - skirt moves are not unauthentic, but really aren't used that much by Turkish dancers. They tend to get over-used in the United States, and many American dancers will make an entire number that is a "skirt dance." While often lovely, this is not authentic Turkish.

Keep in mind that whenever you see Turkish Roman style "performed" it has been adapted for the stage. Authentic Turkish Roman dance is a social dance - not a performance art. In "the wild" you'll see it performed in everyday clothing: a t-shirt and blue jeans, a long skirt, or shalwar - the loose pants that inspired our "harem pants". (One thing you typically won't see is a bare midriff.) Therefore, by necessity stage-worthy costumes for Roman performances have something of the fanciful about them.


When you mention Turkish dance music in the U.S., many dancers think only of the 9/8 rhythm they know as "karsilama". 9/8 is certainly one of the most popular and distinctive rhythms, but even the Roma frequently dance to chiftitellis, both fast and slow, and it does a disservice to Turkish music to ignore all the other wonderful rhythms and styles.

"Karsilama" is actually the name of a folk dance from Turkey, most commonly performed to a 9/8. It is not the name of a rhythm. Turkish musicians know the 9/8 as "dokuz sekiz" - literally "nine eight" in Turkish. Not all Turkish 9/8 songs are Roman, and not all Turkish Roman songs are 9/8. Roman 9/8s do tend to be distinctive; typically the 9th beat of the rhythm is left silent. In America most dancers are used to a 9/8 accented thus:

     1 - 3 - 5 - 7 8 9

but typically a Roman 9/8 is:

     1 - 3 - 5 - 7 8 -


Most people are familiar with the term "gypsy" but the Rom generally don't like to be called that. You'll come across the terms Roman/Romany/Roma/Rom. In fact if you are looking for Turkish Roman music for dancing it is usually listed as "Roman Havasi" - which will find you some great stuff on youtube :) Please take some time to read the article "Please Call Me Rom" for more information about the terms "gypsy" and "Rom" and the baggage they carry.

The term "gypsy" is actually believed to be a reference to Egypt, which is where Europeans thought the Rom were from, but their origin is actually India, the province of Rajasthan. The term "gypped" is in fact a racist term referring to being cheated by gypsies; when I found this out I put a fair bit of effort into erasing it from my vocabulary and I encourage you all to do so also. They are a very marginalized group in most if not all of the places in the world they live these days, and they hold fast to their own culture. In Istanbul in Turkey, the best-known Romany district was Sulukule - Sulukule had been a Romany settlement since at least the 15th century, and a center for Turkish Roman music and dance. Unfortunately, the Turkish government has bulldozed it and resettled the people who live there.


Names to look for if you are looking for dancers who do authentic Turkish Roman dance:

Giving advice on finding Turkish Romani music is tough; Romani musicians often play both Romani and non-Romani music, and some non-Romani musicians record lovely renditions of Romani songs. Both Romani and non-Romani music often appear on the same album. Sometimes a classical Turkish piece gets recorded with a real Romani feel - for example, you can find several recordings of "Aksaray'da" that are great for Romani dance, but the song itself is not of Romani origin - and traditional Romani pieces like "Rompi" often get recorded with all the Romani feeling striped out, especially for the Western belly dancer market. Many Westerners also assume that anything Turkish in 9/8 is Romani, which is incorrect - for example, the Rumeli songs "Penceresi Yola Karsi" and "Yuksek Yuksek Tepelere" are not Romani - and Romani songs in even time signatures get overlooked. I wish I had black-and-white rules for identifying Romani music, but it's often a case of recognizing the typical Romani rhythms and instrumentation, and a knowledge of the background of the particular song and/or recording artist.

All that said, the artists below show up on my Romani playlists often. Keep in mind that I love the old-school stuff - if you are looking for the latest in Turkish Romani pop music I can't advise you beyond Kibariye.

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