Kurdish Halay Dancing

[oh crud, all the videos are gone!-4/19/08]

Kurdish Halay Wedding Dance

Back in the early days of Napster, users would often chat and exchange music through recommendations. One memorable musical exchange occurred with a Kurdish guy who had emigrated to Germany. I recommended Ozomatli which he loved and he offered lots of Kurdish popular music in return. One song that stood out from the rest of the pro PKK tunes I ended up downloading from him was a song titled “Kurdish Disco.” I’m a sucker for anything “disco” but this song was exceptional for the time, it combined a traditional Kurdish folk tune with dance beats. It seems some of the traditional Kurdish rhythms are quite close to disco/dance beats and the combination of these two styles sounds quite complimentary. Perhaps now this song wouldn’t be a big deal as this kind of global meshing is pretty standard in the DJ world.

On a whim, I recently decided to search for Kurdish disco on Youtube and was delighted by the results. Move over Duranguense, you have nothing on Kurdish Halay dancing! Halay is a type of dance that is popular all over Turkey, Armenia, Greece and the Balkans. However, the type of Halay danced in these videos is uniquely Kurdish (according to Kurdish Youtube commentors – sorry it’s all I have to go on.)
Here’s a short description from Wikipedia:

Typically, Halay dancers form a circle or a line, while holding each other with the little finger or shoulder to shoulder or even hand to hand with the last and first player holding a piece of cloth — usually called “mendil” (from Arabic).

Kurdish Disco Dance Halay

The young guys are really getting into it here. I like how the upper body and shoulders are used for keeping rhythm. The dance may look simple to some but it requires quite a bit of full body muscle control not to mention the difficulty in memorizing the intricate footwork patterns. I imagine much of the dance is improvised and that means anticipating steps and keeping time with your partners. Not easy at all!

In the ultimate of mash-ups, someone’s taken Halay clips and interspersed them with Hip-Hop and Pop videos where the choreography shares a surprising affinity with the Halay style. Watching these clips in the context of this music puts the hip hop movements in a whole different light.

Kurdish “Åžemamé” video (warning: very long!)

More of this new youth driven “Åžemamé” style:

Kürtce Halay Hip Hop Style

Another Mexican Connection!?

When I was a kid my family and I went to a ton of Chicano/Mexicano weddings. I always remember this one dance where everyone would link, like the way they do in Halay and dance together across the floor, sometimes dipping down in unison as they moved. For some reason, I thought it was a Tejano thing but perhaps it’s related to our (Mexican) unrecognized Middle East/Arab heritage. After all, I recently found out through DNA genealogical testing that men in my family have a shared DNA sequence with Muslim Kurds and Ashkenzi Jews (a post about this coming soon). Anyone know anything about this Mexican line dance, what it’s called or where it’s from?
Update: Just talked to my father about this dance. He said it’s mostly Chicanos who do the linked line dance and it’s always danced during corridos, in particular Corrido Rock by Jim Balsam and the ever popular Peanuts. From what he can recall, it’s been performed since at least the 50s in Boyle Heights and is still danced by older Chicanos.

*Disclaimer: I know very little about Kurdish music or culture so I apologize in advance for any unintended errors. If you are Kurdish and would like to invite me to a dance party and help refine my knowledge of the music, I would be happy to accept!

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