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Ahmet Orgen: Romany Dance

An Interview by Salome

Salome: What are the elemental aspects of this dance?

Ahmet: Gypsy dance is done in an improvisation. How one feels the music and in turn portrays it through movement. The gypsies could not participate in the productive societal process, which led to serious social exclusion. The gypsies, in order to survive, maintained several occupations, that of dancing, tinning, and fortune telling. They were considered a third class people, which caused them to conceal their true gypsy identity.

According to their life philosophy, they always chose to seize the day, instead of submitting to a rigid social standard. Because the values which connects them to life have always been spiritual rather than material. Gypsies gave meaning to 'living in the moment', staying away from personal or social projects that concerned the future. "It began like this and will continue like this," a well-known and still valid mentality.

Salome: Is there more than one style of Turkish Roman dance?

Ahmet: There are three expressions of Roman Dance; the first is danced in slow motion while the second is faster paced and the third Gayda (which entails that while the 9/8 rhythm is being played the second beat is not counted) (1- 3- 4- 5).

Salome: Do the men and women express the dance differently?

Ahmet: Yes. Women express the dance more sensually and fluid, like oriental dance where there is more feminine movement. Men are more sharp and not as fluid as women. But both genders dance spontaneously.

Salome: Is it a solo dance or is it done in pairs or groups and if so do the genders mix or are they separate?

Ahmet: The real dance is done solo. But it can be danced in groups or couples and can mix in gender.

Salome: How is the dance used in society (is it danced at home, at parties, is it performed formally on stage)?

Ahmet: It can be done in all of the above.

Salome: If it is performed formally on stage, is there a common costume worn?

Ahmet: There are no Roman Dance costumes. Dancers do this dance wearing long skirts, a shawl, even a vest. But it is not like a folk dance costume is a must.

Salome: Are zills ever used in Roman dance?

Ahmet:Yes Zils are used in Roman Dance.

Salome: Are there formal schools or do people tend to learn it in the home?

Ahmet: There are no formal education institutions of this dance. People learn from their elders at home and their neighborhood.

Salome: What instruments are commonly used for the Roman dance and what are the characteristics of the music?

Ahmet: The instruments regularly used are hand drums, darbuka, clarinet, violin, cumbus, and kanun. The characteristic of the music is one of entertainment, creating joy and fantasy.

Salome: I've heard that Turkish Oriental dance was kind of born from the Turkish Roman dance in a similar way that Egyptian Oriental dance was born from the baladi, is that true?

Ahmet: There is no documentation or proof as to when Roman dance began. But at the time of the Ottoman Empire Muslim women were forbidden to dance and yet the gypsy women continued to dance. Because the gypsies were in Turkish Lands they also adapted Turkish folk dance and therefore created their own unique style. We come to this conclusion due to the fact that Roman people do not have their own music, all of the Romany Music is in relationship to its environment of the country they live in.

Salome: What are the names of dancers (men and/or women) who exemplify true Turkish Roman dance?

Ahmet: Tulay Karaca is one of the dancers that I would name and Didem, also Reyhan Tuzsuz, where Romany Dance is done with flavor. These dancers I name are all Roman by birth. There are many more but these are the ones that are known at this time.

It sounds like I am repeating myself but I would like to express the seriousness of the mistakes that are being portrayed between Karsilama and Romany Dance. If we are not careful we could be creating a path to cause the extinction of this dance culture. We must understand that KARSILAMA is not a Roman Dance. No Oriental Dancer in Turkey, will ever do Karsilama dance as part of their dance routine. The reason of similarity between Karsilama and Roman dance is the fact that they both share the 9/8 rhythm. All music that has a 9/8 rhythm is not Roman music.

Karsilama dance has rules and regulations, without these rules it isn't a Karsilama dance! These rules are:
1. Measures must be within 9.
2. A handkerchief must be used.
3. The most important part of the dance is that it must be done with at least two or more people. It is never done as a solo dance.

Roman Dance is an individuals dance and is done in improvisation. The Roman dancer dances according to what he or she feels within the music. In order to dance Romany dance one must do research; their life style and mentality must be taken into consideration.

The reason for all the confusion is the result of some dancers taking a few Roman classes then teaching others their amateur interpretation of Roman dance. This harms Turkish Roman dance. If you want to really learn Roman dance then research your teachers as well, 'swirling the skirts' does not make one a Roman dancer! Of course you can dance to a 9/8 but do not say "I am dancing Karsilama or Roman."

The difference between Karsilama and Roman dance is Karsilama has 1-2, 1-2, 1-2, 1-2-3 as a measuring of the rhythm (and is never danced as a solo). Roman has 1-2, 1-2, 1-2, 1-3 as a measuring of the rhythm, or more simplified 1-2-3-4-5.