Aleppines perform “Arab dance” in Turkey
Enab Baladi – Muhammed Fansa
“Rise up, let’s dance the Arab dance… and show this world our art, we Aleppine youth… This dance was created for us, an authentic Arab dance… and its dress is detailed with passion, may God have mercy on the eyes of that… who brought us the Arab dance dress”.
These were the words of a famous poem by the lyric poet Saffouh Shaghaleh, about which he said on his Facebook page that he composed it after his return from Egypt in 1993, while he was sitting in the café of the Semiramis Hotel when suddenly an Arab dance group led by the Aleppine Jamal Karman entered. What drew the poet’s attention at the time was the elegance and originality of the dancers’ outfits.
When talking about Aleppo, the first thing that comes to mind is its delicious dishes such as grilled Kebabs and Kebba of all kinds, its ancient school of art and authentic Tarab, and its popular groups for Arab dance, which is known to many Syrians as the Aleppo dance because of the adherence of the people of Aleppo to it and their distinction with this inherited habit.
The customs and traditions of the people of Aleppo moved them to their countries of asylum, blessing them with a splendor that mitigates the effects of alienation and unites them with their compatriots.
Could be identified by their outfits
It is easy to distinguish Aleppo parties in Istanbul, where about 500,000 Syrians live, through the Arab outfit, which is composed of the Arqiya that is placed over the head, and above it comes the Samaniya (Hatta) which is made of silk, then the cotton shirt, which is decorated with embroidered sleeves and collar, followed by the baggy “Sherwal,” and the waist is tightened with the muffler (al-Shal).
On top of this dress, there is the outer (Maltan) overcoat, which is needle-worked, so it is very expensive. It is made by prisoners, as it takes more than two months to complete. Finally, there is the Mantufa, or Qasriyya (the shoe), and there are certain additions, such as the Mjannadiyya (a purse) and the hand-embroidered tissues.
The head of the Arab dance troupe, who is the oldest and the best performer, has an outfit distinguished from that of the rest of the troupe members.
Enab Baladi interviewed one of the popular Arab dance groups in the Turkish city of Istanbul to learn more about Arab dance, the reason for its popularity, and the difficulties it faces in Turkey.
The al-Aseel Arab Dance Troupe was founded in 2020 in Istanbul by Abdul Karim Nakma, 29, and Tamim Sabouni, 27.
Each of the founders was previously educated and trained by Basel Watar in Aleppo, who in turn learned from Jamal Karman (Abu Lutfi), who was considered in his time “master of the craftsmen,” and Tamim Sabouni describes him as “one of the citadels of Aleppo.”
In addition to the founders, the group started with five young men, while currently, there are 21 young members, most of whom are under the age of 18 and are trained by Tamim and Abdul Karim. They are motivated by the love of learning what is regarded as a source of pride in the habits and traditions of the people of Aleppo in the first place and the opportunity to have an additional source of income.
Abdul Karim Nakma expressed his attachment to this art and explained that the secret to outstanding performance is the loving and passionate practice of dance, and not only for memorization and knowledge of moves, which prompted him to resolve to educate his children so they can follow in his footsteps.
While Tamim Sabouni finds in Arab dance a link to preserve the heritage of his country, which is threatened with demise due to the asylum of a large number of Syrians abroad, as indicated by the increase in demand and the spread of folk dance groups in Turkey since the founding of his troupe two years ago.
The troupe members share nothing but their love for this art and their Aleppine origins, while their main jobs, through which they secure a livelihood, are different; the band members do not depend on the financial returns from Arab dance as a basic income.
The requests of customers, most of whom hail from Aleppo, are not limited to wedding parties, as they can reserve the troupe for the opening ceremonies of shops, or when receiving those coming from Mecca after performing the Hajj and Umrah rituals, or on special occasions.
According to Abdul Karim, the performances of the sword (Sayf) and the buckler (Tirss), and al-Nabood (a two-meter stick) are among the main dances in which some members of the troupe specialize.
As stated by Abdul Karim, the genres of Arab dance are divided into Heavy Arab Dance, Light Arab Dance, al-Ghazawiya, and al-Welda. The origins of the first two genres can be traced back to Aleppo, while the latter originates from the coastal areas.
The Arab Heavy Dance is a slow-moving quadruple dance (four limbs), which begins with the right leg with the left hand and ends with the left leg with the right hand. It was previously called al-Sheikhani because it was performed by the sheikhs, the leaders, and the elders of the neighborhood.
The Light Arabic Dance (also a quadruple dance) begins right after the “Mawal” but with a slightly faster movement than the heavy one. This dance fits with old songs such as “Ya Hwaydalak” and “al Ain Moulayiten.”
“Al-Ghazawiya” is a fast-moving (triple) dance that requires the vigor of young people to perform and fits with many songs from the old generation, such as “Talaa Min Beit Abouha” and “Bini Wa Binek Harou al-Awazel,” and modern songs like “La Oqodlek Ala Darb Qaoud,” and “Asmar Ya Chabb al-Mahyoub.”
Any newly formed Arab dance troupe has difficulty spreading. The dispersed situation of Syrians in countries of asylum has added to the difficulty, as most of the Aleppines, who are considered the main group of customers of dance troupes, are not concentrated in a specific region but rather are distributed over several Turkish regions and cities.
Arab dance groups are also struggling to attract the younger generations to increase the number of troupe members, according to Tamim Sabouni, because the majority of young people are influenced by the culture of the host country on the one hand, and their lack of upbringing in Syria, the sense of affiliation, and the cultural exposure on the other hand.
Troupe members lack sources of Arab clothing manufacturing, as it is extremely rare to locate an experienced Syrian tailor to make the clothing pieces in Turkey. Therefore, team members resort to fetching most of the pieces from Syria, adding transportation costs to the already soaring prices of fabrics.
In Turkey, different customs and traditions cause some Turks to not accept Arab dance groups, as Tamim Sabouni notes from the reaction of Turks when watching them before or during the performances.
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