Artemis and Tayyar performing at MED FOLK TOURS Music and Dance Camp USA 2005
I have been fortunate enough to study Turkish Romanii dance, history and culture with Elizabeth Artemis Mourat over the last 10 years. Recently I had a rare opportunity to sit down and enjoy a conversation with Artemis and her dance partner Tayyar Akdeniz. Tayyar is the Director of MED Folk Tours and Artemis is co-Director and they just happen to be my two favorite dancers! My sincerest thanks to Artemis for arranging these few moments out of their very hectic schedules and my deepest appreciation to both Artemis and Tayyar for their friendship and support!
Artemis and Tayyar performing at MED FOLK TOURS Music and Dance Camp USA 2005
Artemis performing Turkish Orientale at MED FOLK TOURS Music and Dance Camp USA 2005
Being beautiful, blond, flirtatious and able to sing, belie the fact that Artemis, voted the IAMED’s 1997 “best ethnic dancer” and also voted the 2002 “Ethnic Dancer of the Year” by Zaghareet magazine, is an extremely powerful and exciting dancer. Although proficient in many Middle Eastern dance styles and as a choreographer, Artemis also excels in highly creative performance arts, like Assuk Massuk and her hilarious Camiela Camel. Rromanii (Gypsy) culture and dance are her true passion however; particularly Turkish Rromanii styles about which she is extremely knowledgeable and articulate. Artemis also a highly regarded and published dance researcher, historian and lecturer.
Tayyar performing as a suave Turkish Tea Boy FOLK TOURS Music and Dance Camp USA 2005
Tayyar Akdeniz, a true Turkmen, is a sublime dance partner for Artemis. Tayyar, like Artemis is a choreographer, performer, instructor, and lecturer, but he’s also a singer and a musician proficient on many instruments. Most often gregarious, energized, funny and flirtatious (behind his back we call him “the crazy Turk”), Tayyar can be very serious about dance and music especially when he is teaching. He’s also wholeheartedly dedicated to the community he and Artemis are building with their camps in the USA and Turkey.
Tayyar teaching Turkish Folk dance at MED FOLK TOURS Music and Dance Camp USA 2005
Tayyar is an expert dancer who has toured the world garnering his many years of experience. His energetic personality comes alive when he flashes his infectious smile or starts executing acrobatic jumps, hops and dramatic level changes. Whether it is men’s folkloric, the comedic Assuk Massuk or a duet with Artemis, Tayyar does it all, happily and expertly!
Tayyar playing baglama at FOLK TOURS Music and Dance Camp USA 2004
Seldom at rest, Tayyar sings, plays baglama, kasiklar, dumbec and is a master of the davul. Though filled with the joy of life, love and camaraderie Tayyar is extremely proficient, knowledgeable and passionate about his art, music and dance. His happiness at being able to share what he loves doing with others is obvious in his never flagging enthusiasm and his kind and compassionate nature.
Tayyar teaching Davul Class FOLK TOURS Music and Dance Camp USA 2004
SHIBAR: “I know that the two of you have a very dynamic partnership. Can you give me some background on how you met?”
TAYYAR: “I met Artemis at the Mendocino Middle Eastern Music and Dance Camp. It was I believe 4 years ago. Before I met her, I heard about her a lot from the dancers and other teachers. I heard she was really working hard at Turkish Oriental and Turkish Gypsy stuff and I really was looking forward to meet her. So, finally at Mendocino, I was watching her and when I saw she was really performing and researching and teaching the real thing. I came close by to her and I just told her, ‘I am Turkish and I have been teaching here.’ And we started talking about the dance and music. So we decided to work together.”
Tayyar and Artemis perform together at FOLK TOURS Music and Dance Camp USA 2004
ARTEMIS: “I had been hearing about Tayyar for years from Paulette Reese-Dennis, Kajira Djoumahna and other friends. All these people were saying, 'You have to meet this guy named Tayyar. He’s in New York. It’s not too far from you.' But actually, I forgot his name!
Artemis Teaching at MED FOLK TOURS Music and Dance Camp USA 2005
"So, when I was teaching at Mendocino, I read on the program that a Turkish guy was teaching Turkish Romanii. I wanted to take his class. But I still didn’t know this was the man I had been hearing about. He came to my class, which I always start with a history lecture. He was sitting in the corner listening to my lecture and I was a little nervous because I knew this was his history and his culture. But he was nodding at all the right places and laughing at my jokes. So, I felt more comfortable. Then he stayed for my whole class and I took his class every day. The first night I talked to him about my research and who I was and what I wanted to do and he told me about what he wanted to do and we had the same goals and that was really important to me.”
SHIBAR: “Tayyar, could you please explain what these important mutual goals are?”
Tayyar performing traditional Turkish Folk Dance at FOLK TOURS Music and Dance Camp USA
TAYYAR: “I have been dancing over thirty years. Heavily, I was doing Turkish folk dances. But my life comes from a mixed culture from my friends, neighbors and teachers. Beside that, I grew up with Gypsies. We played together when we was children. I started playing the drum and dancing when I was a child. It came up naturally to me in my culture. Also, I saw so many people in the United States, who liked Turkish art. I have been living here over 14 years and I saw many different teachers and dancers here. I saw that Oriental dance and Romany dance and music are very popular here. And I know that I have a lot of knowledge about my culture that I can give to the people. So, I start to working with Artemis 4 years ago. I believe Artemis and me, we going to give to the dancers, to the people, to the audience, lotta things. And I’m gonna organize some other events. And we’ll bring nice new music, old culture, old dance but new work. We will give it to the people at our events.”
Open Dancing to live Turkish music at FOLK TOURS Music and Dance Camp USA 2005
ARTEMIS: “It is no secret that I have several agendas. I’ve been campaigning for a long time to help the Rromanii people. I work to reinstate the Turkish Oriental Dance in our Oriental Dance world - to put it where it belongs – in a respected place. My third agenda is about my heritage. My family, who are Greeks from Turkey, lived in Turkey for over three hundred years. My father came to America with his family. There is so much anger in the Greek people towards the Turkish people, but I was in an unusual position growing up because my grandparents loved Turkey. They spoke fluent Turkish and they didn’t want to leave. They had many Turkish friends but it was a really bad time in the early 1900s in Turkey for certain ethnic groups. And so what happened was that there were some people in the government who were going to assassinate my grandfather. But, it was his Turkish friends who warned him and saved his life. So, my grandfather took his family and whatever money he could find and the family jewelry and they bought boat tickets. They were going to go to America, but the boat went to Greece first and the Greek government officials at the docks stole all their money. My family arrived in Ellis Island with $10. In my in family situation, there were some Turkish people who were going to hurt my family and there were some Turkish people who saved my family and it was the Greek people who stole all our money. Unfortunately, many Greek people in my generation were taught to hate Turkish people, but WE were not taught to think this way. We were taught that you can hate the government, but don’t hate the people. It seems so obvious, but children need to be taught that there are good people and bad people in every culture. You have to look at the individual person and make your judgments. So, here I am, this Greek woman whose family is from Turkey, who is representing and fighting for Turkish Culture in America. I told Tayyar my family’s story and he understood all of it, and we were simpatico right from the start!”
Tayyar and Artemis at FOLK TOURS Music and Dance Camp USA 2004
SHIBAR: “Will you talk about Romanii (Gypsy) dance?”
TAYYAR: “Actually in Turkey, Gypsy dance culture different from the other Turkish folk dance cultures. Gypsy dances not usually group dances like many of the Turkish folk dances. Gypsy dances is much more a dance for the every day people not like formal folk dance. Everybody dances in that culture, the grandmothers, the children, the young people. And people can dance by themselves but also with a group – not like formal but like fun. Also, one person can dance solo, even a man or woman. Woman can dance together, men can dance together, woman and man can dance at the same time together. There is much more freedom in your personal dances and you can do your own style. If, for example, a guy is fall in love with a lady, he is of course thinking about her all the time. He wants to dance to show his self to her. The lady wants to show a lotta things about herself too. But in this culture, they cannot show the village what they are feeling. They show themselves with dance. Still people can see many things when they are dancing. The people know they likes each other. But this is not new – not only for Gypsy culture. This is for many places, right?”
SHIBAR: “Obviously both of you are dedicated physically, spiritually and intellectually to Turkish Romanii dance, music and culture. Your devotion to each other is equally obvious when you perform. Can you tell us what it is like to work as partners?”
TAYYAR: “When I started dancing with Artemis so many things came up. You can say electric. So I touched something, she dance for me, she touch something, I dance for her. And we became very good chemistry. We shared a lot of things and each dance showed, I believe, more things coming out all time on the stage even though we improvise a lot. Just as you can say “Opa!” and I change something and she knows I changed it and she goes with me. That I think is the real thing and it is becomes something natural. So I’m so happy that I’m dancing with a female and also I can share a lot of things to show her some movement. Sometimes she comes over and does something I don’t expect. It is funny to see this on stage.”
Artemis performs the "unexpected" at MED FOLK TOURS Music and Dance Camp USA 2005
ARTEMIS: “I’ve learned a lot from him because as you would expect his Turkish dance is unadulterated by any other influence. American women in the Oriental dance world usually study with many different teachers and also many of us have studied other forms of dance. So it is hard to be purists and stay in one genre, because there are always other things that influence what we are doing. Maybe we know some Egyptian or some modern dance or folkloric dance and maybe it’s just our own personality peeking through into the steps. All of these things are coming up in our dance. But with Tayyar it’s all purely what he learned when he was a child in the village. And so, it’s really first generation material. I learned a lot from him and my styling has shifted because of this. It’s shifted more towards the source, I think. I don’t like to do choreographies, that’s no secret, so when I’m dancing with him it’s different every time because we are improvising and we are bouncing off each other. The first time, I rehearsed with him in a studio; I had a surrealistic experience. Tayyar has Asian eyes; almond shaped eyes like my father, like my father’s mother, and like her father. We were so compatible dancing together, as if we had done this before. It was like I knew what he was going to do next. I felt as though I was looking into my own eyes. It was a very magical moment and it happens every time. When we’re dancing together, it’s as though there’s nothing else going on around us. We are totally in the moment. I never danced with a man on stage before and it is wonderful. It is so much fun, but it is more than just fun, it goes much deeper.”
SHIBAR: “Tayyar, I understand that as a child in Turkey your family was poor and lived next to the Romanii village. Can you describe what your childhood was like?”
TAYYAR: “When I was two, my father moved my family from Kars, Turkey, to a place in Ankara called ‘Cin Cin.’ (Pronounced ‘chin chin’). There was only a little money so he rented one of the houses in a quiet area. The word ‘Cin Cin’ means ‘so quiet that sounds can be heard.’ The village gets bigger and the Gypsies moved in. They always have to live in the poor part of town and then it was not so quiet.
Tayyar accompanied by Nursel, a Roma, at FOLK TOURS Music and Dance Camp USA 2005
"So, anyway, when I was like 3 or 4 years old, at the time my Mom had another baby, my brother. Mom was busy with two kids and also with my father gone late to drive the trains. So, my Mom was trying to keep me busy inside to take care of my little brother, watch him, let her know if baby would need something. She was running in the house and out of the house – to bring the water, to bring food, to make fire and laundries. In front of my house located a big highway. There was no kind of traffic lights, no nothing! Some children my age were running on the road and some getting killed. So at that time of course we didn’t have the money to buy toys for me to keep me busy inside. There was a holiday for the Muslim people. They sacrifice the sheep at that time. My Mom took the skin from the sheep and cleaned it. There was also a sweet dish called 'pekmez' which is like honey but honey was for rich people and we ate pekmez (like molasses you make from boiling the fruits). It comes in a round wooden box so juice does not leak out. My Mom make a drum from the sheep skin and 'pekmez' box. She was keeping me busy making rhythm (Tayyar taps the table in example). 'Play like that, good for you! Good boy!' she says. So, I was watching the people who were around me, these great Gypsy musicians were playing in my village for the parties. I was 6 or 7 years old, I was grabbing the drum and was joining with them.
"The musicians they came with the davul, this is a really big drum you wear on the chest and play while you stand and also while you dance. But, I was so small, I could not carry the drum. See this little boy with this big, big drum. They put it on a chair, they let me to play. The people was loving when I was playing! They thought I was Gypsy boy. And they dance when I was beating it. At the same time, of course so many great dancers were dancing at the parties. I didn’t study from nobody. I just watched and I copied. I just felt it and I started dancing.
"Then I started playing soccer, my Mom was so angry. She told me many times, 'Why you playing soccer? You getting hurt for your legs and arms.' I broke my arm. I broke my legs when I was doing soccer. So, after that I started boxing and then my face was coming black and blue. My Mom was said 'You crazy! Go dance with people and nice girls over there! And you can enjoy your life,' and she was pushing it. And I didn’t pay attention. Then, I saw one flyer when I was in Junior High School, looking for dancers for a folk dance group to start in the High School. And I saw so many girls there and so I said, 'Oh boy, then I can go and meet the girls and have fun.' When I went there I saw so many different students and one teacher was teaching. The steps were easy for me, so I join them. I thought, I know more then my teacher knows, since I was dancing so many years already. So next year the teacher quit from the group. Then I was the person to leading the group. I put my group in the competition of the High School groups. My school came in first place in all of Turkey! And then that’s it. So story over now!”
SHIBAR: “And, since then?”
Tayyar teaching Turkish Folk dance at MED FOLK TOURS Music and Dance Camp USA 2005
TAYYAR: “I grew up and kept dancing and taught in three universities in Turkey. I teach 200 different folk dances from Turkey. For many years, I was been performing and went to 12 European countries, 7 Asian countries, India, Pakistan and all over United States. I liked New York and moved here. I worked as the Director of Cultural Affairs for the Federation of Turkish American Associations for long time. In 1994, I started Turkish Fine Arts Ensemble (my Turkish troupe in New York). I heard about some of the events that were going on in different cities. So, I was thinking all the time to join them. I was looking to give them something, to show myself, what I’m doing with the dances and music from Turkey. So one day the Mendocino Middle Eastern Music and Dance Camp called me to teach and dance. I went over there and I saw it was great things going on. It was really good, showing many different cultures, different musicians, many peoples coming together. So, for seven years I was been teaching there. They kept saying to teach the Turkish Gypsy and Oriental material. I said this is not good for man to teach this kind of women’s dance. But, they kept asking, so after, I made them promise not to tell my mother. Now many people wants this material. I been teaching Rromanii and Oriental dance in workshops in Oregon, California, Rhode Island, New York, Maine, Massachusetts, Washington, DC, Canada and Turkey. Then, few years ago, I started Folktours.”
SHIBAR: “I have already been to two of your Folk Tours Camps in the USA and both of them were fabulous! Tell us how you started Folk Tours?”
TAYYAR: “I start thinking, it will be great if I put dance and music camp in Turkey. I helped organize and taught at some tours in Turkey but never a real dance and music camp there. I saw how music and dance camp was a success here, in US. So, then that idea cooked in my mind. I found musicians and check the place. So anyways long story and decided to put dance and music camp and tour in Turkey. If, for example, you want to eat Greek food, I will love for you to go to Greece. If you wants to eat Turkish food, then I want to give you food IN Turkey – not just FROM Turkey. That’s the reason I am doing camp IN Turkey. If you want to feel the culture completely, you should go there. I want people to feel Turkish culture – not just feel but TASTE the music and dance. Maybe I’m gonna add other places like Greece and Egypt some day. So I thought, nobody is doing this kind of event in Turkey. They have week of classes and they have tours of Turkey but not dance camp where you live with the musicians and teachers. This is first hand, first generation learning. My dream was to get together the great musicians, the great dancers and great dance teachers. Turkish people don’t know that in United States people are doing great, great job over here with music and dance. I wanna be bridge between United States and Turkey to let the people know each other. If they will see, if we’ll show them our hard work and our good work, they will really appreciate it and they will respect us a lot. If they don’t see, but they only hear talk about it, how they gonna believe it? How they gonna have respect for you? In my camps, they will see these good things. I’m very sure we can change a lot in Turkey with the dance music camp. We did one camp in Turkey already. Our band was Selim Sesler, famous Gypsy guy with lots of CDs out. Music and dance classes every day and night in the woods, at a lake. So beautiful! We also did optional tour after. It was great time for everybody. We want to do this in Turkey every year, next one in August 2004. In future, we gonna do other cultural events in Turkey and also in the United States.”
SHIBAR: “Can you tell the readers more about the music and dance camp you sponsor in the USA?”
TAYYAR: “I saw that what was missing on East Coast of the United States was big Middle Eastern and Balkan dance and music camp. And I said, ‘Man, maybe I can do that!’ So, I start to working and I came to Artemis to help. We got staff, almost all from Middle East, full in talent and full of culture. These musicians, dancers and teachers are so, so great. It was really hard to put the greatest musicians in same place at same time. The best of the best. In October of 2003, we did it in Maryland. We had 15 teachers in Egyptian Oriental dance, Turkish Oriental dance, Turkish Gypsy dance, folk dances from Turkey and Balkan places, and lots of music classes and singing classes. We did shows every night and lotta open dancing. We had best teachers, Cassandra, Artemis, Omar Faruk Tekbilek, Steve Kotansky and a lotta more. We had some musicians the other camps can’t ever get like Yuri Yunakov and Seido Salifosky. Everybody loved it. That’s where I met you, Eloise (Shibar). We gonna do it again in May in Pennsylvania and we have 17 teachers this time. We added also American Tribal and more Arabic musicians and classes. You can check our fliers and website at www.folktours.com. We worked really hard. To put it together, it takes more than money, you have to understand the life of the artist, you have to understand their language, their music language, their dance language. Backstage is different from on the stage. I spent most of my life around that. I know, I’m sure I know very well and I have that kind of knowledge.”
Artemis performing Theactricalised Romanii dance at FOLK TOURS Music and Dance Camp USA 2005
ARTEMIS: “We’re using art to build bridges between people. For my whole life, living around Greeks, I have heard people in my generation talk about hating Turks. These people have never been to Turkey and never had anything bad happen directly to them because of the Turks, and I’ll say, ‘Do you know any Turks?’ and they’ll say, ‘No!’ And then I’ll say ‘Well maybe you should get to know somebody, before you decide you have to hate them. You just hate them because your parents taught you to. It is time to put the past behind us so we can heal the present.’ I had a Greek friend tell me a story about how, when he was a child, he befriended some Turkish children on the playground. His mother told him not to play with them anymore because the Greeks hate the Turkish people. He asked her why Greeks hate Turks. She said ‘Because they stole Constantinople’ (this is the old name for Istanbul). He did not really know what Constantinople was but asked her, ‘How long are we going to hate them?’ She said, ‘Until they give Constantinople back.’ He asked her when they took it. And she said, ‘In 1453!’ Can you see the absurdity of that? There were terrible things that happened to my family’s generation in the 1920s but that was over 80 years ago. Hating each other is not going to help the situation now. Are we supposed to hate all German people because of the terrible things that happened in World War II? We have to move on."
SHIBAR: “Tayyar, is there anything else you’d like to say?”
TAYYAR: “That’s the reason I’m doing dance, music camp in Turkey. I wanted to really create friendship with Turkish people, with Greek, Arabic and American people. I met different peoples in my travels, the Greeks and Arabs. We understand each other well. We can respect each other well. They are same like us. I mean, it is easy to talk, but this is not deep change. If you DO something together, if you live for a time in same place, and everybody will see each other – eat food together, drink tea together and make music, its gonna be a good bridge between people. So, I’m living in Turkey a while at this time to make this business happen. But I wanna do it my way, all of it with new, fresh ideas. Then I will bring many things to the United States in next months and years. I will come back and forth for teaching and performing and events. You will see, it is culture exchange to make friendship between people.”
SHIBAR: “Thank you both so much and I can’t wait for the next camp. Opa!”
A Davul from MED FOLK TOURS Music and Dance Camp USA 2005
(Images from Dance Camp 2008 can be seen here.)
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This page last modified: June 7, 2008