“Yiiiiheeeeeuuu!!!!” everyone yells as my arms are yanked down to the ground, then up to the sky, like the slanted poles of a tent. The gencler (young people) around me make the movements gracefully, like eagles swooping for their prey. I look like a floppy fish. The blaring sound of the tulum (bagpipe) at maximum volume is relief to my ears, because I am almost certain that it masks my awkwardly uncontrolled screams.
Horon Turkish dance is a very cruel form of “Simon Says,” or that mean game where everyone races to put their finger on their nose and the last one is a loser. In horon, there is always one person leading, but because everyone dances in a circle, it’s not always immediately clear who is making the calls. The leader may direct the dancers by yelling commands that are completely undecipherable. Alternatively he or she might just subtly change their footwork. Regardless, everyone must follow.
Dancing horon well is one of two accomplishments that ultimately solidified my acceptance into Macaheli society.
My first achievement was walking to and from the villages (a good 14 km) several days in a row. Every day, I passed the same homes and people would stick their heads out of their windows in curiosity and call “KIZ!” They would invite me to stay for three meals and offer to drive me where I was going. When I would kindly refuse because “I just want to walk,” they would yell at me excitedly “KIZ! THAT’S HOW WE USED TO DO IT! “ Yeah! Walking!
The event is every bit of Macaheli magic that you could hope for. Local star Bayar Sahin sings regional music in six different regional languages with his three gorgeous and talented daughters. A group of dedeler (grandpas) gather together in traditional Georgian costumes to sing the nearly lost art of ancient Georgian Polyphonic folk music. And at the end of every performance, the youth of the region link hands and play a very aggressive fast paced version of horon. I once asked one of the horon gencler how often he danced, and he replied about three times per week… for the last 25 years of his life.
Now, this following statement is going to sound ridiculous, like I have been living in small towns too long, but here it goes. While watching the young people dance horon, I had this creeping suspicion that if I was going to gain social acceptance in Macahel, I had to learn this dance, and I had to learn it well.
With this conclusion, I jumped into the circle, and proceeded to fail miserably at dancing. No one wanted to stand next to me because my legs could not pass the message along, and I think a few people became frightened when they realized that when everyone else was yelling enthusiastically, I was in fact screaming. It was an epic fail.
Realizing my plan was backfiring, I ducked out, and sat with the teyzeler (old aunts). But I would not give up. I gathered my focus from all the places it hangs out during the day, like trying to learn Georgian (gamarcoba), or determining whether Balyolu should be legally registered as a non-profit or a business, – as I was saying – I collected all of my focus and directed it towards studying the insane commands, circular footwork, and more than complicated steps of horon.
Finally, mustering up every ounce of confidence I had, I jumped in the circle and I danced. And boy, did I dance. The floppy fish transformed to a mighty eagle. Every person in town watched.
For the following days, people I had never met before greeted me, shook my hand, and eagerly congratulated me on my big accomplishment of successfully dancing horon as a foreigner. “KIZ, you have really impressed us,” they would comment with strange admiration.
Observing the thick-social-machine-that-is-a-village respond to my dancing success, my brain began making connections to the other social community I have come to love: bees. And funny enough, bees are pretty good dancers too. Bees dance the waggle, a circular movement with their abdomens that communicates to other bees the direction and quality of nectar sources. In short, it’s a process of passing along a message through movement.
In the Northeast and Black Sea region, horon dancing has some strange similarities to the waggle. The dance grew from a combination of regional influences, particularly Greek (Pontius), Turkish, Georgian, and Persian sources. There are hundreds of variations (one of which, I recently learned, Gomez dances in an Addam’s family movie). Just as equally, there are a number of theories as to the origins of the different movements and steps. In one case, I read that the horon’s shimmy movement comes from imitating hamsi (European Anchovie). Another source claims that the dance comes from pagan traditions and evolved into a ritual of passing messages and stories through generations.
My personal theory is that long ago, the people of the Black Sea were freezing from the extreme weather. In an effort to stay warm, someone figured out when you jump up and down very quickly, throwing your arms in every direction while yelling loudly, you heat up fast – and thus the horon was born. Now having learned the heat generating properties of horon dancing, you can bet that I will be practicing horon in the Colorado Rockies this winter with that very intent in mind.
Regardless of horon’s exact history, I found myself drawing parallels between the complex social fabric of dancing in villages to the mysterious inner workings of a beehive. The waggle dance, like the horon, works with a series of complex movements to communicate a message. To dance horon well, you have to crack the pattern. Likewise, the waggle also requires interpretation. Both have many different variations and “dialects,” and both are affected by the local environment. For example, in extreme environments, the waggle dance becomes even more necessary for locating nectar sources as flower sources are richer, shorter, and more diverse. Likewise, the colder the weather, the faster (and more vital) the horon.
And in both, even if you don’t know what’s happening (apparently sometimes honey bees can’t always interpret the dance message either, my kindred spirits), the act of dancing triggers a whole conversation of movements around local knowledge and culture.
All that said, I think I might dance my posts to you from now on, oyoyoy .
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Fortunately, because of the efforts of TEMA/MACAHEL ARICILIK, UNESCO, and the Bioreserve team, the incredible culture of Camili has been documented quite well. Here are a few wonderful resources that include my favorite cast of characters.
Georgian singing: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y57NTxHJZ4o
Documentaries of Macahel: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=idXoroyx8Nc
I also want to extend my unconditional thanks to the people of Macahel, the Macahel beekeeping team, and the TEMA Vakif. You have taught me so much, and provided an incredible example of a social business working in a stunning region. It has be a pleasure to get to know you, follow your work, and stay in your beautiful home.
And now, for the photos.