8 Traditional Turkish Dances And The Significance Behind Them

We have always known Turkey as a country with an enriched culture. 

And, the traditional Turkish dances play an extremely important part in reflecting the belief and the predilection that Turkish people hold close to their hearts.

8 Traditional Turkish Dances That Preserve Their Rich Culture 

Bar Dance

The Bar dance comes from the East region of Turkey. In the Armenian language, ‘bar’ means ‘dance’. 

Due to its joyful and simple nature, its influence has spread rather widely across the nation and derived into over 40 variations.

Two dancers are sufficient for this dance, though the more popular versions include at least five dancers. They will form a chain and the leader will be on the right end. The structure and the movement demand a large open space.

In the performance, the dancers will be side by side. They might have their hands on one another’s shoulders or link their arms, depending on the routines they created. 

Synchronized moves and traditional costumes make it a heavily Turkish dance to behold.

However, the Bar dance has a unique touch about it, for it differs greatly for men and women. 

The performance usually includes instruments called zurna or daffoul (also known as the oboe and the tabla) aside from the clarinet – an essential instrument for the female version of the Bar. 

Therefore, the tunes alone are already full of surprises.

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Halay Dance

If we were to mention a Turkish wedding dance, Halay would never go unnoticed. Its origin points to Southeastern and Central Turkey, with the name derived from ‘alay’ – an Iranian word meaning ‘many people’. 

Due to the Iranian language being formed 3000 years ago, we can assume the Halay dance has been around for so long.

Male dancers will be dressed in full sets of wool coats, short jackets, baggy trousers, ornate headpieces & socks, and farmer shoes. For women, there will be skirts, aprons, and optional jewelry.

The performers will line up in a row and then form a circle while holding onto each other’s shoulders or hands. They have handkerchiefs to wave while swinging to the songs.

The footwork in the Halay dance is quite complex if you want it to combine smoothly with your upper body and simultaneously blend with your dance partners.

Nonetheless, it’s a celebratory dance in the end and often executed in spacious areas. So, there is hardly any school or class teaching and training the techniques. Halay is more about enjoying the atmosphere!

Hora Dance

The Hora dance is an indispensable part of Jewish wedding ceremonies in Balkan countries. 

The vague information we have about its origins might be proof of how long it has been around, aside from the amount of variations it has adopted over the years.

The version most closely linked to the Turkish Hora is the Israel Hora. For the people here, the dance is strictly for traditional events or important festivals. 

The most common occasion for it is weddings but children’s bat mitzvah is another possibility.

In Turkish Hora, the participants will stand in a big circle and have their arms linked with the partners on their sides. All of them will move to the left with grapevine steps. 

Should the number of performers exceed the capacity of the place, spirals or concentric circles would be the solution!

More specially, at weddings, the crowd will lift the couple while they are seated in chairs. The bride and the groom will hold onto the two ends of a napkin as a symbol of attachment.

While it is a collective entertainment with upbeat music, it is still a folk dance. Therefore, you won’t see it that much on TV outlets, and your best chance to know more about it is via recorded clips or visits in person.

Horon Dance

In the Black Sea region, Horon is an important trait of culture for people here. The evidence for its significance is UNESCO’s recognition of it being an Intangible Cultural Heritage ever since 2021.

Some people believe the Horon dance has a French or Greek origin because the name has some relations with these languages. 

However, in Turkish, ‘horon’ means ‘a corn stook’, which is relevant to the circle formation.

Compared to other traditional Turkish dances, especially folk dances, Horon’s difficulty and tempo might be off the chart. Even the instrument needs to be able to keep up with the rhythm.

The tune for Horon is generated by kemence (string) or tulum (bagpipe). With the song in the background, the dancers will intertwine their hands and ease themselves into the performance.

There are 3 sections in total, hence they need a leader to notify them about the changes. 

  • The starter contains slow and simple movements, speeding up towards the end. 
  • The second part includes more complex footwork and shoulder shakes. 
  • Finally, the last section has the fastest pace and most challenging steps.

Each of these movements has a specific meaning. 

The shimmy shoulders, for example, are a depiction of the waves. When the dancers raise their hands, it is a symbol of courage and strength.

Kaşık Oyunu Dance (Spoon Dance)

Usually referred to as the spoon dance, Kaşık Oyunu is one of the most well-known dances in the center of Anatolia. 

Its variations are all over the Mediterranean region with specific melodies, rhythms, and movements.

Kaşık Oyunu dancers hold a pair of spoons in each hand, one between the forefinger & the thumb, the middle & the ring fingers clamping the other. 

When you do it correctly, the spoons will clap against each other like castanets.

Despite the simple and somehow casual name, we would say this dance wouldn’t be the easiest for beginners. 

The dancers have to execute strong movements with their lower body while keeping their steps small within a limited space.

Bolu also has a famed version of this spoon dance. The dancers will give the audience a special greeting by crouching down and touching their chins & foreheads with the spoons. 

Once ready, they will pair up and stand face-to-face with their partner, moving to the planned routines.

Karsilamas Dance

Originally a Turkish folk dance, the influence of Karsilamas has extended beyond the boundary of the country and spread to Greece, thanks to the immigrants in Anatolia.

“Karsilamas” means “meeting up, greeting, welcoming”, hence the vibe it gives off is generally positive and energetic. 

You will mostly see it in the Northwestern cities, specifically festivals and weddings.

Different regions might incorporate their unique details into the dance, yet the essence remains unchanged. Karsilamas is about two people facing each other and moving in synchronization with the music.

Depending on the purpose, the rhythm will change. 

If the performers want to pull off a slow and somehow solemn dance, they will go for a beat of 3 – 2 – 2 – 2. 

With 2 – 2 – 2 – 3, the movement becomes quicker and more lighthearted.

Semah Dance

Semah Dance

Semah is a quite special name in our compilation since they are part of a religious ritual. 

The performers even have a name for themselves – semahçıs. Accompanying them are skilled musicians creating beautiful tunes with lutes.

The attractiveness of Semah lies in the rhythmic movements of the dancers. Each of them faces a partner and keeps their arms across their chest. The female dancers’ arms must stay on their shoulders and never above.

Furthermore, you only complete the Semah dance when you have finished both parts. The first is ağırlama: a pair of dancers facing each other and imitating each other’s moves. The second is yeldirme: a fast-paced routine involving spinning.

Nowadays, Semah is still alive and thriving with two main forms: İçeri and Dışarı. 

The former is the traditional and religious variation of the Cem ritual, while the latter is usually performed independently as a means to bring it closer to the younger generations.

Everything about Semah is taught orally, including details about relevant arts. Therefore, one could say that Semah plays a crucial role in enriching and preserving the traditional music of Turkey as well.

Zeybek Dance – The Most Well-known Traditional Dance in Turkey

Zeybek is perhaps the most well-known traditional dance in Turkey according to many people. The core of this dance is heroism and strength, thus it stands out in comparison with other dances even from the vibes alone.

Its origin is still up for discussion, though most people believe it comes from the Ottoman Empire instead of Greece or another European country. 

During this 16th century, there was a plethora of conflicts, that encouraged men to step forward and protect their people. And the history called them zeybeks.

It would explain the proud and strong dance moves executed by the dancers as well as the neat outfits they adorn on stage. The dancers will execute deliberate steps at a slow pace, hold their arms out high, and crouch.

Zeybek remained a male-only dance until 1916 when a PE teacher did some modifications to the dance. With softness and sentiments shown in the moves, the performance then represented a romance between a couple.

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Other Traditional Turkish Dances 

Çayda Çıra

Although the center of attention here is the young ladies wearing caftans embroidered with golden and silvery threads, it can still include male performers. 

They all hold a candle while dancing, giving the performance a mysterious feeling.

Kilic Kalkan

Kilic Kalkan also dates back to the Ottoman time. It has a very masculine and powerful vibe due to being a men-only performance. 

The dancers will dress in traditional Ottoman costumes, equipped with armor and weapons.


Researchers have many reasons to believe the Shiksaray dance came from the Black Sea. 

It doesn’t have any restrictions about who can join. Participants will hold each other’s hands and form a line or a circle, doing rather simple footwork.

Van and Adiyaman

Regardless of the ceremonies, the Van & Adiyaman dance will come in handy when the crowd goes a bit quiet. 

With colorful outfits and movements full of energy, the dancers will quickly ward off any sign of boredom!

Final Words

Turkey has been through countless events in its long history. And a good part of them are showcased through the traditional Turkish dances that have survived until today. 

Whether they are religious practices or folk dances, they hold meanings significant enough to have the new generations intrigued!

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