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Middle East Abeja Dispatch

Rockin' the Yalova Stadium, Anatolian Style
March 11, 2000

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jpg -Ancient Anatolian magic under Ataturk's watchful eye
Cheering students pack the bleachers of the main sports arena in Yalova, chanting their school names. The air is charged with excitement. As each school team is announced over the loud speaker, a cheer erupts from one corner of the stands or the other. The loudest cheer comes for Yalova Lise, or Yalova High School, one of the largest schools in the area.

Silence falls across the huge, open stadium, and the sharp sound of the tabla -- a small but loud hand drum -- pierces the air with a fast, traditional Turkish rhythm. The ud, a 12-stringed guitar-like instrument, joins in with a fanciful tune. A clarinet weaves its way around the ud, adding exotic eastern harmonies, and the shrill zurna, the oboe-like instrument made famous by snake-charmers, playfully flits in and out of the song.

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The costumes recall the days of the great Ottoman Empire
Suddenly, the floor is alive with color and movement, as Yalova Lise's traditional Turkish dance group takes the floor. First the girls gracefully sail out, dressed in bright costumes of pinks, whites, and greens, trimmed in gold. Swirling, stomping, turning, weaving -- delightful patterns form and reform before my eyes. I'm drawn into watching an individual dancer -- her steps, her costume, her smile -- and then I once again see the magic formed by the group as a whole.

Suddenly, the girls pull back in perfect lines, the music changes slightly in tone, and the boys explode powerfully onto the floor in front of them. Like warriors preparing for battle, they wear stern faces and move with proud, bold steps. Their black and blue costumes are accented with bright scarves that serve to hide the ornamental daggers at their waists, and their high boots remind me of classic sword fighting movies.

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The crowd goes crazy! It's the kind of thing I would expect at a football game, but not at an inter-school traditional dance competition. It takes my breath away. These guys are good! There is nothing "sissy" about the traditional Anatolian dances I'm watching here. They are vigorous, energetic, and complicated. It's the Turkish version of "Riverdance!" These dancers are serious athletes, with a grace and style that captivates everyone in the stadium. I can feel the teenage girls' hearts throbbing all around me, as the lead guy struts his stuff.

Beneath the red and white Turkish flag, the huge picture of Ataturk, and the blank scoreboard, the way is cleared for the story to be told. A beautiful girl dances out to him and presents him with a red scarf. "Good-bye, my love," she dances -- no words need to be spoken -- and the boys charge off to battle.

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This team danced with sticks -- maybe to keep back their adoring fans!
Swirling, stomping, turning, weaving -- the girls are no less athletic or amazing, as they create their magic. The boys get a break, before they return, victorious. The lead couple is reunited. Black and pink patterns swirl across the floor as the triumphant reunion is celebrated and all the boys and girls symbolically exchange scarves and meaningful stares.

The entire stadium erupts in cheers as the Yalova Lise team takes a bow. Brian and I agree that, of the many teams we've seen so far in this 3-hour competition, this was the best. I can't understand Turkish, so I don't know which particular village inspired the costume and the dance (each area of Anatolia has its own dance, dress, and musical traditions that are recreated here). I couldn't understand, either, when the score was tallied from the judges and announced, but, from the cheers, I know it must have been good!


shrill - high-pitched and piercing in tone or sound
flit - to move about rapidly
stern - harsh, or severe in manner
daggers - a short pointed weapon with sharp edges used for stabbing
vigorous - strong, energetic, and active in mind or body

We had arrived thinking that we would stay for only a few dances, and then go. But we've been sucked in by the live music, the intricate dances, and the beautiful costumes. All the teams are really amazing! And the traditional Anatolian "Taverna" music is so addictive, I'm going to buy myself a tape to take home.

After the last group, we slipped out the back way, not waiting to see who would win the big trophies. I was lost in the magic of ancient Anatolia! Far from the cultural centers like the Harem in Istanbul, the smaller villages of the Ottoman Empire obviously didn't lack magic or beauty of their own. We are lucky to experience the beauty and romance of the ancient traditions, kept alive by this generation.


p.s. - Please e-maill me at

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