Vol 2 No 4 Spring/Summer 2006

Dances of the “Roma” Gypsy Trail From Rajastan to Spain:
Balkan ""Cocek""

by Miriam Peretz

Among the numerous types of Balkan “Gypsy” dance styles, the cocek is one the most popularly danced. The cocek is a dance of oriental origin, which can be danced as a line dance or as a solo improvisation. The “c” of “cocek” sounds like the English “ch” in pronunciation. The cocek, is danced by Yugoslavians, Turkish, Albanians, and especially by the Roma in Macedonia and southern Serbia. Very similar dances are also found in Bulgaria and Romania. The cocek is more commonly known as a line dance, which is the “publicly acceptable” style. The movements of the cocek line dance are small, fine, and reserved- in contrast to the cocek solo dance, which has a much wilder, uninhibited, oriental flavor. The cocek solo dance commonly remains more private, danced within the home among groups of only women.

Similar to Egyptian and Turkish culture, cocek solo dance is often performed at family festivities such as christenings, circumcisions, and weddings. The movements of the solo dance style are similar to Middle-Eastern dance with hip circling, undulating, shoulder shimmies, and head slides. It is an improvised dance with the focus on the movements of the torso and arms with the feet stepping in place to the beat. Because it is an improvisational dance, it allows women the room to express themselves creatively and use it as an outlet for their personal emotions. The dance remains in one place, often simply because of a lack of space. In all women gatherings, everyone is expected to take their turn to dance unless they are ill or very old. At segregated parties women dance behind curtains so that the men would not see them. The dancers, who would perform “outside” for male audiences were viewed in bad taste. The common rhythms are in 9/8 7/8, and 4/4 meter. At these family gathering and informal parties, the musical accompaniment often consisted of one or more women singing and playing a dajre (tambourine.)

The word cocek comes from the Turkish kocek, which is the term used for dancing boys who dressed up as women. By the end of the Ottoman Empire in Turkey, there were hundreds of these kocek dancing boys entertaining at all levels of society. The famous historical writer on Gypsy history Metin And wrote: “An act in 1857 outlawed koceks. Although the law did not cover cengis, slow but surely they waned in popularity. Today their dancing is merely a corrupt form of belly dancing…..and they are usually Gypsies. What is left of their dancing, ciftetelli, an improvised type of dance. Regarding the dancing boys, kocek, they can still be found in villages in Anatolia; professional or amateur, they are used for amusement and entertainment at wedding ceremonies.”

Accounts also show that the kocek were outlawed in Turkey sometime around the 1920’s because of public embarrassment. The women whom performed the cocek as a solo dance for entertainment in the cafes- the coceki, once made very good salaries dancing for royalty and high society, but today their wages have greatly decreased and most of them live in poverty. Also as Metin And writes, their dancing became much less professional. Both the kocek and the coceki were predominately Gypsy, since Muslim women would not dare dance in public. Today the cocek solo dance remains as a very strong part of the cultural traditions as women gather in homes to dance for one another. As entertainment, the dance is commonly performed for non-Gypsy audiences.

There is much thought that the origins of many Gypsy dances is ritual, and that in some way they represent an everyday rendering of the sacred dances of Vedic India. An example is the Gypsy women dancers in Yugoslavia known as dodole. One purpose of their dance is to prevent sterility in herds of cattle. These women hold great esteem in the belief that one can be cured from throat maladies and other illnesses by just touching them. The ground on which they have danced is given the power to heal warts, gall-stones, and other illnesses. In Bulgaria, Gypsy women dancers are sprinkled with water to bring rain in a dance called paparuda. In Romania, Gypsy women have long adopted a very ancient dance, which once served to create collective ecstasy known as the “Dance of the Kalus,” or stick dance. The word relates to the Kalu who was the magician-cantor of the Babylonians.

Characteristics of various Balkan Gypsy dance styles that I have seen are jumps, spins, fancy small footwork patterns and shoulder isolations. Both the men and women tend to hold their hands and arms up and use both shoulder isolations as well as finger snapping. The women’s dance has some hip movement but much more subtle than in Middle-Eastern dance. The male dance is especially energetic and dynamic with jumps, squats, body slapping, stomping and other percussive body movements. This is reminiscent of Flamenco, where the clapping of the hands and slapping of the body play a crucial role in accompanying the music and the dance. The Romani people living in poverty often could not afford musical instruments and therefore found creative ways to use the body to make music. Other creative and inexpensive ways that Gypsies made music was through the use of metal or wooden spoons, pots, and other kitchen utensils. Today the playing of wooden spoons has been adopted as a dance accompaniment in numerous Balkan and Turkish dances.

There is great diversity of instrumentation in Balkan Gypsy music, with the violin being one of the favorites. Other common instruments include the clarinet, cobza (lute,) accordion, tambourine, and drums. The tambourine (as well as various hand held frame drums) is known to be one of the essential objects in Shamanistic rituals throughout the Middle-East, and Central Asia and is very popular in Gypsy music. In Spain the pandero (a type of tambourine) was played by Gypsy women to accompany the dance. cocek music is probably one of the most lively, viable music traditions in the Balkans today. This is apparent in the great popularity of Gypsy music in the world music scene. The great singers Esma Redzepova (from Macedonia) and Ferus Mustafor are among the most famous Gypsy musicians. Besides its Turkish and Balkan roots, cocek music incorporates strong influences from such diverse styles as Hindi film music, Mexican Mariachi music, Western music and more. Today the saxophone and entire brass band instrumentation has gained popularity in this music style.

References

1. Cocek as a Ritual Dance Among Gypsy Women by Elsie Dunin Co., 1973
2. The Gypsies by Jean Paul Clebert (translated by Charles Duff)
3. Interview of Cyrelle Soffer (Balkan dancer)
4. Interview of Katarina Burda (Director of Aywa Ethnic Dance Company)

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