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KOCHEK - The Ancient Art of being LGBDQ

By Alexandra King

The Classical Dances of Turkey and the Middle East included Kocheks, male dancers who dressed like woman and danced with wooden clackers. They still exist today in Turkey. Kocheks came to be because Islam forbids women to perform in public. So, young boys were enlisted as substitutes.

The Turkish word is derived from the Persian word kuchak, meaning "little", "small", or "young". The culture of the Kochek flourished from the 1600's to the 1800's.Initially, the Kocheks were only in the palaces where their art was fostered and developed as a routine genre of palace and harem entertainment. Whenever there was a wedding, circumcision, feast or party, entertainment was brought in, including jugglers, clowns, drummers and musicians and dancers - Kocheks. Over time, the artists began appearing in public events and today are still seen in public dancing - usually 2 men at a time. Initially, they banded together and toured in troupes.

A Kochek trained for about 6 years and started training around seven years old. A dancer's career lasted as long as he was clean shaven and young looking. The dances they performed were an amalgamation of Arab, Greek, Assyrian and Kurdish dance styles, including Karsilamas and Kasik Havasi danc, (spoon dances).

This is a postcard photograph of a Kochek posing in costume, late 19th-century.

The dancers wore heavy makeup, would curl their hair and wear it in long tresses under a small black or red velvet hat decorated with coins, jewels and gold. Their usual garb consisted of a tiny red embroidered velvet jacket with a gold-embroidered silk shirt, shalwar (baggy trousers), a long skirt and a gilt belt, knotted at the back. They were said to be "sensuous, attractive, effeminate", and their dancing "sexually provocative". Dancers undulated and gyrated their hips in slow vertical and horizontal figure eights, rhythmically snapping their fingers and making suggestive gestures. Often acrobatics, tumbling and mock wrestling were part of the act. The Kocheks were sexually exploited, often by the highest bidder. Today the men dance with zills and still do belly dance and acrobatic backbends and rhythmic and cultural styles.

One can see how the Turkish Gypsy/Rom style draws on their style of dress and dance!


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