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Helene’s Seminar in Berlin

Macedonian Cocek

Traditional Dance Theater Project ANAR DANA 2013/14

by Isabella
Photos by Gerd Eiltzer
posted May 31, 2015

A group of 8 women had met in Berlin for Helene Eriksen‘s Traditional Dance Theater Project ANAR DANA 2013/14. Together we studied seven traditional dances in a total of 10 weekends with the worldwide renowned dance ethnologist and choreographer Helene Eriksen and organized two final recitals of our program which included solo dances from Helene. It began with a very tight training schedule but later it actually turned out to be much more – together we embarked on an imagined voyage to the Orient, which finally was a travel to find ourselves. But we understood that only much later.

7 Dances of the Silk Road

We narrowed our studies down to 7 dances; they are presented below

Moroccan Sheikhat is a very exciting dance for strong women. The Sheikhats are professional female singers and dancers and they entertain the guests at weddings, circumcisions and other festive occasions. Sheikhat means literally “wise, learned woman”. However, in this case it is not academic knowledge that makes them wise, but rather the knowledge about the relationship between men and women and especially the duties of the wedding night which is inferred.

The second dance was from Egypt – the “Classical Arab Music” originated from Cairo. Helene created an elegant choreography that interprets the sophisticated 10/8 rhythm of the Sama’i composition, depicting the atmosphere of dance entertainment at the Khedive court at the beginning of the 20th century. From the opposite shore of the Mediterranean Sea we studied Čoček, a lively Macedonian Roma Dance in a line with solo improvisation parts, and from Turkey a dance suite related to the famous henna ceremony from the city of  Elazığ.

Further eastwards, in Daghestan in the North Caucasus we made the next stop, my personal favorite: a very romantic and delicate dance performed with finger thimbles “played” on saucers. Like in the other dances from the Caucasian region, the dancers move on tiptoes with their long skirts and seem to “float” over the scene, and this, together with the elegant hand movements imparts an ethereal, dreamy feeling to the whole image. Continuing on the Silk Road we encountered the Turkmen, formerly nomadic tribes, famous for horse breeding. A part of this rampant fierceness is visible also in the dance with dazzling turns and lively stomps.  

Baluchi completed our selection of traditional dances, probably the most mysterious culture for all of us. Baluchistan is a very arid and sparsely populated area between Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran. The group dances in a circle, the steps are seemingly simple, but the whole impact of the dance lies in the harmony of the movements inside the circle and in the graceful details of clapping and eye contact between the women of the group.

The whole program was thus very interesting, and every participant could find pieces she immediately liked – this was the easy part – but also some challenges, for the very beginners and the professional dancers alike, and each one of us had something to chew on until the very end of the project. But in the end we all made it!

Top photo:
Macedonian Cocek: Marina Maass, Maria Hansson Österlund

photo by Gerd Eiltzer

Baluchi: Isabella Schwaderer, Katrin Rudloff, Carissa Göbel, Marina Maass, Andrea Schmid

Participants and Training

Diverse like the dances were also the women participating in the ANAR DANA  project, and this was well intended from the beginning. Diversity is a part of the program, because in the Indo-Iranian languages “Anar” means “pomegranate”, an age-old symbol in Asia and the Mediterranean region for  fertility and female beauty. The countless seeds (“Dana”) of the pomegranate are enclosed in juicy red pulp and form the whole of the fruit. But if you look closer, every single one of them is different and perfectly beautiful in its crimson sheath; nevertheless it fits seamlessly into the round fruit. Similarly also we grew together during the project; from a completely heterogeneous group from all over Europe (members came from Poland, Sweden and, believe it or not, French Guyana!) we became not only a dance troupe but real friends for a lifetime. The experience of a women’ community, where every single one felt accepted and loved and thus was able to grow – this was very touching.

Every training weekend started with intense yoga practice in order to gain strength and flexibility of the body, but also to leave behind the stress of the week and to immerse into a new world.  Helene started with analyzing the music pieces to the selected dances to make rhythmical patterns and development of the melody clear. “She [Helena] manages to break down complicated rhythms and movements so that they can be easily understood,” states Maria, dancer and choreographer from Stockholm, Sweden.

For Katrin, teacher for Oriental and folk dances from Leipzig, Germany, one thing was a real eye opener: “I knew the Sama’i before, from other workshops, but now I finally understood the structure, 10/8 means 1-2-3, 1-2, 1-2, 1-2-3, way simpler than I used to think."

Ethnographic material from Helene’s own collection and other sources were used to demonstrate the movements of a particular dance as well as the specific body language that emerges from the whole awareness of life in a determinate culture. “This project turned out for me to be like a voyage to the Orient with my own body. I could experience so many aspects of womanhood which had seemed weird to me in the beginning, but now have become a part of myself”, states Andrea from Bavaria who introduces movement and body awareness into her pedagogical work. One experience was particularly moving: “One of my students is from Kazakhstan and lives in Germany for three years, I showed her our Daghestani dance, which is not exactly from her own region, but is much more familiar to her than her new German homeland. She was very impressed that her teacher is interested in her culture, and since then we have a totally different relationship."

We spent a lot of time to learn the basic dance techniques. Carissa, like Helene, an American expat that lives in Germany, liked this particularly: “Since I did not grow up in any of these cultures, I cannot feel the rhythms in my bones, I don’t have them in my blood. Here my brain has to do the work. Analyzing and writing down the musical patterns and after many, many repetitions I can learn them. For me it’s an experience of great freedom when I notice that I managed to master the technique and I am able to move my body somehow according to the principles of the rhythm and the dance.”

Together with steps and figures we also learned to use different props, such as thimbles and saucers, zills or çalpare (special wooden clackers for Ottoman dance), and only when everyone was somehow familiar with the new movements Helene selected the groups that should finally perform the dances at the final show and worked on the choreography with them.

From weekend to weekend the program seemed to be more dense, but in the end it was feasible for everyone of us – although many had to struggle with self-doubts and frustration somehow in between. This is for sure the result of Helene’s very long teaching experience that she could estimate how much a group could manage to do in order to improve and how to lift the spirits in the difficult moments. This impressed me personally most of all, because I myself am still struggling with this kind of group dynamics, even if my professional circumstances are completely different.

Photo by Gerd Eiltzer

Macedonian Cocek: Maria Hansson Österlund, Verena Bourvé, Carissa Göbel, Isabella Schwaderer, Katrin Rudloff, Andrea Schmid, Anja Pätkau, Marina Maass.


Finally we get our costumes that have to be altered individually – and now our attempts in dancing look so much better! Each single costume is a replica of authentic material which Helene has meticulously researched and which goes perfectly together with the dance. Some movements are restricted by the costume, some are enhanced. For example the coat for the Daghestani dance has very long, sumptuously lined sleeves with a long split in order to emphasize the graceful hand movements with or without the thimbles. "Helene’s perfectionism is really special. I also have been dancing for a very long time, but I am impressed how she controls every single headscarf or braid. I tended to be rather negligent when I thought the public wouldn’t actually notice it", explains Marina, teacher of Armenian dances for more than twenty years.

Yes, and somehow we managed, way faster than we thought, to reach the end of our trip, two recitals in the Neues Schauspiel Leipzig, organized by Katrin – Kassia. Finally every headscarf, every braid and every earring is secured and it feels so good to show what we have been working on for so much time, and also the public notices the joy of the troupe.

And now it is over, yet it is not over because this project has changed us. It has not only taught us new techniques, but it has inscribed itself into our bodies, has changed our muscles and tendons, and the way we perceive the world and ourselves. Last but not least we have become real friends and new ideas and new projects are coming to life. The pomegranate seeds are growing and are developing their own leaves and branches.

Photo by Gerd Eiltzer

Daghestani: Andrea Schmid, Carissa Göbel, Isabella Schwaderer

Photo by Gerd Eiltzer

Elazig: Anja Pätkau, Marina Maass, Verena Bourvé, Maria Hansson Österlund, Katrin Rudloff.


  • Author’s bio page
  • Photographer: Gerd Eiltzer
  • Dancers:Helene Eriksen, Verena Bourvé, Carissa Göbel, Maria Hansson Österlund, Marina Maass, Anja Pätkau, Katrin Rudloff, Andrea Schmid, Isabella Schwaderer.
  • You too can become a member of the ANAR DANA community! Helene organizes regularly projects around the world, for the next dates please visit
    You can also buy several professionally edited DVDs from previous shows in the US..

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