Sakartvelo World Domination

International Folk Dance Competition

One night, we were wandering around Sultanahmet after dinner with Micah and Steph, some of our favorite fellow travelers we’ve met so far. (Go visit their blog, especially if you love great photography.) Some music caught our ear and we followed it to a stage where there was some sort of folk dance event.

We began to casually watch for a few minutes, and intended to start walking again, when a girl with silver medallions in her hair caught my eye. And then a boy with a black, shaggy headdress darted through the crowd. I managed to surpress a shriek of excitement, but still got a little bouncy and clap-happy. Micah and Steph were probably a little alarmed at my sudden enthusiasm. (If you know me well, you know that I don’t get genuinely giddy over very many things. Except maybe small, cuddly animals. And free food. And making Excel spreadsheets.)

Only a few weeks earlier, we were treated to a fantastic evening of Georgian folk dance in Akhaltsikhe. Could it be?? A whole troupe of Kartvelians in Istanbul? And we just happened to run into them??


I waited impatiently for the Ukranians and Romanians and Hungarians and other groups to complete their routines. They were all good, and entertaining even to those who might be less than enthusiastic about dance. Most teams were made up of adults or older teens. When the Georgians finally took the stage for the last performance for the evening, it was obvious that they were much younger than the other represented countries.

Georgian dance troupe

Since I don’t have much experience describing dance, here is what says about Georgian folk dancing:

“Georgian dance is generally characterized by the graceful floating gait of the female dancers. With bodies erect and leaning very slightly forward, the women create lovely formations and turns in an appearance that has been said to form the illusion of ice skating along the floor. The hand, arm and head movements are flowing and gentle while traveling in this quick floating manner.

The most characteristic element of the male Georgian dance is the acrobatic, or gymnastic movements including knee spins, aerial cartwheels, splits and kicks and many other such feats. But the most amazing to most viewers is the fast and varied manner of dancing on the knuckles of the toes. The dancers wear soft soled boots and often jump continually on the toe knuckle, with the body straight and strong, the arms in a very heroic posture, the men often shout or proudly stare as they do this spectacular feat.”

We weren’t surprised when the little soldiers and fair maidens floated and twirled and leaped and kicked with more skill, precision, vigor and heart than their predecessors. The crowd yelled and clapped more loudly for the Georgians than they had for anyone else, and you could see on the dancers’ faces that they were so happy and proud in that moment.


The crowd started to filter away, and I noticed the white and red Georgian flag heading up the sidewalk, with the dancers all in a row behind it. I thought they were probably headed back to their hotel and was still so excited to have made another Georgia memory (in Istanbul!) that I decided it wouldn’t be too creepy to follow them. Our hostel was in the same direction, and we were headed that way, anyway.

Following the group

When we caught up to the group, I said hello to one of the girls. I told her how much I enjoyed their performance and asked if they were from Georgia. (Not the most brilliant of questions, but I was having a fangirl moment.) She said, yes, they were from Batumi, and that they had made the finals. Tomorrow night, they would dance again at the same stage. I promised that I would be there to see it.

Then I noticed that one of the chaperones kept glancing at us nervously. Walking a large group of children through a major world city late at night was probably not her idea of a good time, and me following them with a deranged smile wasn’t helping. Tony was very relieved when I agreed to turn around.


The following evening, we returned to the park and the place was packed. Our Georgian team took the stage and repeated their great performance, and the crowd seemed to respond even more loudly. A man standing in the middle of the seating area kept standing up and waving the white flag with red crosses. The people behind him weren’t happy and eventually convinced him to at least sit down. But his flag kept waving.


We stayed to see the results of the competition, and it was difficult to know what was going on since the emcee was speaking only in Turkish. Suddenly, I realized that there were a lot more Georgian children at the wings. It was another Georgian dance team. TWO teams had made it into the finals; one from Batumi and one from Tbilisi.

Final dance

The second team also brought the house down, and a section of the crowd was cheering, “SA-KART-VE-LO! SA-KART-VE-LO!” The man with the flag went nuts along with them.


The emcee called the eight finalist teams to the stage. Some sort of local celebrity and a beauty queen joined him and they began handing out the awards. It was really apparent how young the Georgian teams were when they were standing with the other countries. In a fairytale moment, the two teams were awarded first and second place, and they all looked ready to burst with joy. I couldn’t help but be proud of them, too.



Sep 2012

Georgia, Turkey


The Night We Became Fans of Georgian Folk Dance

On our last night in Akhaltsikhe, we went with Sean and McKinze and a few other PCVs to a traditional Georgian dance recital. Just before the concert, the heavens opened and it poured. We sat in a cafe across the street and watched people scramble in with umbrellas and newspapers and whatever they could find to shield themselves from the deluge. Finally, a few minutes before the advertized start time, the rain let up and we walked into the theater to find our seats.

The theatre

The theatre was of Soviet construction. Completely utilitarian and no space wasted on silly things like aisles. There would be no bathroom breaks. Each row spanned the entire room, which was surely filled beyond any (non-existing) fire codes. We sat in the clamor of mothers talking on their cell phones and excited children shouting to one another for about half an hour before the lights dimmed and the hostess for the evening took the microphone and announced the first act. The beginning of the program didn’t actually silence the room; everyone was far too amped up to give their undivided attention to the stage.

I’m not sure what we were expecting. We knew it was a dance recital and it was important enough that they were selling tickets. It turned out to be a genuine treat of almost three hours of dance and song.

Apparently, Georgian dance is a big deal to just about everyone here. The kids, who ranged from what looked like six years old all the way through high school, threw themselves into the choreography with an astounding amount of enthusiasm and precision. Even though we were in a back row, we could see the pride on their faces as they performed their steps. The girls’ slippered feet carried them, floating, in graceful circles and the boys hopped and kicked as fiercely as they could manage. Some of their steps required them to bounce around on the tops of their feet with their curled completely under. We weren’t sure which would burst first — their tortured metatarsals or their parents’ hearts.

Traditional Georgian dance

A crackly sound system and an out of tune guitar didn’t stop a group of young guys from belting out their patriotic songs. They drew deep breaths and drew up each note from deep in their bellies. The audience recognized every ballad after the first few notes filled the air and they and hollered and clapped along in approval. The singers grinned the entire time, as if they knew how much their friends and sweethearts adored them at that very moment.

Georgian folk singers

We knew the program was drawing to an end when a horde of children bearing bouquets began to gather near the stage. They got closer and closer and eventually some of them started to impatiently climb the stage and group off to the side. There was a false start with the bouquet-giving as half of the deliveries were made after the second-to-last song and some of the dancers had to think quickly to get rid of their blooms before the music started up again.

Traditional Georgian dance

It was a long evening, but we were completely amazed and impressed by everything. Yet another experience we felt privileged to witness in Georgia, and yet another example of someone showing us how to love something new. It’s the best kind of contagious.

(Go watch the video!)

Jul 2012