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First Female Dancer from the East: Leyla Bedirkhan

First Female Dancer from the East: Leyla Bedirkhan

Leyla Bedirkhan: the woman who stamped her name in the history of ballet.  First-ever famous Kurdish female dancer and ballerina who also passionately performed Syrian and Egyptian dances.  She was called the "Kurdish Princess".   This week as part of the “Portraits of Women” series we will look through the biography of Leyla, who was scratched out by her own family despite the bows and applauses of the whole world. 

"My dances and dreams belong to the East".

Leyla Bedirkhan or the “Kurdish Princess” was born in Istanbul in 1908.  Her mother Henrietta Bedirkhan was of Jewish descent, and her father Abdurezak Bedirkhan was a Kurd.  When Leyla was little the family had to emigrate to Egypt because of their ethnicity.  

There Leyla spent her childhood in the aristocratic environment. After the death of Leyla’s father she and her mother left for Vienna. 

In Vienna the girl gets acquainted with dance, which becomes her life-time passion that she will never turn down, no matter the odds. 

In Europe Leyla attended a ballet school.  In 1925 for the first time she came on stage of Vienna opera house.   Leyla had her own dance style.  She was inspired by Syrian and Egyptian dances when creating her style.

When she was confused for an Arab or a Persian woman, Leyla corrected immediately.  And at any opportunity she would say that she was a Kurdish woman.

"I am the first Kurdish woman who dances in La Scala (opera house in Milan – ed. note).  I was asked: "Are you an Eastern woman?", and I answered:  "I spent my childhood in Egypt that is why East is not foreign to me".

Leyla is the first famous Kurdish female dancer who strived to accentuate the historical roots of her dance.   She is the founder of intuitive and mystical dance.  The dance became Leyla’s life purpose.  

In 1930 she met Henry Tuac in Paris and soon they got married.  After the wedding they have a daughter named Nevin Solkh.  After settling in Paris Leyla was learning dances that were being performed during religious ceremonies.  

"After two solo concerts, I decided to dedicate a whole year to study the dances of ancient Persians and Indian spiritual dances".

Leyla gets a chance to perform on the stage and show her unique dance in many countries like Switzerland, Germany, Italy, Spain, the USA, combining in the dance her own sense of rhythm and the culture of those countries. Moreover Leyla spoke six languages. 

However, there were some people who not only did not want to recognize her worldwide success, but also wanted to destroy it; it was Leyla’s family.  Men in her family preferred to ignore the one who is beyond the meaning of “traditional woman”.

The Magic of Dance Revolts against the Feudal Thoughts

Announcing herself to the world Leyla instead of the support faces the conservative judgments of her relatives.  However she does not surrender and continues to dance.   By constantly developing her skills she finds a better way for herself.

Discovering the magic of dance once, she is unable to give up on it.  The attitude of men with outmoded traditional views towards her does not surprise her and does not suppress her goals. No matter the odds, Leyla is an inspiration for women from the Middle East.  Her dance becomes the weapon against oppression. 

One of Leyla’s most extensive performances was in Egypt where she presented a dance show against the background of the most ancient sculpture: Big Sphinx in Giza.     

Leyla also performed in one of the most famous opera-houses in the world La Scala.

On January 23, 1932 she performed a part in ballet “Belkis - Queen of Sabba”.  The music for the ballet was written by Italian composer Ottorino Respighi.  In this performance she appears as Queen of Sabba.

The ballet where Leyla performed as Queen of Sabba became one of the most successful and ambitious projects of the time.  A number of innovative methods are applied in the mentioned show that attracted the attention of many people.

"Instruments such as the sitar (many-stringed instrument to perform classical Indian music) was used, the orchestra also incorporated popular instruments. The trumpets were removed and they were played behind the scenes.  New methods, such as wind noise was included".

Leyla who drew the attention of the world with her dance, represents such pieces of work as "Dance of Razi", "Persian Stamp", "Hieroglyphs", "Dylan", "Kurdish Fighter", "Tef", "Fallahin".

Sometimes because of never-ending applauses Leyla took to the stage again instead of ending off her performance and repeated the dance. 

On March 16, 1940, Leyla, who never forgot her roots, took part in an event dedicated to the victims of earthquake in Erzindjan in 1939. 

Leyla who had many friends from the art world once inspired French artist Jean Torgette to produce a picture called "Leyla, dancing a Kurdish dance".

Known in the world press as "Kurdish Princess" she died on December 26, 1986 in Montauban, France.

With her dance she left a slogan for women worldwide "Do not give up".  Sometimes it is very hard to stand against the whole world, especially when the most special person is against you.   But it cannot be a reason to walk back. That was what Leyla did and she won, therefore her example light up a road for many women as a polar star.  

Source: Gazete Karınca


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