Persepolis Interviews… A Real Live Dervish!

Dervishes, eh? Conjures visions of that folklore evening in Turkey: blokes wearing funny hats and skirts, spinning to some really rather good music. Or maybe it is the wandering dervish that springs to mind: the inscrutable travelling philosopher who has eschewed worldly wealth.

Well: guess what? There is an active community of living, breathing, whirling dervishes in Hammersmith. On that whirling traffic vortex which constitutes the Talgarth Road no less. Far from being secretive, the group is very happy to welcome new participants and spectators. Another surprising fact: dervishes are not all blokes, wise or otherwise. We asked one of the chief ‘turners’, Helen Oates, for a few whirling tips and wrinkles…

Why do you spin? All movement creates a feeling of freedom. I think this is one reason why people feel drawn to wanting to learn a turning dance. Turning is seen as a mystical dance which takes you closer to ‘God’: the practice is also known as ‘mukabele’, which means ‘coming face to face’.

Traditional whirling dervishes are Sufis. So do you have to follow a religious practice to join in? Rumi was the friend of 73 religions. To be a dervish one doesn’t have to be a Sufi or a Muslim. At Colet House the turners come from many different communities and religions including Christian, Muslim, Jewish, and Hindu – we are inclusive. Or as Rumi himself says:

Come, come whoever you are.
An unbeliever, a fire worshipper, come.
Our convent is not one of desperation.
Even if you have broken your vows a hundred times,
Come, come again.

In all honesty, is it good for you? Does it make you fitter? I don’t think people ae drawn to it for reasons of wanting to “get fit” although I think it’s a positive side effect of turning because it is very physically demanding.

How come there is such a well established group in West London? The turning ceremony was brought to Colet House in the 1960’s by a Mevlevi Sheikh from Konya. This was because he was unhappy about the ceremony becoming a tourist attraction in his own country and aspects of it being taken out so that the tourists wouldn’t get bored. He had made a connection with Dr. Roles (the then leader of the Study Society) and a promise was made to keep the original ceremony intact and pure. This promise has been kept by the members of the Study Society.

If I want to start whirling, how much will it cost me? If you are interested in becoming a whirling dervish please come and see the ceremony first (see below). Full training sessions begin again in January 2012. We do not charge for teaching. And initially you do not need any special equipment.

And I get to study poetry and drumming too? The study of Sufi poets is very helpful in order to understand the business of turning. And rhythmic drumming is very much part of the scene. Poetry groups run on the first Friday of the month, the Mathnevi (Rumi’s multi-volume masterpiece) study group is every Tuesday evening, and for the drumming please contact Nihat Tsolak 07944 489527.

You know, if you live life in a whirl, this might actually help you find a little inner stillness. Let us know how you get on….

The dervishes meet at The Study Society, Colet House, 151, Talgarth Road, LONDON W14 9DA. There is micro-documentary about them here, and audiences are welcome on the first Friday of every month. To get further details of particular classes and study groups, telephone 020 8748 9338, or find them on Facebook, or check on their website. With thanks to Colyn for arranging this interview, which first appeared on Londonist.