13 Ağustos 2013 Salı


Berna Kurt

(35th World Dance Research Congress, Athens/Greece, July 2013)

The folk dance scene in Turkey has always represented plural and diverse perspectives. Historically, in line with some political, social and artistic changes, it has evolved from an artistic tool of nation-building process to a performing arts genre itself. Today, it brings out different artistic approaches; reflecting the influence of other disciplines and staging techniques of foreign dance companies. It directly adapts itself according to global influences. Examining such developments, my aim for this paper is to focus on the present dynamics of the folk dance scene in Turkey. To be able to do so, I’ll firstly refer to some theoretical approaches and then I’ll try to summarize the historical development of the folk dance scene in Turkey.

The global culture of “hybridity”

 As a dancer and researcher working on the dances of Anatolia, Balkans and Mesopotamia, I’ve always been interested in the changes of the movement traditions. Being an anti-essentialist academician, I believe that the “tradition” is not a perpetual, fixed entity; it historically gets new meanings and new functions. Movement traditions or “folk” dances as movement material of many “contemporary” choreographies have been inevitably changing in today’s global world. I think that the claim for and the search of authenticity of folk dances is not so meaningful; but the analysis of the route and the dynamics of change, the effects of a growing global culture on more local practices are very important.

 “Globalization” is the name given to the complex relations which characterize the world in the twenty-first century. As John Storey states, it refers to the relentless flow of capital, commodities and communications across increasingy porous territorial boundaires. Globalization also describes what is called “time-space compression” (Harvey 1990: 240): the way in which the world appears to be shrinking under the impact of new electronic media, like satellite television and the internet, which facilitate the extending of social relations across time and space. Time-space compression brings into close contact images, meanings, ways of life, cultural practices, which would otherwise have remained separated by time and space. This can produce a certain homogeneity of cultural experience or resistance in defence of a previous way of life, or it can bring about a mixing of cultures, producing forms of “hybridization.”[1]

For the purpose of this paper, I must refer to Jan Nederveen Pieterse’s (1995: 45) definition of globalization “as a process of hybridization which gives rise to global mélange.”[2] Globalization can’t be reduced to a process of the export of “sameness”, or the dominance of a global / American culture. Local and global cultures from all over the world have been mixed. Therefore, what counts as “local” and therefore “authentic” can not have a fixed content, it’s subject to change and modification as a result of the domestication of imported cultural goods. (Ang 1996: 155).[3] As Edward Said (1993: xxix) observes, “all cultures are involved in one another; no one is single and pure, all are hybrid, heterogenous, extraordinarily differentiated and unmonolithic.”[4]

On the other hand, to celebrate hybridity and forget about global power relations would be to miss even more than those who see globalization as homogenization. Cultural hybridity is not without its relations of power. As Nederveen Pieterse (1995: 57) observes, “hybridity raises the question of the terms of mixture, the conditions of mixing and mélange.” Pieterse argues that the key factor in globalization as hybridity is that territorial cultures are being gradually overshadowed by translocal cultures.[5]

Presentational Folk Dances[6] / The Turkish Case:

Folk dances in Turkey have been an issue of interest since the rise of Turkish nationalism. After the construction of Turkish Pepublic in 1923, those dances have been collected by state officials. They have been refined, standardized, stylized and choreographed in cultural institutions supported by the ruling party -Halkevleri (Peoples’ Houses). In 1930’s and 1940’s national celebrations, various dance traditions have been represented on stage and exposed to each other for the first time. Meanwhile, through nationwide folk dance festivals and later folk dance competitions, a kind of Turkish ‘national’ dance spectrum has been constructed. Folk dances have been an artistic tool of nation-building process like in many other countries.[7]

After the end of national construction process and beginning of multi-party politics in 1946, the ruling party has changed. Turkey became part of western capitalist bloc in the Cold War. Meanwhile, many new private folk dance associations began to participate in international folk dance festivals and competitions. In such a process, performances have been subject to certain changes in representational forms. Local dances have been represented via some floor patterns and geometrical shapes like circles, crosses, diagonal lines, straight lines. Since all such shapes have been applied to each dance genre, the distinctions between various dance traditions have been overshadowed. The ‘floor patterning’ led them towards a certain uniformization. And despite the multicultural diversity they represent, they all have been called as “Turkish folk dances”.

Since 1960’s, popularity of folk dances gave way to an increase in the number of folk dance institutions and formation of a very competitive folk dance ‘market’. The State Folk Dance Ensemble and the first academic folk dance department in İstanbul have been respectively opened in the middle of 1970’s and 1980’s. The primary impact of the State Folk Dance Ensemble on staging techniques was the Moiseyev style of floor-patterning –including line ups, forming stars, opening and closing circles.[8] Many amateur folk dance groups of the time reproduced this new representational style. Especially in 90’s, the audience get used to see stylized local dances performed in stylized costumes. In entertainment programmes broadcasted in TV channels, many folk dance groups performed in casual dresses.

As time goes by, Turkey has been much more integrated to neo-liberal system and global culture industry. Big scale cultural events, global pop-stars’ tours to Turkey have been organized; private broadcasting channels have been opened…etc. In such an atmosphere, the Riverdance interval performance during the 1994 Eurovision song contest and then the so-named dance show immediately became an aesthetic model for Turkey too. This show was distinguished with:

1)      a simple and universal narrative,

2)      a hybrid dance aesthetics -embodying many different dance techniques and traditions from ballet to folk (Irish) dance,

3)      stylized folk dance performance,

4)      high level of syncronization in dance,

5)      very expensive and spectacular use of technology.

In 2000’s, following this model, many -folk dance based- professional groups have been set up; but only two of them could survive in the long run. First of them is Anadolu Ateşi (Fire of Anatolia)[9], the one and only professional group; and the second one, Shaman Dans Tiyatrosu (Shaman Dance Theatre) is a semi-professional group. Such groups gave way to an increase in the number of ‘professional dancers’. Beside ballet and contemporary dance performers, many folk dancers had the chance to earn living in these ensembles. And such context gave way to an increase in artistic competition. Many groups and choreographers sought for new and creative means ways of representing folk dances on stage.

National TV channels organized dance competitions in recent years -representing many popular dance styles from hip hop to tango and salsa. And in 2008, a folk dance competition has been broadcasted in state television TRT: Altın Adımlar (Golden Steps). Supported by Turkish Folk Dance Federation and introduced as ‘the first folk dance competition in television’, the programme lasted for thirteen weeks. Most of the participant competitors were the distinguished folk dance associations in Turkey. They usually represented local dances of the prevalent ‘Turkish’ dance repertoire. The most interesting parts of the programme were the presentation of semah (Alawite ritual dance), köçek (male dressed as female) dance, oriental dance and sema (Mevlevi ritual dance) which are historically excluded from the prevalent repertoire. These dances are presented outside the competition; but in a way, they have been ‘recognized’ as part of the folk dance repertoire of Turkey. For example, a juryman, İstanbul Technical University Department of Turkish Folk Dances’ lecturer Ahmet Demirbağ defined the oriental dance as “a dance performed in Turkey since at least a hundred years, thus one of ‘our’ dances.’[10] In the last issues of the programme, the jury requested more stylized and theatrical choreographies from the competitors. Therefore, in the context of a more ‘professionalized’ and ‘artistic’ folk dance scene, the criterion of the ‘performing arts’ came into the scene.

I also want to refer to a recent phenomenon in the field of social, popular or ‘participatory’ dancing. Especially young migrant generations in the big cities like İstanbul hybridize many dances genres and initiate new dancing trends. In social contexts like weddings and festivals, they mix local dancing styles with acrobatics and hip hop, break dance, disco, Latin and contemporary dance styles. Such improvised dances’ short video recordings have been shared in internet (especially in youtube channel) and social media. I can state three examples of such popular hybrid dances:

1)   Şemamê halayı’: a fusion of Kurdish traditional group dances with hip hop and break dance. It has been popularized by young Kurdish migrants in urban settlements, especially in political meetings and popular Kurdish musicians’ concerts.

2)   The second example is the fusion of urban Romani migrants in İstanbul, first appearing in the video-clip of Romani pop singer Tarık Mengüç’s song Şakşuka (2004). It’s an improvised solo dance, a fusion of hip hop and gypsy traditional dance to 9/8 rhythm. Once very popular in Romani settlements in İstanbul, it’s now being performed by folk dance groups and non-Romani people too.

3)   Kolbastı (or ‘Faroz Kesmesi’) is an improvised solo dance, a fusion of traditional Trabzon (Black Sea) dances with contemporary dance styles. This last example has been much more popularized by all kinds of media, therefore being subject of a wide range of discussion. Some choreographers took out its patent and some others tried to make it a global ‘Turkish dance label’. Beside such ownership issues, the dance’s roots –thus, the issue of authenticity- have also been discussed in popular media. This dance has been so popular that, many dance schools launched kolbastı classes as dance fitness programs.

 “Hybrid Aesthetics” in Dance Scene: Multiple Articulations

Those recent examples reveal multiple articulational possibilities between dance genres: importing some elements of hip hop and break dances, mixing them with local dance traditions, thus ‘domesticating’ and ‘localizing’ them. In this sense, the term ‘hybrid aesthetics’ indicates that various dance genres have been involved in one another, mixed up; consequently local and traditional dances have been performed in different manners. In the case of ‘participatory dance’s exemplified above, the ‘imported’ genres are primarily street dance genres like hip hop and break dance. On the other hand, when we talk about ‘presentational dance’, Western theatrical dance genres like ballet and modern dance take precedence. In the last part of this paper, I’ll state examples of such presentational dances (some groups or specific performances) revealing various kinds of hybrid dance aesthetics:

1)   Anadolu Ateşi and Shaman Dans Tiyatrosu’s performances are distinguished with their extensive use of ballet technique, contemporary dance and acrobatics among others. Following the Riverdance model, they make a clear distinction between soloists and group dancers (or corps de ballet). Soloists usually dance in more balletic ways, when corps de ballet perform stylized and syncronical folk dances as movement choirs.

2)   Boğaziçi Gösteri Sanatları Topluluğu (Bosphorus Performing Arts Ensemble) Dancers is known with its choreographies performed to the live music in Kardeş Türküler (Songs of Fraternity) concerts. Having an anti-nationalist, multicultural perspective and experimental artistic approach, they usually mix traditional dances with contemporary dance techniques and hip hop. They also follow and put on the stage some of the hybridized participatory dances exemplified above.

3) The Zeybreak (2009) performance by Kadir ‘Amigo’ Memiş is a clear fusion of zeybek (an Aegean male solo dance) and break dance. Turkish break dancer living in Germany, Memiş created his own style, staged this dance in all over the world and gave its workshops. He laid emphasis on the similarities of two dance forms such as circling, sharpness, fighting manner, solo dancing and framing the dancing space –‘it’s my place’- before dancing.[11]
4) The Beşinci Mevsim (The Fifth Season) performance[12] in the closing ceremony of Turkish Language Olympics - 2011 was an interesting fusion of folk dances of Anatolia with ballet and sema (Mevlevi ritual dance). Representing a religion based utopian narrative, the performance represented various kind of folk dances performed by non-Turkish children, as well as balletic solos and whirling dances.

5) The last two examples are Tevhid (Oneness - 2010)[13], 4 Kapı 40 Makam (Four Doors, Forty Levels - 2011)[14], as interesting examples of the fusion of semah (Alawite ritual dance) with contemporary dance. First piece is Şule Ateş’s project, choreographed by Bedirhan Dehmen. The second piece is Mesopotamia Dance’s dancer Yeşim Coşkun’s solo dance and choreography. Ritual dances in both are performed by contemporary dancers, therefore mixed and improvised dance styles came out. Both pieces have dealt with identity issues -related to religion- among others; since its creators –as Alawite artists- were problematizing their ‘roots’ in the contemporary World. 

Such examples reveal that in today’s global world, it’s really difficult to define a ‘fixed’ dance genre. Due to the communicational and technological facilities –or ‘time-space compression’ stated above-; it has been easier to follow different kinds of dances in remote parts of the world. Dances have been hybridized and disciplinary boundaires have been blurred. Hereafter, as Nederveen Pieterse stated above, a new research topic for dance researchers came out: “in terms of hybridized dances, what are the terms of mixture, the conditions of mixing and mélange?”


Dehmen, Bedirhan. 2005. “Appropriations of Folk Dance at the Intersection of the National and the Global: Sultans of the Dance” (MA thesis, Boğaziçi University, Department of Sociology).

Nahachewsky, Andriy. 1995. “Participatory and Presentational Dance as Ethnochoreological Categories”. Dance Research Journal, 27(1):1-15. New York: Congress on Research in Dance.

Öztürkmen, Arzu. 2011, “Politics of National Dance in Turkey: A Historical Reappraisal”, Yearbook of Traditional Music. vol. 33 (2001): 139-144.

Öztürkmen, Arzu. 2008. “Negotiating The Folk, The Local and The National in Turkish Dance”, in ICTM  Proceedings, 25th Symposium.

Storey, John. 2003. “Popular Culture as Global Culture”, Inventing Popular Culture: From Folklore to Globalization, John Wiley and Sons Ltd.
Public after -performance talk with Kadir “Amigo” Memiş, September 20th, 2010, DancePlatformİstanbul (İstanbul 2010 - European Capital of Culture Activity).

Zeybreak, http://www.dailymotion.com/video/xalxfa_zeybreak_creation#.UcUhv5xQQ3k.

Beşinci Mevsim, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tia4wTzvy8U.

Gizem Aksu’s interview with Yeşim Coşkun, “Özgür Bir Alan, Özgür Bir Sanat Dalı”, http://mimesis-dergi.org/2011/04/ozgur-bir-alan-ozgur-bir-sanat-dali/.

[1] John Storey, “Popular Culture as Global Culture”, Inventing Popular Culture: From Folklore to Globalization, John Wiley and Sons Ltd, 2003: 107-108.
[2] ibid, 113.
[3] ibid, 114.
[4] ibid, 117.
[5] ibid, 117-118.
[6] Ethnochoreologist Andriy Nahachewsky defines four dance categories:
1) participatory dances (as spontaneous, social dances), in which the dancers’ attention addresses their interaction with each other,
2) presentational dances which are pre-prepared and rehearsed for an external human audience,
3) sacred dances in which the message is intended for supernatural beings,
4) reflexive dances in which each dancer focuses on his/her own kinaesthetic experience.
(See Andriy Nahachewsky, 1995. “Participatory and Presentational Dance as Ethnochoreological Categories”. Dance Research Journal, 27(1):1-15. New York: Congress on Research in Dance.)
[7] For a more detailed account, see: Arzu Öztürkmen, “Folk Dance and Nationalism in Turkey”, in ICTM  Proceedings, 17th Symposium, 1992 and Arzu Öztürkmen , “Politics of National Dance in Turkey: A Historical Reappraisal”, Yearbook of Traditional Music. vol. 33 (2001): 139-144.
[8] Arzu Öztürkmen, “Negotiating The Folk, The Local and The National in Turkish Dance”, in ICTM  Proceedings, 25th Symposium, 2008.
[9] Its initial name is Sultans of the Dance. Bedirhan Dehmen, in its MA thesis on this group states: “…in the search for a “brand that has the power of competition at the global level,” producers of the show had to invest in a globally valid form/model/style, which was mainly initiated by Irish-origin groups like Riverdance and Lord of the Dance, yet sources of which can also be found in the creations of State Folk Dance Ensembles as well as in the histories of folk dance in various nation-state formations.” (Bedirhan Dehmen, “Appropriations of Folk Dance at the Intersection of the National and the Global: Sultans of the Dance” (MA thesis, Boğaziçi University, Department of Sociology, 2005), 110.)
[10] That’s an important statement since oriental dance has usually been despised as an “Arabic dance”, having no Turkish origins, so not “our” dance by state folk dance authorities among others.
[11] Notes from the public after -performance talk with Kadir “Amigo” Memiş, September 20th, 2010, DancePlatformİstanbul (a İstanbul 2010-European Capital of Culture Activity).
[12] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tia4wTzvy8U.
[13] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iyEZz-zmOPg.
[14]https://www.facebook.com/notes/mezopotamya-k%C3%BClt%C3%BCr-merkezimersin/mkmden-4-kap%C4%B1-40-makam-projesi/200338829991681, and an interview in Turkish with Yeşim Coşkun: http://mimesis-dergi.org/2011/04/ozgur-bir-alan-ozgur-bir-sanat-dali/.