(A paper presented in the 27th Symposium of the ICTM Study Group on Ethnochoreology, 2012, Limerick, Ireland)
In Turkey, during the national construction period beginning in 1923, folk dances were collected and adapted to stage representation. The dancing spaces and dance contexts were changed after the 1930s. In the 1960s, popularity of folk dances gave way to an increase in the number of dance institutions and formation of a very competitive folk dance "market". In such a context, one of the main agendas of the dancers became "authenticity". This paper, deals with this debate of authenticity, I make an analysis of discourses and arguments that are arranged chronologically and analyze the overall debate in terms of the power struggle among dance participants who perform staged folk dances.
Keywords: Turkey; stage; static; dynamic; essentialism; authenticity
In Turkey, during the national construction period beginning in 1923, the contextual change from the participatory dance to the presentational one (see Nahachewsky 1995) brought with it some changes in representational forms. When the dancing space and dance context changed and staged folk dance performances became popular in big cities, one of the main agendas of the dance participants became "authenticity". Within the limits of this paper, an analysis is made of the discourse on this authenticity debate. To do so, I first situate the debate in a historical framework, to look briefly at the historical development of staged folk dance performances in Turkey. Secondly, I compile different arguments on authenticity. And finally, I investigate the essentialist and nationalist approaches inherent in some discourses and their relation to the power struggle among dancers. Analyzing the written accounts of the time and using interviews as basic resources, I refer to the conceptual frameworks provided by Regina Bendix and Egil Bakka.
A quick look at the historical development of staged folk dance performances in Turkey
Arzu Oztürkmen states that folk dances in Turkey contributed to the construction of a visual national image as in many other countries [Oztürkmen 2001: 140]. Until the 1950s, when the "imagined" national identity was more or less consolidated, amateur local dance groups were performing in national celebrations. The ruling single party's (Republican People's Party) Halkevleri (People's Houses) network - founded in 1932 - encouraged all kinds of cultural research and dance collection. Local dances were systematized to be represented on stage and various dance tradition were exposed to each other for the first time. Through nationwide folk dance festivals and later folk dance competitions, a kind of Turkish "national" dance spectrum is constructed.
The post-1950s was a period of multi-party politics, mass immigration into cities, industrialization and rapid social change for Turkey. At this time, staged performance of folk dances brought certain changes in representational forms. Local dances are staged with some floor patterns, the representation of geometrical shapes (that is, circles, crosses, diagonal lines, straight lines). Since these shapes were applied to each dance genre, the distinctions between the various dance traditions have been overshadowed. The floor patterning led them towards a certain uniformization. And despite the multicultural diversity they represent, they began to be called "Turkish folk dances" [Oztürkmen 2001: 141].
Since the 1960s, 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" with an increasing number of folk dance clubs, touristic organizations, festivals, competitions and very active subjects. A state folk dance company and the first academic folk dance department in a university were opened in the middle of the 1970s and 1980s respectively. The primary impact of the State Folk Dance Ensemble on staging techniques was the Soviet style floor-patterning - including forming stars, line ups, opening and closing circles [Öztürkmen 2008: 3]. And many amateur folk dance groups of the time imitated this new representational style.
In such a context, from 1970s until the end of the 1990s, different responses to such changes were expressed. With the rising competition between dancers and new aesthetic demands, the core issue of dancers became authenticity. When most people were expressing the need for preserving "original", "essential", "pure" or "authentic" form of dances; a minority of people were problematizing such statements.
"Our National Folklore and Folklore Education" forum was organized by Robert College/(later, Boğaziçi University) Folklore Club in 1970.2 There, Tahir Alangu, the lecturer on "Folklore of Turkey" in Robert College, based his arguments on the attitudes of folklorists and made a differentiation between "static and dynamic folklore approaches". According to him, "static folklorists" had an obsessive anxiety about the corruption or degeneration of folkloric material. Collection, research, documentation, recording, archiving were very useful but folklore studies couldn't be reduced to them. Change was inevitable and dynamic folklorists should be open to it. According to his "dynamic approach", folklore studies should follow the real life [Görür 1971: 51].3 Advocates of authenticity had an old fashioned viewpoint reminiscant of the first period of German folklore studies. Their arguments related to the originality, purity, authenticity of folk dances were very problematic. Especially in a country like Turkey, which has been historically a bridge between cultures and civilizations, such arguments could not have validity.
Tahir Alangu's "dynamic approach" was also represented in the arguments of students in the university folklore club. In the mid-1970s those young generations were criticizing the widespread arguments about authenticity. One of them, Cemal Küçüksezer stated that authenticity claimers were bourgeois nationalists [Küçüksezer 1975: 13]. Their "respect of authentic culture" discourse was masking their conservatism. He differentiated the duties of the "progressionist and patriotic" dynamic folklorists as such:
cultural assets should be collected and analyzed. The elements which can raise the consciousness of the exploited masses should be prioritized. In the performances, dynamics of the present system should be criticized; its conflicts and paradoxes should be revealed" [Küçüksezer 1975:13].
The student's left-leaning discourse was in line with the rising oppositional movements in the 1970s. In 1983, the club participated in the "Panel on Folk Dances". The other participant was a mainstream association called Turkish Folklore Institution (TFK). The TFK representative stated that the most "right" way of dancing was the most "authentic" one. S/he stressed that the "essence" of the dance should not be changed. Referring to static and dynamic approaches; s/he chose to reconcile both: identifiable, oldest, original model for dance (that is, archetype) should be archived and stage representation should be based on it. On the other hand, the folklore club's representative critisized the arguments on "wrong or right way of dancing". S/he stated that folk dance groups in big cities should not be enforced to dance in an "authentic" way. And s/he stressed the impossibility of reaching to the oldest or most "authentic" version of dances.
In 1987, "Problems of Staging Folk Dances" symposium is co-organized by Middle East Technical University Turkish Folklore Club and Bureau of National Folklore Research in Ankara.
After the long discussion about the "wrong" and "right" practices of staging folk dances, one of the final decisions was as such: "Presentations in stage must fit in with the traditional steps, forms, musics and costumes of the dances. If not, local dances will disappear and degenerate." [Çakır 1988: 16].
At that time, students in BÜFK were critisizing the arguments on authenticity. For example Haluk Levent stated that the "degenerated" dance stood for an "unauthentic" one among folk dance circles [Levent 1988: 1]. He remarked that the authenticity in dances was possible only if the economic infrastructure would not change in years; therefore it was almost impossible. Another student, Aydın Akkaya expressed that the discussions on static versus dynamic approaches and authenticity were still prevalent but they were losing their popularity. The motto of folk dancers was "fidelity to the original forms; and based on them, making arrangements to attract the audience" [Akkaya 1988: 5]. He stated that BÜFK should take local dances as collected "materials" and deal with them to meet their aesthetic needs. And the last of those students, Arzu Öztürkmen was critisizing the folk dance groups' unproductive discussions on authenticity. According to her, they were simple minded and incapable of leading their young members' potential and energy to much more productive means [Öztürkmen 1988: 8].
The discussion on authenticity continued even ten years after such writings, into the 1990s. One of the presenters of the symposium on "Past, Present and Future of Folk Dances" was a well- known folk dance instructor, Ali Çavaz. He defined the basic criteria of authenticity as anonymity, collectivity, longevity and transmission between generations. He stated that the commodification of local dances in the folk dance "market" and their "degeneration" had negative effects on overall national culture. To prevent the cultural erosion, folk dancers should try to find out the "original" dances of the people [Çavaz 1999: 15].
As we have seen above, different approaches have been expressed between the 1970s and 1990s. Beside such written accounts, more information was obtained from interviews that stressed the impossibility of finding out the "original" dance forms in today's world.
Among the first was Taner Koçak, a dancer and dance instructor in BÜFK at the end of the 1980s and beginning of the 1990s. He stated that most of the "dances in the field" supposed to be the most authentic ones, were not so. He gave an example from Artvin - a city at the Black Sea, north coast of Anatolia. A choreographer from Artvin who worked with the State Folk Dance Ensemble was so influential that, most of the folk dance instructors in Artvin reproduced his choreographies. So, local Artvin dances began to be performed in his way [Koçak 2010: interview]. I also talked to that choreographer, namely Suat İnce; his narrative was very interesting. He complained that, at the end of the 1970s he was accused of "corrupting" authentic Artvin dances, even charged with high treason unofficially. But after a while, when his "unauthentic" choreographies had been reproduced so much; people from his native land began to talk about putting up his statue to the main square of Artvin! Today, he's asking: "who defines authenticity, when and according to which criteria?" [İnce 2011: interview].
Serpil Mürtezaoğlu, member of the Turkish Folklore Institution and now working in Istanbul Technical University, State Conservatory of Turkish Music, Turkish Folk Dances Department in İstanbul, is one of the first graduates from the same school. She recalls that almost all of her dance instructors were native, local dancers; therefore authenticity was highly appreciated in the school. She states that, in the 1980s her dance instructor from a region showed them the region's authentic dances, but later another instructor from the same region said that it was wrong and showed it another way. "Who's right?" she asks now, "is it possible to decide on it?" or "is it only a power struggle between those people from the same locality?" [Mürtezaoğlu 2011: interview].
Lastly, two people from the State Folk Dance Ensemble, Mustafa Turan and Şinasi Pala, stated that, in the 1980s, their group had been accused of "degenerating" the local dances. I talked to them separately, but both gave me the same "tomato" metaphor:
Let's take the tomato planted in the field as an authentic product. When you'll represent tomatoes in a market; to be able to sell, you have to embellish them.
When you wash them, you eliminate the rotten ones, you rub them up and polish the best ones; those are no more your tomatoes in the field. And of course you can move further, arrange them in symmetrical way, put a light on them...etc. Maybe the material is authentic but when you represent it to other people, you should make an arrangement. Your degree of arrangement determines how far away you are from the original material [Pala 2011: interview].
Concluding remarks: "Whose authenticity?"
Regina Bendix asserts that the term "authentic" currently stands for original, genuine or unaltered [Bendix 1997:14]. She states that the American folklorists tested authenticity with lack of identifiable authorship, multiple existences over time and space, variation of the items, social and economic circumstances of the "bearers of tradition" [Bendix 1997:15]. She recalls that nationalism has been built on the essentialist notions inherent in authenticity and folklore, in the guise of native cultural discovery and rediscovery, served nationalist movements since the Romantic era [Bendix 1997:7]. Authenticity has never been an objective quality; it is always defined in the present [Bendix 1997:213]. Therefore, she asserts that the crucial question is not "what is authenticity?" but "who needs authenticity and why?" and "how has authenticity been used?" [Bendix 1997:21].
In the same line, Egil Bakka asks: "is the concept “authentic” a weapon in the battle for control over dance material| or is it a neutral standard for measuring certain qualities of dances within a revival context?" [Bakka 2002:61]. He states that local people throughout Norway look at regional dances as a heritage they want to control. They want to define the authentic versions and they want to have the privilege of teaching their dances. Lines of defense are drawn; and battles arise between individual insiders, between inside and outside dancers, between inside and outside researchers. He states that, authenticity may very often turn into the question of "whose authenticity?"
In the Turkish context, as we have seen above, different arguments about authenticity existed simultaneously in recent history. Anyway, we can generally say that in the 1970s and 1980s, arguments about the possibility of and the need for preserving original, essential, pure or authentic form of dances were much more expressed. But from 1990s onward, it can be said that such arguments are much more problematized. Especially taking into account the technological and communicational developments, it is generally stated that preserving the original forms is almost impossible. And many people also remark that state and academic institutions have responsibility of doing fieldworks on local dances, documenting and archiving them.
When we consider the written accounts stated above, we notice that the constructions of the claims about authenticity are closely linked to essentialist notions as Regina Bendix states. Taking for granted the presence of one and only "essence", such claims generally coexist with the anxiety about disappearance or "degeneration" of dances. And such anxiety is generally expressed as the need to preserve the national culture. The definitions of "authenticity" in dance or degeneration of it are not always clear.
Two of my interviewees' accounts reveal the power play in the discussion. First, Suat İnce asked Egil Bakka's question differently: "who defines authenticity, when and according to which criteria?" And Serpil Mürtezaoğlu's example of two local dance instructors' struggle to determine the "authentic" version of the dance is critical. In this case, as Bakka expressed, "the lines of defense were drawn and battle arose between those individual insiders". Each one's claim of authenticity was a weapon in the battle for control over local dance material" [Bakka 2002:61].
Moreover, it is important to note that the discussion began in 1970s, the time of rapid social change in Turkey.4 Along with increasing competition in the folk dance market, prominent figures discussed the "right" and "wrong" ways of representing folk dances on stage. As such, they tried to draw the borderlines of the intervention on traditional dance material. Therefore, to conclude, we can say that "authenticity" has never been an objective criterion in Turkish context; it is always defined anew, reconstructed with respect to the power play between folk dance circles.
* I thank to the Turkish Cultural Foundation Cultural Exchange Fellowship Program which supported my participation in this symposium.
1. The beginning of the 2000s is a turning point in terms of the emergence of professional folk dance based groups - such as Fire of Anatolia and Shaman Dance Theatre - reconstructing the global show model Riverdance.
2. An account of the discussions in the forum is published in the first volume (1970) in Folklora Doğru, Dans-Müzik- Kültür Çeviri ve Araştırma Dergisi (Towards Folklore, Dance-Music-Culture Translation and Research Journal). This journal has been publishing since 1962 by Robert College/Boğaziçi University Folklore Club (BÜFK). That nonacademic journal is not always published regularly and is mostly followed by folklore circles in Turkey. It is distinguished with the translations of basic theoretical articles on folklore studies; it publishes some theoretical essays, field research accounts, interviews, information about folklore club's performances and discussions among others. Approximately 100 of more than 400 writings published in Folklora Doğru are directly related to movement and/or dance.
3. Hüseyin Görür's paper is published in volume 19-22 (1970) of Folklor/Halkbilim, the journal of Turkish Folklore Institution (TFK) - the institution dealing with educational and publishing activities besides performative ones. The journal has been published since 1969 in an unregular basis and uncontinuously. Including some short theoretical essays, field research accounts, book reviews, interviews, information about folklore organizations, performances and competitions; it offers a wide range of personal or institutional approaches for researchers. Fifty of more than 700 writings published in Folklor/Halkbilim are directly related to movement and/or dance.
4. Such discussions - or battle for control over dance material, as Bakka suggests - did not exist before. For example, according to the cultural politics of the national construction period, the traditional cultural elements were interpreted in a "Westernized" way. In the 1920s, choreographer Selim Sırrı Tarcan's efforts were highly appreciated by the leader Mustafa Kemal. Tarcan had engaged in inventing a tradition of zeybek, - a widespread genre in Aegean folk dance tradition - by gentrifying it as a ballroom dance genre to be performed by mixed couples (see Öztürkmen 2008).
1988. "Halk danslarına nasıl yaklaşılmalı" [How to approach to folk dances], Folklora doğru, 57-58: 5-6. İstanbul: Boğaziçi Üniversitesi Yayınevi.
2002. "Whose dances, whose authenticity?" Laszlo Felföldi, Theresa Buckland (editors), Authenticity, whose tradition?: 60-69. Budapest: European Folklore Institute.
1997. In search of authenticity: the formation of folklore studies. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press.
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