Berna Kurt, July 2014(The presentation text in the framework of “Features of Folklore: Transgressing Regional Dances” - 8th Tanznacht Berlin / Salon, 18 July 2014)
In this presentation, I’ll firstly talk a little about my work as a dancer and researcher. Then I’ll try to focus on some subjects like authenticity, different dance classifications, some examples from the urban dance culture of Istanbul etc.
WHAT DO I DO?
I’m a researcher and dance writer. I’m the Head of Arts Management Department at Istanbul Aydın University. I’m interested in ethnochoreology and dance anthropology which focus on the cultural contexts of dances, then dance history, dance criticism, choreography and gender studies.I perform mainly the traditional dances of my country, Turkey. I’m a member of Bosphorus Performing Arts Ensemble. Nowadays, I’m working on a choreographic project which mixes up our traditional dances with body music traditions from different parts of the world.
I will now put a short historical framework as the basis of my work.
A Quick Look at the Historical Development of Stage Representations of Folk Dances in Turkey
Folk dances in Turkey contributed to the construction of a visual national image as in many other countries. Until the 1950s, local dance groups were performing in national celebrations. The ruling party encouraged all kinds of cultural research and dance collection. Thereafter, the local dances had been systematized to be represented on stage. 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 the big cities, industrialization and rapid social change for Turkey. At this time, staged folk dances brought about certain changes in the representational forms. They have been represented with some floor patterns, geometrical shapes. And despite the multicultural diversity they represent, they began to be called as “Turkish folk dances”.
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 and competitions. The state folk dance company and the first folk dance department in a university were respectively initiated in the middle of the 1970’s and 1980’s.
1) Folk dance competition format having some basic criteria as:
-very strict geometrical patterns
-dancing in unity - syncronization
-facial expression as generally smiling!
2) Fire of Anatolia’s “show” format: (based on the Riverdance of Ireland)
- a hybrid dance aesthetics –mixing up many different movement techniques from ballet to acrobatics and contemporary dance,
- stylized steps and costumes,
- high level of syncronization,
- a very expensive and spectacular use of technology
- a simple narrative,
ISTANBUL as a “MELTING POT” / HYBRID AESTHETICS of the DANCE SCENE
As a dancer and researcher working in such a metropolis, I’ve always been interested in the changes of the movement traditions. Those traditions always get new meanings and new functions.
Meantime, I must refer to Edward Said (1993: xxix) stating that, “all cultures are involved in one another; no one is single and pure, all are hybrid, heterogenous, extraordinarily differentiated and unmonolithic.” What is defined as “local” and “authentic” don’t have a fixed content, it’s always subject to change and modification as a result of the domestication of imported cultural goods. As Jan Nederveen Pieterse defines, the globalization is “a process of hybridization which gives rise to a global mélange.” That process 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 mixing up. On the other hand, cultural hybridity is not without its relations of power. As Nederveen Pieterse states, “hybridity raises the question of the terms of mixture, the conditions of mixing and mélange.”
Now I want to refer to a recent phenomenon in the field of social, popular, folk or ‘participatory’ dancing. Especially young migrant generations in the big cities mix up many dance genres and initiate new dancing trends. In social contexts like weddings and festivals, they mix local dancing styles with acrobatics, break dance and contemporary dance. Such improvised dances’ short video recordings have been shared especially in youtube channel and social media. I can state one example of such popular hybrid dances:
Şemâme halayı: a fusion of Kurdish traditional group dances with hip hop and break dance. It has been popularized by young Kurdish immigrants in urban settlements, especially in weddings and political meetings.
And a video example from Berlin most of you probably know, zeybreak. Kadir “Amigo” Memiş represents a mixture of zeybek dance tradition from Turkey and break dance: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BhCernt1ytM
Those recent examples reveal multiple articulations between dance genres: importing some elements of break dance, mixing them with local dance traditions, thus ‘domesticating’ and ‘localizing’ them.And when we talk about the ‘presentational dance’, we see a similar mixture: some dance traditions being the movement material of “contemporary” choreographies.
And now, I’ll state one such video example of presentational choreography: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZFj5SWvUTZ0
The “ORIGINS” or the “AUTHENTICITY” ISSUES in (FOLK) DANCE
My PhD thesis was on the politics of folk dance choreographies in Turkey. I analyzed the discourses and approaches shaping the folk dance scene in a historical continuum between the national construction period and the mid 1980’s. One important issue was the discussion on the “authenticity” of folk dances. Along with increasing competition in the folk dance market, prominent figures were discusing the “right” and “wrong” ways of representing folk dances on stage. It was a power play between them. They tried to draw the borderlines of the intervention on traditional dance material. Their authenticity claims had essentialist connotations. Taking for granted the presence of one and only “essence”, they generally coexisted with the anxiety about the disappearance or “degeneration” of dances. And such anxiety was generally expressed as the need to preserve the “national culture”. “Authenticity” has never been an objective criterion in Turkish context; but reconstructed with respect to the power play between the folk dancers.
Regina Bendix asserts that the term “authentic” currently stands for the original, genuine or unaltered. 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.” She recalls that nationalism has been built on the essentialist notions inherent in authenticity and folklore. Folklore, in the guise of native cultural discovery and rediscovery, served nationalist movements since the Romantic era. Authenticity has never been an objective quality; it is always defined in the present. Therefore, she asserts that the crucial question is not “what is authenticity?” but “who needs authenticity and why?” and “how has authenticity been used?”
Similarly, the ethnochoreologist 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?” 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. He states that, authenticity may very often turn into the question of “whose authenticity?”
After discussing the term “authenticity”, I will lastly try to mention about my position as dance writer questioning the boundaries within the dance discipline.
SOME REMARKS on the DANCE TERMINOLOGY: ETHNIC DANCE? FOLK DANCE?
Arzu Öztürkmen. 2001. "Politics of national dance in Turkey: a historical reappraisal", Adrienne L. Kaeppler (guest editor), Yearbook of Traditional Music 33: 139-144. Los Angeles: International Council for Traditional Music; Department of Ethnomusicology, University of California at Los Angeles.
Egil Bakka. 2002. “Whose dances, whose authenticity?” Laszlo Felföldi, Theresa Buckland (editors), Authenticity, whose tradition?: 60-69. Budapest: European Folklore Institute.John Storey, “Popular Culture as Global Culture”, Inventing Popular Culture: From Folklore to Globalization, John Wiley and Sons Ltd, 2003: 107-108: 117.
Regina Bendix. 1997. In search of authenticity: the formation of folklore studies. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press.
- Harmandalı, Triple Zeybek, Kadir “Amigo” Memiş, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BhCernt1ytM
- Tevhid/Oneness/Birlik, Şule Ateş (Choreographer: Bedirhan Dehmen) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZFj5SWvUTZ0
 Arzu Öztürkmen. 2001. "Politics of national dance in Turkey: a historical reappraisal", Adrienne L. Kaeppler (guest editor), Yearbook of Traditional Music 33: 139-144. Los Angeles: International Council for Traditional Music; Department of Ethnomusicology, University of California at Los Angeles: 140.
 ibid, 141.
 John Storey, “Popular Culture as Global Culture”, Inventing Popular Culture: From Folklore to Globalization, John Wiley and Sons Ltd, 2003: 107-108: 117.
 ibid, 114. (Ang 1996: 155)
 ibid, 113. (Pieterse 1995: 45)
 ibid, 117-118. (Pieterse 1995: 57)
 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.
: Congress on
Research in Dance.) New York
 Regina Bendix. 1997. In search of authenticity: the formation of folklore studies. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press: 14.
 ibid, 15.
 ibid, 7.
 ibid, 213.
 ibid, 21.
 Egil Bakka. 2002. “Whose dances, whose authenticity?” Laszlo Felföldi, Theresa Buckland (editors), Authenticity, whose tradition?: 60-69. Budapest: European Folklore Institute.