Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Studying Turkish Roman dance in Istanbul

For the past week, I have been in Istanbul, Turkey, to engage in a deeper study of the Turkish Roman (Romani) dance form. This is the first time that I have been engaged in an immersive study overseas, outside of my classical Indian Odissi dance training in India under Guru Durgacharan Ranbir and my research on the Debaprasad Das style of Odissi. Turkey was also one of the stops along the series of travels with my partner, musician-composer-ethnomusicologist Mike Anklewicz this summer (spanning the Netherlands, Czech Republic, Turkey, Kazakhstan and Germany). I currently write from our apartment in Sultanahmet. Today is our last day in this apartment, before a brief journey to southeastern Anatolia, after which we return to Istanbul.

Since earlier this year, I have also been engaged in a dance ethnography-based project, on Turkish Roman dance. I presented a preliminary version of the research at the "Beyond Gypsy Stereotypes: Voicing Romani Pluralities" Conference hosted by the Initiative for Romani Music (IRM) at New York University. The conference gave me the opportunity to also connect with a number of scholars on Romani music and dance throughout Central Europe and the Balkans. 

We arrived here on July 1 (Canada Day!). The very next day, I went to Reyhan Tuszus, who lives in the Gazi Osman Pasha district of Istanbul. I had first heard mention of her name in the videos by New York-based dancer Dalia Carella, whose instructional DVDs and VHS of her own signature Dunyavi dance creation were my first exposure to Turkish Roman dance. 

My first day of study took me to Reyhan, who teaches by example. We danced in her living room space, and she executed movements which I followed. It was an enjoyable and informative lesson, and she also gave me a sense of what is important, proper and improper in Turkish Roman dance. 

I returned to Reyhan for an extended lesson a day later. This time, we had more time to also connect and catch up a little. Reyhan told me about a Bollywood movie she really enjoyed as a child- "Nagina" starring Sridevi. Ofcourse it was a movie I had watched growing up in India in the 1990s! We had an enjoyable time together, both dancing and connecting. I also had a chance to meet Reyhan's two daughters, Gulizar and Malta. 

On the following day, Mike and I traveled to the seaside district of Tuzla, one of the outermost districts of Istanbul on the Asian side. Tuzla is about a 2 hour journey from Istanbul, and it is a beautiful, relaxed seaside town.

Photo Credit: Mike Anklewicz 

 I was in Tuzla to learn from Aydin and Goksu Elbasan. I had heard of this extremely talented dancing couple from a wonderful dancer and dance teacher at the " Beyond Gypsy Stereotypes: Voicing Romani Pluralities" Conference at New York earlier this year. I found Aydin and Goksu to be incredibly warm, and their class was extremely informative. Aydin played the drum and sang to accompany the class, and they both also demonstrated the movements for me. I learned more about nuances and the movements indicating communication between the dancers and the musicians. 

Aydin and Goksu both demonstrated movements, and Aydin additionally played the derbouka and sang while Goksu demonstrated and taught me movements. They also often showed me the different corresponding movements for men and women during the dancing. 
We also tried a number of different spatial approaches- dancing in a circle, dancing facing the mirror, and dancing in a duo. Here, I was also able to learn some of the cultural contexts of  these movements.  Aydin's father, who passed away some years ago, was a noted zurna player, and we also practiced to some of his recordings. 

I was truly glad for this class, and will certainly return to them in future trips to Turkey. Considering how beautiful Tuzla is, I would perhaps also stay in Tuzla for a slightly more extended stay on the next visit. 

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