A Turkish Adventure
April 20, 2016

“To dance is to be out of yourself. Larger, more beautiful, more powerful.. This is power, it is glory on earth and it is yours for the taking” ― Agnes De Mille

Welcome readers! We are pleased to bring you the stellar news that World Dance Fusion has just returned from an adventure in Istanbul. Below are the vibrant details of their Turkish getaway.

The trip came about as the result of coincidental exchanges between WDF Artistic Director Katy Alaniz-Rous and her friend, a specialist in Persian dance forms Farima Berenji. The two, dance colleagues for over five years, were filled with excitement to find they each hoped to soon travel to the Middle East, Katy with WDF and Farima with Farima Dance. And just like that, a Turkish vacation was in the works.

Soon enough, Katy along with husband Nick and son Amitai were on a plane with Farima, her fiancé Varol, and their son Batu to Istanbul, Turkey’s cultural and economic hub. The pair of families were thirsting for the people’s experience—moments they could look back on with a little bit of a sense of what it must be like to live in Turkey; a life in a native’s shoes. Katy remarks, “I’m a San Francisco native. I’ve never walked the Golden Gate Bridge. I don’t hang out at Pier 39. I don’t want to do what the tourists do, I want to do what the people do.” Luckily, Varol is a native Turk, and he took the reigns on their escapade.

Of course, Katy and Farima couldn’t venture far without dance finding its way into their journey, and on one of their first nights, Varol led them through Taksim, the town square, and to a local bar where live Turkish music was to be played. They settled into a dim, smoky room, cigarettes between nearly every pair of fingers, Turkish beer at every table spilling out of clinking glasses. 11pm struck and out came the band. After a few numbers that set the low bustle of the atmosphere, the band began to play a number Katy recalls running in 9/8 time. The beat was enough to get Katy on her feet, and by the end of the number, she had incited much of the bar to sing along. A woman had joined her before the number ended, and when it did, she said to Katy, “teşekkürler” meaning “thank you” in Turkish. The incident proved to be the the first of four truly multicultural incidents, where the interchange between countries made for a resonant memory.

Istanbul is one of the few countries that span the border between Europe and Asia; Katy experienced her second of these multicultural moments after taking a ferry to the Asian half of Turkey for the day. While walking through a gallery with Degas paintings lining most of the walls, Katy turned to find a portrait of a belly dancer. She knew this dancer by name: Melanie. This painting, Katy quickly realized, was of a picture that is used as the trademark image for Lines Dance Center, located on 26 7th St. in San Francisco. To know that halfway across the world in a Turkish gallery one of Katy’s dance contemporaries could be found on artistic display was a feeling of connection.

The third of these moments was the climactic summit of which the previous two built up to. After walking through a peculiar L-shaped sector of Taksim at daytime, Katy felt something special in the energy and wanted to return later on for date night. Come sundown, the two couples returned to this boomerang-shaped avenue; it was lined with restaurants packed more tightly together than books on a shelf. The waiters were merciless. Each suited uniformly in black slacks, shirts, ties, they lunged for each passerby, selling the restaurant’s most enticing deals in as few words as possible. Katy, Nick, Farima, and Varol followed one waiter in search of a table that was lively but less so amid this sparring match for seating customers. And then, before them was a waiter a bit older, a bit more aloof, smoking a cigarette and mumbling—he was the boss of those scurrying across the floor.

They were seated, not far from this aloof Fred-Astaire-looking boss. And suddenly, not one but two bands, one on either leg of the ‘L’ plunged into a hustling set of Turkish tunes. The energy built between their dual set until suddenly a battle-of-the-bands was in full steam, each band trying to play louder and garner more applause, and tips, than the other. Katy knew that these bands were fighting for business. She paused, then approached the aloof waiter and negotiated that if they played a song she could dance to, she would dance to attract business for the band on her end of the ‘L’. And just like that, the beat kicked in and Katy was on her feet. Her husband Nick commented that while the energy was up when the bands began to play, “Everyone came alive” when Katy began dancing. This eruption of joy to hear the Turkish music and watch a professional dancer go was the product of cultural connection, and certainly not what these native Turks would expect on an ordinary Wednesday night. Afterwards, a local woman asked the waiters where Katy was from, and couldn’t believe it when she found out the answer was America. Katy and Nick spent the rest of the evening talking to their aloof friend. His name is Selguk. The families exchanged email addresses and plan to stay in touch.

On the flight home, the families were seated on their Turkish airline plane awaiting takeoff. A young girl complimented Katy’s hair, and after Katy explained to the girl her knowledge of many of the world’s cultural dance forms, the girl said her mother used to be a dancer. Katy then engaged the mother and discovered this woman had been raised learning Turkish dance as a Turkish native, though she hadn’t danced in some 20 odd years. They flew back to Turkey regularly to visit family. Suddenly a Korean man popped his head in from around a seat and said, “I don’t mean to interject, but are you talking about dance? I’m trying to learn ballet but I’m not so good. I mostly do West-Coast swing.” Katy felt warmed by the sudden life this conversation had taken on and the strength of diverse cultural dance. Three parties, all strangers, sharing their love of dance. Who knew how many different places in the world something similar could have been going on?

Katy savored every bit of the trip along with Farima, Nick, Varol, and Amitai, and Batu. As a measure to live in diversity, and truly multiculturally, Katy and Nick spoke Spanish and Turkish frequently, and the natives would react so happily, recognizing that they were not simply Americans expecting natives of another land to speak English. These kinds of connections can ring with great meaning. Katy and Farima also found a studio to teach at, Katy a Latin Stylings workshop and Farima the same with Persian dance. A return to Turkey looks promising, and the cultural connections they formed now are only the beginning for what is to come.