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Demonstrating Dance: Women’s Mobilization of Horon as Protest in Turkey

  • Author(s): Bayraktar, Sevi
  • Advisor(s): Banerji, Anurima
  • Slyomovics, Susan E.
  • et al.
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Abstract

My dissertation examines how activist women mobilize folk dance as a political force in contemporary Turkey. Over the last decade, the prevailing Turkish government has turned authoritarian and attempted to regulate practices of everyday life by marginalizing large segments of the Turkish population, particularly women. This research explores how dissenters who self-identify as women from diverse ethnic, economic, and political backgrounds use folk dance as a tool for resistance against the coercive policies of the state. I argue that by reconfiguring Turkey’s folk dance heritage for their current political aims and by re-choreographing national space in opposition to the official state apparatus, women reclaim the public sphere and subvert hegemonic discourses about Turkish national identity, neoliberal economic development, and conventional conceptions of the female body.

The dissertation centers horon, a popular dance rooted in the eastern Black Sea region and widespread across the country. In my investigation of this dance, I combine multiple methodologies, including choreographic analysis, ethnographic inquiry, and archival research as well as discourse and visual analyses. This interdisciplinary perspective allows me to elucidate how dissenting women transmit and transform standardized choreographies of the dance by creating novel movement vocabularies, making stylistic innovations, and thereby composing their own narrations of history and culture, which are otherwise unregistered in the mainstream political discourse in Turkey. It demonstrates how aesthetic activity produces changes in society through the staging of new choreographic acts in public space.

Across the dissertation chapters, I explore anti-government protests, environmental movements, and cultural rights activism in Turkey and move between bodily, urban, (trans) regional, and national scales of analyses. Each chapter introduces and conceptualizes a dance technique as a set of choreographic tactics performed in these protests. Chapter One questions the authenticity and ownership claims of horon as a Turkish cultural heritage and examines its institutionalization as a national folk dance genre. Chapter Two looks into how dissenters scatter in Istanbul as a choreography of survival, in response to the state’s use of violence in centralized public spaces. Dance collectives enable activist to create smaller-scale assemblies when they are deprived of the right to public assembly. Chapter Three analyzes improvised collective movement practices of urban protesters, choreographed to enhance solidarity and mitigate cultural, gender, and political differences, which are typically reinforced by the institutionalized modes of horon. Chapter Four brings together political symbols and posters, song lyrics, and movement analysis to detail how urban and rural activists compose horon choreographies between Istanbul and the Black Sea region to effectively register the dance as a political agitation.

In this work, I explored a relationship between dance and political efficacy in times of vulnerability and political crisis, and analyzed how women’s improvised interactions in folk dance circles help create pedagogic spaces in which activists learn from and mentor each other during political action. This study is the first critical project to engage with folk dance as an explicitly political force in Turkey, particularly those forms mobilized by dissenters. Most importantly, it documents how activist women speak, move, and act in solidarity to expose and persistently challenge the politics of conflict and state violence. I seek to pay tribute to, and even further inspire, the enduring struggle of women in Turkey and beyond.

Main Content

This item is under embargo until July 19, 2021.