by Eda Savaseri
The majority of cultural developments in Turkey lead back to Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. It is his vision and impeccable cultural taste that rendered possible so much innovation to happen so fast in the early years of the republic. In 1911, when he was still a Captain of the Istanbul General Staff of the Ottoman Empire, he encountered tango for the first time. Blanco Villalta was lucky enough to dance the tango in front of Mustafa Kemal at an event held by his father who was the Consul of Argentine. Villalta mentions this in his biography titled Atatürk, which he published in 1939, a year after Atatürk’s death.
First The Music, Then The Dance
The history of tango in Turkey starts with formal balls. Mustafa Kemal Atatürk has realized many reforms in Turkey, from the alphabet to the clothing and he wanted these reforms to enlighten all areas of the Turkish person’s life. After the Sultan was overthrown and Atatürk proclaimed Turkey a republic, he was chosen as the first president of Turkey. This position allowed him to realize many reforms in a short period of time.
Atatürk knew a political revolution wasn’t enough; a country also needed a cultural revolution. However, the best way to introduce new things was to adapt them to one’s own heritage. This is why the history of tango in Turkey is strictly connected to tango music, because what the Turkish people loved and adopted first was the tango music, which was not foreign and a well-understood language.
I don’t know if you have ever been to a wedding in Turkey but until the last 3 decades, the opening dance in Turkish weddings used to be “La Cumparsita”. In general, Turkish people have a great love for tango music. Atatürk loved tango music and he has been a supporter of musicians who composed and sang. The very first Turkish tango song is called Mazi Kalbimde Bir Yaradır (The Past Is A Wound In My Heart). Necip Celal Andel composed it in 1928 and it is still a well-known and popular song to this day. The oldest version of the song was recorded in 1932 and was sung by a singer called Seyyan Hanım. Seyyan Hanım performed for Atatürk and his guests during the Seyr-i Sefain Ball in 1930, which was held in Büyük Yalova Oteli.
I want you to see how beautiful the lyrics are so here is the translation for a part of the lyrics to “Mazi Kalbimde Bir Yaradır”. You can listen to the original, sang by Seyyan Hanım here and a more modern version of the song here.
“The past is a wound in my heart
My fortune is darker than my hair
What makes me cry from time to time
Is indeed this sad story
She never made me sleep on her chest
She never consoled me with a kiss
Many years passed after her
That woman has forgotten me
Even though I couldn’t wrap around her waist, I didn’t give up on this goal
It’s a sad adventure how they took her away from me
She has become someone else’s, someone else has become content
My heart has become a devastated land”
Tango music as a genre has been very popular until the 2000s and many musicians are working to keep it relevant so that they can pass it on to new generations.
From Ballrooms To The Dance Floor
After Turkish tango songs were established it was time to introduce the dance. In the 1930s, the tango was mostly danced in the European style. Turkey’s introduction to Argentinian tango happened almost a decade later. In the 1940s university students started exploring the Argentinian tango and slowly through the years more and more people started dancing, learning and one by one the interest in both classical tango (ballroom style) and Argentinian tango grew. Today there are many schools that teach tango who present the possibility to practice and learn this beautiful dance. A lot of universities have tango clubs that are working on introducing this beautiful dance with young people.
Tango in Turkish TV Series
The Turkish TV series are all about dramatic effect and, as such, it’s no wonder they use tango as a means to create captivating scenes. Dance numbers always get a lot of hype and media coverage on TV series especially because they require training and a lot of preparation by the actors even when it’s a short scene.
The first, and also the most memorable, tango scene in a TV series is in Aşk-ı Memnu (2008-2010). ‘Aşk-ı Memnu’ means ‘Forbidden Love’ and the two characters who danced the tango are Bihter (Beren Saat) and Behlül (Kivanc Tatlitug). This was an important scene for multiple reasons. It was a foreshadowing of their passionate but also destructive love, and also a demonstration of how effectively a dance routine can be used in a series. It’s safe to say, it has led the way for other series to produce similar tango dance scenes.
Another memorable scene is in Kiralık Aşk (2015-2017), which was a big international hit as a romcom. Kiralık Aşk is a pioneer in diziland and has played an important role in establishing international popularity for a Turkish romcom. This scene was used as a romantic marriage proposal and I think all fans of the show will remember it.
Kıvanç Tatlıtuğ’s tango skills from shooting the scene in Aşk-ı Memnu came in handy when he was shooting Cesur ve Güzel (2016 – 2017) and his character Cesur danced the tango with Sühan (Tuba Buyukustun). Cesur ve Güzel is a lovely drama series where once again tango was used as an added element in a passionate love in the making.
Last, but not least, is another tango dance scene from last summer’s romcom Bay Yanlış (Mr.Wrong). Even though the show had a premature ending due to low ratings, this scene was highly discussed on social media. Fans also enjoyed the Latin night concept in the episode, which was a very nice touch. I love the creative ways all these tv shows integrate tango into their stories, which artistically enhance the narrative.
There are many more dizi scenes with tango routines and if you’d like to see more of them you can take a look at this lovely fan edit. Don’t forget to let us know your favorite dizi tango scene in the comments.
How The Turks Tango
Since the 1990s a lot of tango schools have been established throughout the country. People who are interested in tango can not only take dance lessons but also learn about the history and the culture of tango. As a dance form, tango can look as demanding as the next dance but as a culture it has a very rich and interesting background, which would be impossible to cover in a casual article and certainly needs the finesse of an instructional school.
While writing this article I was lucky enough to interview Mr. Aydın Kocamusaoğlu. He and Pelin Koyun are the first Argentinian tango champions of Turkey and they are both national athletes. In 2001 they founded the Tangoist Dance School. Mr. Kocamusaoğlu was kind enough to answer some questions for me and I would like to share here a summary of his replies.
Tangoist school has a great ambiance and it has been home to different TV projects, the latest being Blu TV’s Yeşilçam TV Series with Çağatay Ulusoy, where his character Producer Semih Ates enlists dance teacher Kuvvet to provide lessons to up and coming actress Tulin (Afra Saracoglu) under the able guidance of the character . This interesting video provides the background for how dance was an important part of the Yesilcam era and how the real life character Kudret Sandra inspires the creation of Kuvvet.
The location is a story in and of itself, situated in a building built in 1895. The nostalgic look has been carefully preserved and adds to the joy of the students who come to the school for tango lessons.
Mr. Kocamusaoğlu defines dance in a unique way. He says, “dance is a journey from energy to synergy”. This simple yet profound definition is explanatory of his view on dance. One of the most interesting things I found on my search was the school’s effort in the making of their own festival, called “Tango Movies Festival”. It’s a lovely initiative for recognizing how much cinema adores and features tango. Mr. Kocamusaoğlu confirmed that when the pandemic ends they will continue this film/dance festival.
I was curious to know what he thought about the change in the public’s views on tango and if their interest has grown over the years. Mr. Kocamusaoğlu says that the age group that subscribes to the school used to be mostly middle-aged people but now, thanks to university clubs, there are more young people showing an interest in tango. Not only that but also more men are interested; so much so that in some classes there are more men than women. According to him, the growing interest is because of the power of aesthetics. He says that it’s aesthetics that affects our essence and, hence, it’s impossible not to be affected.
Finally I ask him a selfish question, one that is mostly my own curiosity although I know many people share this feeling. I ask him what he advises to those who would love to try tango but are hesitating. His response is as wise as someone in his caliber would give. He says that dance is not something you can grasp without touching. Not just without physical contact but without touching energetically or spiritually as well. He suggests to just show up without judgment or pre-conceptions as it’s not something you can understand without experiencing.
As you can see, tango’s history in Turkey may not seem as long as in some other countries but it has a rich heritage that gives it a special place in the local culture. Tango initiated its journey in Turkey with its own tango music and then slowly worked its way onto the dance floor. Each country has its own take on tango and it’s not any different in Turkey. Turkish people love it and as more people learn to dance and learn about this great cultural heritage. it is likely spread and more people will want to be a part of the tango community. With the incredible availability of talented teachers and schools, tango can only expand in Turkey and I imagine Atatürk would be proud.
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Eda Savaseri is a Turkish copywriter from Istanbul. She loves cats, books, chocolate and traveling. She loves sharing things that she learns and apply towards self-improvement.
She enjoys writing about a multitude of topics and loves to share her thoughts about TV Shows she’s watching. You can find her blog here.