Adrian Richard Marsh and Rosamaria Cisneros

Turkey: the Dr Adrian Marsh Collection Song and Dance during the Ottoman Empire and the Republican Era

Romanlar bride dancing

Mustafa Özunal | Romanlar bride dancing | photography | Turkey | 2000 - 2018 | dan_00481 Rights held by: Mustafa Özunal | Licensed by: Dr. Adrian R. March | Licensed under: CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0 International | Provided by: Dr. Adrian R. March – Private Archive

The Dr Adrian Marsh Collection closely examines Romani (Romanlar1) music and dance in Turkey while his scholarly article titled Romani Music and Dance in Turkey (2018) provides a detailed account of the two art forms in that country. The collection includes thirty-two photos ranging from young Romani girls dancing a traditional Romani dance, to a Turkish bride being collected by the groom and his family, with Romani musicians in the background. Other photos by Dr Marsh show Romani children and young people dancing in a courtyard and performing in costume.

The focus of his scholarly article is the relationship of music and dance to Romani identity in the Ottoman Empire and its successor state, the Republic of Turkey. His writing, which is underpinned by academic research, has made a major contribution to the history of dance, in particular, and to Romani Studies, in general.

Adrian Richard Marsh | Romani Music and Dance in Turkey | report | Turkey | 2000 - 2018 | dan_00506 Rights held by: Dr. Adrian R. March | Licensed by: Dr. Adrian R. March | Licensed under: CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0 International | Provided by: Dr. Adrian R. March – Private Archive

Dr Adrian R. Marsh is of U.K. Romany-Traveller origins, a Researcher in Romani Studies and an expert consultant in Romani and Traveller early …

Dr Adrian Marsh

Dr Marsh is a Researcher in Romani Studies at the Swedish Research Institute in Istanbul (SRII). He is of Romani-Traveller origins and works with Romani, Gypsy and Traveller communities in the UK, Sweden, Turkey and Egypt as well as in Central, Eastern and South Eastern Europe.

He gained an MA in South East European studies from the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London in 1998 and a PhD in Romani Studies from the University of Greenwich, London for his thesis, ‘No Promised Land: History, Historiography and the Origins of the Gypsies’ (2008). Previously, he was awarded a first-class BA honours degree in East European History, from the School of Slavonic and East European Studies, University College London (1996) and received the Andrew Ferguson Memorial Prize, for his dissertation on royal women and power in the Ottoman Empire.

Dr Marsh has taught Romani Studies at the University of Greenwich, London, Malmö University College, Lund University, Södertörns University College, Stockholm, the American University in Cairo, Istanbul Bilgi University and the Swedish Research Institute in Istanbul, Turkey. He held an Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) fellowship as Researcher in Romani Studies at the University of Greenwich, London in 2006/07. Recently (2010–13), he developed and managed various early childhood education and care projects for Roma, Gypsies and Travellers, implemented by the Open Society Foundations, as Senior Programme Manager at the Early Childhood Programme. He currently lives and works in Istanbul, Turkey.

Dr Marsh has published articles on Romani identity and religiosity, edited collections from international conferences on Romani Studies organised by him and contributed to peer-reviewed journals on education for Romani children, as well as contributing to the Encyclopedia of Global Human Migration (2012).

Moreover, he has carried out research over many years amongst the Romani and Traveller communities of Turkey, including as part of the ESRC project ‘Charting the variety of aspirations of Romani/Gypsy groups in Turkey’ (Acton & Marsh 2007a, 2007b, 2008a; Marsh 2007, 2008b) and the European Roma Rights Centre (ERRC) research programme, ‘Promoting Roma Rights in Turkey, 2006–2008’.2 Together with his perspective on Byzantine, Ottoman and Turkish culture, that research puts him in a unique position as historian, from which to write about Romani identity, history, dance and music under the Ottoman Empire and in the Republic of Turkey.

Romani Music and Dance in Turkey

In his scholarly article for the Digital Archive of the Roma, Dr Marsh explains how modern Romani dance in Turkey has deep roots in Ottoman and Anatolian culture. Some types of modern Romani folk dance have developed from Central Asia and the nomadic Yörük and Türkoman groups, as well as from other historic, ethnic minorities in Anatolia (for example, the Greek, Armenian and Jewish communities).

Modern Romani choreographers (such as Aydın Elbasan, Piri Reis Üniversitesi and leader of Roman Istanbul dance group), draw on this rich heritage. An important point made by Dr Marsh is that much of what is presented outside Turkey as Turkish Romani music and dance, bears little relation either to this heritage, or to older performance traditions. This applies especially to ‘Oriental’ dance or what is more commonly known as ‘belly dance’, which, he writes, reflects both the ‘fantasy’ about ‘the East’ and the ‘imaginary “Gypsy”’ in European and northern American culture.

Growing ‘dance tourism’ in Romani neighbourhoods has sought to ‘revitalise so-called Oriental dance and provide a connection with genuine Romani music and dance in Turkey’ but remains an unequal exchange, as the majority of those who visit Romani dance practitioners and professionals, such as Reyhan Tuzsuz from Sulukule (before its demolition), are non-Romani, middle-class dancers from the United States and Europe. Knowledge of these older, genuine Romani forms and styles becomes part of the repertoire of these non-Romani dancers, divorced from Romani culture and context, thus confirming the notion of them as ‘exotic’, ‘other’ and orientalises them further, particularly through ‘performance’ that emphasises their supposed ‘authenticity’.

Meanwhile, innovation and development in Romani dance in Turkey moves into creative and contrasting combinations, reflecting actual cultural and social change for Turkish Romanlar.

Balıkesir, Turkey (2004): Romanlar bride and her sisters dancing.

Rights held by: Mustafa Özunal | Licensed by: Dr. Adrian R. March | Licensed under: CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0 International | Provided by: Dr. Adrian R. March – Private Archive

Romani Dance in the Ottoman Empire

Dr Marsh describes how at the Ottoman courts of the padişah (king-of-kings) and paşa (high-ranking military or political officer), dance performances traditionally drew on tales and episodes from the destanlar (Turkish epic poems):

‘These “pantomimes” or enactments were originally given by male and female dancers, known as çengi from their association with an older form of harp that accompanied them, ... played upon the musician’s lap and called a çeng. The dancers often performed with a kind of wooden castanet, called çengi çubuğu or çalpara, particularly for dance pieces with faster tempos, whilst slower dances and movements were accompanied by silk handkerchiefs, mendil, or long-sleeved silk kaftans covering pantaloons, waistcoats and blouses, with scarves over ...[the dancers’] heads and often around their shoulders.’3

Marsh, 2018

Another popular form of accompaniment was the kaşıklar (wooden spoons), which remain very much part of Turkish traditional dance; they are associated with dances such as the hülya kaşıklar from the region between Konya and Selifke. Whilst the ‘Orientalist fantasy’ of modern ‘Turkish’ Romani dance or ‘belly-dance’ is only distantly related to the original, current dance costumes bear no relation to the ‘...decorous, Ottoman çengi or the popular entertainment that Ottoman “Gypsies” provided’, writes Dr Marsh, Romani women in the Ottoman period followed the conventions of decorative but modest costumes. The scholar also notes that depictions of çengi in Ottoman miniatures show dancers wearing long-sleeved gowns of several layers that leave only their faces uncovered.

Romani Dance in the Republican Era

In his scholarly essay, Dr Marsh points out that in Ottoman society, the tradition of Romani female dancing became much more widespread than its male counterpart, in later times (though male Romani dance, especially the köçekci was and is still performed):

‘The “entertainment houses” of Romani neighbourhoods offered the opportunity for Ottoman men to partake in consuming spirits (rakı), eating small meze dishes and watching two or three dancers whilst listening to a small music group perform traditional Romani and Turkish dance pieces, most notably those in 9/8 rhythm, which is particularly associated with Romani dance in Turkey.’4

Marsh, 2018

This tradition lasted well into the modern, republican era, not least at the ‘entertainment houses’ of the Sulukule neighbourhood of Istanbul, but when those buildings were closed in the early 1960s and much of the original district demolished5, the centuries-old tradition of performing Romani dance and music itself in this community came under threat.

Following a major Romani civil rights campaign that was widely supported by pro-Romani NGOs in Turkey and internationally, the Romanlar community was forcibly relocated from 2005 onwards6. Other Romanlar mahalle (neighbourhoods) have fallen victim to urban redevelopment – for example, the Küçükbakkalköy district of Istanbul, where the belediye (local government) ordered demolitions, forcing the Romanlar community to relocate, along with its arts and culture.

Balıkesir, Turkey (2004): Romanlar wedding at which the bride and bridegroom are seen dancing at night.

Rights held by: Mustafa Özunal | Licensed by: Dr. Adrian R. March | Licensed under: CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0 International | Provided by: Dr. Adrian R. March – Private Archive

Dance features at many such events and plays a very important role in all cultures, not least in that of the Roma and that is why we can learn so much about a community from this art form. By focusing on Romani dance and music in Turkey, the Collection offers an insight into that country’s Romani community and its age-old cultural traditions.

Rights held by: Adrian Marsh — Rosamaria Kostic Cisneros | Licensed by: Adrian Marsh — Rosamaria Kostic Cisneros | Licensed under: CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0 International | Provided by: RomArchive