A forró community created from scratch

(from ForróLetters #4)

Forró is very present outside of Brazil, and it even exists in some places where you least expect it, such as in the case of Turkey, where a small community meets every week in Istanbul to dance! This community exists thanks to the passion of two people: Bengü Gün and Murat Ünsal.

Already dancing salsa, Bengü had her first contact with forró in 2010, during a trip to Brazil, and liked forró right away. Murat discovered forró while he was  living in Stuttgart, Germany, 9 years ago. Back in Istanbul in 2014, he started looking around for people who practiced this dance. One thing led to another and friends introduced him to Bengü.

For some time Bengü and Murat danced together, but then came the time to expand the community. There were many capoeira classes in Istanbul, but no forró teacher, no parties.

Very naturally, they started giving lessons: to friends, then friends of friends…. Gradually, the community grew. The courses every 2 weeks became a habit, a norm. And by watching videos to enrich their dance and teach the moves, inviting teachers from Europe, they managed to create a forró community from scratch. In 2014, when they began the community in Istanbul, it consisted of 60 to 70 people.

A collaborative and united community

Today, even if hundreds of Brazilians live in Istanbul, they rarely visit the forró community. Unlike other places in Europe, the Turkish forró community is almost exclusively made up of Turkish people and a few foreigners. There are no forró bands for example, and the parties are therefore mainly with a DJ or with playlists that members of the community share.

Perhaps this is partly why this community is so special, and so strongly based on collaboration. It lives through passionate people who must invest themselves so that it continues to exist. Indeed, Murat and Bengü became teachers, not for the money, but to be able to continue dancing and sharing their passion. For example, when they brought a teacher from abroad, the costs were shared by the whole community.

As Talha Bolat – the Federation’s representative for Turkey, dancer since 2018 and DJ at forró parties, explains: “It can sound cliché, but we are more than just dance friends. We are close friends. Apart from meeting for dance parties, we go on vacations together; we spend time together. Three weeks ago, 20 of us went skiing, for example.”

And forró also allowed Bengü and Murat to meet… and get married!

They are not the only ones, there are already three couples in Istanbul who have come together thanks to the forró.

Food tour during the Forro a la Turca festival in Istanbul – 2019 edition. Credit: Charlotte Lebouvier

All this care is something that we feel when we go dance in Istanbul. During the 2019 edition of Forró à laTurca festival, for example, the organisers had planned non-profit city tours, to introduce Istanbul to forrózeiros, and the team was very attentive, preparing typical Turkish food between classes. The festival even extended unofficially several days after its official end, with parties organised at the last minute, and the people there always ready to participate!

Dancing forró in an Islamic country

A question that one can ask is if forró is well accepted in an Islamic country. Well, Talha, Bengü and Murat agree that Istanbul is a cosmopolitan city, where people from different origins, languages ​​and religions live side by side, and they don’t recall having had negative comments.

For those who went to the Forró à la Turca festival in 2019, the open air concert which was open to everyone proved that forró is seen as a curiosity, where people stop to listen to the music and watch people dancing.

But of course, if you have been dancing in Brazil, you will see that people dance much closer in Rio than in Istanbul!

COVID, economic crisis, war in Ukraine: the difficulties that the community faces

Today, because of the actual context, one of the main challenges is to make the community more dynamic.

Natalie Hideg, a Franco-American who discovered forró while living in Paris, came to live in Istanbul in 2015. She is now part of the organisation team in Istanbul, and explains that what motivated her when she first joined, was all this energy: the exchanges with the teachers coming from abroad, the organisation of the festivals, etc.

Before the recent war, Ukraine and Russia used to exchange a lot with Istanbul. The Turkish didn’t need a visa to go to festivals in Russia for example, and there was a small forró community in Kiev, whose representative is fighting against the invasion right now. What will happen next is still uncertain with these two countries.

Without these different exchanges, dancers are more isolated and it makes it more difficult to make progress and learn new movements or styles. On top of the pandemic, the actual economic crisis in Turkey (with the devaluation of the Turkish lira and the strong inflation) makes it extremely difficult to bring teachers or to afford festivals in Europe.

There is also the question of finding new students, to grow the community. Two years of COVID didn’t leave that much space to gather and dance or give classes.

So, what’s next?

The weekly evenings on Sundays have been back for a few months now, and Bengü and Murat should resume classes very soon! As for the other cities in Turkey, a small community of a few dancers is still present in Ankara (capital of Turkey), maintaining strong ties with the Istanbul community.

Talha hopes to settle in Brazil at the end of 2022, to improve his dancing skills and learn Brazilian Portuguese!

And we are crossing fingers to get another amazing Forró a la Turca festival in Turkey soon!