The show they take part in is a version of ‘Pop Idol’ for folk dance teams!

There are eight people in the Dance Group in total but, on Saturday 12th April, only five of us set out for Istanbul along with Coşkun, Director of the Cultural Centre where we are based, and Ersin our dance teacher.  One member of the group is on an extended holiday in Australia, and two others aren’t able to come for health reasons.

However, our flight from Dalaman leaves more or less on time and we arrive in Istanbul just after 3pm to be met by a minibus from TRT1.  The drive to the studio lets us see the remnants of Istanbul’s Tulip Festival, 5 – 15 April, for which the City Council had planted thousands, if not millions, of tulips in public open spaces: roadsides, roundabouts, central reservations were the ones we saw, but there are also huge displays in parks, particularly in Emirgan on the Bosphorus.

From the moment we arrive the tone is set: chaos.  We enter the building from the underground garage and take the lift to the studio floor thus by-passing security checks in the official reception area.  When we emerge on the studio floor we are faced with hordes of young girls in glorious purple and white striped folk dance costumes, but we can’t find anyone who is expecting us.  When we do find someone we are told to go back down to the garage again, and when we get there that order is countermanded and we return to the studio floor.  You get the idea.

We are ushered via a changing room and makeup room into a long room full of tables where some of the teams who will compete in the ‘Golden Steps’ competition are waiting around.  There are supplies of tea, coffee, water and sandwiches.  Some of the teams are already in costume, others aren’t.  We sit and wait.  The show starts at 8pm and it is only approaching 5, lots of time by Turkish standards.  We are then invited upstairs into the studio to watch rehearsals.  The show is a version of ‘Pop Idol’ for folk dance teams.  Teams of 12 – 16 will compete for the 100,000YTL first prize; 50,000YTL second prize and 20,000YTL third prize.  The jury of five comprises four Turkish celebrities and a representative from the National Folk Dance Federation.

The studio is in the form of a theatre and we sit and watch as the Director and his team try to organize 200+ youthful, energetic folk dancers.  They want the show to open with all of them on stage in a great clapping, dancing mob, which will then neatly part to create a central aisle down which the jury members walk through to face the audience and be introduced by one of the two presenters.  With less than two hours to transmission time this opening routine is still being rehearsed, we are still sitting in the stalls watching and beginning to wonder if our turn for a rehearsal will ever arrive………