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Tevfik traveled to Istanbul to study Ballet

Tevfik Vatansever's Magellan Story

Magellan Scholar Travels to Turkey to Learn About Ballet


Name: Tevfik Vatansever
Hometown: Williamsburg, VA
Major: Dance
Magellan Program: Magellan Scholar (2014)
Magellan Projects: "Men's Ballet in Istanbul, Turkey"
Magellan Mentor: Professor Susan Anderson, Theatre and Dance


It was the summer of 2014 and Tevfik Vatansever was beaming with reverence and pride. He was in Istanbul, Turkey for the Istanbul International Ballet Competition and he had been chosen by the judges to represent the United States in the senior men division. "That is as close as I might get to feeling like an Olympian," Tevfik said. "The other dancers were from all over the world. The room was filled with soon-to-be superstars. I was sitting in a dream I had caught."

Tevfik traveled to Istanbul using funds from his Magellan Scholar award. His project sought to understand how ballet fit into Turkish culture and how it compared to other countries with famous ballet traditions. Though of Turkish descent, this was the first time Tevfik had ever visited Turkey. "I had family there I had never met. My Uncle Suleyman traveled four hours by ferry from my father's town of Bursa to watch me dance. That was the first time he had ever been in a theatre and the first ballet he had ever seen."

Tevfik learned a lot about Turkish ballet in his time there. "Turkey is less than 100 years old as a nation, but ballet has been there for more than half of their existence. It's a growing cultural identity, and I would have only found out about that because I went and danced there on the Magellan. Turkey is, on an international scale, producing fantastic dancers and choreographers you will see more of now and in the coming years," he said.

Tevfik said this learning experience could not have been matched by simply going online or watching videos about Turkish ballet. "In most European countries it's actually illegal to videotape performances because they don't want to rob the experience," he said. "Going to Turkey to see how dancers moved felt like exploring a field that was mine alone. In the information age we live in today, that is something very rare."

Many students may not understand how "research" fits into the arts. Tevfik says research and dance are a natural fit. "Researching as a dance major means working with the most universal language on earth," he said. "A 'tendu' [ballet movement] at a dance class in Columbia, SC could be executed and understood by a dancer from Cuba, Russia, China, and anywhere that has ballet. Regardless of stylized movement, a ballet dancer could go into a ballet class anywhere in the world, not understand the native tongue, and still complete the class successfully. It's a language based off of movement."

Many students use funds from their Magellan Scholar award to purchase materials for their project. This could be lab supplies, computer software, or, in Tevfik's case, clothing. "There is a common saying from Broadway: 'look 10, dance 10'," he said. Tevfik's budget included money for shoes ("K.H. Martins, a German made ballet slipper that forms to your muscle in your foot"), tights ("custom ordered from a company in Japan called Yumiko"), and costumes ("The tunic I used for Don Quixote was worn many times by former American Ballet Theater dancer Joseph Phillips -- I felt like nothing could go wrong when I wore it.")

Tevfik's original career goal was to be a professional actor because he "loved Robin Williams and wanted to make people laugh." He later wanted to be a video game designer but "a semester of coding with Javascript killed that dream." His mother raised him as a "modern day renaissance kid" and enrolled him in everything from fencing to equestrian to golf classes. She also encouraged him the arts and it was her suggestion to start ballet that started him on his path in dance. "She came into my room in the middle of the night when I was 16 and told me she was putting me in ballet classes after a dream she had," Tevfik said.

Currently, Tevfik is dancing professionally and is pursuing a career in arts administration. "I want to be a part of arts management and have a role in giving talented students the opportunities I've been given with my endeavors," he said. He also continues to be involved in research. "Currently, I am in Copenhagen, Denmark studying public subsidies for the arts in a welfare state and comparing it to the private donation support of the arts in the US," he said. "My project in Turkey snowballed into other great opportunities, and it started when I walked into the Office of Undergraduate Research."