I had mixed feelings about attending – but I am glad I did.
Whirling dervishes are part of an obscure branch of Islam, an ecstatic dance performed only in a few places. I won’t go into details, you can look it up.
I am extremely reluctant to contribute financially to something I don’t believe in, but if you want to see the dervishes you have to pay the price. In Istanbul it can be part of a dinner theatre experience. I don’t know how authentic that is. I suspect not very.
The evening in Cappadocia was supposed to be authentic. Perhaps it is a subtle form of evangelism, the hope that exposure to this religious ritual might lead people to investigate the religion further. Or maybe they don’t care if infidels are watching. It is also possible that it is just a show for the tourists with no religious significance. I certainly felt that to be the case when I watched Maasai rites in Kenya.
It was a half hour drive from our hotel to the auditorium where the dance took place. These photos are all from the last dance, which we were told was cultural, not religious, and performed solely so that we would be able to have some sort of record of what we had seen.
Two years later, I am not sure what to make of it. I am naturally suspicious of any religious ritual that comes with a hefty price tag. There are a lot of tourists in Cappadocia after all. There were a couple of hundred in the hall the night we were there, and I don’t think February is high tourist season. I wonder what the dancers think of the people who pay to watch. Do they pity us because we don’t share their faith? Are they amused, bemused or contemptuous? Do they feel they are prostituting themselves by performing for money? There was no opportunity to ask, and I might not have had the courage to be that blunt. Or maybe courage isn’t the word, maybe I would have been just too polite to ask the hard questions. I was a guest after all, albeit a paying one.
I’m not a dance fan. It was pleasant enough, but not really my first, or even my second choice of entertainment. I did come away with a better understanding of the ecstasy involved – seeing the dance is quite different from videos. I don’t think the dance alone would lead anyone to become a Muslim, but maybe I am underestimating its power.
Still, it allowed me to experience something that I definitely wouldn’t see at home in Ottawa.