Tan Sağtürk is a male ballet dancer who managed to overcome the prejudgements on ballet and dedicated his life to raising new generations of art and ballet through his hard work at Tan Sağtürk Academy, which has 14,000 students all over Turkey.
He is the only Turk accepted by the French State Ballet regardless of regulations, which opened up the door for other foreigners. He is an entrepreneur that has achieved success and prosperity for many years.
Tan Sağtürk is the face of ballet in Turkey. Ever since the establishment of Tan Sağtürk Academy, Sağtürk, in his own words, is a person who works like "crazy" to give the best to his students. Daily Sabah conducted an interview with him on ballet, youth and art education.
DAILY SABAH: When we speak of modern dance education in Turkey, you are one of the first names that comes to mind. How did you first start ballet and modern dance?
TAN SAĞTÜRK: My first acquaintance began with acceptance to the conservatoire which indeed was a total coincidence. My beloved teacher Suna Şener, from the State Conservatoire, brought us together for a children's project which was published in TRT. From there he picked me up and advised to my parents that I should definitely go to a conservatoire. I passed the entrance exams and ever since, I've been running this profession for 38 years.
D.S.: You are carrying the title of the first Turkish ballet dancer accepted at the French State Ballet. Could you tell us more about how this process developed?
T.S.: In the last year of my training at the State Conservatoire, I received several contract offers. One of them came from Rambert Dance Company in London, which is considered to be one of the most prestigious dance ensembles. Another offer was from the Vienna State Ballet, as a result of my attempt when I went to Vienna all by myself and took the entry exam of the Vienna State Ballet. The last contract offer was from the French Young Ballet, Jeune Ballet de France, which came to perform in Ankara, to come to the conservatoire and see the children perform. And it was my last year. They offered me a contract and I went to Paris to work. Half of the contestants from France have been awarded the most important achievements in the world. French Young Ballet has been formed of a number of college graduates who have won first place in the competitions. After a year of study, it was time for me to enter a large community. The French State Ballet, in fact, did not accept any foreigners. I actually happen to have the title of being the first foreigner that is admitted to that institution. So the director, Jean-Pierre Laporte offered me a contract, but he later understood that I was a foreigner. Afterward, he called my director in Hong Kong during a tour with his French Young Ballet and said he wanted to work with me. At that time the minister of culture changed the status and I found myself accepted at the French State Ballet. After that, they had to accept many strangers. So the door was opened.
D.S.: We saw you for the first time as an actor in one of the most famous Turkish TV series "İkinci Bahar" (Second Spring). How did your acting adventure begin?
T.S.: During my childhood, I was involved as a child actor in a number of small TV projects at TRT. I did dubbing for the "Küçük Ev" (Little House on the Prairie) series. I did not have much experience in acting but at that time beloved director Mustafa Oğuz invited me and said he wanted to do a TV project. It was a project from director and scriptwriter Yavuz Turgul. There were great, well-known names such as Şener Şen and Türkan Şoray in the project and there were names that had the potential to be well-known in the future such as Ozan Güven and Nurgül Yeşilçay. Everyone who had a role in this series gained to a very good place and climbed the stairs of fame. I have never seen myself as an actor, when compared to my friends and colleagues. I always wanted to be well-known with my own profession and stuck with it no matter what. So some acting experiments were only to fill that void. If I had an intention to become an actor, I would go through a very different path after a series like "İkinci Bahar." It is very difficult to say no to all offers for acting and I think I am a person who has the hang of it.
D.S: If you hadn't had the reputation and fame from the series and movies you took part in, would you still have the courage to open up schools by taking a risk that requires serious investment and labor?
T.S: At that time I was an official permanent ballet dancer at the State Opera and Ballet. These series brought me fame throughout Turkey in a way that almost village by village I was known as a famous ballet actor. My name had become synonymous ballet and I come to mind first. This is priceless. I always wanted to be known for my own profession from the very beginning. It is a very difficult balance and I succeeded. That's what my intuition, my guts says. I never have the willingness, the urge to become famous and well-known. That was my advantage. My artist ego did not show up in this area because I already have it and feel it in very high places like my professional field of dancing. I can say for sure that this is the mood that allows me to remain constant in my profession.
D.S.: Why do you think that children should take dance education starting from early ages?
T.S.: I think we should make a book about the contribution of art and sports to children, but how many volumes would this book be? Each title can be a book. We learn the level of contribution of art to them as we chat with children. Art education at early ages helps with developing self-confidence, developing vision, the transition to the positive thinking, the success in the lessons without much work, and creates a person who listens to his friend. We see numerous families that never let go of this disciplined program. I'm talking about the course programming discipline. That's why we have 14,000 students. No school has reached this number ever. The reason why we have reached this number is not only the discipline that we have in our dance saloons but also the fact we work with harmony from finger to toe and we are able to speak the same language in all levels of management including assistants, ballets and managers. We have thousands of administrative assistants. Each one is educated about how to speak with the parents and the students. And they go through very serious filters. It's an organic business which always gives an error. However, we have built up a very good system including observing supervisors and assistants who can take initiatives in order to prevent the errors. Especially adolescence period is very risky. These days, children who help their families are starting to emerge. There is great difference between the children of today and 10 years ago. We have indeed foreign students. We have foreign teachers in every class as well. The art language is common. The ballet language is French. Prestigious dancers of the French State Ballet work with us.
D.S.: Is physical appearance important for modern dance and ballet? Let's assume you have a very talented student. But you think they will not look good on the stage. What kind of a process do you follow?
Course programming and conservatoires are two very different institutions working independently. The courses are connected to the Ministry of National Education and the conservatoires are connected to universities. You cannot train a child as an artist by training them for two hours a week. Ours is course programing. We are trying to raise groups of people who try to give all the positive aspects of music and art to the child. The situation is different in the conservatoire. There you are trying to eliminate and admit the ones carefully in a professional sense because these institutions raise students who will do it as a profession. You either have the talent or not. The examination process is long. In Turkey, this system is not well applied yet. Abroad the system includes six years of education compared to Turkey's 10 years of education. In the first two years, the school is in the process of eliminating the child with less talent. This might seem cruel, but it is the right system. In the last four years, it follows a path in order to keep the student. Ability and physical appearance and mental force all matter. Mental force is what we cannot figure out. I have seen very many talented students, however, at the end they vanished somehow. The ones we had doubts about, managed to be very successful. The second year elimination process works better abroad when compared to Turkey. I think we are more sentimental.
D.S.: Even in Istanbul, many educated parents say, "Men do not wear tights." How did you manage to break this prejudice, when dance was not even accepted as a profession?
T.S: Did I manage to eliminate prejudice? I think if I had a contribution in this regard, it is because of my resistance. In my many interviews and speeches, I said we not only wear tights but also skirts. Such comfortable replies about it made the young generation love and accept it. Maybe our elder brothers were more protective. My sincere personality got me closer to people. What I said 18 years ago still applies. I'm looking through my interviews and I realized that whatever I said years ago I tried my best to achieve. Doing my art in public, I managed to have art recognized and loved more. I have never been in an aristocratic mood. The range of fans that respect me has always been vast. Many people understood that this is a profession and Tan Sağtürk earns his life and pays all his expenses. He earns his life. I exaggerate because I want to be understood. I think I have the right to do it.
D.S.: In recent years, there has been a tendency in young people to focus on the different areas and focus more on the digital world. As technology improves from day-to-day, do you think it causes a decrease in interest in art and dance? What are your suggestions to the families ?
I travel constantly for my profession. I see that the interest in art has increased. Ticket prices are yet so high. In order for everyone to participate in art shows, ticket prices must be in a reasonable range. There is demand for good art projects and shows in Turkey. I think there are seriously addicted groups to TV. Another factor in participating in art is economic situations. The state operas and theaters have set out very reasonable, affordable prices but they lack good advertisement strategies. It's all up to the families, I guess. The prices of the State Opera and Ballet are very reasonable, but the promotion and advertising is incomplete. I think that if we make a self-criticism, emphasis should be given to the advertisement. The ways to reach out the young theater target groups must be sought out. They can go to schools to promote themselves. Since I come from a disciplined profession, I think differently. The systems do not function unless there are certain rules.
D.S: Do you have other projects in the near future?
I receive a new project almost every month. Sometimes it is necessary to say "I am not available." Some of the projects are weak in terms of budget and some need certain investments in order to be successful. If I do not have good faith in it and do not need the financial outcome from it, then itis better not to do it. I always had my freewill power even when I was not very well-known.
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