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  • Lisa Lumina

Turkish Styles: vintage and modern

Post 4 of 10.


When the Ottoman empire expanded into Egypt and the Levant in the early 1500's, entertainers like the Awalim were brought back to Turkey. (The "harem-girl story" came, in part, from Turkish odalisques who were trained in entertaining, although the female dancers usually performed for other women.) This exchange had, of course, always been a 2 way street, with many Arabic instruments being perfected in Turkey. Interestingly, while Turkish dancers sometimes call the it raqs instead of oryantal dans, all the places bellydance is part of the vernacular party dance were once part of the Ottoman empire.

Dancers in Turkey have generally been from Greek, Armenian, Rom, and Jewish backgrounds, because Muslim Turks didn't condone public dance performing as an acceptable activity for themselves to engage in. This is one of the most direct ways the Rom migrations mentioned in post 1 influenced the dancing. Even today it is common to include a number in a performance set that incorporates Roma style. This clip is, judging by the hair, from the 60s.

The Ottoman Empire controlled Egypt for centuries. In the years featured in books studying Egyptian dance, such as “Before They Were Bellydancers”, Turkish ruling class set the fashions. Due to reasons we’ll cover in the “New Age American” style post, Egypt has been more popular with dancers during the time most of the English language research into the history of the dance has been happening. I am still hoping someone will write books like “Before They Were Bellydancers” and “Raqs Sharki Revolution” that focus on the history in Turkey during those times.

After the fall of the Ottoman Empire, Turkey was focused on making a good impression with Western Europe, and downplayed its Middle Eastern culture. Oryantal dans was not a super popular form of entertainment and dancers from the courts left to find work elsewhere. Over the decades, dans fluctuated in popularity based on factors like which side of the Mediteranean Turkey wanted to align itself with, economic rollercoasters, and who the most recent coup had been. For more detail on these happenings or for instruction in Turkish styling, I recommend Tava of CT. This clip is the oldest one of Turkish bellydance (that wasn't sussy for being western victorian peep show material) I have found on youtube.

A floorwork section is also a required part of a Turkish set, performed here by Princess Banu, it is often set to a chiftitelli rhythm. While Lebanese dancers also perform floorwork, and Egyptian Awalim would (if they think the police won't catch them), it is most strongly associated with the Turkish and Vintage American styles (for reasons explained in the next post).  

Here is a Turkish dancer, Nejla Atas, who was famous for some racy costumes on the cover of bellydance albums sold in the us. This performance is from an American movie. The Turkish style had a big influence on the vintage American style, in both movement vocabulary, finger cymbal playing, and the ubiquity of floorwork. 

Another example of floorwork and Turkish arm work, performed here by Birgul Beray.

Like in the US, bands were more likely to be employed by the venue, and dancers rotate though the venues. Meaning that, like the old situation in the US, a dancer might perform with a band she had no chance to rehearse with, and who she didn't have direct influence over (many Egyptian dancers are the ones employing their own bands). This contributed to the use of finger cymbals for the entire set in both vintage Turkish and American styles. Tulay Karaca is not only an icon of vintage Turkish style, but also, I think her finger cymbal playing comes with a forest fire warning!

Nesrin Topkapi (stage named after the palace) had a gentler and more fluid style, sometimes called more Arabic looking.

New Years Eve performances are popular on Turkish TV. In the 90s a style of costume that created a long leg line and had a heavy V shaped belt to hold the skirt down over the "bathing suit area" especially for floorwork was popular. This clip from NYE 1996 starts with Jingle Bells, goes into some Turkish music, and then the dancer does floorwork to an Egyptian Beledi song.

Instruments like the oud, kanoun, violin, and tabla/doumbek are all used in Turkish dans music, as well as the saz (a skinnier lute compared to the oud) and the clarinet. The mizmar is called zourna in Turkish. A style of music called Arabesque (click here for a 45 min documentary on it, on youtube) was popularly used for Turkish dans, but became displaced by recordings of Egyptian music over the years. In this clip, Princess Banu dances to a song composed for Egyptian dancer, Nagwa Fouad.


There was a "break in the lineage" between the dancers in the clips above and the modern Turkish dancers. That is to say: the people the newer style of dancers learned from were not the same ones who had been dancing the older style. The current style  prevalent in Turkey has all the fire of the old style, with some new elements. The Ibo Show was a program in the 90s and early 2000s that featured Asena and then Didem each episode, so the dancers had pressure to create new dances each time.

Didem is a Roma woman, and sometimes incorporates this style into her shows, as has been done for decades. After her spot on the Ibo Show was canceled and bellydancing only allowed on Turkish TV for New Years, she has been dancing at night clubs and on the festival circuit (more on that in the post about Modern Egyptian).

Some other contemporary Turkish style dancers keep the old style alive, including Gigi Dilsah, who teaches internationally and has music albums she has produced available. You'll notice that high heels are still very much the fashion with Turkish dancers.

Serap Su is here, showing off the Turkish style of cape work.

Mr. Ozgen also teaches internationally, and sometimes comes to NYC/CT for workshops. I will have another section of a post devoted to the history of men in raqs/dans. You can hear the clarinet doing a taxeem at the start of his performance here.

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