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The Turkish Belly Dance
Anyone traveling to Turkey on holiday must visit Istanbul to experience the rich culture of the city designated as the European Capital of Culture for 2010. An excellent way of adding to this experience would be to take a day or two to spend time with Özlem Idilsu. She is a Turkish dancer, performer and instructor experienced in ethnic dances such as classic and modern Oriental/Turkish Belly Dance, Turkish Romani, Classic Chiftetelli and others. This talented performer and instructor offers classes in the Taksim District of Istanbul. The benefit of Belly Dance as a non-impact, weight-bearing exercise is that it is suitable for all ages. Belly Dance is also a means of good exercise for the prevention of osteoporosis and improved flexibility of the torso. Aside from these benefits, it is a great way to spend some time with a highly educated Turkish woman with an excellent command of the English language who might even give you an insiders tip or two about what best to see while in Istanbul. The photo at the top of this page is of an oil painting by Richard Young of Özlem Idilsu. Contact her at her website: Özlem Idilsu
Özlem Idilsu was born and raised in Turkey. Originally from the small district of Bozdoğan in the Aegean city of Aydın, Özlem lived in several different regions in Turkey as well as abroad. After spending her childhood in Bozdoğan, she moved to Bilecik which is centered in the region in which the Ottoman Empire was established. Zeybek dance, which is essential to the Bilecik region, became her passion. Though it has slow music and heavy movements she found that it stirred something within her. Later while she was living in Tekirdağ famous for its Romany dance and Karşılama she discovered that the traditional Turkish Romany style dance of the area had planted the love of Oriental Dance within her. She learned to dance the way this type of dancing is done traditionally - From folk dance spoon-playing to zills or finger cymbals. With this foundation of dance guiding her she began a process that was at times spontaneous and at other times planned which brought her a suitable technique to develop as a dancer, in her own right, with the fundamental moves she once learned from her aunts as a foundation. Oriental Dance gained a much deeper meaning for her during the time she spent in Sweden. It began to represent a peaceful realm in which she could avoid the troubles of an "immigrant life".
After leaving Stockholm, Özlem lived in Paris and Athens and now resides in Istanbul where she offers classes in several oriental dances. She has also explored the other styles of Oriental Dance by attending events and other activities to learn more about Egyptian and Lebanese styles. She learned the Turkish Style from Sema Yıldız, the Turkish legend and is still practicing contemporary dance and folk dances under Aytül Hasaltun as well as conducting dance classes herself in Istanbul.
Özlem studied American Culture and Literature at Istanbul University. Before completing the 4 year program, she started studying English Linguistics at Stockholm University. At the same time she took courses of Swedish Literature, Greek and Social Studies as a hobby. She continued her studies at Turkish and Turkic Languages Department of Uppsala University, and she also studied for one term as an exchange student at Boğaziçi University. Linguistics always remains as a passionate interest and a subject of study for her. Özlem is both a student and a master of language - the language of the body as well as spoken and written language. Visit Özlem on her website for more details or to contact her about the dance classes in Istanbul.
Belly Dance is a western expression for traditional oriental or middle eastern dance sometimes referred to by the Greco-Turkish term çiftetelli. Belly dance is a rough translation of the French danse du ventre which was applied to the dance during the Victorian era. It is a mis-representation of the dance as every part of the body is involved in the dance. Belly Dance takes many different forms depending on country and region, both in costume and dance style, with even new styles evolving in the West as the popularity of the dance has spread internationally. Most contemporary forms of the dance are generally performed by women, but some of the dances have origins in male forms of dance performance. Raqs sharqi -literally oriental dance is the style more familiar to Westerners, performed in restaurants and cabarets around the world. It is more commonly performed by female dancers but is also sometimes danced by men. It is usually a solo improvisational dance, but often students perform choreographed dances in a group. Belly dancing arose from various dancing styles which were performed in the Middle East and North Africa. Belly dance has roots in the ancient Arab tribal religions as a dance to the goddess of fertility. Another theory is that belly dance was always danced in the Middle East and North Africa as entertainment often depicted in carvings from the time of the Pharoahs.
Some mistakenly believe that Turkish oriental dancing is called Çiftetelli because this style of music has been incorporated into oriental dancing by Arabs and Greeks. In fact, Greek and Cypriot belly dance is called Tsifteteli. However, Turkish Çiftetelli is actually a form of lively wedding music and is not connected with oriental dancing. Turkish, Greek, and Cypriot belly dance today may have been influenced by Arabs before the Ottoman Empire as much as by the Egyptian and Syrian/Lebanese forms. Turkish law does not impose restrictions on dancers as they do in Egypt, where dancers must keep their midriffs covered and cannot perform floor work and certain pelvic movements. This has resulted in a marked difference in style. Egyptian bellydance is noted for its restraint and elegance, whereas Turkish bellydance is playful and uninhibited. Turkish belly dance costumes have been very revealing, although there is a move towards more modest, Egyptian-style costuming.
Many professional dancers and musicians in Turkey continue to be of Romani heritage, which is the great part of a varied fusion in this dance. There is also a distinct Turkish Romani dance style which is different from Turkish Oriental. Turkish dancers are known for their energetic, athletic or even gymnastic style, and their adept use of finger cymbals, also known as zils. Connoisseurs of Turkish dance often say a dancer who cannot play the zills is not an accomplished dancer. Another distinguishing element of Turkish style is the use of the Karsilama rhythm in a 9/8 time signature.
Turkish dancers also wear Bedlah style costumes. In the 80s and 90s a stripperesque costume style developed, with skirts designed to display both legs up to the hip and with deeper plunging bras. Such styles still exist in some venues but there are also many Turkish belly dancers who wear more moderate costumes. Even so, many Turkish belly dance costumes reflect the playful, flirty style of Turkish belly dance. In Lebanon there is no prohibition on showing the stomach, the Bedlah style there is also more common. The skirts tend to be sheer and/or skimpier than Egyptian outfits, showing more of the dancer's body. The veil is more widely used with the veil matching the outfit. High heels are commonly worn.
West Asian-style American dancers often purchase their costumes from Egypt or Turkey, but hallmarks of the classical American style may include a headband with fringe, sheer harem pants or skirt rather than tight lycra, and the use of coins and metalwork to decorate the bra. For the folkloric and baladi dances, a full-length beledi dress or galabeyah is worn, with or without cutouts. American Tribal style dancers often make their own costumes or arrange to have them custom-made, as personality and originality are an important part of the costuming. This style of costume tends to involve large pants covered with one or more skirts and belts. The top is usually a coin bra with pieces hanging from it, and dancers wear flowers, headbands, metal headdresses, and other folkoric-inspired pieces in their hair. They also often wear bindis and sport large tattoos that travel around the hip and belly area.
In the West, the costume most associated with belly dance is the Bedlah. It owes its creation to the Victorian painters of Orientalism and the harem fantasy productions of vaudeville, burlesque, and Hollywood during the turn of the last century, rather than to authentic Middle Eastern dress. The bedlah style includes a fitted top or bra usually having a fringe of beads or coins, a fitted hip belt also with a fringe of beads or coins, and a skirt or harem pants. The bra and belt may be richly decorated with beads, sequins, braid and embroidery. The belt may be a separate piece, or sewn into a skirt. Badia Masabni, a Cairo cabaret owner, is credited with bringing the costume to Egypt, because it was the image that Western tourists wanted. The hip belt is a broad piece of fabric worn low on the hips with a straight edge, although it may be curved or angled. The bra usually matches the belt but does not resemble lingerie. The classic harem pants are full and gathered at the ankle with many variations. Sometimes pants and a sheer skirt are worn together. Skirts may be flowing creations made of multiple layers of one color sheer fabric chiffon. Since the 1950s, it has been illegal in Egypt for belly dancers to perform publicly with their midriff uncovered or to display excessive skin. It is therefore becoming more common to wear a long, figure-hugging lycra one-piece gown with strategically placed cut-outs filled in with sheer or flesh-colored fabric. If a separate bra and skirt are worn, a belt is rarely used and any embellishment is embroidered directly on the tight, sleek lycra skirt. A sheer body stocking must be worn to cover the midsection. Egyptian dancers traditionally dance in bare feet, but these days often wear shoes and even high heels. Dancers are not allowed to perform certain movements or do any floor work. State television in Egypt no longer broadcasts belly dancing. A plan to establish a state institute to train belly dancers in Egypt came under heavy fire as it "seriously challenges the Egyptian society's traditions and glaringly violates the constitution," said Farid Esmail, a member of the Egyptian parliament.
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