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Oriental Dance in Turkey

By Hale Cakir




Hale Cakir is a professional Oriental dancer based in Istanbul, Turkey. As an active performer in Turkey's luxury venues she had this to say about Oriental dance in Turkey today:

"Over the last ten years the number of belly dancers who dance with live musicians have declined tremendously, due in most part to economics. Having a performer at a party without a live band naturally costs much less. So, belly dancers started to dance to CDs featuring their favorite collection of music.

The musicians are mostly Roman (Gypsy). The music itself is almost the same as in Egypt, with violin, kanun, tabor (darbuka), cymbals, dehollo, keyboards, lute (ud) and clarinet. As seen in old Turkish movies of the past, belly dancers also performed to music with only western instruments like drums, bass guitar and saxophone.

New oriental dance music is very seldom composed in Turkey. The reason behind this fact is: the market for this need has not yet been recognized. Economically it is cheaper to download music and burn CDs rather than having new music composed. In the last 3 to 4 years darbuka music is favored so more rhythm oriented albums are being produced. It is not possible to dance to such albums since these albums mostly contain improvised darbuka solos.

Not all the musicians are capable of playing live belly dancing music. They mostly back up singers or fasils (it is like chamber music performed with eastern instruments). From time to time, these musicians play for some belly dancers who are not very quality oriented.

Istanbul is the entertainment capital of Turkey. You can find something to suit your taste 24/7. Today, there are about 10 top ranking dancers in Istanbul. But there are many more places with lesser performers which are tourist oriented (like night clubs and oriental clubs). These places provide job opportunities 365 days. Plus there are job opportunities we call "extras". "Extras" include shows for large companies, products or brand launching, personnel nights, birthday parties and weddings. These jobs are accessible through managers and agencies. The pay for these jobs also differ from the night clubs. Tourist clubs pays 40-60 USD per show, other jobs that we call "extra" range from, 200-700 USD per show.

Apart from Istanbul, there are many hotels in the Mediterranean region where Turkish nights are arranged. This is also a job opportunity for belly dancers. It is prohibited to play Arabic music in such "Turkish" nights but it is not strictly followed and Arabic music is always played. Please don't take every dancer you see at such events very seriously as they might also be someone with no training that is wearing a belly dance costume. There are also Eastern European and Russian dancers in that region. Apart from the Mediterranean region there are also dancers who work in mainland Anatolia. These dancers perform in high or lower quality clubs according to their choice.

Turkish people love to dance!! Every geographical region has its own authentic dance. Even though oriental music is Arabic in origin it has been apart of our culture as well so it is very natural for Turkish people. But people approach belly dancers with prejudice because almost every famous belly dancer has published naked photos of herself or has had some sort of scandal. As a result of this bad reputation, families are reluctant to let their girls get involved in this profession. It is a courageous thing to choose belly dancing as a profession. With newer generations, this has started to change even if slowly.

Many people have chosen this profession as a simple way to earn money. But such type of dancer's don't try to improve themselves and leave this profession in a few years. I see development of oriental dance worldwide that has resulted from competition and the dancers who try to improve themselves constantly. The number of belly dancers worldwide is growing. Even though western dance types are taught in many dance schools, recently belly dancing has also been added to such courses. Nesrin Topkapi is one of most respected belly dancers and is a very good teacher."

About myself: I left my job as a cabin stewardess to start belly dancing. I am doing a profession which makes me happy, and this is what I want to do. I received mixed reactions for my choice of profession. But I keep walking this path, dancing...