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Interview with Sema Yildez

by Salome & Shanazel

Sema was born in Fatih - Istanbul, the only girl among 5 siblings. Her education began at the Karagumruk Elementary school, where students were predominantly children of "gypsy" musicians. Sema recounts that in those days "Sulukule" gypsies performed public belly dance shows in their houses. Sema grew up amongst them, learning how to dance.

Sema was a long time principle dancer at Kervasaray, Parisiennes and Yenikapi Gar Casino in Istanbul. She has worked in Syria, Iran, Belgium, Germany, Austria, Holland, Japan, and Scotland. And Sema was invited by Raqia Hassan to Represent Turkey at the Ahlan Wa Sahlan Oriental Dance festival in Egypt.

OrientalDancer.net is proud to welcome master teacher and Turkish Oriental dance artist, Sema Yildez!


Tell us about your early experiences with dance.

Sema: I was born in Istanbul and although my family was from the Balkans I was fortunate enough to be raised in a gypsy community that was rich in the culture of dance and music.

As a child the beauty of the dance inspired me. I would glue pieces of glass to my fingers so that I would be able to replicate the sound of zills. I loved to dance and people would ask me to dance for them at parties.

In 1967 I entered a Turkish belly dancing competition. I was only 16 years old and I remember I had bleached blond hair because that was the style at that time in Turkey. I placed number 3 in the competition and I will never forget the pleasure I had in wearing the honorary sash I was awarded. I was very proud to wear that sash in other performances I did. I must have worn that sash in performances for many months after it was awarded to me.

How and when did you pursue dance as a profession?

Sema: In 1972 my life as a professional dancer began. I started working in Istanbul in famous locations such as Kervan Saray and Galata Tower. This was before dancers were featured on Turkish television.

I made a lot of promotions for Turkish tourism and many other countries television advertisements. I was featured in commercials about Turkish belly dance in foreign countries.

In 1979 I was the first belly dancing artist filmed in Topkapi palace for a Turkish movie that starred the famous actress Turkan Soray.

Was choosing dance as a career a hard choice in any way or an easy one and why?

Sema: While pursuing a dance career is of course full of challenges for a Turkish woman, I always knew I was a dancer and I wanted to dance. It was in my soul. Dancing was an easy career choice for me but I had to work very hard to establish myself as an artist.

You have been a very influential figure, as a popular dancer yourself, and also training up and coming dancers. How have you shaped Oriental dance in Turkey today?

Sema: I am a Turkish oriental dancer who has been professionally influenced by gypsy dance. I have been privileged to share my love of dance within Turkey as well as internationally. Through teaching I have been able to identify and nurture the talent of many young women. When my students learn, excel and love the dance I have contributed to the world of Turkish dance.

What is your greatest triumph as a dancer?

Sema: I have been studying and teaching all of my life. It is a pleasure to share my knowledge and experiences. There is nothing more fulfilling to me than to present my country with my art to show our customs and to take oriental dance one step further and to present it as part of our Turkish cultural heritage.

As a master teacher you are often invited to travel abroad to teach at festivals. Where have you been, where are you going and could you share with us some of your experiences and (general) philosophies as a teacher?

Sema: I have been dancing professionally now for almost 40 years. I have been to many countries and have been interviewed for documentaries, magazines, and television shows. I am so happy to be able to have contributed to the field of belly dance.

I have been able to teach at many festivals world wide and it makes me feel good to know that so many dancers are interested in my life stories as well as my dance practice. I enjoy going to conferences and giving workshops and I love to go abroad in order to help develop the popularity of the dance that I love.

It is a big honor for me to be honored by the next generation of belly dancers and this is the point of my biggest satisfaction. For example, I was in Tokyo, Japan to give a workshop and I was stopped at the airport when traveling to gifu and the security guard addressed me as sensei (teacher) Sema! I felt proud to be an internationally recognized cultural figure.

I consider my dance students as family, as my children, and my legacy. I believe one is never to old to stop learning and teaching and I just want to elevate Turkish Oriental Dance to take its place alongside our other precious cultural heritages.