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Interview with Belly dancer Princess Banu

A foreword by Gonul C. Turker

For Turkish Oryantal dance fans over thirty, Princess Banu's image immediately comes to mind when the topic of belly dance is at hand.

Back in the day, during the black and white era, Princess Banu was the prima Donna! She does not reveal her age but says instead she feels 30 and refuses to leave the dance until the dance leaves her.

She has danced in over 30 countries, formally presenting Turkey abroad, and is the only Turkish Belly dancer who has been honored with such a charge.

Princess Banu came from a middle class family, born in Izmir, Turkey. Her story of becoming a Belly Dancer is reminiscent of a classic Turkish movie story line. Princess Banu wanted to be a movie star and, after the death of her father, tried to run off to Istanbul. She reminisces that "as a child I was really curious about being an actress but my mother caught up with me at the bus station and took me back home".

Later, chaperoned by her mother, they went to Istanbul where "together they knocked on every film industry door". In those days, Turkish television would only show Belly dancers on New Year's eve. But with Kudret Sandirali discovering her, Princess Banu found herself on the nightclub stage as a Belly Dancer and also as a movie film actress as she had always longed for (Filmography: Cilgin Arzular, Hor Gorme Fakiri, Al Gulum, Ver Gulum, Kader...).

After a short time, Banu travelled to Europe where she met and married a Prince. Unfortunately the fairytale was short lived. After the end of the marriage Princess Banu went on to become a famous person in her own right. The renowned night club "Maxim" hired her and all of the solo performers of the time desired to share the stage with her.

I conducted an interview with her for the very large American based Belly Dance site, OrientalDancer.net, and had the questions sent to me, I am going to share some of her responses to those questions with you now.

Princess Banu.

Salome: From whom did you learn to dance and how/when did you get into professional belly dancing? Also what style of Oriental do you prefer, Turkish, Egyptian or Lebanese and why?

Princess Banu: My teacher was Kudret Sandirali. He was a great dancer and a choreographer for actors and a very serious teacher. I also took classes from a woman named Nadia and also Omer, duet dancers. Afterwards I went to Egypt and took many classes from various teachers.

The first time I danced it was at tourist Hotels, night clubs... Then I went to Italy, my first time abroad. Later on I traveled throughout Europe. I became famous, I mean really famous after I danced in Europe. For half of the year I danced in Turkey and the other half in Europe.

Which dance I like best? I always prefer to dance with live music. The musicians in the Middle East played more for the dancer, for instance the drum solo. I found the middle Eastern drummer took pride in playing with the dancer and promoted her moves.

Salome: In America, we have seen many of your photographs and there are several famous pictures of you with no top, just pasties over the nipple. Did you dance in these costumes or were they only for photo's? Who designed and made your dance wardrobe?

Princess Banu: In those days, in Turkey, dancers took off their skirts, it was part of the dance. I took off my top and revealed the pasties, it was my gimmick. All of my costumes were designed solely by me.

Salome: What was the Turkish dance scene like in the 70's and 80's? And how has it changed over the years? What dancers did you like in the earlier era and are there any up and coming Turkish dancers today that you enjoy?

Princess Banu: Dancing had more quality, now it seems it is easy. Your physically appearance was not the only criteria at that time, dance knowledge was also necessary. Now I find that physical appearance seems to be enough. But it is like that all over the world now, even in Egypt.

My favorite dancers are Zennube, Ozcan Tekgul, Nejla Ates and from Egypt Nagwa Fouad,and Fifi Abdul.

Salome: Did you ever tour in the US?

Princess Banu: No, I have never been to the USA. I would have liked to but the opportunity never arose.

Salome: You are teaching a new generation of dancers in Istanbul. Tell us about your philosophies of Oriental dance, teaching and what you consider necessary for students to grasp in order to become good dancers.

Princess Banu: One has to feel the music, the feeling has to speak. The physical aspect is also important, an Oriental Dancer requires breast and hips, long hair, these qualities assist in bringing out the figure. It is very important to take dance classes but from good teachers and it requires long hours of serious work.