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A visit to Istanbul offers the experience of being submerged in the beautiful culture of the city. Özlem Idilsu is a Turkish dancer, performer and instructor. She values the traditional and the classic as well as she enjoys the modern, and thus she specialises in Oriental Dance (a.k.a Belly Dance) and Turkish Romany (Gypsy 9/8) and is trained in several other disciplines such as Turkish Folk Dances, Contemporary Dance and Ballet. Özlem recieved dance instruction from Nesrin Topkapi and Sema Yıldız, whom are legendary dancers in Turkey. Just about everyone in Turkey has heard the name Nesrin Topkapi and heard of her incredible dance. Aytül Haslatun is Özlem's contemporary dance instructor as well as her dance partner. They organize an international Roman & Oriental Dance workshop twice a year www.istanbulgypsyfestival.com and are also practising contemporary dance together. Özlem also recieved classical ballet training under Ayşe Sun, an amazing teacher for both adults and children. Oriental Dance is an ethnic dance indigenous to Near and Middle East, changing features from Arabic to Turkish. Turkish Romany is a gypsy style dance special to Turkey. It is known for its uneven time signature, 9/8; however, it does include even time signatures as well. This talented performer and instructor teaches dance in 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 and for both sexes. Belly Dance is also a means of good exercise for the prevention of osteoporosis and improved flexibility of the torso. Aside from being enjoyable and beneficial, it is an interesting way of spending some time with a highly educated Turkish woman who speaks excellent English and possesses a good historical knowledge of Turkey. See an oil painting by Richard Young of Özlem Idilsu. Visit her dance website at: www.ozlemidilsu.com and book arrangements to attend her classes in Istanbul.
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 special because the Ottomon Empire was established there. Zeybek dance, which is essential to the Ege 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 zils 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". Özlem's studies, experiences and both cultural and technical background make her a rare source of insightful knowledge about the cultural and historical side of oriental dance. She is versed in both Turkish and Arabic styles, bringing out her own character mingling with what she has been taught, without disturbing the originality of Oriental Dance. She performs and teaches Traditional and Modern Oryantal Dans (aka Belly Dance), sword, candle tray and şamdan (shamadan) balance, floor dance, Turkish Romani( gypsy 9/8), Classic Chiftetelli, finger cymnals, veil and Isis wings. She teaches fluently in English and Swedish.
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. 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... www.ozlemidilsu.com
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. Some say 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. But, there is really no supporting data about this theory connecting belly dance and fertility. It is a myth of Orientalism. The carved depictions show maybe the oldest dance form and that is all that is actually known. It's unrealistic to analyze a dance form from two-dimensional ancient carvings.
Some mistakenly believe that Turkish oriental dancing is called Çiftetelli. Oriental dancing has developed from what is or was danced to Çiftetelli music as a social dance. There is no Greek or Cypriot belly dancing. Greek and Cypriot dance is called Tsifteteli. Since the word Çiftetelli is purely Turkish (çifte: double, tel: string, telli: stringed) they obviously got the tradition during the Ottoman period. Turkish Çiftetelli is not Turkish belly dance nor is Greek and Cypriot Tsifteteli belly dance either. Turkish Çiftetelli is not always lively, but can be slow as well. It's rather an entertainment style of music than wedding music and is connected to oriental dancing. We think that today's oriental dance developed from çiftetelli tradition, together with other influences. 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 zils is not an accomplished dancer. The use of 9/8 time signature, an uneven rhythm that's special to Turkey is not neccessarily a distinguishing element of Turkish style. A karşılama, a Romany song, a pop song or a rock song can be in 9/8 as well.
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.
History of Dance in Turkey
"In Ottoman history, we know that there were “çengi”s and “köçek”s. Çengis were the female dancers, köçeks were the male dancers. There were also the terms: rakkase - female dancer, rakkas - male dancer. Raks, meaning to dance, seems to be the only word back in that time refering to what we might guess was the mother of belly dance. Today, we are using French-loan-words such as Oryantal (Orientale) and dansöz (danseuse), which makes me assume that the distinction was made after the French influence in the 19th and 20th centuries. Danseuse in French means a female dancer, however in Turkish it means a female bellydancer. The word çengi is not used at all today. Köçeks still exists, although as a moribund tradition. Köçeks strictly dance only to middle-Anatolian style Çiftetelli, they might play zills, the dance looks like playful comedy. Köçeks are not male belly dancers. A male belly dancer is called a “zenne”. Many people started to prefer the word Oryantal, the name of the dance itself, to refer to the dancer, for example: Oryantal Özlem. People who think the word dansöz denotes a low quality adopted this word. However, the usage is semantically and grammatically wrong. I personally prefer calling all of us “dansçı” meaning dancer. I say Oryantal dansçı - oriental dancer. The last but not the least, the word bellydance in English is such a misnomer as “tiptoe dance” would have been for ballet. The name of the dance in Turkey is Oryantal Dans; in Arabic, Raqs Sharki. Both of the terms mean the dance of the East. If you hear Turks say Göbek Dansı at all, it is merely a translation from the English word.
What we know as bellydance today in Turkey is a dance style stemming from social dances Çiftetelli and Roman, intermingled with Arabic influences. Oryantal, Çiftetelli and Roman are all different types of dances. An oriental dancer might dance Çiftetelli or Roman, however, not all Çiftetelli or Roman music is suited to Oryantal dance. Oyun havasi is the type of music that people will dance together for entertainment, such as in weddings. A belly dancer would traditionally dance to Oyun havası.
Belly dance the way we know it today probably started to develop after the opening of entertainment places such restaurants, night clubs and cabarets. The entertaiment dance that çengis and köçeks performed started to adapt itself to the new concept and the dancer started to be called a danseuse/dansöz, obviously as a result of the French influence. So we can roughly say that belly dance is not older than 150 - 200 years.
Historically the Ethnic Turks come from the Central Asia. They first established the Seljuk Empire, and then Ottoman Empire. Ottoman Turks started to adopt certain Western traditions since the conquest of Constantinople/Istanbul in the 15th Century. So, the so-called Westernization of Turks had started long before the establishment of the Turkish Republic. The new republic of Turkey was established in 1923, which extensively modernized the country. And today’s Turks are the mixture of all those cultures and ethnicities and religions that lived under the name Ottoman Empire. However undeniably good for Turkey, these political changes in a way caused some cultural aspects to diminish. The republic of Turkey started to use the Roman alphabet and so called “cleansed” the language from Arabic influences. This however caused the vast Ottoman Divan poetry tradition to be forgotten.
A major factor why Turkish bellydance is influenced by Arabic music is that suitable music is not being produced. The only type of belly dance music that is produced is darbuka solos. New adaptations of old songs are too modern to dance Oryantal. Therefore, most dancers dance to Arabic music – but cannot interpret it well- and dance to darbuka solos. Çiftetelli and Roman being the core traditions are taken to be too old fashioned.
It is impossible to understand the dynamics of belly dance in the Middle East and outside the Middle East without understanding Orientalism, a term coined by Edward Said. “He used the term to describe a pervasive Western tradition, both academic and artistic, of prejudiced outsider interpretations of the East, shaped by the attitudes of European imperialism in the 18th and 19th centuries.”(Wikipedia, Orientalism) The French term danse du ventre meaning belly dance was coined in this colonial time when the Europeans first discovered this dance tradition. Thus, the European views of bellydance is unescapably affected by Orientalism. Even today, the spirituality, the goddess, the sexuality, the ritual, the life style references made to belly dance come from the very same orientalist attitude toward the East, othering and exotizing its traditions and chracateristics. Orientalism is subtly so strong that the Easterners themselves are very well affected by it.
What I can say here is, Oryantal Dans is an ethnic dance style, a traditional entertainment belonging to the Middle East. Culturally, since it is a traditional entertainment form, it is not perceived as an art form, however, if the opportunities allow it to be performed as an art form, then it is an art form. I definately see it as an art form, while at the same time I accept what sort of handicaps there are to make it perceieved so. The very reason why I am passionately in love with this dance style is its incredibly complex background and structure. It includes history, philosophy, politics intertwined in one another. It offers a large range of sub-styles under one umbrella, from Arabic Saidi, to Turkish Roman, from emotional melodies, to up-beat drum solos. Musicality is very important. It is not too strict, it allows you to be free and to express yourself." ~ Özlem Idilsu - 2011
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