Does Dancing to Tarkan’s Music = Turkish Oryantal Style?

Turkish Pop Singer Tarkan

  The Tarkan Enigma: He’s created a compendium of very catchy, very danceable pop Turkish songs since the 1990s. He dances, he plays zills, and many bellydancers are drawn to his music. Tarkan can be controversial, and his songs can be difficult to dance to without understanding the lyrics and the meaning behind his songs. A bouncy-happy sounding song does not always mean the lyrics are bouncy-happy; care must be taken not to be ‘that dancer’ who just likes to dance to the song without regard to the meaning and intent of the lyrics.

In Other Words: Turkish Oryantal dance is more than playing Turkish pop music and dancing however you want to it. For example, if all your dance training was in Fusion Bellydance, but you found an Egyptian classical song you really loved, would dancing your fusion moves to it make you an Egyptian-style bellydancer? Sounds elementary, but it wouldn’t – unfortunately I see too many dancers still making this basic mistake when it comes to dancing Turkish Oryantal.

What Makes Turkish Oryantal Different?

Cengi Ottoman Court Dancer

Turkish Oryantal Has Unique Stylings That Make It Turkish: Turkish Oryantal dance has been shaped over the centuries from the Ciftetelli dances of the Ottoman Courts, the unique dancing of the Turkish Romani, and cross-pollination of moves from the countries of the former Ottoman Empire. The Ottoman Empire lasted for over 600 years, and I’ve met many Egyptian-style bellydancers who are unaware that Egypt was ruled by the Ottoman Turks for about 350 of those years. As art forms are ever-evolving, it would be difficult to dismiss any cross-pollination of dances and music between the Turkish and Egyptian dancers during that timeframe.

I Was Taught Moves With the Word ‘Turkish’ in the Name, Aren’t Those Turkish Dance Moves? Great Question! Perhaps some day, we’ll have a universal bellydance move dictionary but we don’t have one yet. I was also taught moves with the word ‘Turkish’ in it, and it turns out these are not Turkish Oryantal moves at all. One move, taught when I was first learning dance, is called ‘Turkish Backwalk’; the other is called ‘Turkish’ which I came across when I was learning ATS dance. Since 2013 when I began my yearly trips in 2013 to Istanbul (virtual lessons since COVID-19), I’ve asked every Turkish Oryantal dancer and instructor I’ve met about these moves; they’ve never seen them. “Interesting moves”, they say, “but why are they called Turkish?”

Where Can I Get More Information?

To Learn or Watch Turkish Oryantal Stylings: One positive thing to come out of COVID-19 is there are many Turkish Oryantal dance instructors now online. Amina Beres in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area, Gigi Dilsah in Istanbul, Serkan Tutar in Belgium to name a few. To watch classic Turkish Oryantal on YouTube, look for the Grand Dames Nesrin Topkapi, Sema Yildiz, and Tulay Karaca. For more modern Turkish Oryantal, look for Zinnur Karaca, Serap Su, Gulnihal Saka, Tuba Saka, and Gigi Dilsah. Interested in a unique/individualized interpretation of Turkish Oryantal? Look for Asena; for Edgy/Bellymetal, look for Ozlem Ildisu. You will find all these modern dancers, as well as instructors Amina Beres, Gigi Dilsah, and Serkan Tutar in the Rakkas Istanbul Gala Show videos on YouTube.

You Didn’t Mention Didem! No intention to slight Didem, she’s very nice and is most fun to dance on stage with! She is the Turkish dancer most recognizable to us in the West, and since we are familiar with her I didn’t include her in this post – perhaps a future post will be all about her and her dance journey.

To Recap

Turkish Oryantal dance is much more than dancing to Tarkan’s pop songs. There are specific moves from Ottoman and Romani cultures which have shaped the style over the centuries. Seek out the instructors listed and watch the performers listed to learn the unique moves and to get a flavor for all the differences that make Turkish Oryantal dance special.

Questions? Comments?

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