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“Dans Oryantal” in Turkey

“Dans Oryantal” in Turkey

by Eva Cernik

I have traveled to Turkey several times in search of the best example of Oriental Dance there. I have found that there are three categories of dancers:

I. First, there are the dancers you are most likely to see if you go there uninformed. There are many, and they work at some of the mid- to low-budget tourist night clubs like Gar Music Hall near Yenikapi Train Station, Mavi Kiosk or Çekil Kasino in Laleli. Most of them are beautiful young women who strut about the stage on their high heels, stopping occasionally to undulate and play their zills. If you are travelling on a very low budget, try to at least witness one of these shows. Often there is also a folkloric group which is very likely to be the same group you would see at a more expensive night club. They are very fun and exciting. Who knows, you may even be lucky and see an Oriental Dancer who doesn’t really belong there. One such dancer is Gölgem. She is not really a strutting starlet, but each time I see her, I keep hoping she’ll take some serious lessons. Nilufer Öz is another dancer with potential. She took some classes with Nesrin Topkapi, but apparently did not have the patience to continue.

II. The next category are the Gypsy dancers. The Gypsies occupy places in all the categories, but also have one of their own. They perform with their extended families of musicians and dancers in an area of Istanbul called Sulukule. It is near the Topkapi Gate of the old city walls. Most Turks, when asked, enjoy the thought of an evening in Sulukule. They may dance around merrily at your suggestion…but when you try to pin them down to actually going, they either say that they cannot spend the money, that it is too dangerous, or they try to avoid your asking again. There are several places in Sulukule which are actually large homes, whose salons have been converted to public entertainment. If you are a man, you will be provided with several friendly “hostesses” to sit with you all evening. Her drinks and food go on your tab. If you are a woman, there will be other creative ways of allowing you to let go of your money.

The dancers there, being born into families of musicians, may sing as well as dance with a wonderful sense of rhythm. Their costumes are generally last year’s model, and their repertoire of dance moves in desperate need of a good teacher. Often times, when a Gypsy dancer becomes rather outstanding, she leaves the protective but strictly controlling hold of her family, and seeks independent work out in the city. I have seen one such dancer on post cards and on videos, but to me she is still nameless. I have asked everywhere for the striking, cream complexioned Gypsy with the long, straight black hair, but no one seems to know, and I have yet to find her in person. Perhaps she has retired early. She appears very briefly on the Turkish Belly Dance Video, Volume I, where she does a most dignified Karsilama. All the gestures are there, but incorporated in a most subtle way. It makes one wonder whether some Gypsy blood had not secretly mingled into a royal line to produce this most delicate, thorny rose. If anyone sees her performing, please do tell me where and how.

III. The third category is of the most trained dancers. They take their art seriously and for the sake of the dance itself. Indeed, some may have marginal motives, but most stand out clearly as pure artists.

One such dancer is Burçin Orhon (See last issue of Habibi, Vol. 12, No. 2, “Comparison of Turkish and American Oriental Dance). I have seen her perform at Maxim’s (Caddebostan), at Taylan in Kültür Park in Bursa, and Orient House near the Grand Bazaar. She is a very clean-cut, educated woman. She is somewhat tall and leggy, often with short hair. From my visit with her at the seamstress, I could tell how picky she is about construction of her costumes. She had them rip out the flatwork done on the whole bodice of the costume, because the pattern was not as she specified. Indeed her costumes are very unusual and spectacular. She has been seen in anything from the skimpy, shredded skirts, to midi tutus befitting of Swan Lake. She has worn polka-dotted, diagonal-ruffled, Latin-style dresses, as well as “Hollywood Geenie” outfits, all tastefully done to match her dancing. She is trained in Classical Ballet and Jazz, and her dancing is a conglomerate of Oriental, Jazz and Flamenco. Depending on the context of her performance, she will dance more in one style or another. She is a phenomenon unto herself, extremely rebellious, and the club owners do not know what to do with her.

Sibel Can

Another great dancer is Tülay Karaca (pronounced Káraja). In her younger years, her full page photo would often cover the front of newspapers and magazines. She was most definitely a star. She appears to be of part German heritage with naturally blonde hair, and pretty tall for Turkish blood. Her face is beautiful, though often serious with a mature woman’s expression. She never wears that naive “What’s happening to me?!” look that many of the other dancers wear, and only sometimes cracks a smile. Her dancing shows ballroom training, with high kicks and spins, and with dignified arm postions. She does some veil work, but nothing very dreamy. Her isolations of rib cage and hips are exceptional, especially during drum solos when she often commands the scene with her zills, as the band stops entirely. Her dance is filled with dramatic changes of level, drops, and head tosses. She does an interesting flutter with her pelvis in a forward and back motion, but very small and vibrant. Tülay took a short break in early ’92 to have a baby, and is now back to work. I have seen her at Galata Tower night club, at Grand Kasino in Bebek, and Anatolia near Taksim, where her “budding” black-haired niece, Zinnür Karaca also performed on the same night. Zinnür’s style definitely emulates Tülay’s, though with that wildness of youth.

Sibel Paris (sometimes Baris) is one of the young dancers of Istanbul. She is petite and pretty, and really plays up her innocent looks. She is very flexible and acrobatic, doing splits while bringing her back foot to meet her head, full back bends without the support of her arms, and undulations that would put a snake to shame. All her hip work is very exaggerated and she is full of energy. I have only seen her at Maxim’s (Caddebostan) and on video.

Sibel Paris is not to be confused with Sibel Can (pronounced Jan), who retired from performing as a dancer, and is now well-known as a singer. Look for Sibel Can’s name in the newspaper ads; she is usually the headliner. At the last show I saw her do before she stopped dancing, she changed her gown three times, each one surely worth over $1,000. Her last gown had a large cut-out in back, showing her hips. Her band featured the drummer as she did a great drum solo. Those of us who have seen her dance become elated at the memory of her dancing.

Another dancer who does a fine show is the tall and lithe Gizem. She was once a student of Nesrin Topkapi, and often performs in Ankara.

Birgül Beroy

Birgül Beroy, a beautiful, very tanned, muscular woman with almost African bronze hair, reminds me of Brazillian dancers I’ve seen. Throughout her dance, you find your attention continually drawn to her rib cage movements, though her whole body has much to say. She does deep back bends, controlling the collapse to the floor, undulating her rib cage and vigorously playing her zills the whole time. Her arms indicate her lack of formal training. I have seen her at Orient House, which is almost solely frequented by tourists, and she was in top form humoring the crowd.

Firuze Sultan does not seem to be performing much, so she may be hard to find. She looks very much like the long-haired Gypsy I am trying to find, but her impish and playful way does not match the serious look of the Gypsy. During spins and floor work, Firuze seems nearly out of control. It could be due to her lack of classical training, or simply her wild personality.

Another name to look for is Seher Seniz. It is possible that she may be retired now, but she still may be seen around Istanbul.

Sama Yildiz is also semi-retired. I last saw her in the Summer of ’92 at Anatolia Club. She does “old-style” with much more elaborate hip work than the younger dancers do, and lots more floor work. I saw her do a very slow “Turkish drop” as she vibrated her pelvis the whole way down to the floor.

If you go to Cappadocia, ask for Canan (Janan). She is an older dancer, also playful with the tourists, and dances with a cane which she balances on her bosom. She can be found making the rounds to various discos, and dances to taped music.

Prenses Bânu

There are several Turkish dancers who enjoy a glorious past. Prenses Bânu appears on post cards all over the place (one of the few dancers whose name is mentioned on the back of the card, instead of just “dansöz”). She definitely had an Egyptian influence, as she worked in Cairo for a while. Her costumes were mostly Egyptian, occasionally with a Turkish innovation, like keeping the ornament on the bra and doing away with the background. Her dance was earthbound and very much in the hips. She can still be seen on some videos.

Nesrin Topkapi was a beautiful and much-loved dancer who retired in the late ‘80’s, but continues by teaching in her rather well set-up studio in Etiler, north of Istanbul. She speaks good English and her teaching is very careful and thoroughly thought out, as her dancing must have been. Judging by what she charges for lessons, she must have been a highly paid dancer.

Zaki Erdogan, also now a teacher, spent most of his years singing and dancing in Lebanon, Cairo, Spain, and just about everywhere. He worked in a trio callled “The Erdogans.” It was composed of Zaki, his Spanish companion Juan José, who he converted from Flamenco, and a Spanish dancer named Victoria. After she left the trio to be married, he employed various female dancers, including myself. He is difficult to catch in Turkey since he spends much time in Spain. It helps to speak Spanish with him, since it is better than his English. Zaki is very Turkish, and like Burçin, very rebellious. Although he wants Turkish Oryantal to be very choreographed and balletic, he also says that he wants it to be like “the old way.” By “old way,” I think he means just good dancing, with lots of rehearsals, and no strutting around!

Eva Çernik has taught and performed Oriental dance throughout the U.S. and abroad for the past twenty-six years. Her Turkish dance style was influenced by her first teacher, Anahid Soufian of New York. In 1979, Eva began traveling to the Middle East to learn dance at its source. She created Dreaming about Egypt Tours in 1984 and Delightful Turkish Tours in 1992, which she continues to lead. On many of her trips to Turkey she has researched and video-taped the dance of the Rom. In 1997 Eva won the IAMEED “Innovative Dancer” award. www.evadancer.com

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