Turkish Holiday Delights

Turkish Holiday Delights

By Christine Hall

In trying to decide on a country for a holiday destination, we chose Turkey because of the prevalence of Oriental dance there. We decided on the cheapest possible arrangements for two weeks in Turkey, combining belly dancing with relaxing, sunbathing and sightseeing. We traveled at the end of April, before the tourist season began, and found the sun hot enough for sunbathing, and the water just warm enough for a quick swim. We stayed at the Pansiyon Meltem in Turgutreis, a lovely seaside spot, 1/2 hour by minibus from Bodrum. The price of 175 English pounds per person for two weeks included the flight from Gatwick, England to Izmir, Turkey, bus transfer, accommodation in twin rooms and Turkish breakfast (with tomatoes and black olives). Eating out in Turkey is cheap — a three course meal with wine for around $7. Restaurant managers spoiled us because we were out of season: a free bottle of wine in one restaurant, a free dessert in another, a free coffee grounding fortune telling in another — just to keep us there a little longer to make the restaurant look less empty.


Christine Hall

Standards and Styles in Turkish Dance

On our second day, we visited a beautiful restaurant in Bodrum which had a belly dancer every night. She was young and pretty, but not very good. Turkish people left the restaurant while she was performing! All she did was disco steps, with the occasional hip lift or camel walk, sitting on men’s laps and sucking her finger in a way which I can only describe as obscene. The men in the audience were embarrassed, the women annoyed.

In general, the dance standards are not very high in Turkish tourist resorts. I met professional dancers who are earning a fortune (by Turkish standards) who have fewer skills than my students after half a year at the adult education center. But they certainly display a lot of self confidence!

There are a few very good dancers, but they appear only when they are offered top rates — i.e., on nights when all seats in the restaurant are pre-booked. The most likely time to see an excellent dancer is during the main tourist season. On the other hand, during July and August every restaurant puts on a Turkish night, and they dress up even their chambermaids and cleaners to pass them as belly dancers to meet the demand!

When I asked Turks who was the best belly dancer in Turkey, they all said it was Erkan Serge — a man! — who dances at the Halikarnas. He was not in Bodrum at the time of my visit, but fans told me that “he moves all his limbs like snakes” and “when there are woman dancers and Erkan comes, all they can do is stop and watch him in amazement.” His costume was described as “similar to a woman’s.”

Turkish belly dance styles vary greatly from region to region. Large hip circles and ribcage slides are popular. I’ve also seen some camel walks, tummy rolls, and backbends. The most frequently used movement is the hip lift, which is executed at a fast pace, with the hand close to the body, just above the hip. The neck slide is a very important movement, but they don’t fold their hands above the head the Indian way. Instead, they hold one hand above and one hand below the head, both with the palms turned downward.

The style I learned from my Turkish teachers ten years ago, where the body seems to have no breakable bones at all, and every limb seems liquid, has almost disappeared and has given way to rapid tummy and hip movements. The Turkish audiences for which I danced appeared never to have seen a vertical hip eight before, but they clearly liked it.

Turkish Costuming

Modern Turkish belly dance costumes are VERY revealing — you can see that they are not wearing any underpants! There is just one colour per costume, but in different shades. Bra and belt are often asymmetrical, with zigzag shaped hems, and covered in sequins, usually in a pattern of leaves. Very long strings of tiny beads are attached to the belt and sometimes to the bra.

No skirts are worn — instead, a few strips of transparent material, often with a zigzag cut, are attached at the front and the back of the belt. Long earrings are a must, and so are gold or silver coloured pumps with super high heels.

The veil is usually short, and appears to play a less important role than in Egypt. Some dancers use feather boas instead! The most important requisite is a set of zills: most dancers indicate that they are ready to begin the show by playing the zills behind the curtain, and they keep playing them throughout their performance!

Male folk dancers wear black trousers, long-sleeved shirts, woven vertically-striped, long waistcoats, and woven pillbox hats. Women folk dancers wear long skirts, socks, long-sleeved blouses and waistcoats, each item in a different colour, pattern and style. They also wear either several headscarves in different colours on top of each other (making sure that the elaborate hems of them all are visible), or a pillbox hat covered with a scarf.

Shopping in Turkey

Zills are a good buy in Turkey, and are of good quality. Headscarves with hand-made, sequinned hems, and headbands with coins come in various colours and are also inexpensive, as are tapes with belly dance music (ask for ciftetelli). I’ve also seen lovely pillbox hats in various patterns and shapes, and woven waistcoats for folk dancing. Everything is cheapest in the bazaars, which are held weekly in most towns. I have seen very few veils, and the ones I saw were much too small and stiff to be of any use.

The best place to buy costumes in Bodrum is Garden Boutique near the Zirzat Bank. It is worth giving them a ring before you go, because they do not always have costumes in stock (Tel 65537). The average price is around $350 for an elaborate, typically Turkish costume, with lots of thin strings of beads, sequinned bra and belt, beautifully made. They also have trousers (cotton/silk mix), which feel lovely on the skin.

Bora Bazaar, also in Bodrum, is cheaper, but the belly dance costumes are simpler in style. Sequinned bra, transparent skirt and sequinned belt together cost around $150. They also have a set of baggy trousers, waistcoat, and pillbox head, in any possible size and colour, gold embroidered, for $50. These would be suitable for women, men or children alike.

Christine Hall is an award-winning journalist currently working for V.S.O. on an English language newspaper in Northern China. She has taught belly dancing at several colleges in South East England, and in this article explores the belly dancing culture on the southwest coast of Turkey. While on holiday there, her spontaneous dancer’s response to the Turkish music and dance often led to lucrative offers of work in local restaurants (which she regretfully declined). She danced at the Bell of Turgutreis (in exchange for meals or a bottle of wine), but local police cut short her costumed appearances which required a work permit. Undaunted, Ms. Hall discovered another way to parlay her dance background into a memorably romantic experience. She entertained island-hopping tourists on cruise ships with one-hour lecture demonstrations in exchange for day cruises to unspoiled beaches on beautiful islands off the Turkish coast.

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