Let’s explore what makes the Turkish style of belly dance unique and exciting. Historically, Turkish belly dancing has existed since the 7th century. What we call Oriental Dance officially began in the 1920s throughout the Middle East. At that time in Turkey, women were liberated in many aspects of everyday life. Dancers in particular enjoyed a freedom they never had before, finding more opportunity to aggressively display their feminine beauty and emphasize sexual appeal both in the sensuality of their movements and by wearing costumes that emphasized the figure.
Turkish dance routines moved from fast to slow to fast again. Dancers entered to a happy upbeat song, playing zils and wearing a veil that was tantalizingly draped over their costumes. The second song usually was to the slow chiftetelli rhythm, incorporating veilwork and/or floorwork which pushed the limits of flexibility into more gymnastic poses. The routine included at least one song to the kashlimar rhythm which is a fast, complicated 9/8 that keeps the dancer bounding with energy and liveliness. The demands on speed and agility can explain why Turkish dance routines are shorter than Egyptian-style routines, and also why Turkish dancers tend to be younger than dancers in Egypt and Lebanon. It was the Turkish dancers who first moved off the stage and into the audience to collect tips and to coax audience members to participate and dance along.
I found an out-of-print book entitled “The Belly Dancer in You” written by retired Turkish dancer Ozel Turkbas. Ozel encourages the dancer to maintain her self-respect and treats the dance as something beautiful and spiritual. Ozel claims that Turkish dancers were responsible for introducing the belly moves to belly dance. She admits that the dance has been exploited by those who “could show—for a good price—women dancing in a manner forbidden to the God-fearing.” This exploitation occurs everywhere in the Middle East, including Turkey, where striptease and belly dance were often intermingled. Ozel admitted that sometimes the only way to become famous was for the dancer to pose practically nude or to be involved in some sort of public scandal.
There was time when Turkish style costume were considered scandalously more sexual than the Egyptian style costume. However, the contemporary costume worn in Cairo today unfortunately consists of a skimpy outfit that reveals far too much skin, a skirt that is shear or of ultra mini length, and a bra that over emphasizes already ample breasts. Sadly, any artistry in the performance is overshadowed by the sexuality of how the movements look when performed in such costuming.
Who are the famous and infamous Turkish belly dancers that were respected, revered and viewed as artists?
As in all Middle Eastern areas today, Turkish belly dancers struggle against the morals of a Moslem country. Following the many artists of the past hundred years, only the loveliest, most agile, and most gifted dancers can successfully follow their lead. Has the magic of Turkish style belly dance bewitched you yet?
Do you love to learn about the history of Middle Eastern dance? Do you dream of making more of your love of belly dance? Then please explore www. SakkaraDance .com and let me know if you want to set up a time to talk about how this program can be tailored to your specific needs!
St. Patrick’s Day is a day of four-leaf clovers, pots of gold, and sparkling luck. Want to know the secret to acquiring more LUCK to make your dance success soar?
Charisma on the stage is critical for success. One way to boost your appeal to the audience is to make sure you make eye contact with them. Another way is to encourage their involvement in your performance by using certain arm movements that beckon the audience in subtle or bold ways. Here are some suggested arm movements that you should use in your dance shows. Remember, do them only once each show.
Have you ever told someone that you love Middle Eastern dance and they recoiled with a statement like “Why would you ever want to do that?!” Most people do not understand how our dance form can transform you into your most fabulous, feminine self. It’s something you must experience before you can believe.
Here are 10 solid reasons why you will be a happier, healthier person if you belly dance:
Holiday shows at Greek/Middle Eastern restaurants or at home parties means close contact with your audience. No pressure but, YOU were hired to be the life of the party. You’ve got to be friendly and entertaining while commanding their respect. Maintaining a professional distance from your audience can be tricky, especially when they want to give you a tip. You never know who in the audience is uninhibited enough to take things too far. Getting paid to entertain is one thing, but no tip is worth an unwanted grope.
If you dance well and provide an exciting show, the audience will gladly tip you. In fact, it’s also a big part of their fun. Here are my Top Ten Tips to Taking Tasteful Tips:
My suggestions are meant to guide and assist. Feel free anytime to write to me your questions or concerns. I encourage you to dance from the heart! It’s all the magic you’ll ever need to succeed.
If there’s something strange in your neighborhood, who you gonna call?
Here are 8 great modern day myths about oriental dance that need to be blasted away by hardcore reality. I am sure you have heard of some of these myths, if not all of them. Not for the faint of heart, these myth busters are bold and direct. The intention is for dancers, both new and old, to keep their heads out of the sand dunes and see things as they really are.
I ain’t afraid of no myth!
To further your dance ambitions, please visit www.SakkaraDance.com
I challenge you this month to put the “YOU” into Unique. So many dancers think they have to copy what they see others do, how they dress, how they move. While it is important to witness the trends in fashion and movement, if you ever want to stand out as a Middle Eastern dancer, you need to dare to be authentic.
“Authentic” is defined in the dictionary as “genuine, real, not false or copied”. Authenticity comes from living the motto “what you see is what you get”. It allows you to develop into a unique artist and a valuable individual. It might not always be easy, but it is definitely rewarding. From how you move on the stage to how you carry yourself behind the scenes, authenticity transforms you and empowers you. It is a series of conscious choices where you take charge of the direction in which you are headed.
Take a moment to think about how you see yourself right now and notice if there is anything you wish to improve or change:
Maybe these guidelines seem like lofty ideas, so I will offer you some examples from my own personal journey that prove that they work.
You are the sum of all of your experiences. Make your journey exciting. Promise to value your unique self. Dance through your life in such a way that when you look back on your journey, you will feel no regrets. Strive to be fearlessly authentic!
When you want to develop your own dance persona, one of the greatest tools you can utilize is to choose an inspiring role model. You’ve got to take a close look around within the realm of belly dance and not be afraid to select the ‘stars’ that encompass all the things you’d like – from costuming to dance style, from charisma to business savvy. Consider any Middle Eastern artist anywhere in the world and also from any era, past and present. While personal experience is the best teacher, the second best is to learn from and copy those who have already acquired the look and success that you want. Select your role model(s) carefully. Have a clear picture of what you want from your dance. I hunted for role models back in the 1980s. At that time in Egypt, there was a famous dancer who was extremely impressive. Her name was Suhair Zaki.
Suhair was born in 1944 and still lives today in Cairo, Egypt. She no longer performs, having retired in the 1990s at the height of a very successful career. I was fortunate to see her dance many times in Cairo, from the stages of smokey nightclubs to extravagant wedding receptions in grand hotel ballrooms. She is my favorite Egyptian dancer because she is not only an outstanding artist, she conducted herself 100% as a lady.
Suhair’s dance style was along the lines of Tahia Karioka. She did not rely on props to dazzle her audience, nor did she need a lot of space on the stage. She performed as a soloist with no background singer, dancers or troupe, as did some other well-known performers. Her only backdrop was her excellent orchestra. Music was specially composed for Suhair every six months, as were her costumes. One of the most famous costume designers, Madam Abla, created the stunning baladi dresses (more like cocktail dresses than folkloric dress) as well as the heavily fringed and beaded oriental outfits, complete with mesh over the midriff. They set the fashion trend for belly dancers around the globe.
Suhair’s shows were a class act. Her group of musicians numbered between 15 and 30, and they connected with Suhair perfectly. Together they made magic happen on the stage. Suhair was the first oriental dancer to perform to music of Om Koulthoum, one of the highest revered singers in the history of Arabic music. It was a risk to do so, at first, because at the time Suhair was still young and not well known. But Om Koulthoum herself claimed that Suhair interpreted the music beautifully.
Many dancers in Cairo have choreographers that assist in the creation of their show. Suhair never did this. She claims that she always danced from her own inspiration and feeling, and that is what moved her body. She was quoted as saying that she needs the dance as anyone needs air to breathe. She believes that dance is art and must always be honored and respected. In that, she honored and respected herself as a dancer and as a woman. She did not compromise her integrity, not even when the trends dictated a change to more risqué costuming and flashier variety-show performances. She stated that on stage she wanted to feel like a princess.
Suhair danced with passionate emotional expression and amazingly precise hipwork. Her movements were feminine, graceful and rather reserved (less is more!). There were no high kicks, incessant spinning, or overly skimpy costuming. Instead, she used her hips, back and abs to create intricate contractions.
Today you can find online films of her performances. You will encounter music that was written for her, and many others that used her name to indicate the classical oriental style of the music, not that she was the producer. There are tons of photos of her in her dazzling costumes.
Suhair Zaki’s standards were high, and her name epitomizes the elegance and grace of oriental dance. If you choose Suhair as one of your role models, you will join the movement to promote and preserve the Art of Middle Eastern dance.
Have you ever taken a belly dance class with an instructor who’s really tough? I mean, the kind of teacher who takes belly dance seriously, has high standards, and kicks your butt? Did you rise to the challenge or walk away shaking your head, saying “no way, that class was too hard” or “that teacher was mean”?
It seems these days that the concept of “tough love” is considered “old school” and is commonly avoided more than embraced. Teachers in grammar schools and high schools are told to be ‘politically correct’ and never touch a student in any manner, not even to hug. Their hands are tied when it comes to a student who is out of line and could use a bit of discipline to get back on track. I remember being deathly afraid of my fifth-grade teacher, an old lady with a loud, gruff voice. The fear was so great, I worked extra hard to please her… and you know what? I went from being a mediocre student to being “teacher’s pet” with all A’s. That tough woman did me a favor in the long run. My confidence soared and I remained a straight-A student all the way through college.
And then there was the ballet master I trained with for many years. The world-famous program was super traditional. As a student, I wore a sky blue leotard to indicate my skill level, pulled my hair up in a bun with no bangs allowed, was silent when the instructor entered the room, could never lean on the barre, and was given only one shot at watching the combination demonstrated before having to repeat it. The stern-faced teacher then walked around the room with a yardstick that occasionally tapped at a limb to straighten the form of the leg. Mental focus and physical endurance was key to success. The outcome was a slow progression towards a beautifully trained classical ballerina.
A tough-love teacher presents a challenge to you. Either the challenge is a physical one where you know you will be expected to work hard, pay attention and practice, or the challenge is a mental one where your own ego can get in the way of you choosing to stay and work with that person. Tough-love teachers direct your progress and keep your evolution in check. They offer positive reinforcement supplemented with a strong discipline. Ask anyone in football, track, ice skating, piano, voice lessons, martial arts, flamenco, gymnastics, or any other kind of movement or artistic coaching. Excellent training works on all levels, including physical, mental, emotional and spiritual. The tough coach demands a level of respect between all the individuals within the classroom in order for the class to be focused and effective, and also so that the topic is learned and practiced safely and successfully. While growth of individual ability is the primary goal, at the same time, this type of instructor develops your character, which will ultimately affect your entire life.
I was fortunate to study intensely with master artists Ibrahim “Bobby” Farrah and Mahmoud Reda. Both men were creative, energetic, passionate, and quite tough. If they didn’t like what you were doing in their class, they were not afraid to get right in your face and make a blunt suggestion about what to fix, or they might just ask you to leave. There were times when I witnessed an inflated ego get totally knocked down so far that the dancer left the room crying. At times like these, the training also developed your sense of humility. No one ever dared to disrespect the instructor by telling him he was out of line. If you didn’t like the directness of the “old school” style, you just didn’t take class anymore, and in the long run, it was your greatest loss.
When you decide to study with a person who is considered an oriental dance artist or master, then you are in for a wonderful journey full of obstacles and growth. If you don’t want that kind of journey, please find a laid-back class at an informal setting where the goals of the class are more about socializing than serious dance study, and with that, lower your standards of how far you will grow as a performer.
Should you find that rare artist who is also a great teacher, consider yourself blessed, take a deep breath, and trust that the process will condition you to be the best dancer you can be. That coach will offer you the following challenges, and here’s how you need to meet them:
After four decades of teaching belly dance, it’s always been a wonder to me why Middle Eastern dance still struggles with recognition as an art form. I believe that if we are ever to gain that recognition, we need more great dance coaches and dancers who know the value of tough love!
Some of us naturally love to study history, and some of us don’t. When I was in grammar school, it was my least favorite class, mostly because of the way it was presented. It was memorizing a name, a place and a date (ie, John Doe discovered something in a specific year). Boring! I just could not see the value of the dry material.
Of course, as I got older and literally lived history and even created some of it within our beloved world of belly dance, my opinion changed. The subject of oriental dance is a passion of mine (in case you couldn’t tell! LOL). I used to ask my teachers, my mentors, and the musicians I worked with all kinds of questions about the dance, the culture, the music, etc. I collected whatever books I could find on the topic of belly dance…and for a long time, they were books that only tried to teach movements, not offering much about the history. When the internet arrived, I was one of the first dancers to publish online articles about oriental dance. Since then, the internet has exponentially evolved into a vast source of information.
After 40+ years of being involved in oriental dance, I can look back on the decades with hindsight. That timeline shows me how I came to be a successful artist. Without studying our dance history, past and present, I could never have earned a full-time living from dance and could never have appreciated the value of our dance as an art form.
When you explore how our dance came to be, you will learn to appreciate the depth of the culture, its traditions and its evolution. You will see how dance, music, art and fashion are intertwined. They are the ways a culture expresses and communicates FEELING.
Here are some reasons why belly dancers should study Middle Eastern dance history:
Why is emotional expression important?
Anyone can learn to be an excellent technician of Middle Eastern dance. While their movements are beautifully executed, their performance will feel empty to the audience without the ability to emote. Dance is meant to be an emotional experience for both the performer and the audience.
Every audience seeks a performer that shares their passion. Great dancers provoke an emotional response, whether good or bad. What they never want is no response at all. Neutrality means the audience does not care about what they just experienced, and they will leave the show with a feeling of apathy.
The dancer who successfully connects with their audience on an emotional level experiences a wonderful side effect. You are creatively stimulated by the audience’s reactions and then will dance even better. After the show, you will feel an unparalleled ‘high’ that is rewarding and exciting. Once you experience it, you will seek that ‘high’ every time you perform.
Folkloric dances are ‘character’ dances, in which you play a role. For example, take an Alexandrian Melaya dance. In this theme, you play the woman who goes to market in the port city of Alexandria. You are wearing a dress, a scarf on your head, a burka on your face, and are wrapped in a black opaque garment called a melaya. The dance is telling a story, where you go to the market and engage in an innocent flirtation with a sailor. You are dancing in a gently enticing way, being playful, sweet, and rather shy, but trying to flirt at the same time. Playing this role, you must project with your body language and facial expressions. Perfecting a folkloric dance, you will build your skills to express various emotions whenever you dance oriental dance, too.
Below is a photo of me in a Melaya costume. For an example of a Melaya dance, please take a look at this YouTube video clip from my YouTube channel of me in a classroom (not in costume) so that you can see the style of movements and hear an example of the music: https://youtu.be/2uX4LglVCss
Folkloric dances are fun to learn and can easily be adjusted from a solo to a duet or group dance. Middle Eastern folklore and history are invaluable to the belly dancer that wants to be the best dancer she can be! Enjoy your research.
JASMIN JAHAL, Author
I've been dancing since I was 3 and a professional belly dancer for over 40 years. I've learned so much from personal belly dance experience and want to share with you advice, tips, suggestions and more. Anytime you have any questions and need sage advice, please reach out and let me hear from you!