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Turkish Orientale Belly Dance

The Dance that could Melt a Stone

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Oryantal Tansi (Turkish style oriental dance) shares many of the basic dance movements as Egyptian style but with the lively sass and attitude resulting from the strong influences of Turkish and Turkish Roma music and folk dance. More energetic, more athletic and less subtle than Egyptian and certainly more overtly sexual. Floor work is popular.

It is important to understand that the classical Turkish and folk dances performed at the Turkish Ottoman court in the late 19th century were not belly dance, although the court dances were certainly an influence. The belly dance was usually performed in the city by young boy dancers (kocekler). "Among the dances executed by the kocekler was also to be found what the westerners call a belly dance. This dance is hardly favored in Turkey and certainly a dance in the Imperial Serail [Harem] never takes a provocative, lascivious or indecent form which the westerners imagine it to have and which can be seen performed in their own countries by dancers more or less Oriental. The actual belly dance is really a dance of Arabic origin." — Leyla Hammefendi.


"[L]et's look at the Turkish Oriental dance as a family tree. The mother dance is and has always been the Rroma of Turkey and also from Egypt. The father dance is the family of court dances but he was mostly kept behind closed doors. There was, however, an influential maternal aunt who was the dances of the Europeanized theaters of Istanbul. And they existed because of the thrust towards the modernization of Turkey, beginning at the turn of the century."— Artemis Mourat

Lady Mary Wortley Montagu travelled to Turkey with her husband in the early eighteenth century. Unlike many another Occidental traveler, her descriptions of what she saw has been verified by the passage of time. Her powers of observation were keen and her command of her language exact. The court dances described by her were NOT belly dance.

"[Fatima's] fair maids were ranged below the sofa, to the number of twenty, and put me in mind of the pictures of the ancient nymphs. I did not think all nature could have furnished such a scene of beauty. She made them a sign to play and dance. Four of them immediately began to play some soft airs on instruments, between a lute and a guitar, which they accompanied with their voices, while the others danced by turns. . . Nothing could be more artful, or more proper to raise certain ideas. The tunes so soft! the motions so languishing! accompanied with pauses and dying eyes! half-falling back, and then recovering themselves in so artful a manner, that I am very positive, the coldest and most rigid prude upon earth, could not have looked upon them without thinking of something not to be spoke of. I suppose you may have read that the Turks have no music, but what is shocking to the ears; but this account is from those who never heard any but what is played in the streets, and is just as reasonable, as if a foreigner should take his ideas of English music, from the bladder and string, or the marrow-bones and cleavers."

Belly dance in Turkey evolved in the twentieth century among the Roma dancers who were hired to provide entertainment. "Sulukule is a legendary district of Istanbul known for centuries for its famous Romani musicians and dancers. Foreign visitors writing of the exotic dancing reported of "suggestive contortions, a good deal of stomach play and twisting of the body, falling upon the knees with the trunk held back to the extent that the spectators were encouraged to put a coin on their forehead." Expressing passion and joy, this lively dance in a 9/8 rhythm is characterized by playful hand gestures that often mimic events from daily life."—

A few notes from a National Geographic book written forty years ago about European Rom: In Istanbul, the Sulukule colony had long been famous for belly dancing. The women taught professional artists for a few lira a lesson. Gypsies greatly influenced the belly dance, and also the arts of conjuring and the jigging of puppets. The area had a reputation with the police as the place where the honest musicians lived. However, much of Sulukele was torn down by municiple authorities in 1966 because the houses were crumbling.

The Turkish bellydancer is called a rakkassa, meaning 'dancer.'— Keti Sharif.



Turkish has no hip shimmies but lots of pelvic movements and side to side hip twists, not much arm movement, floor work and lots of zill playing.

Stella of New York:

Travel, footwork, and body angles. The dancer is free to travel around the room. More importantly, much of her hip movement is generated with her feet. Her steps, especially in the fast segments, feature elaborate and quick weight shifts, fast plies and hops, and heel-toe combinations. And many of the hip moves start with or accent a hip lift. These steps are drawn from Turkish folk dance. As for the dancer's body position, steps in place may be done with a backward tilt; during travel steps, the upper body is often leaning or bending away from the direction of travel, and small kicks may finish with a small pull into the pelvis that angles the torso slightly forward. Footwork is generally highly patterned and complex, with tempos that are generally quite fast. For instance, a local rising star I know took what she thought of as a standard Turkish show into a Turkish restaurant. After the show, the Turkish owner said to her, Stick with the fast music— less of that slow stuff, please.

Keti Sharif:

Turkish dance movements are higher, ligher and faster than the deep-seated baladi styles from Egypt. The predominant move is the hip lift or tilt that corresponds to the more frequent taks played on the Turkish dumbeck. The drumbeat can be very fast and repetitive, driving a constant hip and foot synchronicity with the music. Zills are played to the faster rhythms... Shimmies, pelvic gyrations and abdominal muscle manipulations often accompany floor work... Until recently, classical Turkish dancers like the real-life princess, Princess Banu, had lifted the dance to the realm of elite artistic expression. During the past century, however, whether it is performed for tourists or enthusiastic locals, Turkish dance has tended increasingly towards the burlesque.

In the past decade or so, Egyptian music has become more popular with Turkish dancers— and when the music changes, so does the tenor of the dance. From Artemis Mouret's article on Turkish Dance,:

[M]any dancers in Turkey are imitating the Egyptian styling and they prefer the Egyptian Oriental dance music and also Arabic Pop music... Dance is driven by music and the Arabic music has a different feeling to it, a different energy... The popularity of the Egyptian styling is also resulting in a lack of finger cymbal playing so some dancers are losing touch with their musicianship. Unfortunately many Non-Turkish dancers... are watching Internet clips of this newer form of Turkish dance and they think that this is what Turkish style has looked like all along.


Eva Cernick, in a 1993 article in Habibi magazine, identified several differences between Egyptian and Turkish Oriental.

  • The most obvious difference is in the costuming. Turkish dancers have nearly done away with the skirts. The belt is worn much higher on the hips than in Egypt, since their quest is to appear to have longer legs. Also, high heels are worn in most city night clubs. The tops are simply bra cups with spaghetti straps and tie in back, kind of like our bikinis.
  • In Egypt, the star dancer has a whole two-hour show, complete with folkloric dancers, many costume changes, her own full orchestra and often a theme to the show which she changes every season. The Turkish dancer... more often dances to the house band. Her shows are approximately twenty minutes long with no extra costume change.
  • Turkish dancers use zills through out the show and sometimes as music solos.
  • Turkish dancers tend to be more athletic than Egyptian dancers: they move about the stage much more actively, and undulations and rib-cage movements are exaggerated. Often high kicks with a turn are ventured, with splits and backbends down to the ground being common.
  • Floor work has always been typically Turkish.
  • Cultural gestures and native folk dances influence the Oriental dance of each country. In Egypt the dancers enjoy Wahda-o-nuss rhythm, while in Turkey they have borrowed 9/8 Karsilama rhythm from the folk dancers. In Egypt, a cane is often used by the oriental dancer, imitating the fighting games of the Saaid; in Turkey, during the Karsilama part of the dance, many hand gestures are used, such as cutting the body in thirds or in half, or pounding with fist on shoulders, hips, or the palm.

Artemis Mourat, writing about Turkish Belly dance in Habibi Magazine:

The Turkish style is less refined than its Egyptian sister. It is less elegant but not less articulate. What it lacks in composure and predictability, it makes up for with spontaneity and passion. Neither style is inferior to the other. Both styles are expressive, playful and sometimes introspective. The Turkish dance is aggressive, passionate and sometimes arrogant or indifferent. The Egyptian style is more refined and elegant. For example, a typical Egyptian step is a 'step, step, glide' and a typical Turkish step is a walking strut. ... Dancers are respected and still employed in their fifties and sixties in Egypt. Unfortunately, in Turkey, a dancer is not likely to be employed past her 30s without rather convincing cosmetic intervention.

Turkish belly dance continues to place increasing emphasis on appearance: Even the very young, very popular Didem recently underwent breast implants.


Artemis Mourat, teaching Turkish Orientale in Louisville in 2006, described the features of a Turkish Oriental show:

  • Turkish Oriental incorporates the Romany styling but it is far more theatrical in nature.
  • Dancers do veil work for an entire song and play zills for a large part of the show;
  • A drum solo is mandatory;
  • One entire song will be floor work;
  • Backbends are frequently included;
  • Dancers will sometimes dance on the table or a chair;
  • Romany gestures are done to medium or slow 9/8 songs;
  • Fast dances include:
    • Turkish karsilama;
    • Turkish Romany 9/8;
    • Ciftetelli;
    • Belady and other 4/4 rhythms.
  • Medium or slow dances include:
    • Slow Romany 9/8s;
    • Ciftetelli;
    • Beledy and other 4/4 songs.

From Jasmin Jahal:

The general format of a Turkish style belly dance routine is five parts: an exciting opening that is quick and usually accompanied by the dancer playing zils, the Turkish term for finger cymbals. (By the way, the Egyptian word for finger cymbals is sagat.) The second part is often a chiftetelli followed by a third song that is also upbeat and lively. The fourth part is usually a fast drum solo, and the conclusion of the set is a happy piece of music, once again incorporating the use of the zils.

Kocek dancer late Nineteenth Century
Kocek dancer late Nineteenth Century.


Rex Gordon, An Interview with Adem Sanli,Southern Dancer Magazine, Nov 1981 issue (Vol 3 #2). Mr Sanli discusses Turkish dance, past and present.

Artemis, a noted American performer, teacher and researcher of Turkish dance, in a brief video explaining and demonstrating Turkish dance.

Abigail Keyes does a Turkish Oryantal number.

Eva Cernik, a long-time exponent of the style, in 2014. The Turkish Oriental starts at about 5:30.

Erhan Ay is an accomplished representative of the Turkish male belly dance tradition.

Layla Hanimefendi, The Imperial Harem of the Sultans, 1994, PEVA Publications, Istanbul Turkey, print. Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, Ketters of the Right Honorable Lady Mary Worley Montagu, 1763, Print and Web.

Keti Sharif, Bellydance, Allan & Unwin, Australia, 2004, Print.

Ruric-Amari teaches and performs Turkish Oriental in the Louisville, Kentucky area.

Marguerite's theatrical folkloric Turkish style.

Nesrin Topkapi, 1980. Age has not withered nor custom staled... this dancer's unique rendition from thirty-five years ago.

Ozgen teaches both Oriental and Romany dancing, Turkish style. As of 2020, he has started to do online seminars.

Princess Banu was the ideal body in the minimum costume. And don''t bother telling her not to do floorwork with her crotch facing the audience...

Turkish dance performance music description.

Joe Parkinson and Ayla Albayrak, Male Belly Dancers make a Comeback in Istanbul, 2015, The Wall Street Journal, Web.

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Last updated May 2020.
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