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PHOTO CREDIT: Above photo by John Rickman Photography, San Jose, California.

Scenes From Turkey:

Oriental Dance at
Orient House, Istanbul

by Shira


I spent July 10-22, 2000 in Turkey through Morocco's "Tantalizing Turkey" tour. Since this tour was organized by a dancer for dancers, the itinerary incorporated several evening shows featuring folk dance and Oriental dance. ("Oriyantal dansi" is the Turkish-language name for belly dance, so the correct translation into English would be "Oriental dance".) This article offers pictures and commentary on what we saw.

The shows we saw in Turkey were done specifically for the tourist audience. We did not see any performances that were primarily intended for local people. Also, nearly all the shows we saw were specifically chosen by our tour leader, Morocco, based on which shows she knew to be good from her previous visits to Turkey. Therefore, all my comments about what I saw, and the pictures that I've posted, are based on a subset of the Turkish dance scene: the best of the shows available to tourists at a specific point in time. Please don't conclude that my comments are representative of all Oriental dance in Turkey, because they're not.

The evening of July 11, 2000, we went to Orient House, a dinner club in Istanbul that caters to upscale tourists. Most of the tables (including ours) were set up with very large parties - tour groups. The club was clearly focused entirely on the tourism business. There was a corner set up for tourists to have their pictures taken wearing "native" costumes that could be borrowed for the purpose.

The structure of the show at Orient House went like this: there was a very, very annoying Master of Ceremonies who introduced each act. Components of the show consisted of these elements:

  • Songs sung by the annoying emcee along with feeble attempts at humor
  • Folk dances performed in folkloric costume by large ensembles
  • Oriental dance solos performed by the dancers pictured on this page.
  • A "dance contest" in which audience members were brought to the stage to strut their stuff.

Click on any photo to see the picture in more detail. All photos by Shira. Copyright 2000. In other words, please don't steal them and put them on your own web site!



Dancer #1: Hale

Hale Performing at Orient House

Hale was the first Oriental dancer to appear in the evening show at Orient House in Istanbul on July 11, 2000. She used entirely Arabic music for her show.

The use of evening gowns like this is new in Turkey — in the past, dancers used the familiar bra / belt / skirt combinations.

Hale Performing at Orient House
Hale Dancing at Orient House

In the 1980's and 1990's, Egyptian dancers began to use beautiful evening gowns like this, and it is reasonable to assume that this dancer may have been inspired by the costumes used in Egypt.

After she finished dancing, Hale went to every table in the restaurant accompanied by a photographer and offered to have her picture taken with the guests. For a fee, of course - yet another attempt to soak money out of the tourists.

Hale Dancing at Orient House



Dancer #2: Yildiz

Yildiz Dancing at Orient House

Between the performance by Hale and the one by this dancer there was some singing and joke-telling by the annoying master of ceremonies and a folk dance segment.

The second Oriental-style dancer to appear in this show was Yildiz. Like Hale, she used entirely Egyptian music for her show, and wore an Egyptian style costume, although its cutouts were probably somewhat more daring than those on most Egyptian costumes of the time.

Yildiz Dancing at Orient House
Yildiz Dancing at Orient House

I was fascinated by this beautiful costume. I particularly liked the asymmetric effect of having a sleeve on one side and just a strap on the other.
Even though the master of ceremonies in the show was dreadful, I enjoyed both the folk dance group and the Oriental soloists very much. Orient House clearly hired top-quality talent for the dance performances.


Yildiz Dancing at Orient House

Some highlights of what I observed in the shows we saw:

  • Music Chosen. Nearly all the dancers used Egyptian music for their performances. Hardly anybody used Turkish music. I found this disappointing, since I like Turkish music very much.
  • Costuming. Based on what I've heard from other people who visited Turkey in the past, I expected the costumes to be very, very skimpy. Although there were indeed a few skimpy ones, the majority were quite tasteful, and would have been acceptable in a typical U.S. family-oriented restaurant. Some of the costumes did have some daring cutouts, but I felt they were artfully done.
  • Floor Work. It was relatively common to see dancers get down on their knees and do backbends. However, for the most part they would then get right back up. I didn't see any extensive sets of floor work that lasted for any period of time with varied moves.
  • Veils. Many dancers copied the Egyptian custom of entering holding a veil behind them, but didn't seem to know what to do with it once they got on stage.
  • Dancer Quality. I really didn't see any dancers that I would consider to be star quality. In general, I would characterize the dancers we saw as being somewhat comparable to restaurant dancers in the U.S. — some were quite good, but many were merely adequate.



Dancer #3: Birgul

The third dancer and headliner to appear in the show at Orient House the evening of July 11, 2000, was Birgul.

This style of candelabrum is definitely not a Turkish custom. It is actually an Egyptian innovation dating from around 1910-1920. At that time, in a wedding performance Shafiyya el Koptiyya was the first to popularize balancing such a 3-tiered candelabrum, and it quickly became a popular part of Egyptian wedding tradition.

Birgul used Egyptian music for her performance.

Note the amazing high heels on her shoes in the photos below, particularly the one showing her from behind! It's a tribute to her dance skill that she was able to dance gracefully despite wearing such intensely high heels.

Birgul Dancing with a Shamadan
Birgul Dancing at Orient House Birgul structured her show to focus on entertaining the audience, including pithy doses of humor and playful audience interaction. Her show wasn't so much about "dance" as it was about ensuring her audience had fun.
Birgul Dancing at Orient House

In addition to the touristy pandering by the emcee and the wonderful folk dancers and Oriental dancers, one other element of the show consisted of a young woman parading on stage like a model on a runway showing off a "native costume". She had won some sort of Miss Turkey or other beauty queen award. Her strutting looked just plain silly.



Related Articles

These photo galleries contain photographs taken by Shira in July, 2000.

Oriental Dance

Other Images



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