Turkish Belly Dance - Basics

Turkish Belly Dance - Basics FlagTurkey

This course will give you an overview of the Turkish style of belly dance. We will dance to samples of different songs from popular Turkish artists (like Tarkan), we will learn what makes this style so popular, and we will go over some of the moves that make this style so interesting - and illegal in Egypt.

At the opposite end of the spectrum from Egyptian style belly dance is the Turkish style cabaret. "Anything Goes" seems to be more of the working philosophy. Dancers are often very flamboyant, with large, earthy movements. Leaps and many pelvic movements are very common. The Karshilama is Turkish and is rarely danced in Egypt, where it was outlawed after the Ottoman Turks were ousted. Turkish dancers are often very scantily clad, but that's not a requirement of the style.

Two particular moves are associated with the Turkish style:

a) Turkish backbend: Knee as if you’re a catholic in church, then bend back so you sit between your back-bend legs. You might want to balance a sword or some candles while doing so.

b) Turkish drop. Shira says: “Although this move looks really great, it puts incredible stress on the knees. One time after I performed a Turkish drop, which consists of spinning and dropping abruptly into this position, I had knee pain for the next 2 months.“ Another form of the Turkish drop takes one from a 90-degree backbend to the floor (This move is not recommended for anyone, especially anyone who can't naturally sit on the floor very, very easily between their feet).

We saw a dancer in Atlanta perform the Turkish drop, and she literally bounced her head off the concrete floor. Ouch.

Turkish Music

Turkish bellydance music is characterized by the sounds of the oboe, clarinet, oud, ney, kanoon, finger cymbals and hand drums. Another distinguishing element of the Turkish style is the use of the Karsilama rhythm in a 9/8 time signature, counted as 12-34-56-789. Turkish style dancers often play finger cymbals (aka zills ).


Karshilama is a line dance to an interesting 9/8 rhythm that can be counted 1 2 3, 123 (three slow, three fast movements). To hip and shoulder shimmies are added hops, dips, and jumps for lively change from the usual sultry bellydance.

Chengis Dancing

In Turkey , after Fatih sultan Mehmet II conquered Constantinople in 1453, the gypsies settled in the newly titled city of Istanbul. When entertainment was requested for the women, they were amused by female-only dancers and musicians called chengis . The chengis built an artistic style that is the root of many movements in belly dancing today. The complex hip work, shimmies and varied facial expressions, as well as veil dancing and finger cymbal playing, can be linked back to the gypsy chengis , who remained extremely popular until the end of the 19th century. The strength of the dance form gradually failed when the power of the Ottoman Empire began to wane. In Turkey today, chengis dancing has become belly dancing and is primarily a tourist attraction.

Some mistakenly believe that Turkish oriental dancing is known as Çiftetelli due to the fact that this style of music has been incorporated into oriental dancing by Greeks and gypsies, illustrated by the fact that the Greek belly dance is called Tsifteteli. However, Turkish Çiftetelli is more correctly a form of wedding folk music, the part that makes up the lively part of the dance at the wedding and is not connected with oriental dancing.
Turkish Roma / Gypsy

Even though Turkish belly dancing has deep roots in the Sultan's palatial harems of the Ottoman Empire, Turkish belly dance today is closer to its Romany (Gypsy) heritage than its Egyptian and Lebanese sisters, developing from the Ottoman rakkas to the oriental dance known worldwide today. As Turkish law does not impose restrictions on Turkish dancers' movements and costuming as in Egypt, where dancers are prevented from performing floor work and certain pelvic movements, Turkish dancers are often more outwardly expressive than their Egyptian sisters. Turkish dance also remains closer to its Romany roots because many professional dancers and musicians in Turkey continue to be of Romany heritage. Turkish dancers are known for their energetic, athletic (even gymnastic) style, and particularly, until the past few years, their adept use of finger cymbals, also known as zils. Connoisseurs of Turkish dance often say that a dancer who can't play zils is not an accomplished dancer.
Famous Turkish belly dancers include Eva Cernik, Tulay Karaca and Birgul Berai.

Turkish Costumes

Turkish Dance costumes are among the more risque of the cabaret styles, baring plenty of leg and cleavage. They are usually beaded, but may use coins too. Turkish belly dance costumes can be very revealing, with the belt sometimes worn high up on the waist and split skirts which expose the entire leg, although dancers today are costuming themselves more like Egyptian dancers and wearing more modest "mermaid"-style skirts. The Turkish style is emphasized further by the dancer wearing high heels, and often platform shoes, to perform.