Belly Dance

Turkish Belly Dance

Dancing the Turkish way

Turkish style oriental dance, also called Rakass (and the dancer is called rakassa), is closer to its Romany (Gypsy) heritage than Egyptian and Lebanese styles. Overall, Rakass is a very dynamic, energetic and even athletic cabaret style.


Turkish belly dancing is flamboyant and dynamic. Its movements are higher, faster and lighter than other styles, such as Egyptian baladi, for example, as the ‘tak’ in Turkish rhythm is more frequent than in Egyptian rhythms. Hence, the predominant hip movement is the hip lift, rather than the hip drop. In this style movements are bold and strong, with hair tosses, spins and kicks.

In Turkish belly dance, movements are large and leaps and floorwork are common. Floorwork used to be done in Egyptian belly dance too, but then floorwork was banned in Egypt in the 1950s by law, so nowadays we do not see it in Egyptian style. Also, belly rolls are used a lot in Turkish style and two famous Turkish dance moves are the Turkish backbend and the Turkish drop. The former is a kneeling backbend, where the dancer folds his/her legs underneath the body and ends up with the back flat on the floor; the latter starts with a spinning motion standing up and ends up in a Turkish backbend on the floor (very challenging).

The version of Turkish belly dance performed in Istanbul for tourists can be particularly gimmicky, with a lot of tricks and complicated technique, because it is assumed that this is what tourists want to see. In general anyway, it is a very energetic and exuberant form of dance.

In addition to Turkish Oryantal, which is raqs sharqi or oriental dance, with its own typically Turkish characteristics and flavour, there are many folk traditional dances in Turkey, which are totally different from oryantal dance. However, there are two folk songs in particular, which have Romany roots and that belly dancers around the world often dance to when they want to perform to a 9/8 rhythms. These traditional songs are called ‘Mastika’ and ‘Rompi Rompi’. The movements that go with them include repetitive steps, little bounces and tilting and twisting hips movements.

Dance Costumes

Turkish style costumes are some of the most revealing of the cabaret style. The belt is often worn high up on the waist, with split skirts which expose the entire leg. Turkish belly dancers often wear high heel shoes, in order to emphasise their movements. Skirts are usually wide and flowing made of chiffon and the bra and hip belt have a lot of beads. Male oryantal dancers wear decorated fitted harem pants, hip belts and a tight top, although some prefer to dance with a bare chest. As for folkloric inspired costumes, they cover a lot more and they include long wide skirts or harem pants and a top with long bell shaped sleeves and a gilet on top.

Coins on costume

Music and Rhythms

The rhythms of Turkish belly dance music can be fast and repetitive. Some of the most used rhythms in Turkish belly dance include chiftetelli and the karsilama (also known as kashlimar). Turkish instrumentation also varies from that of Egyptian music. The bouzouki is played instead of the oud; more wind instruments are used, such as the clarinet, and the Turkish drum (equivalent of the tabla) is called dumbek. Also, dancers often play finger cymbals.

The karsilama is a 9/8 rhythm that goes like this (where D is a dom and t a tak):

Dt Dt Dt Dtt, Dt Dt Dt Dtt

Chiftetelli is used a lot in Greece as well and it is quite slow and sensual. It goes:

D tt tt D D t -, D tt tt D D t –

Famous Dancers and DVDs

A famous Turkish belly dancer from the 70s and 80s is Princess Banu, while other famous Turkish belly dancers include Eva Cernik, Tulay Karaca and Birgul Berai. A male Turkish belly dancer who is based in the UK, is Ozgen. He performs oryantal as well as folk and traditional Romani dances.

If you would like to learn more about Turkish belly dance, there are some good instructional DVDs for sale. One of these, which can be found on Amazon, is ‘I love Turkish Belly Dance’ by Sarah Skinner. BUY this DVD from our USA Shop or from our UK Shop.

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Valeria is a dance researcher completing a PhD in dance and heritage. Valeria also teaches and performs as a belly dance but also enjoys learning ballet, jazz dance and other dance genres.

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