Freshly back in Los Angeles after a few years in Italy and a short summer in Greece, I was ready for a new adventure. For some odd, unexplainable reason, my heart stumbled on the Turkey travel section. I scavenged that aisle for months, reading everything from Turkish travel books and historical accounts to language books. Even with my normally short attention span, my hunger to consume every bit of knowledge on that country did not wane. I inhaled it all and only days after receiving my university diploma, I was on a plane to a land I had only seen in books.
Upon arriving in Istanbul, nothing in a book could have prepared me for the sheer complexity and endless layers of this city. Once at the heart of the Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman Empires, it is full of paradoxes: East and West, old and new. You could spend a lifetime trying to peel away the endless layers of this vibrant city. Yet, despite its overwhelming nature, I felt like I too had become a part of its rich history. I too left footprints like the millions of other travelers over the centuries.
During my time in Istanbul, I was introduced to Turkish belly dance, the more dynamic version of the Middle Eastern dance. As the bohemian instruments drummed away, I was enthralled by the furious spins, sharp dips, jumps and kicks of the dancers. Their energy, power, and earthy movements were inspiring to say the least.
For me, you could almost see the influence of Istanbul’s travelers through this ancient dance, which is believed to have its origins nearly 6,000 years ago. Travellers were said to have come from India, then migrating through present day Afghanistan and Iran up north to Turkey and Europe, and some south, to northern Africa. To earn a living, they danced, using intricate hip movements and shimmies, zilling around with finger cymbals and veils. In Turkey, these dancers were called Chengis.
Records show that after Fatih sultan Mehmet II conquered Constantinople in 1453, Chengis were called to the palatial harems of the Ottoman Empire to entertain the Sultan and his subjects. Today, their artistic influence can still be seen in modern Turkish belly dance.
Going on a trip to Istanbul? Make sure to check out a Turkish Belly Dance show or even take a workshop!
Photography by Katrinaelena