Belly dancing is a popular form of entertainment in Turkey, particularly in Istanbul, where you can catch a show at numerous venues pretty much any night of the week.
The belly dance is said to have descended from ancient Anatolian fertility dances and usually involves a woman with impressively dextrous abdominal muscles, which she moves in complex motions while clanging small finger cymbals called zil. During the dance, spectators stuff paper money into her costume if she dances close enough, or on the floor if she’s performing on-stage. Belly dancing is not strictly limited to women, however, and at many belly dancing shows in Istanbul you’re bound to see one of the men jump up and throw down some moves of his own, often with a face painted on his stomach and his shirt pulled over his head.
A night club or dinner show is the best place to catch a belly dance performance, but belly dancers are also hired to entertain guests on cruises, at weddings, circumcisions and other important celebrations. If you walk down Istiklal Caddesi in the evening you might catch a belly dancer busking on the side of the road, and often you’ll catch them dancing at bus stations alongside musicians who’ve been hired to play some one off before a long trip.
Sure, many of the performances you catch in ‘Turkish Night’ shows around Istanbul are quite touristy, but belly dancing is an old art form that is still enjoyed by Turks of all classes and ages. For a tamer performance, go to the Hodjapasha Arts and Culture Center in the Sirkeci district of Istanbul for an evening of Turkish traditional dances that include belly dance performances. ‘Sultana’s’, ‘Orient House’, ‘Gar Müzikholand’ and ‘Karavansary’ are other possibilities, all of which feature bellydancing and other folkloric performances. In addition, there are a number of ‘Turkish Night’ shows around town that features belly dancing, as well as a few night clubs in Istanbul’s Beyolgu district.