If someone tells you they’re a belly dancer, you’d be forgiven for picturing a slinky, dusky maiden in a scanty costume, a jewel in her navel and a provocative gleam in her eye as she wiggles her hips in tantalising fashion.
This, however, is belly dancing as portrayed in Hollywood movies – and it has nothing to do with its origins.
“I would describe true belly dance as a dance by women, for other women,” says Kate Topcu, who teaches a weekly class in Çalış, on the outskirts of Fethiye.
“It should be seductive, yes, but not overtly sexual. It’s about feeling comfortable with what makes us women – we have curves and tummies and we should embrace them.”
How did it begin?
There are several theories about the evolution of belly dancing. Some say it started as a fertility ritual, with a dance that focused on rotation of the hips and stomach. There’s also the belief that the name stems from the mis-hearing of the word ‘beledi’, an Arabic word meaning ‘of the people’. As Oriental and Middle Eastern dance has long been a family tradition at weddings, births and festivals, this is entirely possible.
The Hollywood stereotype evolved at a time when everyday dress was modest, and the exposure of bare flesh considered risqué. The belly button itself was seen as an erogenous zone, and film censors in the 1920s insisted it be covered – hence the introduction of a jewel.
From London to Fethiye
Kate herself began dancing in the UK in 1988, becoming qualified to run her own classes in 1990. She moved to Turkey with her husband in 2007 and decided to revive her classes as part of the Fethiye Creative Women’s Group, which she co-founded with Sharon Baltacı towards the end of 2014.
She’s keen to stress that anyone who comes her classes will find ‘real women happy to celebrate their femininity’.
“You don’t have to be a size 8 to enjoy dancing. We come in all shapes and sizes and every woman should feel able to get up on a dance floor and do her thing. To any woman thinking of joining us, I’d say do! Come and have a go. We’re a friendly, supportive group who just enjoy dancing and spending that time together – not to mention that it’s great exercise and really tones your muscles.”
Fethiye’s Dancing Divas
The group has performed at several public events as the Fethiye Dancing Divas, including Fethiye’s World Environment Day celebrations at the Kültür Merkezi and the Kayaköy Festival, as well as their own ‘haflas’ – get-togethers where they enjoy food, music and dancing.
Don’t worry, though – you can join the classes without taking part in any performances.
“It’s great to perform as a group but it’s certainly not compulsory and I wouldn’t want anyone to feel under pressure. The main purpose is to have fun and enjoy spending time with other women in a non-threatening, empowering environment where we simply celebrate being who we are,” says Kate.
Interested in joining?
Classes are held every Friday from 11.30am – 1pm at Güven’s Restaurant, Kocek Mustafa Caddesi, 1103 Sokak, Çalış. You can catch a regular dolmuş service from Fethiye centre and alight shortly before the terminus, or walk along the seafront.
Kate Topcu is happy to run an introductory taster session for women who would like to know a bit more about belly dancing before joining the regular class. To express an interest, or for more details, contact her on 0090 (0)534 666 9750 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Don’t miss the Dancing Divas at Kayaköy Şenliği
The Fethiye Dancing Divas will be part of the Kayaköy Festival this weekend, on Saturday, May 12, performing at Dukha’s Snack Bar/Utopia Lodge Hotel between 1pm and 2pm, and again at Muzzy’s after 3pm. Check venues on the day for more precise times.
This article was written for Fethiye Times by Rebecca Parsley. Photographs by Steve Parsley.
Rebecca & Steve Parsley are both former journalists with experience in newspapers, magazines and on radio. Since 2006 they have run their own communications agency, specialising in social media and online content writing. They moved to Turkey just over four years ago and live in Kayaköy with their German Shepherd dog, Dillon – formerly a street dog – and two cats. When not slaving over their keyboards or walking in the local countryside, they enjoy watching motorsport – especially Formula 1 – and are also salsa dance addicts.