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New Europe

Day Thirty-nine: Istanbul

Belly-dancing in Istanbul 
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The modern face of belly-dancing. Tanyeli goes through some moves for pupils at her Academy, also known as Tanyeli's Dance Clinic.
Michael Palin - New EuropeTo avoid becoming too much affected by others' regrets, I take a ferry into Asia, and up into one of the many suburbs spreading out over the exposed hillsides of the eastern bank of the Bosphorus. This is new Istanbul, without decay but without character, where everything is fresh out of the box.

In one of these security-gated suburban villas I find Tanyeli's Dance Academy, where people can learn to belly-dance like Turkey's greatest star.

Tanyeli is the go-ahead, hard-working face of Turkey's enterprise culture. Not content with being able to move her belly in almost any direction, at any speed, she has built herself into a brand, with a television show and a chain of similar academies as far afield as Florida and Australia. She's bright, sublimely confident, in very good shape and effortlessly in control of the three girls she's teaching today. At the end of a session with them she has a brief pit-stop when make-up checks her hair, wardrobe checks her clothes and as she takes a call on her mobile, someone else towels down her armpits.

When I ask her when she started to belly-dance, she spreads her arms wide,
'I think it started in my mother's tummy.'

She certainly knows how to sell it to a modern audience.

'It is like a meditation. If you feel the music, and if you know how to move your belly, you lose your negative energies and you don't have to run to the pharmacy to get your little pills.'

I ask her if she can teach belly-dancing to men.

She grimaces.

'It doesn't belong to men. The belly-dancing history started thousands of years ago when a woman wants to give birth and all the girls tell her to push it, breathe in, breathe out. So do you think it belongs to you or it belongs to us?'
Nevertheless she politely inspects my tummy and asks me to roll it for her. The best I can do is a rather obscene pelvic thrust.

'Think about salsa, samba, waltz,' she says sweetly, but firmly. 'Any kind of dance but not belly-dance.'
Belly-dancing in Istanbul 
click to enlarge 
file size
The modern face of belly-dancing. Tanyeli goes through some moves for pupils at her Academy, also known as Tanyeli's Dance Clinic.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: New Europe
  • Chapter: Day Thirty-nine: Istanbul
  • Country/sea: Turkey
  • Place: Istanbul
  • Book page no: 98

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