2.   Detailing Birgül’s Performance

Birgül appears on a dim-lit stage where her two-piece fluorescent pink costume dazzles fiercely. In front of five musicians whom she handpicked for accompaniment, Birgül improvises to the clarinet taksim with a confident forward walk and a couple of fast turns with her veil. The first piece is Turkish megastar Asena’s instrumental rendition of famous Algerian singer Warda’s piece, a piece that bears her name. Immediately after Asena’s belly dance CD was released in 2001, “Warda” became a big hit and a familiar tune throughout multiple performance venues inside and outside the tourist circuit in Istanbul. Listen to the difference between Asena’s and Birgül’s versions of “Warda.” In Asena’s piece, the double-size ensemble, consisting of ten musicians, undertakes a richer (more luscious) instrumentation after a much longer taksim. Percussion, then, goes in and out of an even level with melodic instrumentation as the music picks up.


audio 1

(file mp3)

audio 2

(file mp3)



In contrast, Birgül has instructed her musicians to shorten the introductory taksim and to instead heighten the percussive elements. Translated to dance, this signals less veil work and more hip combinations.


(file wmv, 23", 510 Kb)

(file mov, 23", 2.19 Mb)


Following the brief veil combination, the lights and music shift to a brighter and faster tempo that

videoclip 2

(file wmv, 16", 869 Kb)

(file mov, 16", 1.56 Mb)

matches Birgül’s ferocious smile. The musicians enter a loud energizing percussive phrase. This phrase showcases Birgül’s vibrant style punctuated with fast hip thrusts and vigorous abdominal twists. Her witty interactive presence, riveting both the audience and her musicians, frames the dance technique.


Birgül then moves between vertical hip accents and subtle hip and shoulder shimmies, alternately responding to rapid darbuka (goblet drum) and melodious kanun (zither).

videoclip 3

(file wmv, 12", 619 Kb)

(file mov, 12", 1.20 Mb) 

videoclip 4

(file wmv, 9", 518 Kb)

(file mov, 9", 897 Kb) 

Throughout she uses both lateral and vertical hip bumps dialoguing with two drums - darbuka and small davul - and the clarinet in the background.
She undulates deeply, does figure eights, travels across the floor and pivots to accompany the dominant clarinet.

videoclip 5

(file wmv,18", 781 Kb)

(file mov,18", 1.84 Mb)


After another set of pivoting staccato hips, Birgül victoriously ends the routine with the Turkish drop (a risky and swift back fall to the floor).


videoclip 6

(file wmv, 7", 374 Kb)

(file mov, 7", 759 Kb)


videoclip 7

(file wmv, 24", 1.52 Mb)

(file mov, 24", 2.40 Mb) 

Then Çarli, the animated musician who moonlights as an agent, switches from the hand davul to the big davul (a double-headed folk bass drum) to initiate a Roman oyun havasi (9/8 meter Roma dance tune). [6] Cued by Çarli’s pounding down beats, the clarinet and darbuka join in, drowning out the ud and kanun.


Offstage, Birgül is keen to identify herself more as a cosmopolitan showgirl/dancer than a Rom dancer in response to the rooted association of the Rom performers with the low-class, the crass, and the uneducated (Seeman 2002), a topic I discuss in the next section. [7]

In this routine, however, Birgül nonchalantly flaunts gestures associated with Rom such as hands pounding on the hips and alternate arm brushings. Here she accents the downbeat while gesturing. Then follows heel striking, brisk undulations, or shoulder shimmies enunciating the fourth and fifth beats. [8]

videoclip 8

(file wmv, 17", 852 Kb)

(file mov, 17", 1.69 Mb)


Birgül’s hips-and-abdomen-centered staccato style and the absence of trained arm work (no balletic hands or serpentine arms) suggest Rom dance training. By interlacing Rom movement with classical belly dance vocabulary –shoulder shimmies, hip accents-, her routine illustrates the crossfertilization between professional and social dance genres. [9]
This is not to underestimate the dancer’s artistry with regards to layering codified movements. For instance, mid-routine, she slows down and then faces her musicians to cue the intricate combination below. Here maya (an outward lateral hip circle or reverse figure eight) is skillfully layered with stomach rolls as she articulates with the clarinet and kanun simultaneously.

videoclip 9

(file wmv, 40", 1.34 Mb)

(file mov, 40", 2.73 Mb)


Layering, or concurrent isolated articulations with different instruments, is not unique to Birgül however. During my fieldwork, most other dancers have identified instrumentation, whether live or recorded, as the engine for their movement: wind instruments signal arm, torso, hip undulations such as snake arm, camel walk, and figure eights, whereas accelerated drum beats call for hip accents, i.e. hip drops - or vertical - up and down - hip or shoulder shimmies. Accomplished dancers combine their isolated responses to instruments in various tempos resulting in, for instance, the polyrhythmic layering of torso circles in half-time with double-time hip shimmies.


By contrast, Birgül often dictates the music on stage. Even when the musicians cue her, it is to a slightly altered arrangement that she has initially favored. Not only does Birgül choose, orchestrate, and cue the structured improvisation on stage, she also constantly banters her musicians. This musician–dancer interaction thus implicates a comic subtext in addition to sonic exchange. Below, watch Çarli get dismissed by Birgül’s infamous butt-kick.

videoclip 10

(file wmv, 12", 952 Kb)

(file wmv, 12",  1.23 Mb)

Forward | Main page