3.  Conflicts between belly dancers and musicians

With regards to live music, the on- and off-stage negotiations between Istanbul musicians and dancers are fraught with economic, artistic, ethnic, and moral tensions. The majority of musicians at belly dance shows are Rom men. Historically, most if not all urban female belly dancers have come from Rom backgrounds (Abdülaziz Bey 2002:389; see also Koçu 2002 (1947); Ali Riza Bey 2001). [10] Over the last two decades, more non-Rom women from and outside of Istanbul have entered the belly dance circuit by a lack of choice or to realize their dreams of urban upward-mobility.

Driving young and old newcomers, as I have often encountered, is the elusive promise of market-bound personal and material advancement, a defining promise of the liberalizing post-1980s Turkey (Kandiyoti 2002, Kozanoğlu 1995). From the early 1990s on, dancers have increasingly found the entertainment sector to be full of opportunities forged by the state- and elite-driven commodification of Orientalist cultural forms. Precisely then, the number of belly dancers rocketed upwards while the variety of performance venues multiplied. Subsequently, adverse local and global developments slowed down the tourist boom and the bourgeoning upper-class entertainment. [11]  Like musicians, most female belly dancers strategize daily in order to navigate the fluctuations of such an unstable job market. Further, as bearers of a profitable yet eroticized female performance genre, dancers have stayed vulnerable vis-à-vis Islamist and secular cultural politics and gendered social marginalization. [12]

My goal here is, however, not to detail the material and social plight of Istanbul performers. Rather, I focus on the musicians and dancers’ different views on performance competence, economic strategizing, and female modesty in order to illustrate the complex social embeddedness of live belly dance praxis. I thus inquire into how the dancers’ and musicians’ various aesthetic expectations, class aspirations, and ethnic positioning converge and diverge to impact their sonic, kinetic, and social choices at the moment of performance and beyond. Let me begin with aesthetic collisions among Istanbul performers.

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