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Gilded Serpent presents...

"Just feel the music when you're on stage!”

Interview with Ozgen, Male Turkish Belly Dancer

by Nini Baseema
Date: July, 25 08
photos belong to Ozgen or were taken by Lynette at IBCC 08

Ozgen, a relatively new personality in the bellydance scene, has recently been introduced to the International dance community. His energetic performance, his positive charisma and his very original Turkish dancing style have resulted in somewhat of a positive uproar among the bellydance crowd. Women all over Europe are traveling miles to see him perform live and to participate in one of his famous Turkish bellydance workshops.  It's all over town at the moment: A new bellydance superstar is in the making! We met up with Ozgen this spring and used the occasion to learn more about him and his career so far.

1) Ozgen, thanks for taking the time to answer our questions. First of all, tell us a bit about yourself. Where do you come from and what made you start bellydancing?
Well, I was born in the Turkish part of Cyprus but lived and worked a great deal of my life on the Turkish mainland - in Istanbul in particular. Dancing has always been a great passion of mine. I started at an early age with groups and later on I became a solo performer, but I surely loved it all of my life. In my family, music and dance just belonged in the common day-to-day life.  We loved going to restaurants and taverns and I remember there was always dancing in one way or another.  I still treasure the memory of my grandfather who took us out to a restaurant and used to dance with two or three glasses on his head (a traditional balancing dance I learned later on) to the Arabic song  "Ya Mustafa" - his joy for the dance was a great inspiration!

 2) How did you end up dancing in "Night of the Sultans” (the Turkish equivalent to Riverdance/ Lord of the dance)?
Oh - I had to go through tedious auditions where they not only wanted to see me dance but also tested my knowledge on music and rhythms - but other than that it was not so different from what people get to see in television castings these days! I danced in the group for a while (mainly folklore dances) and by the time I had completed my contract, I had learned a great deal and certainly gathered many interesting experiences. But I wanted to be a solo dancer and therefore I felt it was time to move on. Things proved to go on well after that actually. There were many interesting engagements with Turkish television and film for me - which was of course great. After "Night of the Sultans”, I also felt ready to start teaching and I did that in a big school in Istanbul called Tolgahan Dance School. That was also good for my career. They hired me then not only as a solo artist but also as a choreographer.

 3) You are currently living and teaching in London. How did that come about?
They always ask me this question.... To me it has been a real adventure! (Ozgen laughs). But seriously, everything happened so quickly it almost feels like I just snapped my fingers and there I was. My first time in London was for a mere holiday. I did check out the oriental scene though and I really liked it. I also was invited to perform and apparently was well received. The next minute I found myself hired to perform one show after the other in the UK. And that happened repeatedly, so at some point it just seemed natural instead of traveling there all the time to make it a long-term stay. And that's where I am at right now.  I have been here for two and a half years and I am still new in England.

 4) Now that we know a bit about yourself and where you are coming from, let's hear a bit more about your own personal bellydance style. How would you describe it?
Well obviously, my style is based on Turkish music and moves - but like every dancer or artist I do have my own interpretation. That "own style of mine” is not fixed but in a permanent flux. I'm not the type of performer who goes on stage and renders the same 1:1 performance every night- not as a solo artist at least. I am a very emotional dancer. Passion in dance is so important to me.  I think people can be great in technique but when they lack passion and emotional dedication, it just doesn't look as convincing. To me, Bellydance or Mid-eastern dance doesn't work without this emotional part. I have seen dancers with limited technique but great passion mesmerizing their audience by their interpretation and mere presence on stage! It doesn’t matter how many moves you know - just feel the music when you're on stage!

5) Having seen you perform and also having participated in your workshops, I have to say that I am absolutely in love with your interpretation of the Turkish Roma Gypsy style. And I am certainly not the only one. How do you explain the great success and response to this dancing style?
Well the rhythms are quite catchy! Besides, Roman Havasi is a dance of passion and that's fun to watch anyway. The Romans like to refer to their day-to-day life in their dance. If you look closely you can discover violin playing, fortune telling, even doing laundry in movements. Of course you can see the men dancing with great pathos, showing off their machismo and making funny erotic references. It is not meant to be offensive but more humorous. Lots of people find it a bit odd at first, as it is very different to the bellydance style they usually teach in classes over here. But I think that once they know a bit more about it, they get a better connection and start falling in love with it. I really love it too! It's still kinda new in the Western world. Although I have seen performances in the West before, I have to say that they often appear to be totally different to how Roman Havasi is danced in Turkey.

6) Having seen you on stage one can't help to start comparing the rather energetic Turkish style with the more grounded Egyptian movements.  What are, in your opinion, the main differences between traditional Egyptian and traditional Turkish style for dancers?
Think about how far-stretched the Ottoman empire was including many different nationalities and cultural backgrounds and how this affected the cultural life and dance. It’s no wonder that the dance in Turkey has its own characteristics - which are, by the way, pretty versatile even in Turkey itself. But in general, it can be said that due to the Roman and Turkish folk dance influence in particular, Turkish bellydance is a bit livelier, more jumpy and flamboyant, with bigger movements and more intense undulations. We also have more shoulder movements too.

7) Let's hear a bit more about your history as a bellydance teacher. When did you start teaching? Did you have some sort of educational training for teachers?
No, as a matter of fact I haven’t.  I started teaching in Istanbul. When I was young, I had received a thorough ballet, modern jazz, ballroom and Latin dance education. They taught us discipline, and I now benefit a lot from what I had learned there. I also had the luck to receive a thorough education with very inspiring people - not only as dancers but also as teachers. A lot of t

Just a few more clips of Ozgen from the IBCC conference...

he choreography work for television, etc included teaching others as well, and after a while you just know what works for students and what does not. I also happen to have good communication skills. That certainly comes in handy as well!

8) I heard that you've been participating in the bellydance superstar show in London this summer. Tell us a bit about it!  How did you like the Miles Copeland production? Did it wake old memories?
Yes, you are well informed. I did perform and teach for the Miles Copeland production in London. It was a huge event with many international teachers and students!  Lots of interesting famous faces there! It was an honor for me to participate! And yes, seeing all that really reminded me a lot on the old days in Turkey when I was part of such a big venture myself. It made me think more than once of how it felt to be on tour in a big group.

9) Last but not least, give us a little bit of an outlook on what your future plans are. What would you like to achieve in the next couple of months?
Well, I think my heart still beats for big shows and productions, as much as I know how stressful and difficult that show-life can be. I seem to not be able to live without it. I have this idea about a show including one story, and it's all connected to Mid Eastern dance. I already have the frame for the story - I now am just waiting for the right production to come my way. Until then, I will of course continue performing and teaching with the hope of reaching as many people as possible with it!

10)  Thank you, Ozgen for taking the time to answer our questions, and good luck with your endeavour.
You're welcome and again, anytime!

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