Gilded Serpent presents...

Les Arts Turcs: A Rich Resource for Dancers

Bridging Cultures through Traditional Arts in Istanbul

Les Arts Turcs gallery and offices are located
on the third floor above a street full of cafes and shops.

text and photos by Donna Barbrick Carlton
posted June 11, 2012

Donna found a kindred spirit in Mr. Nurdoğan Şengüler,
founder of the arts center Les Arts Turcs, located in
the Sultanahmet district of Istanbul

In May of this year, on my family’s journey to Europe’s largest city (even if you don’t count the nearby Asian side) of Istanbul, we were hopeful that we would find Bellydance in performance, and with luck, classes, costumes, instruments and perhaps a whole new world of resources. Our trip research online revealed that the Bellydance performances others had found they had thought were "trashy" or "not worth it". Nonetheless, we felt certain we would find something interesting. We did, but it wasn’t quite the way we imagined.

When we arrived, we found that the residents weren’t really sure about all things Bellydance, save for the touristy performance posters seen in highly traveled areas. Many vendors have offices with tours; so Bellydance, Sufi/Dervish performances, and boat tours are all lumped together as commodity-like offerings. Still, we had some leads.

In the "old city" section of Istanbul (called Sultanahmet) is an organization called Les Arts Turcs. We wondered if it might be the same as the many tourist agents, but here we found a kindred spirit in the center’s founder, Mr. Nurdoğan Şengŭler.  The center supports a myriad of artistic endeavors such as an annual Istanbul photography contest as well as workshops on paper marbling and calligraphy. Traditional culinary arts are included as well, with cooking classes for making tasty Turkish tidbits. Mr. Şengŭler is especially gratified to present a more authentic Sufi ceremony than some of the other tours might offer. Les Arts Turcs also organizes Oriental dance classes and workshops for visitors as well as the Istanbul Gypsy Festival. The day that I visited the office and shop, a group of enthusiasts was just finishing up a weeklong dance intensive, and had headed out en masse for costume shopping. The festivities would conclude that evening with a show held at the Galata Tower, a medieval tower that now houses a nightclub on one of its upper floors.

When talking with Mr. Şengŭler, I felt at once that here was someone who understood the desire of artists everywhere to learn, create and grow; someone who understood how serious some visiting dancers might be to absorb everything they possibly can about particular style such as Romani (“gypsy”) style. His staff is multilingual and responds quickly to email inquiries, helping to make arrangements before an actual visit.

Dancers who  travel to learn will find Les Arts Turcs is all about helping visitors connect with the arts in Turkey, beginning by networking with artists and teachers.  The center works with different dance instructors who live in Istanbul, not all of whom are native to Turkey.  Either private lessons or group lessons can be arranged, and their website links to some video clips so that the flavor of the dance classes can be sensed ahead of time.  For dancers and other visitors to Istanbul, Les Arts Turcs is just one option to consider. If you do visit, perhaps after making your way past shops and sidewalks crowded with tourists in the old city, you will climb up the stairs to the third floor and find a quiet space filled with beautiful art objects and people who take pleasure in meeting artists and writers from everywhere in the world.

The gallery is also where visitors can arrange for traditional arts classes such as calligraphy or marbling.

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