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.
Ready for more?
- 4-26-12 Helm Istanbul’da Making Music in Turkey
We discovered Turkish classical music through our friend Sinan Erdemsel. To the dellight of many music lovers, he has been coming to teach at Lark Camp in Mendocino, California, for the past 10 years.
- 5-16-11 Back from Bahrain, Tiny Kingdom’s Riots are Puzzling
Approximately at the same time as the invasions of the French, British, etc. upon the Ottoman Empire the art of Belly dancing was introduced in cabarets of Egypt and Lebanon, as well as Turkey (Istanbul).
- 7-22-11 Turkish “Roman Gypsy Dans”, Melting Any Heart!
This dance of the Gypsies is about becoming a life-like character. It contains a wide range of moods and feelings for the dancer to express: The gray quality of everyday tasks turns into colorful dance that does not distinguish between the relative value of one color over another.
- 8-4-11 Intervew with Ahmet Ogren, Bringing Gypsy Dance to the People
Ahmet is a sexy and masculine dancer who combines a sense of playful humor and has the dedication and drive of a consummate professional. He pushed us hard, laughed, and encouraged us.
- 2-29-12 How I Met the Tuzsuz Family in Istanbul
As for taking lessons with her – her teaching has improved over the years and her repertoire has expanded (although her large movement base was what attracted me to her as a teacher in the first place, so it has always been extensive).
- 7-15-10 Sema Yildiz, A Star of Turkish Dance
She was fortunate, she says, to grow up in a Roma (Gypsy) community rich in dance and music – the Fatih district, which houses the Sulukule, famous for its entertainment and considered the oldest Roma settlement in the world.
- 10-6-08 "Just feel the music when you’re on stage!” Interview with Ozgen, Male Turkish Belly Dancer,
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.
- 10-24-06 Adventures in Turkey 2006
I am not exaggerating when I say that Sandra actually threw herself into Bella’s arms and wept when she first laid eyes on her.
- 4-29-05 Bargaining for Injeers
Bargaining is not just about the money, although that is a qualifier. Bargaining is a medium in which two strangers can have a conversation. Turks love to bargain, and it may be how they get to know you…
- 6-11-12 .
All of us want our dance to be beautiful and captivating. Yet often, especially when we are new, we see a great distance between our own movements and the expressive power of our teachers or the favorites whom we watch on YouTube clips and DVDs. Is there a way to accelerate the process of becoming better? If so, what are the secrets?
- 6-3-12 Onstage In Search Of Our Dream: Historical American Dance Evolution
Nonetheless, sometimes, what gives me an inner pang of pain is our self-imposed “sin of omission” in honest reportage. Sometime what is not said is more important than what actually makes it into print or into the report.
- 5-31-12 GigBag Check #37 with April Rose
April Rose is at this moment, June 2012, finishing her Masters program at UCLA. She worked with Unmata, and will tour internationally with the Bellydance Superstars in the Fall of 2012. This video was shot at the Internationally Bellydance Conference of Canada in May of 2012. Along with her Gigbag tour are snippits of her teaching and performing at IBCC.
- 5-30-12 The Kalbelia, The Charming Gypsies of Rajasthan
The snake dance was derived from the practice of men bringing snakes to the doors of people and entertaining them by making the snake dance to music and the money collected from people is a source of income. This dance incorporates subtle dance moves that are meant to represent the movements of a cobra as it slithers on the ground
MaShuqa, known for her beautful make up, shows us a few secrets! MaShuqa is a well known bellydancer in the San Francisco Bay Area. She is also the wife of Carl Sermon, whose photos you will see frequently on GildedSerpent.com. This video was filmed back stage at the Belly Dancer of the Universe Competition in February 2011
No part of me can say that it has been an easy ride! Setting forth alone in a new country, speaking a new language with no one to vouch for you is a daring adventure, not to mention a lonely one.
- 5-17-12 Meet the Neighbors, Chapter 2 of Veiling in the Desert
I sit here in my Bedouin house with a cup of green tea and some helawa (halva) and I can still hear the women laughing outside. Although my focus here is to learn the dance, I always feel that in order to understand a traditional dance form, I need also to understand the culture.