Gilded Serpent presents...

My Favorite Oriental Festival in Turkey

Rakkas Istanbul 2013

Nilay  dancing at Show/Fusion category on competition night of Rakkas Istanbul 2013. Photo by Galia Cohen - Peres

by Nilay
posted September 5, 2013
Last five photos linked to enlargements

I am a festival enthusiast. In the beginning of my journey in bellydance I started longing for festivals that I heard happening here and there because where I lived, pretty much nothing went on. That was New Mexico seven years ago and I was a student on a budget who couldn’t travel all that far.

Upon arriving to California, I found the luxury of connecting to many other dancers through several dance festivals. Without these events I would still be a clueless and lonely dancer.

Although I now live in California, I still live in a smaller town of this state, Bakersfield, at least it is nothing like Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco, not even Sacramento. I am quite stoked to find that there is now an abundance of festivals close to my home within driving distance.

This changed this year and in a larger scale. I am from Turkey. I visit my country every year. Luckily this year I made my plans entirely around a festival: Rakkas Istanbul.
I was surprised first to hear about this festival from Princess Farhana. I was surprised because I haven’t heard about it before from any of the networks I am in touch with. Then I realized it’s the first year this festival was being held and it is internationally marketed and advertised, not only concentrated in US. co-organizer, Serkan Tutar, who is a Turkish male belly dancer residing in Belguim, is the main force behind it.  He powered up with a Turkish organization team for this fabulous festival to happen between April 29 – May 3, 2013.

I reviewed the schedule for 3 days of workshops, 2 Gala Shows – Opening and Closing (Turkish Night), a competition and an open floor dance night. For 4 days with multi-national teachers and action packed nights, could this be too good to be true? At this point, the package variety for pricing was plenty – choosing to participate a single day or everyday and with or without the hotel were some of the options. Because I am from another city in Turkey and the festival location was far from the sites I know in Istanbul, I chose the complete package.  (Please let me remind you that Istanbul is a big city and is very crowded and old. This should tell you that there is traffic congestion at any time of the day.)  I wanted to be close to everything happening, not to worry about traveling and more importantly, not to miss a thing!

I arrived in Ankara, Turkey (where I am from) and visited family for one week. Then I traveled to Istanbul for Rakkas Istanbul Festival. I was the first person to arrive and register because my bus left me at the station early. Fortunately, you can find taxi cabs all over Istanbul at any time of the day. I was very lucky that Burcu from the organization team was there early starting her set-up and she immediately helped me out to get situated. The hotel also allowed me to check in early and I was ready in a matter of minutes of my arrival. At this point you can use any of this 5-star hotel’s amenities and services such as lunch, pool, Turkish hammam, etc. For me it was the time to go out to Istanbul. I had an appointment to visit world-renowned Bella!

Istiklal Caddesi

When I arrived back at the hotel after my extra-curricular activities of costume shopping, meeting an old friend over tea at a Turkish café and visiting Istiklal Caddesi (which is my most favorite place in the whole ancient city), I got ready to join the Opening Gala Show. This was a four-course dinner and stage dancing production. It took place in a large room with a big stage and floor area. I was able to watch many international dancers most of whom I have never had the chance to see before, among them there were Orit Maftsir, Maria Aya, Tamar Bar Gil, Ahmed Refaat, Sharon Kihara, Sunny Singh and Serkan Tutar.

I immediately made new friends and was surprised to find the multi-national composure of our 200+ people crowd – I befriended a dancer from Holland and another from Columbia, although the majority of the dancers were from Japan and other far-east countries.

The next day, I found out that there was only one other Turkish participant who is a dancer other than me. Surprising? Maybe. Then there was Serkan who as mentioned earlier is the co-organizer of the show and workshop instructor. He was super sweet, approachable, friendly and fun. It turns out he is a great instructor too. I got to learn about Shaabi style for the first time from him.

At this point the only upper hand I had for being Turkish at a Turkish dance festival was to be able to understand Turkish instructors better. There were volunteer translators (I ended up as one) who could translate from Turkish to Japanese and English. But if you heard from other dancers who took privates from Turkish and Egyptian dancers that they had to communicate by body and dance language, this is quite true. Most Turkish dancers don’t know much English if at all. They don’t need to, so you’ll have to be prepared for this if you don’t have a translator who is fluent in both languages and dance vocabulary, too.

The loaded workshop schedule went uninterrupted, according to the published listing. The organization of the workshops was perfect. Usually there were 3 overlapping workshops and you had to choose the one that chimed best for you. The conference rooms for the workshops were adjacent to each other and easy to access from the hotel rooms. The workshop schedules were printed out and there were plenty to attend at any time. Also the drinking water was not forgotten – it was available to fill your water bottle. Right in front of the workshop rooms, there were bazaar set-up by various vendors with all its convenience to tickle shopping desires in between workshops.


For lunch, the hotel had options or you could go to a small restaurant outside the hotel.  We choose to go out and sat outside in a restaurant and had delicious, made to order Turkish lunches for a good price. I even packed pastries to take to my room because they were so good!

The second night of the festival was the competition. The participation was enormous for four categories of Folkloric, Raks Sharqi, Turkish and Show/Fusion. This was a chance to watch multi-national, multi-category skilled dancers. The jury panel included big names from the list of instructors. There also were guest dancers during intermissions such as Princess Farhana who charmed us by bringing Hollywood style vintage inspired belly dancing.

Eventually I ended up taking 24 hours of workshops, meeting Turkish instructors that I would only dream to meet in 3 days and making world-wide connections with various dancers. Many instructors allowed us to videotape the whole sequence or choreography that they just taught. If you are planning to do this, please make sure that you receive the instructor’s consent first because not all instructors will allow it and being respectful should be the first approach to keeping a healthy network.

For me, the most unforgettable portion of all of this marvelous festival was its closing note – The Closing Gala Show: Turkish Night. For this dinner show I sat down this time with a table of friends I now knew. I loved this show – it was amazing, fantastic, spectacular, terrific, wonderful, exhilarating, and astonishing; I don’t have enough adjectives to describe it.  I know everyone was genuinely dazzled. Among the dancers there were many Turkish instructors that I was craving to watch: Gul Nihal, Tuba Saka, Serap Su, Reyhan Tuzsuz, Suzan Ayvaz, Asena along with other international stars of belly dancing such as Artemis Mourat, Tommy King, Mercedes Nieto, Osama Mimi. Can you imagine a show like this? I couldn’t and I feel lucky and grateful for experiencing it. It was a feast for eyes, ears, soul with every breath.

On Friday morning, I wasn’t ready to leave this intensive bellydance immersion but I had to. Many participated in a very well planned Istanbul tour in the morning as part of the bonus day of Rakkas Istanbul. I, on the other hand, jumped into a taxi and transferred to another hotel in Taksim to spend two more days in the historical city.

I left with fond memories of the festival, instructors, new and old friends and the whole organization altogether as well as with a heap of new dance education. In the beginning of my article I said I had thought it was too good to be true; it really will be an unforgettable memory. Bottomline, with all the skepticisim you might hold for the first year of a festival, there seemed to be no major organizational or technical hiccups. Everyone was happy and wanted to be a part of it again including me. Rakkas Istanbul 2014 already has dates scheduled for April 9-13th. I am already entertaining the idea of a revisit of this astounding event.


Serhan's Workshop

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