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Tarazade Brings the Bellydance World to Istanbul

Tarazade 2013, Intercontinental Dance Festival

Author Courtney performs

by Courtney
Photos and video by Andre Elbing
posted November 19, 2013

With the rise of YouTube, dancers can learn from master belly dancers from the comfort of their living rooms. The ability to watch and absorb the unique variations and styles of bellydance from all over the world is only a mouse click away. However, in spite of technology bringing the world to us, there is nothing like studying with dancers in person. Festivals provide an opportunity to bring belly dancers together, not only to meet other dancers from different communities, but also to see what styles are popular in different parts of the world and to study with master instructors.

I was fortunate to attend Tarazade Festival in Istanbul, Turkey this September. It was the first festival I had attended outside of the United States and I am pleased to have had the experience of traveling to a festival where dozens of dancers had gathered with, in some cases, only the dance in common. On the opening night, promoter Tara told a well attended room that there were dancers present from 24 countries. The dancer who had come the farthest was from Alaska, but there were dancers from India, Japan, Morocco, France, Germany, Brazil – I could go on.


Zafirah of Canada performs Turkish Roma at the Welcome Party

I first became aware of the Tarazade Festival from Aziza of Canada, who had attended Tarazade in 2012. I had been to Istanbul before and was excited to have a great reason to go back. After I saw the list of instructors who would be offering workshops, I had all the reason I needed to commit to going: Sema Yildiz, Didem, Azad Kaan, Aziza & Issam Houshan, Jillina, Lulu Sabongi and so many more.

From a participant’s point of view, the set-up was the following: for a flat fee dancers got a hotel room, ten hours of workshops, and entrance into three shows (one of which served dinner). One of the shows was an open stage, where dancers who were attending the festival could sign up to dance in an evening show. Any of the individual elements could be purchased a la carte, including additional hours of workshop time. My husband traveled with me and Tara offered a package for travel companions. There were two hotel options: dancers could stay at the Barcelo Eresin Topkapi, which was where the shows and workshops were held or they could stay at a hotel in Sultanahmet if they wanted to be closer to the old city and tourist attractions. In total, 60 hours of workshops were offered, including topics from Turkish folklore, Oriental, Egyptian to fusion.

I chose to sign up for 10 hours of workshops, opting to do 5 workshops that were 2 hours each to maximize the number of teachers with whom I could dance. I left the rest of my schedule free so that I could have some down time and go see the city. At any point during the festival, I could have visited the registration table to purchase more workshop hours if I had wanted.

The five workshops I attended over four days were challenging and fun, which is what I had hoped. I love workshopping. It’s so much fun to dance to someone else’s rhythm and it’s hard to walk away not feeling inspired.

Male dancer

Azad Kaan performs at the Turkish Night Gala

My workshop assortment was with Lulu Sabongi, Azad Kaan, Aziza & Issam, Didem, and Jillina. The workshop menu included a description of the topic as well as a level indication, so that dancers could choose their challenge level. The instructors kept the level of dancing high and in line with the advertised level.

The focus at this festival was not only the joy of dancing, but also learning and growing as an artist! Tarazade offered an opportunity to get performance feedback without the added pressure of competition through the “Train With the Stars” option, which I wish I had done. Dancers who signed up and paid the extra fee would perform for Aziza, Jillina, and Azad Kaan for detailed and personalized performance feedback and critique. As a student dancer or really any level of dancer, the feedback from world-renowned artists is invaluable, and it’s a unique feature of Tarazade to give student dancers close access to established dancers and a vehicle to improve in a personalized setting. In addition to this specific workshop, other instructors offered in-depth feedback to attendees of their workshops.

The evening shows were great and well balanced in terms of content. Although they sometimes ran a bit late into the evening given the long days and early mornings, the level of dancing was high. The opening night gala and Turkish night show featured performances from many of the instructors who had come to Istanbul from all over the world. Every performance, from the elegant style of Lulu Sabongi of Brazil to the energetic bravado of Luxor of Russia, was a reflection of each dancer’s art and individual influence. At the Turkish Night Gala, Tara honored Sema Yildiz and Didem with the “Belly” award, which was to show gratitude for their contributions to the art form of belly dance.

Fan Troupe

Nicole Group from Japan performs at the Opening Gala

Tara also organized an optional dinner cruise down the Bosphorus on the evening that there was not a show. I did not attend, but the feedback from the other dancers was that it was a memorable evening with folkloric dance and, of course, belly dancing.

No belly dance festival would be complete without shopping! Several Istanbul-based designers came to the festival to sell their costumes and many dancers took the opportunity to try on and buy something sparkly.

Not to be overlooked was the inclusion of Turkish music and folklore in all of the shows. At the welcome event, the opening gala and the Turkish night gala, spectacular musicians and Turkish dancers entertained the audience. Seeing such fantastic Turkish Roma dancing was truly inspiring and my biggest regret from attending this festival was that I didn’t attend a Turkish folklore workshop.

In addition to the amazing instructors, the energy amongst the other dancers was welcoming, energetic and inspiring and I felt that I left the festival with many new friends. I enjoyed watching the other dancers and troupes who came from around the world to learn and perform. The open stage is a great aspect of Tarazade. Any dancer who wanted to perform while in Istanbul had the opportunity to sign up to dance on the open stage. Many dancers wanted to dance and I understand that there was a waiting list. While it may be tempting to add more open stage dancing during the day in future festivals, as a performer in this show, it was quite nice that the open stage was an evening show where attention was not taken away from the performances by other workshops or vending. All levels of dancer performed from experienced professionals to one lovely woman who performed her first solo on the open stage.

My experience at Tarazade was overwhelmingly positive – I found the level of organization and the high level of instruction and performance to be extremely appealing to me. As a teacher, I would recommend Tarazade to any level of dancer because of the wide variety of stylistic offerings and also the inclusion of leveling information in the workshop descriptions, allowing for dancers to study at his or her appropriate pace.


unknown dancer
Oya Isboga sings at the Opening Gala


Promoter and Festival Organizer Tara MCs at the Turkish Night Gala

Group pose

Performers at the Open Stage:
 back row: 1-Tarazade Promoter Tara, 2-Milka, 3-Nini, 4&5-duo Lee and Kim, 6-Meena, 7-Katherina, 8-Elmira, 9-Courtney;
front row: 1&2-duo Sama and Sara, 3-Helene of Norway, 4-Audrey, 5-Nahid Safija, 6-Perle.
Jillina performs at the Turkish Night Gala

Tribal assiut costume

Patricia Zarnovican performs at the Turkish Night Gala

Rainbow Veil

Lulu Sabongi performs at the Opening Gala

Dude 2

Nikolas Kazakos performs at the Opening Gala

Pink dancer

Didem performs at the Turkish Night Gala

Sema Yildiz

Sema Yildiz performs at the Turkish Night Gala


Reyhan performs at the Turkish Night Gala


Aziza performs at the Opening Gala


Issam Houshan performs at the Opening Gal

Andre Elbing‘s video collage from event

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  1. Elizabeth

    Mar 4, 2014 - 02:03:55

    Soo amaising fun when is next fesyvall  I love belly dancing

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