Çiftetellisi and Expression Workshops with Cihangir Gümüstürkmen

Dear readers, I have been away for a bit. Unlike most radio silences, this is not because I’m not dancing. In fact, as far as my busier-than-ever life allows, I’m dancing even more. Over the next few posts, I’ll share some memories and reflections.

Last weekend I took two workshops with the Berlin-based artist and dancer, Cihangir Gümüstürkmen. The first one was on Istanbul Çiftetellisi. One highlight was Cihangir’s discussion of the varied ways the word “ciftetelli” and its many, many spelling alternatives is used around the Mediterranean. It strikes me that North American dancers often like to find precise definitions for particular words — “it’s the dance done to this rhythm” or “it’s the dance performed in that place” — but dance history being what it is, a vague and flowing thing, hard and fast categories are pretty difficult to find.

Another highlight was doing a bit of floor work! I have some videos that touch on floor work, but I’ve never tried it myself, figuring I needed a lot more abdominal strength. If I’d known this workshop included it I probably wouldn’t even have signed up, but it was a tremendous amount of fun. I realised you don’t have to throw every move in the book into a floorwork routine, especially if it’s part of a longer song. And Cihangir gave us some very precise, very useful tips.

After a quick nursing/eating break, I returned to the dance studio for Cihangir’s “Express Yourself!” workshop. Now, I was in a position to compare this workshop with Rivkah’s mini-workshop on expression in dance that I recently did in Texas. Cihangir’s strategy was quite different. Rather than having us improvise dance to suit particular emotions, he began by teaching us a simple choreography, and drilling it a few times so we wouldn’t have to think about moves at all. Then he told us little stories, stories intended to inspire feelings, but without naming the emotion itself. We then danced the same choreography repeatedly, each time seeking to convey the feeling inspired by the story, not through the movements themselves, but by the way we performed the movements.

I loved this. It was basically a bit of method acting for bellydancers. What really worked for me was that some of Cihangir’s stories hit a chord in me. One instruction was to imagine dancing for the first time after being sick, and given my recent surgery, that is a feeling I can connect to. Another was to imagine dancing for someone who had never seen dance before, and again, given that I often dance for my baby boy, I could connect to that particular kind of joy too. I don’t know how the dancing looked, but I do know it felt wonderful.

Another thing Cihangir had us play with was clowning around. This was without a doubt the hardest assignment of all, but I think it’s important. I suspect it’s very hard for women to allow themselves to be a bit silly, silly enough to be funny. Part of the pleasure of bellydance is being beautiful in a really old fashioned way — long hair, lots of makeup, hyper-feminine clothing. How are we supposed to then consciously look ridiculous, albeit in a controlled way? Later, at home, I looked up some of Cihangir’s videos on YouTube and found that he’s a master of the form. So I leave you, for now, with this little jewel:

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