The Turkish style of bellydance, called oryantal, is probably as strongly influenced by the dance of the Roma (the so called Turkish "gypsies") as it is by the Egyptian, Syrian and Lebanese style. The Roma dance to the 9/8 rythm karshilama, and their dance is called "Roman" by the Turks. This is an unihibited dance with characteristic footwork and large movements. The people are known for being very talented in dance and music, and many established dancers have Roman blood running through their veins. Acording to tradition they put cymbals under the pillow of new born baby girls to ensure she becoms a good dancer.
This brings us to the first differnce; while the Egyptian dancers incorporates steps and movements from various egyptian folk dances in their oriental, like saiidi and khaleegy, the Turkish dancers incorporate steps from their own culture, Roman, where the rythm allows it.
While the rythm affects the dancers steps, the movements are executed differently. While the egyptian dancers do small controlled movements, there are no limits to the size of the Turkish moves. Movements that have been forbidden in Egypt for a long time are executed without thought. Theperformances are more energetic, acrobatic and commersial seen from a western perspective. Big movements, borderlining vulgar (over the top in some cases) gives a carefree, energetic and sometimes sexual expression. A Turkish audience wants to be dazzeled by the dancers beauty, impressed by her spectacular trix and seduced by her enchanting movement. These perceptions are debated among Turks and foreigners. Some feel Turkish style has no focus on sexuality and that this is induvidual to each dancers performance. I however, feel the focus on sexuality is more present in the Turkish style.
In addition to the acrobatic movements a performance often includes floorwork. This is what many people think of when thinking of Turkish bellydance. Floorwork is when the dancer descends to the floor and often shows off her flexibility. Either it's a turkish drop, the split or even more extreme demonstrations resembling moves of contortionists.
There are high reqierements to a dancers figure for her to make a name for herself in Turkey. The ability to express emotions through her dance is not the emphasis. It is however expected that she is beautiful, fit and able to impress with remarkable moves. Full figured dancers ore seldom seen in Turkey and appearances is at least as important as the dance itself. An interesting obervation, is that it's often the female audience who demand these norms. Dance is ofen shown on TV and Turkish women are were fixated on bodt image. A full figured woman quickly gets the label of being fat and the chances of making a career in dance is close to impossible.
Part of the reason might be that as flexibility and so much energy is expected, it's natural that most dancers make it big at a young age when they are fit enogh to live up to the expectations of the audience.
Another visible difference are the costumes. Even thougt the gap is smaller now after the Egyptians are becoming very extravagant in their costuming, and the Turkish dancers are more influenced by the Egyptian costumes with the mermaid skirts, traditionally there's an obvious difference. The Turkish belts are fitted higher up at the waist, and the skirts have high splits revealing the entire leg, or both. The original Turkish belts were triagular, while the egyptian were rounded. Also, the Turkish dancers perform with high heels or even platform shoes. This is considered dashing, and dancing without shoes is often considered unelegant.
Turkish dancers often perform with zills, finger cymbals, and it is said that dancers who do not master the use of zills while dancing, is not an accomplished danser. Turkish dancers often perform with zills, but many also have a more "Egyptian" character to their dance (softer, and toned down) as they travel more and influenced by other cultures.
During the 1950's to the 1970's the famous dancers often became moviestars as well. Turkish dances who make a name for themselves today live a good life, with star status like a popstar. The Turkish papparazi also pay attention, and the Turkish media, as well as the population in general, are always hungry for news about their celebreties.
The Egyptian form of Oriental Dance, called orienal or sharqi, can be devided in two categories - classical egyptian and pop. What mainly separates the two is the music, and thereby the expression.
The classic style is a dignified dance to great pieces of music composed by renowned composers/singers such as Om Kalsoum and Farid El Atrache. The music is emotionally challenging and the dancers goal is to communicate the feelings of the music to the audience, through her dance. It's not uncommon for Egyptians to be moved to tears by an accomplished dancer. This style can be compared with ballett, which is held in the same esteem in western countries as classical egyptian is in the Middle East. This style is clearly different from the Turkish style, as the emotion of the Turkish dance is more shallow, as opposed to here, where the dancer must expose her soul.
Pop oriental is performed to popular arabic music and therefor demands less "exposure of the soul". The music is up-beat and the expression here is more comparable to the Turkish expression.
While the Turkish style can include the 9/8 rythm, the Egyptian music is normally played in a 4/4 beat. This has a great impact on the performance as an Egyptian dancer seldom will be able to dance with the music og the 9/8 rythm if she's not especiallt familiar to it.
I've already mentioned the difference of the movements, and many of these differences can probably be traced back to the strict rules in Egypt forbidding certain pelvic moves and other movements. Floorwork did have a place in Egyptian performances as well in the earlier days, but after it was forbidden during the 1950's it's never really regained it's popularity.
Egyptian dancers can be full figured and still make a great career. The movements become more visible and softer. Since the Egyptian style requires smaller and more suttle movements a full figure can accomplish this excellently. It is however, difficult to create these movements softly with no flesh on the body. In my opinion the Egyptian style generally has a more mature expression compared to the Turkish style. Through these differences you also notice a clearly different body ideal. While the Turkish dancers have a huge pressure on themselves to look like models of the western world, the Egyptians are allowed to be more naturally feminine and curvatios.
As the energy level is normally much lower in an Egyptian routine in also lasts longer. While the Turkish performances normally last about ten minutes, the Egyptians perform much longer. An opening routine is about 15 minutes after which she proceeds with a second dance before changing costumes and returning for a second act. This style of dance allows the performer to be both older and more full figured during the peak of her career. The Turkish dancer mainly peaks in her 20's, while the Egyptian dancer can become ledgendary through their 40's, 50's, 60's and 70's. Life experience spices up their dance with a larger spand in their convincing expression, and they radiate confidence that makes the audience fall in love with their idols.
The egyptian costumes are traditionally quite covered. Due to the strict rules agains revealing the stomach, the dancers tend to use net to cover the stomach. This is still requiered, but more and more dancers ignore this ban and perform without the net.. unless the costumes are seized in a raid.
The skirts are normally fitted lower on the hips, revealing the entire net-covered abdomen. The advantages of this fit is that the movements are more visible and therefor more effectful. The splits are not as high and high heels are not common. They often ferform barefoot or with flat shoes, while it was more common to use high heels during the cinema era. The Egyptian dancers do not only use the the two piece costume which sets the two even further apart. The fitted dresses and the loose dresses are becoming more and more common among the professionals.
Some of the most famous Egyptian and Turkish dancers through time are presented on the following pages.