I just returned from a wonderful experience in Turkey. I was
privileged to have been welcomed into the Sulukule Roma Community as a
sister. I am incredibly blessed and inspired to have been welcomed as
so. Sema is a gracious, exceptionally talented and very hospitable
dancer, who I feel a strong connection with as a sister. I joined her
at the Çatır Bar in Beskitas District of Istanbul for a night of song
and dance. The band was unlike any Turkish Roma music I've heard! They
are so talented, passionate and adept at their art, it brought tears to
my eyes. The expressiveness and strength of their music uplifts the
soul and makes the body and mind happy and joyous.I helped Sema get
ready for her performance back stage (which totally reminded me of the
scene in Satin Rouge) and she donned this beautiful yellow and pink
ensemble and I was so captivated by her dancing, her passionate and
expressiveness. Fegin was totally shouting me on in my dancing. The
drummer Murat was a hoot! Sema said why you come and see me for
lesson?? You don't need lesson, you need more passion!
Kobra Murat, Fegin (Roma Dancer) and his band adopted me as their
sister and I danced until dawn with the Roma. "Sulukule Orkestrasi
Çatır Bar" I feel so inspired, yet I miss my new friends now. I've got
so much dancing to do here, but I know I'll be back in Istanbul again
GOING TO TURKEY!!!
On April 16th 09 I am leaving to go and take advanced lessons
from Sema Yildiz, Turkey's top dancer of Oriental and Roma Havasi
dance!!!. I am so incredibly excited about this learning opportunity. I
am truly looking forward to returning with inspiration and new skills
in order to share with my students.
Sema has promised me that we'll go into Sulukule district and dance
with the Roma, and as she put it, "the authentic place". She's also
said that we can dance together at Sultana's. This is truly going to be
the trip of a lifetime!
Please stay tuned!!!
A NEW BLOG ABOUT SEMA
Lucy (or Lale - Lucy's Turkish name named by Sema Yildiz) is an instructor that is teaching belly dance at community college and dance studio in Taiwan. Lucy attributes her initial belly dance training to Li-Mei Lin, the leader of Asmah Belly Dance Troupe.
In 2007, Lucy went to Turkey for one week of belly dance classes with Turkey's foremost expert, Sema Yildiz.
She has also completed workshop and seminar training with visiting internationally known master instructors of belly dance include:
* Jillina (Bellydance Superstars, U.S.A)
* Hale Sultan (Turkey)
* Kajira Djoumahna (Black Sheep Belly Dance, U.S.A)
* Sahira (Urban Gypsy, U.S.A)
You can read the article (click here)
Kimberley - Pelin - Sema
SEMA YILDIZ - A STAR OF TURKISH BELLYDANCE
Medanz September 2004
Interview with Sema Yildiz, one of Turkey's leading Belly Dancers and
waist length black hair, fluidly graceful arms, powerful shimmies and
unforgettable smile, Sema Yildiz is Turkish Oryantal incarnate, embodying the
passion, dexterity, skill and emotion of this wonderful dance form. She dances
like a whirlwind, beautifully and with incredible energy. Fixing her audience
with her queenly gaze she draws each individual in to her performance. Sema
commands attention as a dancer and her audiences are rewarded with her rippling
veil work, ringing zills, floor undulations, sweeping turns, dramatic hair
flicks and pulsating stomach accents.
I first met Sema one
scorching Turkish summer morning at the newly set up Gokpinar Dance Centre, a
small village based dance studio where I am currently teaching. Sema had heard
of the studio and while holidaying in nearby Bodrum had decided to come and
inspect the studio and meet the owner with a view to also running her own
workshops and classes there. So over a typical Turkish breakfast of cucumbers,
olives, tomatoes, white cheese, olives, crusty white bread and strong sweet
black tea I had the pleasure of meeting Sema.
Sema is recognised as one
of Turkey’s leading dance teachers and she has taught nearly all of the well
known dancers currently performing in Turkey including Asena. Her “girls” can be
seen in resorts and clubs all over Turkey and similarities in their dance styles
can be traced back to Sema’s focus on grace, energy and energy projection.
Currently teaching in Istanbul she is still much in demand by young dancers
wanting to enter the world of bellydance performance as well as by foreign
students wanting to gain a unique insight into Turkish style bellydance as well
as the 9/8 rhythms.
Even with this impressive
profile in the Turkish belly dance world and her own extensive international
dance career; Sema is surprisingly approachable and very willing to share her
knowledge. After helping clear away the remains of our Turkish breakfast and
pouring another round of black tea into our tulip shaped glasses, she bought out
her collection of her performance DVDs and CD compilations for viewing and
discussion. Although she has an in-depth knowledge and obvious love of Turkish
produced belly dancing music, as I listened to her CDs with her and watched some
of her recorded performances, her preference at times for Egyptian classical
style belly dance music for some of her choreographies is apparent.
Later in the afternoon,
relaxing on Turkish cushions in a corner of the dance studio after we had
digested the last of the tea and fresh baklava, Sema changed into a stunning red
beaded velvet costume and danced for us. I was mesmerized by her elegance and
energy; and accompanied by a ney (Turkish flute) player and drummer who were
also at the studio that sweltering afternoon she whirled round the floor like
fire, dipping and thrusting and even later dropping to the floor in a back bend
to allow the drummer to play his darbuka on her belly.
It is this level of
passion, ability and strength of performance personality that I believe have
been the hallmarks of Sema’s success as a dancer. Now over 50, she has been
dancing since growing up in Istanbul near a “wedding house” where as a young
girl she would regularly go and listen to the music and watch the wedding
dancers. Married to her first husband at age 14 and subsequently living near the
gypsies of the Sulukule district in Istanbul, famous for its proliferation of
gypsy musicians and dancers, Sema had direct experience learning in a very
musical and colorful environment.
Entering a belly dance
competition at 17 she progressed quickly on to the stage and for the next 20
years was a much loved and regular performer at major Istanbul dance and club
venues. Later she performed through Europe and the Middle East, appearing with
Nadia Gamal in Iran and subsequently living for 9 years in Belgium with her
A few days later over a
Turkish mezze dinner that I prepared for Sema at home here in Bodrum, she danced
again for us as after we had poured the black tea into our tulip shaped glasses.
This time without the shining red costume, rippling silk veil and cascading
beadwork, Sema’s dancing was just as compelling, memorable and powerful as she
had been that hot afternoon in the studio set amongst the pine trees. This is
Turkish Oryantal in its best form, sensual, spontaneous, fiery, expressive and
* Article published on http://www.bellydancing.co.nz/
A COMMENT ABOUT SEMA by ZUHRE SULTAN
Sema Yildiz - Famous Turkish dancer and teacher, Sema taught me the ethnicity and passion that was lacking in my dance. She has been the influence of all the modern Turkish dancers, and I consider her the most amazing woman I have ever met.
She is truly dedicated to this art form and mesmerizing to watch.
During her lessons, Sema chose a name for Roxzana...
Zuhre in Turkish means "Brilliancy, beauty"
A young American girl
on a trip to the city of Bursa was waiting with her Turkish friends for
the Teleferik cable car to take them down the mountain. With little
money, as students notoriously are, and tensed up with cold, the girl jumped
up and began to dance the chiftetelli — no, not the slow one which we are
familiar with here, the fast one that the Turks do. People threw money,
and the students and everyone one warmed up. Inspired, the girl, nameless
to us, asked her father to find her a dance teacher. Her father is Dr.
Winkler who worked at the American Hospital in Istanbul, and also happened
to frequent the Kervansaray Dinner Club. Dr. Winkler approached his favorite
dancer, Sema Yildiz, and asked her to teach his daughter. That was Sema's
first teaching experience. Sema was quite young then, only 27, still approaching
her prime, but had already been on stage for ten years.
Sema Yildiz was always a dancer. Little Sema
was born to
a Yugoslavian immigrant man (who also spoke Greek) from Vodina City,
and a beautiful Turkish woman. They had four boys, and Sema was exactly
in the middle. Her father was a fruit and vegetable seller, and none of
her brothers were artists. They lived in Fatih, a conservative area of
Istanbul just west of the Golden Horn, in a house with a large garden fruit
trees. The family garden was adjoining the big city where there was an
open air cinema. In the late fifties and early-sixties Hindi movies were
very popular in Istanbul. One film would run for a month at a time at the
cinema. At ten years old, Sema and, her young friends would play "dress
up," and with four bottle caps or coins stuck to the ends of their fingers
with tree sap, they would pretend to play zils and imitate the arm and
head movements of the Hindi film dancers. One can imagine how those little
girls were mezmerised by the ongoing full color drama and greater-than-life
bejeweled dancers nearly in their own backyard.
Mr. Tatu seriously
did not think himself lucky when his little impressionable daughter kept
running off to witness the "düğün" (wedding parties) at a nearby
rental "party house." Sema and her girl friends would curiously visit
at the fringes of every party. A band has always been essential at these
parties, and for a proper "düğün", an Oriental dancer was hired.
Of course, the guests would come in their finery and in the mood for a
brisk chiftetelli. It was a perfect medium for a little girl to develop
a bright outlook on life and cultivate an already natural talent for dance.
Her father was very angry about her escapades at the "party house," and
she always feared him, though she continued in her ways.
At the age of fourteen,
after only seven years of formal schooling, Sema was married off to a
man whose family lived in Karagumruk, a neighborhood just next to Sulukule.
As you may know, those neighborhoods within the ancient outer city walls
near the gate to Edirne (Edirne Kapi) are occupied" by "Roman" families
(Gypsies), and in particular, those with a tradition of music and
dance. As fate would have it, marrying into a family from this area only
brought Sema into closer contact with dance. She picked up the very distinctive
style of dance of the "Roman" (gypsy) girls, especially their "karşılama"
The following years
were times of serious change for Sema, as well as for Istanbul. The government
had built a large road through many of the old family gardens, including
theirs. The old Istanbul was beautiful, but, "Istanbul is no more green,"
lamented Sema. Her father died when she was sixteen, and soon after she
separated from her husband and went to live with her mother in a small
A year later, in 1967,
she entered "Yarışma", a contest for "Queen of the Dance." Now more
than thirty years later she still remembers the camaraderie among the contestants.
This is a reflection of her positive nature: she is sensitive to those
around her. The jury chose Sema as first place winner from ten finalists.
The news coverage of the contest sparked the beginning of a career for
Sema Yildiz. Her name means "dancing star" in Turkish.
Sema began to dance
professionally after her "baba" (father) died. "He kill me if he
know!" she said. "Of course, all families hate it (when their daughters
dance professionally ) because 'açık'." In Turkish açik means "naked"
or "open" as in "inviting people in." A woman who is açik, exposes
her belly, legs and chest in public and it is assumed that she is açik
in her personality, and possibly in other ways. At that time in Turkey
the only "open" girls were "Oryantal," but Sema said that singers
also became açık.
Sema is a risk-taker.
As long as I have known Sema, a part of her adventuresome character is
given to impulsiveness. With a well-trained body and a sense of artistry,
this has proven to be a boon for Sema on stage. The Turkish style is noted
for its sudden drops, dramatic level changes, wild spins and head tosses.
Turkish dancers are famous for sudden facial changes of mood, or some awkward
or surprising gesture. Even in her shyness, if the mood is right, Sema
manages a few. She is always quick to pick up new and fun gestures that
In 1968, Sema Yildiz
landed her first job as a soloist, working in Zeki Müren's review. Müren
was a much-loved singer in Turkey, and remains famous even after his death
in 1995. The following year she began work in the Istanbul Kervansaray
Dinner Club in Elmadag which was to be her "home base" for the next 23
years. She worked in all the best clubs: Bebek Maksim, Galata Kulesi (Tower),
and Maksim of Taksim Square, which is now a gambling casino, but once was
the center of high-end entertainment in Istanbul. Taksim Square, and the
adjacent Elmadag district, all the way to the Hilton, were the fashionable
places to go in the sixties and seventies. Some of Sema's contemporaries
who she admired were Aysel Tanju, İnci Birol, and Özcan Tekgül, an older
Turkish television actress.
Sema danced in Tehran
and Khoramshah, Iran in 1976, where she appeared with other Oriental dancers
including Jamileh and Nadia Gamal. She said that they were often on the
same bill as Gogos, the best-loved female singer in Iran, a kind of "Madonna"
of those times. After a three month working tour of Beirut, Syria, and
the Ramses Hotel in Amman, she returned to Istanbul.
In 1979, a Turkish
agent named Marko sent Sema to Belgium. Though returning home to visit
many times, she stayed away for nine years. She married a Belgian, living
with him for six years. Throughout this time she worked in Europe, represented
by Zobel Agency, which was run by two Hungarian brothers—one Muslim, one
Christian. They managed her career, sending her to Italy, Austria, Czechoslovakia,
Holland, Luxembourg, England ... fourteen countries in all. In England
she worked at the Gallipoli Club along with another Turkish dancer, Oya
Ates. There she met Ertha Kitt, who recorded "Üsküdar" in Turkish, a song
that every Turk can sing...of course not the way Ertha did it! In 1988,
two years after her divorce, Sema returned to home base, the Kervansaray
and the Parisienne in Elmadag. But that fancy district of posh restaurants
was never to be the same again.
Amid the stories in
Turkish I recognized a face in a news clip. "Yes, that was Magana, who
brought me my very first study group." I later called Magana Baptiste of
San Francisco, and asked her to tell me all she remembered about Sema Yildiz.
"Oh, she was a dynamic dancer in the clubs, with very strong pelvic and
hip work!" In February 1978, Magana led a group of fifteen people on a
dance tour of Turkey, Greece and Egypt. They saw Sema at the old Kervansaray,
and Magana visited her in her dressing room afterwards. She asked if they
could have lessons the next day at their hotel and, though speaking almost
no English, Sema agreed.
When they met the next day, Magana
danced some for Sema. Being very shy and reserved then, Sema exclaimed,
"Oh no! I have nothing to teach you—you know all the moves!" Sema demonstrated
some simple movements for the class. When the group picked up all the movements
instantly Sema said, "You know everything already. I don't need to teach
you." But she had that Turkish feeling so naturally, she didn't think of
it as something to teach. But that feeling, that way, was what the group
wanted. Through a translator, Magana encouraged her to show them the unique
gestures which had caught her attention in her show, and the powerful floor
work with pelvic vibrations. In the three hours they spent together, Sema
gave them some universal movements which were made unique by her interpretation
and use. She also showed them some 9/8 steps, which a Turk can do while
somnambulant, but with the timing of the pauses and hops which seem so
unnatural to others. "Though in class Sema seemed lacking in confidence,
on stage she was rather strong—we were very impressed," said Magana. Now,
I only see hints of that shyness. She has acquired a lot of self-confidence
in the years since that visit from Magana's.
All the students eventually
landed in Sema's classes. But the fact remains, as has been true throughout
most of the Middle East, that there is no tradition of formal Oriental
Dance classes. Most of the learning has occurred "in family," "on-the-job,"
or in a one-to-one "coaching" relationship. Sema's students, first Magana's
group, then the German school teachers, the Italian ladies who are sent
over by Katrine of Padua, Eva's Delightful Turkish Tour dancers, and now
the Americans who find Sema's number listed in Habibi's Network, all contribute
to teaching Sema how to teach by "Western methods," while learning from
her the "Eastern mannerisms."
Sema's students are
not only from the West. Apart from the many Turkish girls whom she has
coached, in 1997 her protege of the time was a quite young Ukranian girl,
Irena, who worked upstairs in the "Revue."
Irena is well-trained in classical ballet and jazz, and has a natural ability
and love of dance. Since it is difficult to find Oriental dancers in Istanbul
in summer as they go off to find work in the resorts, the owner of Regine's
encouraged (subtly pressured) Sema to train some of his lovely group of
young Ukranian dancers to expand their repertoire beyond acrobatics, ballet,
stripping, jazz and modern dance. In a nonverbal agreement for the continued
use of the disco as her studio, Sema took on the new students.
Sema is not one to
philosophize about the current local developments, or the course of the
history of Oriental dance. Even when surrounded by the "seamy" side of
the current Western revues, Sema walks a very fine but distinct line, self
assured in her own path. Sema's character distinguishes her in the face
of easy options which others around her may have chosen. She looks at a
dancer who has come to her for help, and if she sees potential and sincerity
in the dancer, she gives to her unconditionally. Sema is always caring,
helping others, even the pros: she had one of her European students bring
a pair of dancing shoes for Zinnur Karaca, the niece of well-known dancer
Tülay Karaca. She has always arranged work for young dancers for New Year
parties, and through her contacts at night clubs, she sometimes arranges
for guest appearances by her students. One of Sema's German students told
Sema that she wanted to study with Nesrin Topkapi, and Sema gave her Nesrin's
number with no hesitation or jealousy. She encourages her students to learn
Observing Sema, I could
see her childhood inspiration still present. One time at the dinner table
we mentioned the old time Hindi cine couple Rajih Kopour and Nargis. Sema
became very animated as she sang the film song "Avare," remembering almost
all of the words and dancing in her chair, full of youthful sparkle, still
shining like a star.
*Eva Cernik has
taught and performed Oriental dance throughout the U.S. and abroad for
the past twenty-six years. Her Turkish dance style was influenced by her
first teacher, Anahid Soufian of New York. In 1979, Eva began traveling
to the Middle East to learn dance at its source. She created Dreaming about
Egypt Tours in 1984 and Delightful Turkish Tours in 1992, which she continues
to lead. On many of her trips to Turkey she has researched and video-taped
the dance of the Rom. In 1997 Eva won the IAMEED "Innovative Dancer" award.
*Article & Pictures by courtesy of HABIBI
mosques towering along the Bosphorus Straight...palaces.. .the scents of
tea brewing and lamb roasting lingering in the streets...visions of flying
carpets! Turkey was beckoning to me!
Turkey's charm derives from its
long and intense history. In many ways it can be considered to be the cradle
of civilization. Many believe that the Garden of Eden is located in what
is now Eastern Turkey. Enormous ruins of ancient cities are scattered throughout
the country, cities that at their peak had widespread prominence, riches
and glorious lifestyles, some dating to over three thousand years ago.
The cities in this area were abandoned and re-inhabited over the centuries
time and time again. Its long history is rich and includes Oriental dance.
In the fifth century A.D, the ancient gypsy people of the Indian peninsula
left their homeland and began migrating to the Middle East, bringing along
their beautiful music and dance. The Turkish people today feel strongly
about their adopted form of this ancient dance.
My interest in meeting
Turkish dancer Sema Yildiz was stimulated when I read the article about
her by Eva Çernik in
Habibi (Vol. 17, No. 2). One simple phone call to her opened up a month
of fabulous dancing! Her studio is based at the Regine Revue Club, a few
blocks off of Taxim Square, two levels below the city on the stage of-tfee
classy Sultana restaurant, with its fabulous decor! Now a "retired" performer,
Sema's time is dedicated to teaching private and group lessons, and she
is a sought-after booking agent for the best clubs of Istanbul. She graced
many of those stages during her decades of professional dancing.
Many of our evenings
were spent with Sema at these snazzy clubs being waited on hand and foot
by a dozen waiters while we waited for one of her "girls" to perform. She
is a queen wherever she steps in Turkey. Sema has brought many astounding,
precise, young dancers into the public eye of Istanbul, including Asena,
who is probably the best-known Oriental dancer in Turkey at the moment.
Sema is a master at expressing the music and creating the sense that it
oozes out of the dancer's body. She emphasizes the beauty of changing moods
in the dance, capturing and expressing the feelings of the instruments,
using drama, speed and utilizing the entire dance space. The Turks like
dancers to use the space surrounding the stage, spreading their movements
into the entire room. They like to see fire, flexibility, and skill in
the female body. Sema's movements can be very subtle and expressive, and
her dancing needs to be watched carefully. Her choreographies are good
demonstrations of the Turkish interpretation of the dance.
She continues to have
a small stream of students from around the world, as well as many regulars,
who pop in for a few lessons. As Eva stated, "When she sees potential and
sincerity in the dancer, she gives unconditionally." I found her to be
very generous. In fact, Sema gave me my dance name, Kerime Sultan, which
she said is a name from the Ottoman Empire.
Almost every night
during the seven weeks we were in Turkey we were out looking for dancers.
We found that there were two very distinct levels of dancing, depending
primarily on how much the establishment was willing to pay. There were
innumerable hotels, restaurants, hostels, beach resorts, and clubs advertising
"Belly Dancer Tonight!" Many of the "bar" dancers were beautiful, fun and
exciting, and were skilled at making the crowd happy. Although they knew
some hot moves, played zils on platform shoes, and looked fabulous to an
untrained eye, their dancing lacked depth.
On the other hand,
on the nights that we went to the clubs with Sema, it was an entirely different
story. The dancers were well trained, precise and had excellent technique.
Their performances were absolutely inspiring, full of the life and spirit
of Oriental dance. Two women who have been training with Sema for three
or four years were especially memorable. They are now busy with full-time
dance careers. Oya's dancing very much reflects Sema's style. We also were
able to watch a dancer from Rumania a few times, and were so taken by her
dancing that we could not even blink while she danced. Sema emphasized
that it is the feeling that these dancers have inside that allows them
to reach the level of success and popularity that they enjoy.
*Article: Visiting Istanbul's Delight, Sema Yildiz
by Kerime Sultan, Boulder, Colorado
*Article & Pictures by courtesy of HABIBI