Dance mix: Different ways to groove in Istanbul

Dance mix: Different ways to groove in Istanbul

Minji Lee
January 15, 2018

If you ask Turks how to dance, nine times out of ten, this is how they will show you: by spreading their arms, extending their pinky fingers, and swiveling them around in circles, with an imaginary line of friends by their side. Though the halay dance is an entertaining Turkish classic, there are numerous other forms that can be enjoyed in Istanbul. 


Horon is to the Black Sea as halay is to Ankara. In decades past, fishermen in the Black Sea region, in cities such as Trabzon, Ordu, Samsun, Giresun, Rize, and Artvin implemented a technique of stringing bait on a line to catch hamsi, a type of anchovy. The people’s love for hamsi and the traditional ways it was caught became an Anatolian folk dance that celebrates Black Sea culture. The movements of opening one’s arms like wings, striking one’s knees on the ground, and joining with other dancers’ shoulders, arms, and hands in a line formation is a way of expressing a horon dance group’s unity and strength. 

You don’t have to go to the Black Sea region to learn how to dance the horon. In Istanbul, Horon Evi provides dance courses in Kadıköy and Topkapı. The instructors teach a specialized form of dance, Soldoy horon, which originates from the Maçka and Sevinç villages in the Black Sea region.

Turkish belly dance

Known as Oryantal dans or “Eastern dance,” Turkish belly dance has a gypsy, heritage, and was practiced in the palatial harems of the Ottoman Empire. Belly dance is popular in many regions of the world, particularly in Lebanon, Armenia, Egypt, and Turkey. Snaking movements of different body parts, clicking movements of the fingers, and bell-laden ankle movements are common in all, but various instruments, rhythms, and costumes distinguish them from one another. The Turkish belly dance is characterized by sounds of the oboe, clarinet, and hand drums, as well as traditional instruments such as the oud, ney, kanun, and zil. It also utilizes the karshilama style, which is a specific rhythm that consists of three slow movements, followed by three fast movements, in succession.

Though there are many Turkish belly dancing studios in Istanbul, a reliable place to try it out is Depo Dans Cafe. With three locations in Cihangir, Bakırköy, and Ataşehir, you can find an instructor and environment that best suits your learning level in its relaxed and sociable environment.


Another dance with cultural fusion, which bears visual similarities to Turkish belly dance for its bold costumes, shiny accessories, and jingling sounds, is Bollywood dance. Like many other types of dance, Bollywood originates from Indian folk dance. In the 1950s and 60s, a few decades after film was popularized in India, Bollywood began to light up the big screen with talented choreographers and dancers. It began taking on more cultural influences such as cabaret, disco, and Western dance styles. Throughout the years, it garnered a large presence in the international film industry. It’s not surprising to learn that its name is a combination of two terms, Bombay (present-day Mumbai) and Hollywood. What sets Bollywood apart from other dancers is its focus on facial expressions. A dancer’s eyes and eyebrows are intended to tell a story and evoke emotions within the viewer. Intricate movements of the head, hands, neck, shoulders, and feet that seem to sway in and out of place at once, as well as bold costumes with detailed designs, are what make Bollywood so hypnotizing for a viewer and enjoyable for a dancer. Bollywood dance can be learned at Depo Dans Cafe in locations around Istanbul.

Types of Latin dance

As a diverse group of dance forms with folk, ballroom, and street influences, Latin dance, and all of its types, is seductive, powerful, and extremely popular. In Istanbul, one can learn the samba, a colorful Brazilian dance connected with the country’s Carnaval history, salsa, a saucy combination of Afro-Cuban and jazz rhythms, and tango, a ballroom partner dance that originated between Argentina and Uruguay. Out of all these forms, tango has become the most popular in Istanbul. Today, there are more than a dozen schools that offer milonga, or tango party, sessions. To find one nearest you, visit the Milonga Istanbul website, which provides detailed information on tango studios, shops, and festivals around the city. 


Forró dance reflects the Brazilian mentality about enjoying the simple pleasures of life in its two-step movement similar to the salsa. Originating from the countryside of Northeast Brazil and spreading to more urban areas of Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, forró is a folk dance with a number of salsa and samba influences. Though it is a partner dance, it is not uncommon for two strangers to come together, share a few steps and spins while being laced together at the thighs, and to trade partners throughout the sequence. There are a number of different forms, such as forró universitario, which is enriched with moves from other types of dance, such as capoeira.

Forró Istanbul offers classes to beginner and intermediate dancers every Sunday at Depo Dans Cihangir. The first lesson is complementary, and there is a dance night every Sunday after the lessons. As Forró Istanbul founders Bengu and Murat state, forró is an ever-evolving dance without such a rigid or classical structure; in this fusion of dance methodologies and histories, people can find their own style to share with other forró enthusiasts.

Lindy Hop

A type of swing dance that originates from Harlem in the 1930s, during the golden age of jazz, Lindy Hop, known to some as the Jitterbug, is a social dance. With fusions from jazz and tap, as well as the Charleston, the Lindy Hop takes on a number of rhythms and paces, from sophisticated and slow tempo steps to fast-paced jumps and acrobatic swirls. 
Swing Istanbul and Istanbul Lindy Hoppers are two active swing dance groups that regularly hold classes, performances, and parties.




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