Although belly dancing has been popular in Turkey for centuries, the concubines in the sultan's harem did not practice it. Rather, belly dancers were brought in to entertain the sequestered women. It wasn't until 1919 that the dance was performed in front of men in Turkey.
Uninhibited and yet graceful, energetic and body-proud, Turkish belly dancers wear a seductive costume consisting of a fitted bra and harem pants or a long, diaphanous skirt underneath. Decorative chains of coins often are used as headpieces and draped on the bra and across the waist.
One of the best places to watch belly dancing is at Istanbul's Cultural Center on Turkish Dance Night. In this small theater, which accommodates a band of live musicians, a troupe of men and women perform a series of lively Turkish folk dances in traditional costumes.
Several of the numbers incorporate belly dancers, who move their lithe bodies to music that builds to a crescendo. On alternate nights, whirling dervishes take the stage for a performance that is more spiritual than entertaining.
Should you wish to try belly dancing at home as a private dancer, having the proper outfit can put you in the mood. Fortunately, the merchants of Istanbul are well-stocked: Costume vendors can be found both in the Spice Market and in the Grand Bazaar. Once you have the outfit, you can learn and practice the steps at home. Many dancers offer instructional belly dancing DVDs online (compare prices) that men find engaging as well.