“Dance is the way we feel each other” ~ Ozel
“She who dances lives fully–and lives forever in that great chain of dancers, sisters, all, who through time have made the Bellydance one of women’s greatest gifts.” ~ Ozel
WHY WE <3 HER:
When I first started taking belly dance classes, I went to see my teacher, Anahid Sofian, dance at a tribute event for the lovely Ozel Turkbas, who had just passed. It was the first time I learned of Ozel. Her daughter, Deniz, spoke about her and showed clips of her on various television shows in the 70’s, like Dinah Shore. Ozel was elegant, charismatic, charming, spunky, very funny, and of course, beautiful.
Ozel was insanely talented. She made her own lavish costumes with skirts made entirely out of beads, she published Turkish recipes, she recorded albums, she acted, and oh yea….she was a crazy talented belly dancer that brought authentic Turkish dance to the U.S. Whewwww, I got tired just thinking about all of that. What an amazing woman!
It was clear how loved she was by the dance community and I was very moved by the stories about her and performances in her honor. I left feeling inspired, hoping one day I could be even a little bit like Ozel.
SO HERE’S THE DEAL:
Ozel was born Sept. 1st 1938 in Manisa Turkey, but she grew up in Ankara. Her mother was a dancer and an oud player there. Ozel would accompany her mother to her gigs. Because of the celebrations her mother attended, Ozel was constantly surround by music and dance. At the age of 5 Ozel was learning to belly dance. She found great joy in the dance and used it as a way to express herself. From the ages of 7-13 she was a member of the Children’s Theatre in Ankara. She sang and acted. At 13 she and her mother moved to Istanbul after her parents divorced. They joined a folkloric troop, Ozel sang and her mother danced. At 15 Ozel began modeling and acting in movies, although unlike many belly dancers she did not actually dance in any of the movies. She also danced in nightclubs and had to pretend she was 5 years older than she was.
In Istanbul, Ozel met and fell in love with a young student named Ayhan. They were married and he accompanied her to America in 1959 after she had been asked to come over by a promoter, she was 19. Her first job was at a nightclub in Baltimore. The second night on the job, she danced with all of her emotion, so much so that she burst into tears at the end of her performance, she said: “They just looked at my face. You could have dropped a pin, and you hear it. It was just amazing!” Ozel continued to tour around the U.S. very successfully, she was even able to bring over her sick mother, although sadly she passed away before Ozel’s next big gig. She was asked to portray the role of “Thais” in Dallas directed by Franco Zeffirelli. In one act she danced with a fake snake that she manipulated with rubber bands on her fingers. She did such a good job that everyone thought it was real.
Ozel and Ayhan ended up settling in New York. She was headlining at a number of the 8th Avenue clubs along with other Turkish dancers like Saliha. Typically, Ozel would do three 45 minute shows a night in the club, which also included a section of jokes. She would start her set off wearing a cape and singing in Turkish. Then she would remove the cape and begin to dance. She would play cymbals through her whole set. Ozel would wear heels and prided herself on good presentation and being elegant. But she would kick off her shoes for the drum solo and finish barefoot, which is awesome 🙂
After gigging around the country, she noticed that tons of women wanted to learn how to dance, but to do that they needed the proper music. So, she recorded an album in NY of traditional Turkish music, “How to Make Your Husband a Sultan.” The album sold 90,000 copies in its first year and 80,000 in its second. Quite an accomplishment. She made several more after that.
Ozel’s career was incredibly successful, she was a very astute business woman and such talented dancer. Those that got to see Ozel dance were captivated by her—she mesmerized them with her passion and energy.
Info from http://www.gildedserpent.com/cms/2012/07/31/jezibell-bennu-ozel-turkbas/#axzz2rHOSZRLW by Jezibell Anat, Originally published by Gamila el Masri in Bennu.