On the 9th day of Christmas: Meet Safiye Rakkase, the vainglorious dancing girl


Safiye, showing as much skin as possible - she loves Lady Gaga and Madonna (thanks to the Asian Shadow Theatre Exhibition's Flikr photostream for this image)

Safiye Rakkase (Sah-fee-yeh rah-kah-seh), that’s who you are meeting today.  As stated, she may be a hot mamma – but she is one vainglorious hot mamma.  She is the ringleader of the chorus of dancing ladies, often referred to in the Ottoman court as dancing girls, or çengi …according to the website www dot turkishculture dot org “during the time of the Ottoman Empire dancing was form of entertainment enjoyed both at court and amongst ordinary people. Unfortunately these dance traditions have not survived to the present day, and our information about them is restricted mainly to Ottoman miniatures and drawings and paintings by Europeans who visited Turkey in past centuries. When exploring the history of Ottoman dance it is important not to confuse such authentic documents with the works of European Orientalist painters, who depicted not what they had seen but what they imagined. Such fruits of fantasy include female slaves dancing naked in harems. Ottoman miniatures on the other hand, reflect the true nature of this dancing, as do pictures by eye witnesses, many of them not professional artists, whose job was to collect written and visual information about the Ottoman Empire for the monarchs of Europe. Ottoman dances had their origins in theatre, the performers enacting a subject by means of pantomime in the form of dance, using body language to convey their meaning. These dances were of three types. The first was performed by dancers known as çengi, who originally included both men and women, but in later times came to be women only. The word çengi is derived from çeng, a type of harp played upon the knees and no longer used today. The çengi dancers held a type of castanet known as çarpara in their hands, and sometimes also handkerchiefs. Their costumes were highly ornate, concealing every part of the body apart from the face and hands. Some çengis whirled china plates on the tips of their fingers while they danced, and were then known as kâsebaz or ‘dish jugglers’.”

Now, unlike the description above, Safiye Rakkase does not cover all but her face and hands…apparently her outfit morphed over time to include more of a modern-day belly dancing outfit.  She was never much for spinning china on the tips of her fingers, either, but she can do it in a pinch.  Safiye Rakkase, often referred to as just Safiye for short, is overly obsessed with her looks and tends to spend way too much time primping and preening when she goes out.  She is the puppet in my head who supports my Turkish family in encouraging me to dye my silver hair back to brown – though I don’t mind the silver, nor does M., not that I would ever act on it if he did.  M. gets upset, for example, when I succumb to the pressure of having every single family member consistently chant through the day “in Turkey, we dye our hair,” this is a true story.  In any case – Safiye Rakkase loves it when they do this – and plants seeds of doubt across my cerebellum on a regular basis.

English: Safiye Ali (1891-1952), first female ...

I wonder what Safiye Rakkase would think of Safiye Ali, the first Turkish doctor to treat the troops during the Balkan Wars - Image via Wikipedia

Safiye Rakkase scoffs at my feminist upbringing – and encourages me to use my “feminine whiles” to get what I need in life. She is clearly the voice in my head that actually, much to my shame now, wore a miniskirt to court one day at the request of the head lawyer on the team I worked for while in a public defender office.  That head lawyer was also a woman, who also wore a miniskirt that day, as she knew the criminal court judge in question liked to look at ladies’ legs.  That was total Safiye Rakkase territory. And yes, we got what we needed for our client that day.  Who knows if it was related.

These days, I let Safiye Rakkase worry about what I wear – but not much else.  She is still a major bit of noise in my head, as if those insane, negative body image magazines have set up a permanent loudspeaker in my head, much as everyday North Koreans have to put up with Kim Jong Il‘s propaganda broadcasts 24 hours per day – in their apartments!

I try to love Safiye Rakkase for who she is, but I do hope she will see the light one day.  As for her? Well, she still let’s me cut loose on the dance floor on occasion, it’s all her moves, not mine.