Designer Costumes & Belly Dancing in the Middle East: Sabriye Tekbilek Interview – 048

Belly Dance Podcast sabriye tekbilek

For 12 years Sabriye performed all over the Gulf and North Africa. Hear her tips for keeping the soul in Saidi and how to do Khaleeji hair throw moves safely. 


I am pleased to feature another leader in the Salimpour school and community, Sabriye Tekbilek. What a lovely Turkish name. Sabriye is the daughter of renowned Turkish musician “Haci” Ahmet Tekbilek. Her uncle Ömer Faruk Tekbilek is also a famous musician, and her mother Lisa Djeylan is known for pioneering belly dance in Sweden.

So Sabriye grew up with Middle Eastern music and dance in her home, and she also formally studied Middle Eastern dance, flamenco and ballet.

Sabriye studied with both Suhaila and Jamila as a college student at Berkeley, and she began teaching belly dance after that.

Like Abigail Keyes, another amazing dancer we have featured on A Little Lighter, Sabriye is also one of the few dancers in the world to hold level 5 certification in both the Suhaila and Jamila formats. She has taught and performed all over the world.

In 2005 Sabriye began a 12 year run of dancing all over the Gulf and North Africa. She worked at the 5 star nightclub Haroun Al Rashid in Cairo alongside the legendary Dina, and she regularly performs all over the world for dignitaries and with other Arabic music stars.

Danceable Ritual: Visualize Yourself Dancing Even When you Can’t Dance

It is just you and the music when you drive or ride the subway. The more you visualize, the more reality will become what you visualized. Just like professional athletes.

And give yourself time to do your hair and makeup before you perform so you can clear your mind.

Danceable Song: Zay El Assal

It’s a love song about a rare love, unlike anyone else she has ever met. The singer compares the love to honey. The crescendo is “Like honey!”. Exuberant. Innocent. The translation of Zay El Assal is “His love comes over my heart just like honey.” Modern mono-rhythmic music doesn’t offer the dancer a chance to highlight different parts of the music like this song does.

This song could be about a love for another person, or even a love for something. For example, the sweet pure joy of dancing at that moment. Like getting to dance to live music. It can mean different things at different points in your life.

Like Suhaila said, dancing to live music can be an addiction.

I think every venue has merit and it’s always good to perform. But if you have a great band and audience that is culturally aware, it makes it more enticing. But I do enjoy dancing for workshops and other dancers. I know they are appreciating it in a different way.

What was is it like to be the daughter of a famous Turkish musician?

I had a pretty unorthodox childhood. My dad took my toys and turned them into instruments. Like my bouncy horse that he turned into a bagpipe. My father is always in the pursuit of music. Now I also have a love for music.

Going to my father’s gigs was part of growing up. We have also worked together at gigs. And my mother would perform with my father, so I went to a lot of gigs. They met because she was a belly dancer and my father was a musician in Sweden.

(Sabriye’s uncle Omar Faruk Tekbilek was in the vintage belly dance band The Sultans)

They also played Sufi music.

How do you know if a song is appropriate to dance to?

If music has lyrics that are religious, don’t dance to it. But many songs say “Oh my God”. The word Allah is in there, but it’s not religious. And artists like Mohammad Ramadan have religious names, but their music is not religious.

The song Mevlana, for example. Mevlana is another name for Rumi, but it has no lyrics and its origin is unknown. Is it appropriate to belly dance to the song Mevlana? We don’t know.

What has your mother taught you about belly dance?

Seeing my mother (Lisa Djeylan) living and working as an artist was a valuable lesson. It’s gutsy. You see the work ethic that it takes to do that. I could see what living and working as an artist full time really meant. Being a full time dancer. It’s not relaxed and just practicing your art. It’s a hustle. I did not have romantic notions of it. She had stopped dancing by the time I wanted to start dancing when I was 13, so I only got her to teach me for an hour. She studied with Jamila and she told me to go take classes. My mother is from California. I was born in Sweden, but my mother and I came back to California when I was 9.

Damn Sexy Dance Move: Algerian Shimmy

Belly Dance Podcast 048 Dance Move

The hardest part is giving it a loose quality and keeping it relaxed when it actually is hard and fast.

The footwork for the Algerian Shimmy: Feet up in relevé (on your toes) and parallel to each other, then step forward a little with one foot, then back with feet parallel, and then step forward with your other foot. There are similarities between Tunisian and Algerian dance moves.

(And there’s the move Sabriye does where she turns but her hair keeps going. That move was featured in the interview with Anna Horn…)

You can take music into your whole body and interpret it rather than thinking of doing dance steps. It is full body expression. I want my whole body to be open to interpreting the music. My hips might be interpreting the rhythm and my arms might be the melody.

What do you feel when you are doing Saidi dance style?

Fun and earthy. Grounded. Soul music.

How are Egyptian style cane dances and Lebanese style cane dances different?

As far as I know, there is not a traditional Lebanese cane dance. In Egypt, sticks are used as weapons and Sa’idi can be play dancing. And with Sa’idi, it’s hard to know what Mahmoud Reda may have created and what was traditional.

Lebanese and Sa’idi music can sound similar, with mizmar and davul being played.

Sa’idi can mean so many things. A song can be from the Sa’id region but not in Sa’idi rhythm. And a song in Sa’idi rhythm could be from another place besides the Sa’id. And there are other things called Sa’idi, because it means anything coming from the Sa’idi region. This included Sa’idi dialect, and people from the Sa’id.

Tips on Including Khaleeji Moves in Belly Dance

Pronounced “hah-lee-gee” in Egypt because they don’t pronounce the “j” sound.

Use your whole body as a counter-weight. It is not just coming from your neck or head. Work out of the floor. You are shifting the weight in your feet.

Don’t hurt yourself. It’s still not great for your neck, but if you are going to use Khaleeji moves make sure it’s motivated by the music.

Everything you insert into your dance should be motivated by the music. 

Tips for Doing a Debke Like a Local

Each genre has a certain weight placement and groove. Grooves like ruts on a track. Find the ruts so you can stay on the track.

There’s a bounce to it. The bounce goes into the floor instead of coming out of it. Carry your weight low in your body. And mimic it, just like kids learning a dance.

What does Tekbilek mean? It means one-wristed. Sabriye means patient.

Vegan Whole Food Ingredient: Kale

Kale sauteed with a little garlic. Sometimes I blanch it first and then saute it.

Costume Tip: Get Rid of Costumes that Inhibit You

Belly Dance Podcast 048 Costume Tip

If you can, buy a bunch of costumes and wear them until you figure out which ones are comfortable. I call those “Pajama Costumes”. Gravitate toward those. You don’t want your costume to inhibit your dance.

And know your body shape and wear designs that flatter your shape

(Here are some of Sabriye’s favorite belly dance costume designers:)

Bella in Turkey

Eman Zaki and Hoda Zaki in Cairo

Feel Good Look Good Habit: Be Grateful for Your Body

Our bodies give us so much!

And a pedicure feels pretty good too. Our feet take the hardest beating. Try dipping your feet in paraffin wax.

Belly Dance Night Life Trips to Cairo

Go out to the night clubs of Cairo with Sabriye! Trip info here. 

Now there are more seedy mid-level venues than the 5 star venues. It’s hard to do a more artistic show in the seedy venues because it’s more geared toward tips. There are still huge bands in the mid-level venues. The 5 star venues are dying out, but there are still people who want to see them.

Touristy venues are often watered down, tableau, sometimes hokey shows, small bands.