This dissertation examines the ways in which performance forms articulate with urban identities in the context of transnational economic and cultural exchange. In this multisited historical ethnography, I explore the links between late 19th-century Ottoman and contemporary Turkish public spheres fractured by morality battles and political transformation. Both periods are characterized by a shared commitment to free market modernity, social reform, and Islamic revivalism. To generate income and credibility in the world market, heritage tourism initiatives, Ottoman and Turkish alike, have deployed auto-Orientalist strategies among which belly dance figures prominently. Focusing on the contradictory configurations of belly dance as familial, aesthetic, tourist, and erotic product, I argue that the enduring dichotomy of honor and profit reveals particular anxieties over Turkey's Ottoman past, European future, and the ingrained dialectic of Islamic and secular revivalism across the Middle East.
I deploy belly dance praxis as a critical optic to examine the interplay among market-based modernity, urban spatial entitlement, and cultural purity across centuries and across the Atlantic. I thus connect the Orientalist Turkish Village performances at the 1893 Chicago World's Columbian Exposition with the tourism-driven revitalization of belly dance in rapidly globalizing post-1980s Istanbul. My historical analysis exposes how belly dancers, as dishonorable yet redeemable exotics, both financed and compromised the West-compatible, modern Muslim image of the late Ottoman Empire. Similarly, current controversies over lucrative Orientalist commodification illustrate the ambivalence of modernity projects in Turkey: the moderately Islamic, European Union aspiring, zealously secular "noble savage" of the Middle East.
To document the embodied operations and ideological underpinnings of Ottoman heritage tourism, I conducted archival research on both sides of the Atlantic, During four years of ethnographic fieldwork, I worked with and/or interviewed 58 musicians, agents, club owners, and belly dancers and their families across tourist restaurants, disreputable nightclubs, elite entertainment venues, dance classes, and homes. As a professional belly dancer, I choreographed for and performed at tourist restaurants and hotels in Istanbul. Combined with critical anthropological, gender, and performance theory, these findings posit Turkish entertainment, and belly dance, in particular, as contested expressions of economic rejuvenation, cultural authenticity, and sexual propriety.