Makaleyi okumak için türkçe, buraya Tıkla
To read the article in Turkish, click here.
Picture a stage filled with tiny ballerinas. Adorable little girls with their tutus on, buns high on their head, tiny arms and legs spinning and dancing on stage. One little girl stands out with just a little more fierceness and passion to her steps. After their performance, this little ballerina marches up to her mother, looks up at her with hard determination on her cute face and tells her, “Mom. When I grow up, I will be on stage.” Laughing at her 6 year old daughter’s statement, she asks, “OK. You will be onstage. But doing what? Dance?” Our feisty little ballerina answers back, “I don’t know. But I will be on stage. I know that.”
This was the day that a star named Çisil Sıkı was born.
Fast forward to 2017, her stage got a little bigger than her ballet school or her house’s couch. Now, Çisil is one of the most popular and successful dancers in Turkey. She’s performed in concerts/music videos/live shows with Turkey’s biggest musical artists. She’s starred in a lot of TV commercials. She’s the right hand woman of dance celebrity Omer Yeşilbaş, in opening and operating the best dance studio in Turkey: Dans Fabrika. She’s pioneering High Heels dance in the country. And most notably, she’s one of the brand ambassadors for Nike.
With all that under her name, you’d think that it all came easy. But this is where you learn what that 6-year old ballerina had to go through to reach the peak of her career.
Living in Eskişehir, a city northwest of Turkey, Çisil began her dance career at the age of 6 with Ballet. After two years of training, they closed the school, and it was difficult to look for other places to train. It was only when she reached High School that she found some teachers and she took all classes that were available. She decided to focus on dancing with Latin International, — where she first started to dream big.
She had a goal to win first place for Latin Dance Competition in Turkey, and represent her country. For three years, she trained hard! Finishing school at 1pm, she went straight to dance training that lasted for 8 hours every day. Her hard work paid off at age 15, when she won first place in Junior Division at Latin International Dance Competition. Çisil recalls, “I was supposed to represent my country, but our country didn’t have a dance federation yet. So I just got my plastic medal and went home. That was my big dream and I was so young, it was such a huge thing for me! I was so upset when they wouldn’t let me compete internationally. I trained 8 hours everyday for 3 years, won first place, but had nothing in the end. After that competition, I was so sad that for one year, I didn’t dance, I didn’t even allow anyone at home to open music.”
Despite the sadness that came after that failure, her love of dance pushed her to try again. She decided to take classes, in every style she can find. For a spirit as determined as hers, it still wasn’t enough. She wanted more, and so at the age of 18, Çisil decided to move to Istanbul. She remembers that big choice at such a young age, “It was the hardest decision of my life. Cause my parents had money problems, so if I was going to move to Istanbul, I had to support myself. I had to work because they couldn’t send money at all. But I wanted it so bad. At the time, I was going to university, I was working hostess and translator jobs, and at the same time attending dance classes. In Istanbul, for a girl who knew nothing, it was really a big decision in my life.”
Making The Big Move From Eskisehir to Istanbul
Moving to Istanbul proved to be the best decision because it was here that she crossed paths with her mentor Omer Yeşilbaş. Omer, arguably the most popular and successful dancer in Turkey, is the winner of So You Think You Can Dance Turkey. “I met Omer hoca when I was 20. That’s 7 years ago. I trained under him, and he really became my mentor in dance and in life. I’m so grateful for him, because everything I have, everything I am right now? It’s because of him. He made me who I am today.” Çisil says, with loyalty in her voice.
Meeting Omer Yeşilbaş came at the right time because 22 year old Çisil was at the point of giving up… “Moving to Istanbul was really f*cking hard. I had such a hard time, no time for myself because I was always studying, working and dancing. For years, I didn’t get anything from dance. I trained for years in Eskişehir and Istanbul but still didn’t get anything. I finished school, and still nothing. I was losing hope, I had problems with money, family problems, difficulty living in Istanbul. It was too much for me, and I was thinking to end my life. It sounds so funny right now, but at the time, that’s how I felt. But Omer hoca… he showed me that I can do something with dance. It’s not about money or anything. He said I can just dance, feel good, and that can be enough. He showed me that dance can do so many things, that I can share my dance with other people and that can make me feel alive. He made me realize my purpose. And after that, I never ever felt like I would ever give up again.”
But even when she became an in-demand professional dancer, Çisil still had some difficulties. “Four years ago, I came home crying after a dance job. Cause in Turkey, when you’re a dancer, some people think you’re a bitch. To them, dance is not an art, not a sport. And some of them treat dancers badly. I trained for years, I go to this job and they treated me like I’m a bitch. Omer hoca told me, ‘If you work hard enough, I promise you will not need to work jobs you don’t want to do. You will earn enough money to live your life.’ After that, I kept going and it was then that I realized that I had a greater passion than just performing.. And that was teaching…
Çisil Discovering Her Love For Teaching
When she was younger, she had few options to get dance training. Which is why she is passionate about providing as much dance education as she can to dancers in Turkey. Again, she cites Omer as a big inspiration for her, “Everybody was laughing at him! Cause he had a dream to open a dance studio and grow dancers. But I saw it myself, he did everything! He never thought of anybody’s opinion. He’s really my first inspiration.” And thanks to their effort, they’ve brought on international dancers to teach in Turkey. Notable dancers like KK Harris, Matt Steffanina, Dez Soliven, Ysabelle Capitule, etc and the biggest name so far: Yanis Marshall.
I asked her what she considers as the biggest achievement of her career and her eyes light up as she says, “Opening Dans Fabrika with Omer hoca! That was the best day of my life. I saw my purpose. When dancing with artists, I dance for fun. But with Dans Fabrika, I dance with a purpose. Cause I’m sharing myself and giving chance for people to share as well. I even prefer teaching to performing outside.”
Çisil And Her Project Of Empowering Women Through High Heels Dance
One of Çisil’s life projects is to empower women in Turkey, and she does it through her High Heels Class. “In Turkey, women have so many problems about not being free to express themselves. And in the two years that I’m giving these classes, I saw so many of my students, where the high heels class touched their lives. It’s so funny because it’s just dancing in heels. But in my class, they are allowed to be whoever they want to be, in the way they dress, stand or dance. It empowers them to be women, to feel comfortable in their own skin.”
The Story of Çisil And Big Brand Nike
It is this Women Empowerment project that attracted Nike to sponsor her. They set a meeting with her, and in that meeting, she came overly prepared. She made a powerpoint presentation with her projects, about dancing in Turkey and women empowerment. Çisil laughs as she recalls, “I was so determined, and saying I want to do this, and that. I was presenting to them so passionately! They were in shock. Cause I was the only dancer they met with that was so professional and eager to do things. They decided to sponsor me and eventually, also Dans Fabrika.”
They opened a Dans Fabrika dance class under Nike Training Club at Zorlu center. Without any promotion from Nike, the class sold out in just one week with 1,000 ++ attendees. In Nike Training Club history, they didn’t see anything like this. Which is what caused them to be official sponsors for Dans Fabrika as well.
After NTC at Zorlu, the Nike Global Team came to Istanbul just to meet with them. It was here that Çisil shared her passion for women empowerment in Turkey. She says, “I told them all about women’s problems in Turkey. I also told them that they always show strong women as if they’re like a man. But women can be strong but also still be feminine. They never show that. So even if some commercials show strong women, they feel like men, cause they fail to show the feminine sides of women.” Nike Global team was impressed at their brainstorming, that it led to the first Nike commercial in Turkey (also stars Çisil) with the theme, “Who run the world? Girls!” As of writing, the video has gained over 4.7 Million views!
As one of Nike’s Brand Ambassadors, she has shot a lot of campaigns for Nike.
Sharing Her Key To Success And Believing In Yourself
With one success after the other, Çisil believes that her greatest strength lies in believing that she can always do more. She says, “Everything in my life, I believe I can do better. I’m trying to do my best in whatever it is, even in something small as preparing breakfast. When things are hard, I just look at the mirror and tell myself, ‘Is that all you can do? No. You can do more.’ “
She credits her fans as a big part of her success, but she also doesn’t want you to be her. She wants you to be better than her. Çisil shares one of her most profound fan stories, “A 15 year old girl waited for me in front of Dans Fabrika. This girl was messaging me every day! One day, she came. We talked a little bit, she showed me her phone. My picture was her background and her password was my name. She also said she was writing my life in a notebook. And I told her, ‘Go buy a new notebook and start to write your own life. Cause you don’t have to be me. You can be better than me. You have more opportunity to learn. Everyone’s story is special. We can have idols but we can’t live their lives.”
Çisil is at a point in her life that she never imagined. Five years ago, she had nothing and was thinking to end her life. And now, she’s risen higher than she can ever imagine. I asked why focus on dance, and she replies, “I feel like I’m living for it. It’s my life purpose.” Her next goal is to travel to the US for extensive dance training (she’s applied but has been rejected for a visa twice, but she’s still not giving up on that dream), and to work towards improving dance training quality in Turkey.
Hers is an inspiring story that tells you to never give up. And Çisil has this advice, “Please don’t limit yourself. Look at yourself in the eye and discover your power. Discover yourself. Cause you have no idea of things that you are capable of doing. Your job is to discover it.”
Her favorite quote is “Work until you don’t need to introduce yourself.” I can’t even recall the last time this woman ever had to introduce herself. But for the first time, here she is, telling you her life story. Her name is Çisil Sıkı. A girl who grew into a woman that never gave up and kept her eyes on bigger goals. She dares you to believe in yourself, and discover how great you can be. Now let me ask you… What’s your excuse?
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