Author's son, Jacob
Dance is This, Anyway?
Do Men Fit into the Belly Dance World?
Added Feature! See below for our Gallery
of Men in Middle Eastern Dance
and over again I hear this dance form claimed as an expression
of femininity, an empowering women's dance, a
sacred link to ancient women's rituals. Where
does that leave men in this world of glitter and chiffon?
It is not my intention to negate the experiences of those
who hold to this idea of Raqs, but rather to point out
that this dance is much more than one set of experiences.
When we start drawing our own superficial lines out of
context of culture, tradition, history and modern expression;
we not only keep ourselves from rich, meaningful experiences;
but we also put unnecessary barriers up for other people.
have often wondered why the issue of men participating
in Raqs Sharqi is so important to me. I'm sure part of
it stems from a sense of justice and equality, those
great guideposts of morality which drive me to defend
another's right to find personal expression in the form
of their choice. But mostly, I like male dancers. They
are fun to watch and even more fun to dance with.
since my son's birth I have a new reason too, but I'll
share my little pet peeve with you. As soon as he was
born, dancers of all stripes immediately started in with "Oh,
a new little drummer for the troupe!". Excuse me?
Why is there an instant assumption from birth that all
little boys will be drummers and all little girls will
be dancers just like mommy. Now don't get me wrong, I
like drummers too, and I will support my kids no matter
what they choose; but I was indeed thrilled when my first
son asked me to teach him to dance and eventually I let
him into my dance classes. He is seven now and we have
already run into some of the issues and problems I have
two major barriers I see cast in the pathway of male
dancers are myths and outright prejudice. Let's start
with those myths. If you find any of them unbelievable,
I assure you I have personally heard all of them proclaimed.
dance originated in birthing rituals and is therefore
Aunt Rocky has
written about a birthing ritual she witnessed which does indeed
use two dance movements which we think of as part of belly dance.
Having danced through 3 pregnancies, I can say that there are other
dance movements that are also beneficial for a woman preparing
for birth. However, they are also beneficial for general health
and could be said to mimic other daily activities as well. Do we
know for certain that the movements were taken from birthing rituals
to form a dance and not the other way around? Even if these two
documented movements originated from birthing rituals, hasn't the
dance form evolved a bit from that? I usually use more than two
movements after all, and there are many reasons to move our bodies
in any particular way. We do not have a written history of this
dance form. It is a folk dance, not well documented until relatively
recently. A folk dance which, as far as we know, men traditionally
men only danced in drag.”
did dance in drag, and there are plenty of pictures and
accounts to prove it; but again, this is a folk dance which
was danced by men and women, children and grandmothers. Male
dancers dressed in drag performed in public at various
times mostly due to social, religious and political issues.
These issues had more to do with whether or not it was
considered appropriate for women; or for men and boys
to dance in public.
fluctuated over time depending on who was in power, but
the tradition of both men and women dancing in private
settings, presumably in their own clothing, continued
don’t dance now”
This idea seems to stem from the fact that all the Egyptian dance stars for
the last several decades have been women. This is, unfortunately a very limited
view of what this dance is "over there" as well as in the diaspora.
and religion have indeed made any dancing at all a sticky
and professional dance by men, unless it can be labeled
as a folkloric style, is still taboo. As a January article
in Bloomberg demonstrates,
there is a reason professional male dancing is a hidden
activity, but it does exist in Egypt today.
the Europe and North America, Horatio
Compton and Tarik Sultan were
very much part of the dance scene I was aware of as a
young dancer 15-20 years ago, and I am sure there were
others I was not personally aware of. Today, Yousry
Sharif and Tito come
to mind as performers and instructors in very high demand
across the globe. A new generation of male dancers, including Jim
Boz, Lorenzo of Unmata and Ozgen from
Turkey, is breaking onto the dance scene, and I for one
can't wait to see what all this talent comes up with!
can’t learn from a man”
Sorry, if a man can learn from me, I'm pretty sure I can learn from a man!
There are a very few physiological differences that will alter the look of
the dance, but a good teacher of any gender will be aware of adaptations for
many body types and should have at least a basic understanding of many styles.
“I can’t learn from a man” argument tends to be paired
with the argument that belly dance is a female solo improvisational
dance form and a man could not teach the feminine energy
necessary to interpret the form. Somehow the Reda
troupe has it figured out and Tito and
Yousry Sharif are definitely on my ‘take lessons from
dance is an expression of the inherent feminine capacity
for peace and art.
Men are inherently warlike and there for this dance is a contradiction for
The person who stated this has obviously never been a junior high girl's camp
counselor. I don't deny there are differences between men and women, but human
nature is still the same. The differences I see are more in tactics, expression
and politics rather than any innate tendency of one or the other towards acts
of violence. Throughout history we have seen both violent and vindictive women
as well as men who have been instrumental in promoting peace. In my own family,
I am surrounded by men who work as mediators, councilors, artists and advocates
for peace and justice.
the myths, which I hope we have cleared up now, there
are other societal factors which can keep men out of
the dance world as well. The roots and causes of the
prejudice that keeps men from dance may be different
in the east and west, but the effect is the same. Dance
in a social setting may be tolerated, but dancing in
performance is perceived as inappropriate or somehow
too effeminate for men to participate in.
is not limited to Raqs by any means. When I was in high
school my ballet teacher quit because he was harassed
and threatened with physical violence on the university
campus when he went back to college to work on his master's
degree. Sitting in the parent room at my son's tap lesson,
I heard an indignant father comment to his own son "no
you can't dance, you're going to play hockey.".
I am glad some families and communities are supportive
of male dancers, but I think it worth remembering that
this is still not the norm and just showing up at class
can be challenging.
Sensitive as the Rest of Us
The men who have shown up for my classes have all seemed confident about being
there and about expressing themselves through dance, but dance class itself
is not always the most welcoming place. In addition to the above mentioned
myths, there is sometimes a perception that only a stalker would show up for
belly dance class, or just a gut reaction that men don't belong here. Guess
what? It can be intimidating for a man to walk into a room full of women too.
Our community can be supportive of a wide range of body types and ages, but
somehow the wall goes back up when it's a guy walking in. No one is immune
to a cold shoulder, and I believe it is the responsibility for the teacher
and any experienced dancer to address that kind of behavior. I am not saying
that every class has to be co-ed, there may be a time and place when women's
only class is appropriate, but the attitude I just described is prejudice plain
and simple. Even if you decide not to have men in your class or troupe, the
attitude that men shouldn't be part of the dance community is not appropriate.
Male dancers deserve the same respect and support any of the rest of us do.
On the other hand, it doesn't necessarily help to be singled out in the other
direction either. I admit, growing up we always celebrated when a guy joined
a dance class of any sort in our community. There was also a bit of jealousy,
because no matter how good or bad a guy was, they would make it into the show
because we needed more guys and had a surplus of female dancers. I have since
learned to refrain from enthusing quite so much. Honest encouragement is welcome,
but no one wants to think they are "pretty good for a guy.". Good
is good and we are all striving to improve our performance, without the caveat.
So yeah, I am still excited when a man expresses interest in dance, but I treat
him like any other dancer.
Perhaps the most frustrating thing for any dancer is to be excluded from a
learning opportunity. Whether it is due to finances, time, or family responsibility;
we have all been there at one point or another, wanting to take classes we
just can't get to. How much worse to be excluded because of something like
gender! There are definitely times when women just need time with other women,
and I think that is fine, but please do consider offering other opportunities
for men to find a place in dance.
group I grew up in (having started at age 13) was much
more than a dance class. Class time was open to discussions
of relationships, work, body image and sexuality. We
learned dance too, but I can see where a man could have
a hard time finding a place in that specific environment.
The classes I teach have a different setting. We are
there to dance and we dance hard. There are still discussions
of relationships, work, body image and sexuality, but
they happen outside the studio doors. I sure hope this
is an appropriate place for a male to learn Raqs, because
my son has been dancing with us for almost a year.
I am not trying to deny the experience or preference
of anyone who has found a deeper connection with
their femininity through belly dance. I firmly sit
in the "yes
and" camp. Raqs can be a supportive place to
explore and express femininity, to find beauty and
that journey; AND it can be a venue for men to find
joy, fulfillment, masculine beauty and artistic expression.
we all put our egos aside for a bit, we can acknowledge
our own experience of the dance for what it is and still
leave room for others to enjoy what they have found as
have heard it stated in defense of men dancing and in
helping men dance in a masculine way; that when a woman
dances it is feminine, when a man dances it is masculine.
I believe that this is a gross simplification. I think
it would be better stated that when a person dances,
we see a deeper side of who they are. When we dance,
no matter who we are or where we come from, we tap into
something deep inside ourselves. Movement without soul
is dead, and somewhere on the journey of learning to
connect mind to body in order to dance, we put in part
Walk gently; this dance belongs to us all.
of Men in Middle Eastern Dance
by Antonio Fresco, 2006
North Carolina, asim.livejournal.com
Farah- 1979 or 80
DaVid of Scandinavia
Diego, CA, USA / Oslo, Norway
photo by Gary
San Francisco, CA
San Diego, CA
photo by Cool
San Francisco and San Diego, CA
Los Angeles, CA
Lancaster County, PA
by D. Harbaugh, 2007
photo by Kari Vander
Germany and Egypt
photo by Lynette
Photo by Daniel Bissing, circa
Dr. Mohamed Geddawi
Germany & Egypt
www.ozgen.co.uk, London, England
photo by Emma Brown, 2008
Photo by ?
San Francisco, CA
of the Rising Sun Tribe
Morganton, North Carolina
Photo by Matthew Ketcham
Santa Cruz, Ca, www.bellydancersharif.com
by Nakisa, my wife
York City, NY, www.tariksultan.com
by Jeffrey Mischke, 2004
photo by ?
photo by ?
photo by Joe
Edmonton, Alberta, Canada
Photo by Michael Baxter
York City, NY
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Seif: The Moment of Eternal Shimmy by Stavros Stavrou Karayanni
photos by Samira and Masouma, videos by Lynette
is now an international phenomenon. And how wonderful that a
man from Egypt has taken to the West’s belly dance stages
establishing himself as one of the greatest belly dancers and
showmen today. Such development flies in the face of those American
belly dance instructors, students, and performers who have long
considered this art defunct in Egypt and dependent upon their
kind support and cultivation.
Toronto, Ontario, Canada The International Bellydance
Conference of Canada Video reports by Gilded
Masouma Rose, Shira, Lynette Harris and many others. Reports are
presented in video format inbedded all on the same page. Wednesday
Evening show- "Remix 2007", Daytime activities on Thursday,
Friday and Saturday. Main Stage Shows from Thursday and Friday
Night. See Friday AM report for the "MAN Panel"
feel the music when you're on stage!”Interview
with Ozgen, Male Turkish Belly Dancer, by Nini
I think my heart still beats for big shows and productions, as
much as I know how stressful and difficult that show-life can be.
I seem to not be able to live without it.
Haddad & the Gypsy Musicians of Upper Egypt " In
the Trail of the Ghawazee" March 2008 US Tour,
by Amy Bonham
by the World Music Institute. "These musicians come from a
long tradition that could be as old as the pyramids"
12-8-08 Is Bellydance
Good Exercise? by Venus (Marilee Nugent), BSc,
Kinesiology, BA Art & Culture
it is important to love and accept one’s body as it is
today—and bellydance is a great way to get actively motivated
as well as realize one can feel sexy and beautiful at any size—it
is important to continue to move forward from that acceptance
on the path of improved health and well-being.
Dinner with Nadia Hamdi by Fatima Bassmah
asked if they had any videos, photos, or costumes from Nadia's
life as a dancer, but they had none. When Nadia took the hijab
and gave up dancing, she destroyed all photos and videos of herself
since that life was over.
Yasmina: Evolution, Oum Kalthoum, & Cover ups by
first column in a once-a-month series: GS is proud to present
this passionate and knowledgeable expert in the field of Middle
Eastern Dance; she is an artist, pioneer, and creator of the
International Bellydance Conference of Canada.
of the Universe Competition 2008, photos by Carl
in Long Beach, California, on February 18 & 19, 2008, produced
by Tonya and Atlantis