Part II: Damn the Torpedoes and Full Speed Ahead!
posted September 10, 2009
part 1 here
No sooner had I discovered the beauty of Belly Dancing and started my exploration of this wondrous and exotic world, than I became aware of rulebooks, limitations, and restrictions about what a male dancer could; and entirely more to the point could NOT, or should NOT, do.
The big surprise to me was not that these rulebooks existed, it was where they were originating from. Not so much from the vast female majority – oh no! These rulebooks mostly were created by other MEN! "We’ve met the enemy, and it’s us."
These rules ranged from the ridiculous: "Men shouldn’t dance on the diagonal"; to the dangerous: "Men will injure themselves if they attempt side-to-side hip movements with a tucked pelvis"; to the nonsensical: "Men shouldn’t wear fringe over bare skin."
There was a lot more: "Men should have more angle to their arms," "Men should be fierce and warlike," "Men should minimize hipwork and concentrate more on footwork," "Men shouldn’t elevate their arms above shoulder level," "Men shouldn’t expose the belly, but wear shirts instead," "Men shouldn’t wear coins or other tinkly/jingly bits," "Men shouldn’t do floorwork" and my very favorite of all: "Men should NEVER do veilwork"!
Leaving aside the biggest one of all, "Men shouldn’t Belly Dance period";if I were to take all these admonitions to heart, there wouldn’t be any dancing, or beauty, left for me!
From the female side came far fewer restrictions. Although there is the occasional female who detests male dancers and thinks we shouldn’t exist,
they are in a tiny minority – I’ve been warmly welcomed by virtually all my sisters in dance. Most of the gals say pretty much the same thing: "I
want a male dancer to dance like a MAN, not a woman."
I’ve thought long and hard over this latter concept over a period of years. My first thought was "Would someone give me a definitive answer as to what this means?" I slowly came to the realization that there is a difference between what I call "femininity/masculinity" (with quotes), versus femininity/masculinity (no quotes). Semantics aside (I detest semantic arguments)…
I recognized that "femininity/masculinity" was an entirely artificial construct, and femininity/masculinity was based on reality, i.e. biology.
So what does this mean to me as a dancer? I feel that it pretty much means that I am free to develop my own interpretation of the dance, and costuming- just like any female dancer is! I shouldn’t wear a bra, as that’s feminine (no quotes) being based in biology – but I can wear a skirt if I desire; as that’s "feminine" (with quotes) being based on cultural norms for part of the, but certainly not the entire, world.
The entire movement vocabulary is available to me, as I’m a human being with the same muscles and bones as anyone else – if I’m capable of a given movement, why then it’s a masculine movement as I’m a guy and I’m doing it!
Our dance is powerful, yet soft and flowing – the very things that attracted me to it in the first place. Attempts to "adapt" the dance to a so-called "’masculine’ form" causes the loss of the very essence of our artform. The all too frequently seen "stupid male tricks" (which have little to nothing to do with actual dancing), employed by some male Belly Dancers, make the performer look like a parody of "masculinity" – NOT a beautiful dancer!
As I continue to grow in the dance, my audiences, as well as my sisters in dance, all tell me one thing over and over and over again. They tell me that "despite all the pretty costuming, the flowing veilwork, the (occasional) skirt, the glittery earrings and jewelry, that I came across as totally masculine." Yet I ignore all the rulebooks!
I can only conclude it’s because I’m a guy, and I let the "real Zorba" show in my performances, instead of trying to hide behind artificial and very much relativistic culture.
My masculinity, my soul, my quest for beauty, is there for all to see.
This belies a cute bit of nonsense I once encountered. Something about "when a male is Belly Dancing, he is considered a female for the duration of his dance!" Fascinating, I haven’t spontaneously sprouted breasts onstage yet! If I had, no doubt every male to female transsexual on the planet would be flocking to Belly Dancing to save the costs of hormone therapy and surgery!
All this is really nothing more than common sense. I’m frequently asked by males, interested in our art, questions about the how, what, why and where they should approach the dance. My advice is simple: Find your own road, ignore the rulebooks, forge your own place according to YOUR inner soul, YOUR definition of self and ignore those who would attempt to place limitations on you or force their version of "masculinity" upon you. By and large, the audiences will accept you when you come across as the genuine YOU. Just like any female dancer.
The audience wants REALITY, not a parody of so-called "masculinity," or "femininity".
Stay tuned for part III: A bit of humor helps!
Ready for more?
- 4-9-09 A Quest for Beauty, Part 1: Beauty is Discovered
My wife of 17 years asked, "You’re going to do…. what?"when I told her of my desire to take Bellydance lessons. Also on this page is a "Gigbag Check" video with Zorba
- 12-16-08 Whose Dance is This, Anyway? Where Do Men Fit into the Belly Dance World?
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. Added Feature! See our Gallery of Men in Middle Eastern Dance
- 6-17-08 Tito Seif: The Moment of Eternal Shimmy
Tito 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
- 10-6-08 "Just feel the music when you’re on stage!”Interview with Ozgen, Male Turkish Belly Dancer,
Well, 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.
- 5-15-03 Professional vs. Amateur: What is the Difference?
There are dancers of every gradation in between the two labels of “professional” and “amateur”:dancers who work at dance jobs intermittently, or have part time jobs in addition to regular performances.
- 9-8-09 Ask Yasmina #9: Teaching Differences, New Troupes, Men in Bellydance
As an ensemble becomes larger and more professional, it will find that it is more efficient and effective if it models itself like a professional company with defined roles
- 9-9-09 Bellydance from Cairo to Los Angeles: Personal Commentary on the Bellydance Superstars
I remember the saying "Cairo is the Hollywood of Bellydance" is for a reason, and I think the ancient Egyptian theme takes us back to where the roots are deepest.
- 9-1-09 Maud Allen: La Femme Fatale
For, as the trial progressed, in effect, it became a trial of female sexuality. No respectable woman, it was claimed, could possibly take on the sadistic role of Salome unless she was a sadist in real life, and sadism was regarded at the time as a practice verging on the criminal.
- 8-28-09 Carl’s Photos from The 2009 Gala Showcase at the SF/BA MECDA Event
Event Presented by SF/BA MECDA (the San Francisco Bay Area Chapter of the Middle Eastern Culture and Dance Association) Held on January 17 at the Cubberley Community Quditorium in Palo Alto, California