Gilded Serpent presents...

A Quest for Beauty

Zorba the Veiled Male

Part II: Damn the Torpedoes and Full Speed Ahead!

by Zorba
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.

Zorba in skirtSo 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!

 

Have a comment? Use or comment section at the bottom of this page or Send us a letter!
Check the "Letters to the Editor" for other possible viewpoints!

Ready for more?

  • 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
  • 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
  • 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
  • "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.
  • 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.
  • 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
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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

   |       |    15 Comments

  1. No Gravatar
    admin

    Sep 10, 2009 - 05:09:25

    I had just finished sending Turkish music off to my male dancer in rancho Cordova for his new restaurant job, and I got a heads up to head over to gilded serpent. I have taught many male dancers, including zorba.everyone of them has a different path in their quest for theirs souls dance.i am pleased to see it is being sought with dignity, and honesty.no matter how you feel about it, men dance! enjoy.
    Cory Zamora
    Fresno, calif
    [posted by editor- hey you guys try posting comments all by yourself! Here is a graphic that may help you figure out all these buttons-
    http://www.gildedserpent.com/archives/ArchiveGraphics/comments.jpg
    try setting up a gravatar! No biggy, really!]

  2. No Gravatar
    Dina

    Sep 10, 2009 - 10:09:58

    What a beautiful article!

    I have always thought the fear to not come across as masculine encompasses the danger of the dancer becoming a parody of himself.

    Kudos to you Zorba!

  3. No Gravatar
    Nisima

    Sep 11, 2009 - 12:09:19

    I find it interesting that Zorba has decided to “ignore all the rules” he’s heard about male dancers; well what about the fact that female dancers have always had to recognize “rules” that were really unwritten standards about performing belly dance, especially professionally at regularly paid gigs in clubs and restaurants.  Trust me, I worked in Bay Area clubs and restaurants for ten years as a professional belly dancer and could list all sorts of  “rules” for female performing dancers.  The real “reality” is, there are still in and amongst  these “rules” some hard truths about costuming and choreography being appropriate for various types of  belly dance venues.  For example, a female performing at a church or school function would cover up a lot more (no high leg slits, maybe even a dress) than when performing at a club on Saturday night.  And certain hand gestures are considered offensive depending on whether the audience is Saudi or Egyptian.   “Rules” for female dancers are really standards, so my question to Zorba is, if female dancers performing “Oriental Dance” need to pay attention to these standards  does he consider it fair that he, just because he is male,  is somehow exempt from any requirements at all?   I have to conclude yes, or he wouldn’t be titling his article “Damn the Torpedoes…..”

  4. No Gravatar
    Pauline Costianes

    Sep 11, 2009 - 12:09:17

    Well, I suppose one can rationalize whatever one wants to, but in the first and second article by Zorba, and the enclosed pictures, I find his wearing of skirts, and beads, and very female-type attire very off-putting. It’s a bearded guy in drag!

    Do we not have enough problems being accepted as real dancers and artists without having to deal with this? I once saw a fella from the Columbus area, also Greek, come out with veils on, all sorts of glitzy, very feminine costuming on, and my eyes about fell out of my head. Another bearded guy in drag!!!

        Male and female are NOT artificial constructs! They’re very real and every  culture has its “norms”, which might be different from culture to culture. And I will admit, I’m one of those who believe that “la danse orientale” is a  woman’s dance, period.  Men have performed folkloric dances from time immemorial, but undulating and all the other feminine movements look strange on a male body. I’ve seen films of Tito and Horacio Sifuentes and they look effeminate when they perform orientale dance movements meant for women.  I understand – they’re teaching a female student body, so they must demonstrate the moves as a woman would dance them.

       I remember male dancers of past decades, Bobby Farrah, Zeeba, Amir, and even though they danced “butch” (as Valerie Camille used to tell her  male students to do) and they danced very well, there was still something a little strange about it all.

      And I know there will be a cascade of responses telling me how wrong I am, but I agree with Valerie – dress and dance like a man, not a woman!!!

     

    Pauline Costianes

  5. No Gravatar
    Dina

    Sep 11, 2009 - 01:09:36

    “It’s a bearded guy in drag!

    Do we not have enough problems being accepted as real dancers and artists without having to deal with this?”

    In what way does a man in women’s clothes (I am not saying this is what Zorba is and does, but if we assumed it for a second) take away from being  a real art?
    Men have performed in women’s dress on opera and theatre stages when women were prohibited from performing. Will you say Mozart and Shakespeare are not high art? Just because bearded men in women’s dress performed?
    Or – does it have nothing to do with ART, but what you personally might want or not want to see?

    “Masculine and feminine are not artifiicul constructs.. they vary from culture to culture.”
    This means you admit yourself notions of masculinity and femininity vary with time and place. Hence they ARE artificial (which means not determined by biology, but man and culture formed).

    You are free to dress like a woman. Or should you happen to wear pants from time to time? Well, I can recommend you texts written by men, telling women what (not) to wear 100 years ago. In pretty much the spirit you are telling men what (not) to wear.
    I go by not doing to other people what I would not want them to do to me.

  6. No Gravatar
    Dina

    Sep 11, 2009 - 01:09:37

    ““Rules” for female dancers are really standards, so my question to Zorba is, if female dancers performing “Oriental Dance” need to pay attention to these standards  does he consider it fair that he, just because he is male,  is somehow exempt from any requirements at all?”

    Hmm we would have to ask Zorba but I doubt he’d be bare chested or dangerously slit in a church setting.
    Who said he is?
    I don’t think he talks about having no rules at all, but not having the DISCRIMINATORY rules set up for men in bellydance only.
    As a woman I know I can tell a tale on the burden of having a bag of rules for men, and a huge box of rules for women in certain male-dominated areas. I know about the complaints by men on how women allegedly circumvent the rules.
    It is always easy – and harmful/discriminatory – to attack the minority under scrutiny (token in the social science vocabulary) by majority standards.

  7. No Gravatar
    Nisima

    Sep 12, 2009 - 10:09:12

    Hmm we would have to ask Zorba but I doubt he’d be bare chested or dangerously slit in a church setting.
    Who said he is?


    No one, but a women would have to cover up more and few church or school venues would be comfortable with his skirts and  tops that look like bras.

    I don’t think he talks about having no rules at all, but not having the DISCRIMINATORY rules set up for men in bellydance only.

    Of course, that is what Zorba is complaining about but to clarify,  unlike housing or employment discrimination which is illegal, we are talking here about an ethnic  dance art form, where everyone, men and women, need to be more “discriminating”  (in t his context meaning “well thought out decisions”)  about their presentation onstage.   But, since  Zorba who always points out, correctly, that men have worn skirts throughout history ,  then it would be okay for Zorba to perform Flamenco in a ruffly dress instead following the “discriminatory” rules about men’s costume in that dance art form??????

    As a woman I know I can tell a tale on the burden of having a bag of rules for men, and a huge box of rules for women in certain male-dominated areas. I know about the complaints by men on how women allegedly circumvent the rules.
    It is always easy – and harmful/discriminatory – to attack the minority under scrutiny (token in the social science vocabulary) by majority standards.

    Over 400 years ago in Middle East, men costumed as women and danced as women professionally because women were not allowed to perform in public.  When women started performing in public they had to adhere to standards, even to this day (think covering midriff in Egypt to avoid being fined).  So if men have the same “right” to perform belly dance, they also have the same level of accountabiity for  costuming, even if some rules are “different” due to BIOLOGY, hello the bra tops don’t work well on men because they don’t have the “equipment” to put in it!     Just common sense!


  8. No Gravatar
    Dina

    Sep 12, 2009 - 12:09:45

    Look, you’re mixing up many things here.
    Ethnic rules, broader social rules, biological rules.

    We are performing an ethnic art form – I am the first to criticize (mostly female) bellydancers for not doing so, and say I feel the Arab heritage is being disrespected.
    The bottom line is it is the dancer to decide for themselves what to innovate and what to respect.

    The difference I am saying is discriminatory is there is a whole different outcry to what men can or cannot do, what men are or are not supposed to do. And this outcry from white Anglosaxon crowds, for example, is quite different to the ethnic requirements. Beware, in many Arab settings, diverse as they are, Arab men move their bodies in ways Anglosaxons would consider unmanly. Or wear those “dresses”, as I’ve heard quite a few Anglosaxons make fun of the white traditional men’s gear many Arab men wear.
    Discrimination is not limited to the housing or labor market, and not every discrimination is illegal. Discrimination is differential perceptions, standards, rules for human beings based on group membership, not individual traits. And this entire thing “better behave manly” clearly is a discrimination of men. It puts unique gender tied restrictions on them how they ought (not) behave in oriental dance.
    It is not illegal, but it being unsanctioned by the law does not mean it should be unsantioned by our moral judgments.
    I say more power to men and their individual choices to express themselves. Ultimately gender roles and restrictions are holding women down more than men, and breaking them up in every possible direction will mean more freedom for all.
    Not to forget the freedom for the individual, like Zorba here. In contrast to you I do not see myself in the position to tell him what (not) to do in his dance and expression simply because he was born a man.

  9. No Gravatar
    Nisima

    Sep 12, 2009 - 03:09:31

    The difference I am saying is discriminatory is there is a whole different outcry to what men can or cannot do, what men are or are not supposed to do. And this outcry from white Anglosaxon crowds, for example, is quite different to the ethnic requirements. Beware, in many Arab settings, diverse as they are, Arab men move their bodies in ways Anglosaxons would consider unmanly. Or wear those “dresses”, as I’ve heard quite a few Anglosaxons make fun of the white traditional men’s gear many Arab men wear.

    What you are not mentioning is the fact that in Arab countries, men performing “Oriental Dance” on stage is not accepted and the women dancing on stage has all sorts of problems with the “Vice Police” who can literally fine them for costuming that is too risque by their cultural standards.

    Discrimination is not limited to the housing or labor market, and not every discrimination is illegal. Discrimination is differential perceptions, standards, rules for human beings based on group membership, not individual traits. And this entire thing “better behave manly” clearly is a discrimination of men. It puts unique gender tied restrictions on them how they ought (not) behave in oriental dance.

    Considering that belly dance originated in the Middle East, not the West, there should be more  value on that culture’s standards, not just take the dance right out of  that culture and superimpose an entirely different idealogy over it.  Yes, we are lucky to have the freedom of choice in the West, but also a real responsibility to teach belly dance students more about a culture.

    It is not illegal, but it being unsanctioned by the law does not mean it should be unsantioned by our moral judgments.


    I say more power to men and their individual choices to express themselves. Ultimately gender roles and restrictions are holding women down more than men, and breaking them up in every possible direction will mean more freedom for all.

    There is always, in our free Westen society, plenty of freedom of expression, but what you are criticizing as “moral judgments” are not; they are critiques of a performers inappropriate choices in an ethnic dance form.


    Not to forget the freedom for the individual, like Zorba here. In contrast to you I do not see myself in the position to tell him what (not) to do in his dance and expression simply because he was born a man.

    Well,  Zorba here has asked dancers on an open forum their honest opinions about his costuming and was honestly and not in a morally judgemental way advised by more than one “pro” how to improve them, specifically by wearing a vest as opposed to a top that looks like a bra, and that he is bringing too many jarring elements into his costuming.  He’s decided not to listen to any of it, and even though he is not dancing “professionally” he is representing the art of belly dance, so yes, I don’t appreciate it.

  10. No Gravatar
    Barbara Grant

    Sep 13, 2009 - 02:09:23

    Zorba,
     
    Wow! I bet you never realized that your article would provoke such a debate!
     
    I have to say that I come down on the “line” (if lines are being drawn here) of those who appreciate your right to freedom of expression, and to dance as you will, without regard to gender.
     
    I draw some strong lines in this dance; among them, I would rain criticism down on any dancer, male or female, who uses this dance for the purpose of being sexually suggestive, putting on a “strip show” or salacious performance, but you don’t do that. I would also strongly criticize you if you gutted yourself with a knife or two during your dancing, drawing blood, but that’s not you!
     
    Instead, I see a male dancer who loves this art, trying to express it as best he can, working hard to improve his skill, taking classes and workshops from the best instructors he can find—and then being criticized for the product, on the basis of gender. I’m not quite sure how else to phrase it.
     
    I suspect that if you and I did spins, turns, and drops alongside one another, an audience would see the difference between female and male representations. That’s because I’ve seen video of Tito Seif doing spins, and he looks different from, for example, Randa Kamel doing the same movements. Tito has a different body type, being a man.
     
    What are you supposed to do to remain authentic, restrict yourself to folkloric dance only? Tito doesn’t do that; why should you?
     
    In conclusion: Go for it, Zorba! Be the best you can be!
     
    Sincerely,
     
    Barbara Grant
    South S. F. Bay Area, CA
     
     
     
     
     
     

  11. No Gravatar
    Sonja

    Sep 20, 2009 - 06:09:25

    Zorba,
    Some of my very favorite dancers (Amir Thaleb, Tito, Karim Nagi, Jim Boz) are men, and people nearly pass out when I tell them that I have absolutely LOVED the classes I’ve participated in with and performances I watched by these talented professionals.  Kudos to you for doing what you love!

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Gilded Serpent