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The Gilded Serpent


Author's son, Jacob

Gilded Serpent presents...
Whose Dance is This, Anyway?
Where Do Men Fit into the Belly Dance World?
by Lara
Added Feature! See below for our Gallery of Men in Middle Eastern Dance

Over 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.

I 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.

Now, 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 been dreading.

The 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.

“Belly dance originated in birthing rituals and is therefore inherently feminine.”
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 participated in.

“Historically, men only danced in drag.”
Men 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.

This 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 regardless.

“Men 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.

Politics and religion have indeed made any dancing at all a sticky subject; 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.

In the Europe and North America, Horatio Cifuentes, John 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!

“I 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.

The “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 someday’ list!

“This 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 them.”
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.

Beyond 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.

This 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.

As 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.

Al Hassan of Puerto Rico, age 12
photo by Carl Sermon

The Honorary Guy
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.

Group Dynamics
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.

The 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.

Again, 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 support on that journey; AND it can be a venue for men to find joy, fulfillment, masculine beauty and artistic expression.

If 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 well.

I 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 of ourselves. Walk gently; this dance belongs to us all.

Gallery of Men in Middle Eastern Dance

Ahmed Jarjour 1981
photographer unknown

Amir Thaleb
Argentina, amirthaleb.com
photo by Antonio Fresco, 2006


North Carolina, asim.livejournal.com
photographer unknown

Atef Farag

Cairo, Egypt
photographer unknown

photographer unknown

Bert Balladine
Petaluma, CA
photographer unknown

Bobby Farah- 1979 or 80
New York
photographer unknown

of Scandinavia
davidofscandinavia.com, San Diego, CA, USA / Oslo, Norway
photo by
Gary Wise (2007)

David Ludwig
San Anselmo, CA
photo by
Richard Brier?

Colorado Springs, CO
photo by Kevin "Nevik" Hartnell, 2008

Hassan Deeb
Monterey, CA
photo by Carl Sermon

Horacio Cifuentes
Berlin, Germany
photo by Daniela Incoronato

San Francisco, CA

photographer unknown

Jim Boz
San Diego, CA
photo by Cool CD Solutions

John Compton
San Francisco and San Diego, CA
photographer unknown

San Francisco, CA
photographer unknown

Los Angeles, CA
photographer unknown

Lancaster County, PA
photo by D. Harbaugh, 2007

Sacramento, CA
photo by Kari Vander Zwaag

Magdy El Leisy
Germany and Egypt
photo by Lynette

Mahmoud Reda
Cairo, Egypt
photographer unknown

Mark Balahadia
www.markbalahadia.com, Washington DC
Photo by Daniel Bissing
, circa 2007

Momo Kadous
photographer unknown


Dr. Mohamed Geddawi

Germany & Egypt

photographer unknown

Concord, CA
photo by Carl Sermon

Nath Keo
Victoria Canada
photographer unknown

www.ozgen.co.uk, London, England

photo by Emma Brown, 2008

Prince Andrew
Prince Andrew
Los Angeles
Photo by ?

San Francisco, CA
photographer unknown

Ric of Rising Sun

Ric of the Rising Sun Tribe
Morganton, North Carolina
Photo by Matthew Ketcham

Said El Amir
photo by Rainer Gutzmer - FoGu,

photo by Andre Elbing

Santa Cruz, Ca, www.bellydancersharif.com
Photo by Nakisa, my wife

Tarik Sultan
New York City, NY, www.tariksultan.com
photo by Jeffrey Mischke, 2004

New York & Istanbul

photo by Sarah Skinner

Cairo, Egypt
photo by Samira



photo by Despina



Steven Eggers
Los Angeles, California
photo by ?

photo by ?

www.valizan.com Hamilton/Toronto, ON. Canada
photo by Joe Szilvagi

Edmonton, Alberta, Canada
Photo by Michael Baxter

Youssry Sharif
New York City, NY
photographer unknown

photo taken by my wife, January 2008

Have a comment? Send us a letter!
Check the "Letters to the Editor" for other possible viewpoints!

Ready for more?
6-17-08 Tito Seif: The Moment of Eternal Shimmy by Stavros Stavrou Karayanni photos by Samira and Masouma, videos by Lynette
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.

4-23-08 From Toronto, Ontario, Canada The International Bellydance Conference of Canada Video reports by Gilded Serpent Staff
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10-6-08 "Just feel the music when you're on stage!”Interview with Ozgen, Male Turkish Belly Dancer, by Nini Baseema
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.

12-10-08 Leila Haddad & the Gypsy Musicians of Upper Egypt " In the Trail of the Ghawazee" March 2008 US Tour, by Amy Bonham
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While 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.

12-3-08 My Dinner with Nadia Hamdi by Fatima Bassmah
We 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.

12-1-08 Ask Yasmina: Evolution, Oum Kalthoum, & Cover ups by Yasmina Ramzy
A 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.

11-26-08 Bellydancer of the Universe Competition 2008, photos by Carl Sermon
held in Long Beach, California, on February 18 & 19, 2008, produced by Tonya and Atlantis

























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