Men In Bellydance
How Should men be participating in Bellydancing?
The masculine, the effeminate, and the androgynous
Basically, I see three kinds of male dancers: the really masculine, the effeminate, and the androgynous. All three offer something exquisitely artful and profound. In ancient times, different cultures encouraged males to belly dance. Because women were often restricted from public expression, this provided a way to view "feminine" performances. Similarly, in early Shakespearian plays, women were portrayed by young males. Like a "trompe-l'œil"... a trick of the eye, the audience was lured into "seeing" the opposite sex. Belly dancing has a long history of this male-female portrayal. With different names from different countries, men emulating women dancers were called Cenfi in Syria, Batcha in Persia, Qawall in Arabia, Hawaal in Egypt and Kojak in Turkey. As mores changed and Western culture pervaded the Middle East, women dancers were given the opportunity to perform and male dancers faded out of vogue for a time.
In reverse scenario, Western culture celebrated the female professional, yet several men crossed the threshold into the belly dance world with great impact. One man was Ibrahim Farrah, of Lebanese dissent, who came to New York and began teaching Middle Eastern dance at Carnegie Hall. He opened his own dance school and company, and performed and choreographed internationally. I was fortunate enough to take classes with him and see his spectacular shows. My teacher Dahlena often performed with him. Ibrahim produced Arabesque magazine, one of the first publications to educate people about belly dancing and it's heritage. His counterpart from California, Burt Baladine also taught internationally and helped spread the popularity of belly dancing. From opposite ends of the continent, they awakened viewers to the dance, elevated it to professional heights, and also exemplified male dancing.
A thrusting male pelvis
Speaking of sexy, a thrusting male pelvis can cause quite a stir. One notable icon, though not a belly dancer, moved his hips in a provocative manner that was quite atypical at the time. Although Elvis Presley was considered shocking, his "dance" moves, as well as his voice, helped elevate him to fame. Women were swooning, screaming and fainting. Magic Mike can attest that this phenomenon still lives on! So what makes for a sexy masculine belly dance?
One article I came across by "Stephan" (no further name was added) described attributes of masculine prowess versus feminine moves in belly dancing. The description is fascinating on a physical, psychological, and symbolic level, especially if you read between the lines. It states that women's hips glide side to side, while men's hips move more easily forward and backward; that men tend to face the audience while women use a diagonal stance, that men rarely turn their backs on the audience, and don't raise their arms in a vulnerable manner, but rather keep them outstretched with fists or half fist, and straight wrists...no limp wrists.
Smile with a facial expression that communicates high spirits, confidence, and joy in manhood, occasionally changing to a fierce look when showing power directly. Where women do soft motions, men can do sharp ones. Men should be flat footed & well grounded: where women include a pelvic tuck in a move, men do a pelvic thrust. Where a woman does a small move, a man might make it bigger. Don't look weak, don't look vulnerable, don't drop your guard.
He stole the show!
I remember two performances I did with male dancers. One was onstage, with a gay dancer who had a strong masculine style. I recall being fascinated with the power of his hip movements. Covering a smaller circumference, they were super quick and exact. He wrapped me in a veil, winding it around my torso, and then as he pulled on the end of the veil, I was sent spinning deliriously in the opposite direction. It was quite a flair of drama...and I and the viewers loved it. Another time, I was booked for a performance for an all woman's party. I brought along a new, young, male belly dancer who was seeking practice. The women flocked around him like teenagers seeking autographs, and he stole the show! Did someone say Elvis?
There are even more permutations on the subject of male dancers. More recently at a belly dance production in Brooklyn, NY the audience was superbly entertained by a strong dancer with classic Hollywood good-looks. Her name is Samira. I had seen this dancer before... as a man. Now as a woman, the change was breathtaking; and the performance was as transformative as his/her personal journey.
Illuminating gender contrasts, similarities, and just what makes us different and the same, will probably continue to mystify most of us. Seeing it in the context of dance leaves out confusing rhetoric and causes us to truly see.
So, how should men participate in the belly dance world? Any way they want to. After all...all things are trying to be! And true Art always questions reality.