Men (and boys) who dance raq!

I’ve noticed a recent phenomenon. At the last three shows where I’ve had audience participation segments at the end, the lone volunteers have been…boys. These brave young men, usually around 10 or so, come up onstage to dance, while girls their age (and even grown women) avert their eyes when I ask for people to come try out a few moves. If boys are so willing to dance at this age (before peer pressure becomes smothering and drives them out of the dance studio), why aren’t we more encouraging of male dancers, both in Middle Eastern dance and in other dance forms?

For many, the thought of a male dancer–let alone a male belly dancer–is a hilarious concept complete with jokes about men in tights, or something totally unthinkable and inappropriate, or a presumed indication of the dancer’s sexuality. Maybe it’s because one of my main instructors (Tarik Sultan) is a male dancer, and because I have male friends who are dancers and chat with many on dance forums, but I have a hard time understanding why a male dancer is a horrified gasp-inducing concept to many people. Perhaps it’s the general cultural stereotype, especially in the US, that “boys don’t dance,” or maybe it’s the “belly dance is a community of women” concept that many female dancers and studios promote that’s keeping male students from dance training, or maybe it’s a lack of knowledge of male dancers and dances.

Either way, I have to admire my male cohorts not only for their talent, but for their perseverance. Not only do they have to stand up to the many prejudices and false assumptions that female Middle Eastern dancers put up with, they also have to deal with the stereotypes and jeers that often follow male dancers. It seems like many male dancers in 2011 are encountering what female dancers encountered in the 1960s and 1970s, whether it is negative reactions or a lack of appropriate costuming (and the need to learn how to sew or custom-order!). I hope that our sometimes insular communities of “dance sisters” can open their arms and embrace our brothers in movement, and help encourage all those brave little 10-year old boys that they can dance too!

For your viewing pleasure, some of my favorite male belly dancers:

Al Hassan Ameed

Tarik Sultan

DaVid of Scandanavia


5 thoughts on “Men (and boys) who dance raq!

  1. One reason for being nervous is that one doesn’t know who is going to huffy about it being “womyn’s dance”, and how dare someone with a Y chromosome “intrude”.

  2. Add to this that announcements for workshops and courses are usually explicitly addressed to women, .leaving us of the “stronger” sex scratching our heads.
    Long ago, I saw questions about this addressed to ARABESQUE. Farrah’s explanation for not teaching men was “I don’t have a beginner’s class”…again, not much help.

  3. We’re not seeing male dancers because as you wrote: “or maybe it’s the “belly dance is a community of women” concept that many female dancers and studios promote that’s keeping male students from dance training”. This is shameful in my opinion, to purposefully exclude a segment of the population from dance training. When will bellydance teachers WAKE UP and STOP discriminating against men?

  4. I think it is a combination of factors, as you mentioned.
    Perceptions of the general populace: I remember sitting in the parent room at my son’s ballet class, no less, listening to a little boy pleading to take ballet while his dad said “no son, you’re going to take hockey lessons.”
    Stereotypes within the dance community: This year, one of my students moved to Chicago and was irate at all the teachers listed on Shira’s website who stated “female students only” for their classes. I talked him out of storming the classes anyway, since I do think there are a few legitimate times when a female only policy is acceptable (allowing a woman under hijab to participate, for example) but I suspect most teachers don’t have that kind of reason!

    Personally, some of my favorite dancers are men, and my son (age 10) does dance with me- the “oh, another little drummer” when a boy is born and “another little dancer” when a girl is born drives me nuts! I think the BEST way to combat misconceptions and unintended (or intended) discrimination is simply to have male dancers visible as much as possible (opinion only slightly colored by my desire to see certain favorite dancers perform as much as possible!)

  5. That made me curious so I looked at the Chicago-area class listings on Shira’s site and was happy to see more “both male and female students accepted” than “only accepts female students”, but there were still a surprising number of the latter.
    Of course parents have a lot to do with the beliefs one develops, but we’re talking about grown men who WANT to take bellydance lessons – and it’s a pity they’re often shut out.

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