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
DaVid of Scandanavia