Male Belly Dancing
Anyone who visits a club in Turkey or the Middle East will know that when the Arabesque beats come on, men will literally dance their pants off, shaking their thang as well as any woman.
Today, it may be far more common to see women professionally perform this exotic and mysterious dance, but Oriental dancing has never been the exclusive preserve of females. It is passionate form of human expression that has evolved over thousands of years, not in harems or night clubs, but around a hearth where people of all ages and sexes in Africa, the Middle East, and Central Asia gathered to celebrate every aspect of life, from weddings to seasonal thanks giving.
For a time too, men became the leading professionals in Oriental dance, as paintings from the Ottoman Empire clearly illustrate. The Tavsan oglan (rabbit boy) wore a hat and tight pants, while a kocek was an attractive youth in heavy make-up and richly embroidered clothing with an effeminate air. In the absence of women, who remained out of sight in the harems, these male performers were employed by the Royal Courts of the Sultan to entertain his male subjects.
By the 1600s, there were said to be over 3,000 male dancers. The koceks in particular became renowned for their sexually provocative moves including gyrating hips, ladylike walking and the special two-handed finger snap. Literally the Rock Gods of their day, their performances created unruly behaviour from audiences who were captivated by these dancing boys, resulting in the koceks being banned in 1856.
Sadly, as dance was not regarded Art in the Islamic Middle East, outside of the Ottoman Empire, there is not much documentary evidence of the history of male Oriental dancing. Photographs from the Chicago World Fair in 1893 show male dancers performing at the Egyptian pavilion, but by this time they had become a rarity and the professional male Oriental dancer had fallen into decline.
For a time, Middle Eastern society grew intolerant of male Oriental dancing, as typified by press reports in February 2000 about a 19 year old Turkish male chained to his bed by his father who disapproved of his performances as an Oriental dancer. Yet these societies remain happy for men to dress and dance the traditional Folkloric or Romany styles.
Since the 1960s, there has been a male Oriental dance revival, driven primarily by the US that has encouraged others to take up the dance. Like women, men are seeking to connect with their inner God. While infinitely smaller in number, there are now a host of professional male dancers who have risen above the social stigma to perform at the highest levels.
The costumes for male belly dancers are similar to women; decorated harem pants, hip belt and fitted top, although some prefer to dance bare-chested. Men can adopt a masculine approach to Oriental dance, while others prefer to follow in the Kocek style and assume a feminine look and style.