“Belly Dance” as we know it today is derived from prehistoric feminine ritual.
Within the crazy world of Bellydancing you’ll encounter differing opinions as to who can and indeed who should Bellydance. My own personal opinion is that if it makes someone healthy and happy then their age and gender are irrelevant, they should be empowered.
Granted here in the western world we have adopted the idea of female bellydancing over male bellydancing and there are many cultural throwbacks which uphold this idea here however if we look to the middle east we see both female and male performers deeply rooted in history. In ancient egypt these performers were the entertainers of kings and queens during court banquets and their shows contained prescribed and improvised “bellydance” movements as well as contortion, acrobatics and styles which I can only best describe as “cheesecake burlesque” Both female and male performers wore a length of fabric tied round their waist and hanging long at the front, this allowed for freedom of movement and covered basic modesty. Later and very gradually the preference towards female entertainers lead to a demise in professional male entertainers. Females are believed to have been favoured for their aesthetics, grace and increased flexibility.
In ancient egypt overall everyone danced for everyone.
In the Turkish Ottoman Empire religion dictated the segregation of women of the family into an area known as the “harem” and this area was closed to male non-family members. The sultans harems contained several hundred women and were guarded by eunuchs - castrated men. Despite music and dance being banned by religion at that time the government were lenient and female dancers and musicians then called “rakkase” entertained the women of the harems. It was strictly forbidden for any muslim female to become a “rakkase” however in private these women did dance for each other. With a complete absence of female presence in social living males opted to watch “rakkas” – male bellydancers, to fill their aesthetic desire. These young, attractive male “rakkas” had more freedom than their female “rakkase” counterparts and could be muslim or non-muslim. They appeared as either “tavsan oglan” – wearing a hat and tight trousers, performing largely acrobatics with athleticism or “Koceks” – wearing womens clothing and imitating the movement of womens bodies. Both were reportedly very sensual and this was widely accepted at the time as a substitute for female social company. All “rakkase” and “rakkas” were considered very skilled in their respective style of the art. ”Koceks” were banned in 1856.
In turkey women danced for women, men (sometimes posing as women) danced for men!
Today controversy still surrounds male bellydance, particularly in the middle east. In some parts of Egypt and Turkey male dancers still perform at celebrations, although in a more folkloric sense, illustrating an era long gone by. In the western world there is growing interest from men who wish to learn the art form as well as a number of very talented professional male bellydancers, all flexing their right to bellydance for centuries.
Here is the very talented Diva, a Turkish professional male bellydancer. I performed with him in Turkey in 2008.