Zorba, Male Belly Dancer

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Zorba, Male Belly Dancer!
Zorba performing "Mary Jane's Dance" onstage at Kalisa's
La Ida Cafe with his purple Organza four yard veil! (8/15/03)
Thanx for the picture, Char!

This is an ever growing FAQ (Frequently Asked Question) with answers. Understand, that everything here is MY opinion, and ONLY my opinion, and should not be taken as hard fact.

This is written by, and for an American heterosexual male who is interested in, or intrigued by the concept of male Belly Dance. If you are female, or gay, or non American, or interested in a different dance form, this FAQ may still be of value, mentally edit responses as appropriate!

As Belly Dance is a HUGE topic, this FAQ does not attempt to address general frequently asked questions about the subject. Go to Link opens in new window this page on Shira's site for general Belly Dance questions. It pretty much covers it all! I've pretty much stuck to the male perspective here and left the general questions to already available resources.

I came to Belly Dance after learning, and performing Greek folk dance for 5 years previously. I remain very active in my Greek Dancing, usually wearing the traditional Greek Foustanella, or male skirt.

Belly Dance? Men do THAT?!?

Absolutely! There are a number very well regarded men who practice this ancient art, worldwide! However, for every male, there are probably 500 females, so Belly Dance is definitely female dominated.

Uh, Belly Dance? You mean you do the same kind of dance as the (female) Belly Dancer I saw at the restaurant? Or that came to my uncle's birthday party?

Yep, one and the same! Smile!

Is it historically accurate? Have men always danced this dance?

There seems to be little question that men have always Belly Danced. The well researched and definitive article Link opens in new window Oriental Dance, It's Not Just For Women (And Never Was), makes this abundantly clear.

Now as to the form the male version of the dance has taken, I personally think this has varied widely over both space and time. It is generally thought that the decline of male Belly Dancers in the middle east was largely due to British colonialism.

In a kind of backwards way, male Belly Dance is actually more authentic than female! In many places in the middle east, at various times, there were male dancers who performed publicly - often, but not always in drag. They did so to fulfill a demand for dancers - women almost never performed in public! Today, there are still male dancers in the middle east; and, as always, they're different depending upon where you are (The "middle east" is a big place)!

Still, even in most of the present day middle east - Belly Dance is perceived as being a feminine art-form.

Certainly, the roles of both males and females in this dance form has changed quite a bit over the last 110 years or so - but that is how cultural things change - this dance form is alive and dynamic!

Belly Dance? Do you mean Oriental Dance?

Belly Dance, Middle Eastern Dance, Oriental Dance, raks sharki (From the Arabic), all are terms used to refer to this dance form. There have been impassioned articles written pleading us to call it one thing or another (and usually NOT "Belly Dance"). Regardless of how accurate these viewpoints are, the fact remains that most Americans know it as "Belly Dance" (for better or worse), thus I'll use that term here. No flames please!

Isn't this a bit effeminate? Are you gay?

As this is definitely a female dominated activity (regardless of historical precedence, or lack thereof), a male dancer is, to a certain extent, a "Stranger in a Strange Land". A potential male Belly Dancer must have a strong sense of self, and be secure in himself. "Secure in his masculinity", and the seemingly opposite "Secure in his femininity" is an absolute pre-requisite.

As for the second question, I'll leave that to my wife of 25+ years to answer. There is little doubt that there are a number of gay male Belly Dancers. So what? More power to them - gays often have a stronger sense of self than straights.

So are you getting in touch with your feminine side?

I wouldn't say that I'm "getting in touch with my feminine side", I'd say that I'm secure with both my masculine and my feminine sides. I'm getting in touch with myself!

I don't think Belly Dance is just about femininity or masculinity exclusively. I look at it as human beings dancing. This dance brings out your true self. There is no hiding your true self from this dance form. If you are feminine (regardless of your biological gender) you will dance feminine. Ditto for the masculine.

Many ladies regard this dance as getting in touch with "the Goddess within". And it is! For them. So for us males, it can be getting in touch with "the God within". Dance and enjoy! Celebrate yourself! This is what it is all about!

For more philosophizing, check out Male Belly Dancers, Are We Feminine?

Yes, but I read/saw an interview with a Belly Dancer, and she said it was an affirmation of a woman's femininity!

Yes, this dance form is very much an affirmation of a woman's femininity! She didn't say it was an affirmation of a man's femininity, she said it was an affirmation of a woman's femininity!

It is also an affirmation of a man's masculinity - something most female Belly Dancers will agree with.

What about embarrassment?

Who's? Mine or your's? Why would I be embarrassed about myself? That's what this dance form is all about, yourself! The only thing I get embarrassed about is when I screw up on stage! And that happens to any performer.

I can now do things that many cannot. When talking with "the guys", most of them will squirm if I start demonstrating. Which shows their insecurities, not mine. If I can help one guy gain some security in himself, I've done something.

Aren't you afraid that your masculinity/sexuality will be called into question?

Honestly, I've never understood this concern. People are free to "question" all they like. If they have the guts to "question" to my face, I'll gladly tell them the facts. Whether or not they choose to accept the facts is up to them - I really don't care one way or the other. *Shrug*

Why so much about "Gender Issues"?

A very good question. Frankly, there shouldn't be any gender issues at all. However, males in general are so very insecure with themselves. Once in a while, you'll find a female who is insecure as well. Thus these questions definitely "top the list".

I say that I'm a "liberated male". Much like the females who broke out of stereotypical gender roles in the 60s and 70s, its high time that males do the same. And, for the most part, it isn't the ladies who want to keep us males in a rigid defined box, it's the rest of the men! We're doing it to ourselves! For more on this favorite topic of mine, see my Gender Rant page.

How do female dancers regard their male colleagues?

With almost universal love. Almost all female dancers love a male dancer, probably because there are so few of us. Anyone who has been Belly Dancing more than a few weeks will be aware of male dancers. I've had a few new beginners express surprise, but they generally think it's "neat".

What do audiences think? How do they react?

For the most part, overwhelmingly positive! Many are surprised, but come to realize that I'm halfway decent. As you might expect, almost all women love my dancing, while the men are a mixed bag. Many men of Middle Eastern extraction, particularly the older ones have cultural based problems with my dancing. However, I've gotten quite a few compliments from younger Middle Easterners!

What does your wife think about all this?

It has been, and continues to be, a voyage of discovery for my (rather conservative) wife. She was rather dubious at first. We had a long talk about it. I took her to Rakkasah (a HUGE Belly Dance festival) where she could see male dancers. She agreed the dancing was spectacular. Still, it took her awhile to get used to the idea, but she now enjoys watching me perform!

Does your wife dance?

It took a couple of years, but she eventually started dancing herself. This was after repeatedly telling me she had no interest in Belly Dance! Heh, heh.... I knew it was only a matter of time... Smile!

She has performed the Greek Dance along with myself for a number of years.

Your wife lets you dance with all those gals!?!

I get asked this quite often - yes she does. She knows that her husband just flat isn't interested in other women "that way". She got to know, and like my first instructor even before she started Belly Dance herself. This leads to the next question:

Ok, I've got it! You're a male straight - I know why you're in those classes full of shapely females!

Sigh... no, No, NO, NO, and NO!!!! There is no doubt that some males join a Belly Dance class for this reason, and this is why some Belly Dance teachers will not accept male students. If you go in with this attitude, you will be found out in short order and you won't be thought well of. These gals aren't stupid!

I'm happily married, I'm just not interested in such things. I watch a Belly Dancer, regardless of gender, and enjoy the dance and try to figure out "How did s/he do that?", "Do I know that move?". And so on. My male friends think I'm nuts, but then they're not Belly Dancers!

What do male dancers wear?

Almost always "harem pants", a tassel and/or coin belt, and some kind of vest - or a shirt. Some dance topless. It depends on the dancer and his philosophies. Many males insist on wearing a shirt and eschew the traditional two piece costume. I have several costumes now, and the all are two piece.

How about a skirt?

Ah yes, a skirt. There is nothing like dancing in one. For the most part, the only men who dance in skirts are Greeks/Albanians, Scots, and Twirling Dervishes, none of which are Belly Dancers.

For the longest time, I wouldn't perform in one as I figured it would fry the brains of the audience who might have a hard time with a male dancer in the first place. I'd do skirtwork in classes and workshops (in fact I was best at skirtwork in an Alexandra King Gypsy workshop, she had me demonstrating for the class!), but not to perform.

But then one of my instructors, Janette, decided to do a Gypsy Skirt choreography in class - and I had a decision to make. An earlier routine we were doing regularly, the "Story Dance" also had skirtwork - but the skirtwork was optional, we'd even performed it where some of the gals didn't wear skirts. But a Gypsy Skirt dance is ALL about the skirt - I didn't want to miss out on all the fun, so I now will wear skirts "when the situation calls for it". So far, the audiences seem to love it! See my articles elsewhere on this site to learn why a skirt really is a unisex garment.

Belly Dancing in a Foustanella just doesn't work either (I've tried it). Not only is it not authentic, but while the Foustanella is a wonderful costume for Greek Dancing, as it frees the legs, it is terrible for Belly Dance, as it constricts (and hides) the torso!

Do you do drag? Do you cross-dress?

Sigh... Define these sometimes somewhat negative terms. By *MY* definitions, no. By the definitions of others, maybe. I don't "do" boobs. "If it ain't biology, it ain't real". See my articles page for more on this subject.

Do you do veilwork? Do you play zills?

Of course! Veilwork is the most fun you can have with your clothes on! For those who don't know what 'veilwork' is, it is dancing with a 'veil', a large piece of fabric, usually silk. It is danced with, not worn (generally). I absolutely love veilwork - I just feel utterly divine swishing my beautiful silk veils around! I also perform the rather difficult 'double veil' (dancing with 2 veils) technique.

As for zills, I was a musician (piano & French horn) long before I was a dancer; thus playing zills comes easy to me, dancing while playing the zills is an entirely different matter! It took me quite a while to be able to play the simple zill parts of the beginning choreographies I learned first, but like everything else, practice makes perfect. I now solo frequently with zills!

I saw a (female) Belly Dancer balance a sword on her head! Do you do that?

I managed to avoid performing sword dancing for 14 years as I really don't care for it. I finally had two teachers gang up on me and so I've now done it! Sword dancing is done so often, that I feel it's become a cliché. Although I have practiced it frequently in class, it doesn't really appeal to me, partly for this reason, and partly because its expected of me as I'm a male. Why do what's expected? Smile!

Why is your site called 'Doubleveil'?

Because I love veilwork, and enjoy dancing single veil, as well as double veil (2 veils at once)! I'm even thinking of my own version of 'The Dance of the Seven Veils'! One of my instructors wanted to know what my version would look like. "I have no idea!", I replied. I guess both she and I will have to wait to see how it turns out!

Are there style differences between males and females?

Ask 10 male Belly Dancers this question, and you'll get at least 11 answers! This is a frequent subject of discussion, debate, and even arguments among both male and female dancers. Some of the discussions on the subject on the Internet become quite heated!

Some males have a whole set of rules they follow to appear masculine. Others try their darndest to look feminine. Myself, I let my body dictate what happens. It is impossible for any Belly Dancer to hide from this dance if s/he is truly dancing and not just going through the motions. One of my instructors tells me that I dance in a masculine, non-"froopy" style. I don't worry about it either way! Some would think I'm "feminine". Fine. If it works for them, it's OK by me. I don't see it that way though. Smile! Indeed, I've been told that I transcend gender - which is the whole idea!

I philosophize on this subject in Male Belly Dancers, Are We Feminine?

For other male dancer's opinions see my Links Page.

What style of Belly Dance do you do?

What is generally referred to in the U.S. as 'Cabaret', or what is sometimes called 'good old American Belly Dance'. However, I am now learning how to dance ATS (American Tribal Style) in addition.

I also dance in a folkloric troupe - I kind of ended up in it by accident. Its quite the honor for me, as the troupe leader once said that there would never be a male dancer in her troupe - then turned around and invited me to join!

How did you come to be interested in Belly Dance?

I danced Greek Folk Dance with the Greek Dancers of the Monterey Peninsula for a number of years. I also used to teach beginning Greek Dance to a few of my fellow employees at work once a week at noon. One of them was/is a (female) Belly Dancer. One day she called me and asked "Can you come down 30 minutes before Greek Dance class and help me with my Belly Dance choreography I'm putting together?" Hmmm. I didn't know the first thing about Belly Dance, and said so. "It doesn't matter, you are a dancer and I'd like your opinion" came the reply.

So I went. What I saw was an incredibly beautiful, graceful dance form with an extremely tight coupling between the dancer, and the music. I'd never seen anything like it! And the "power of the dance" was incredible! "I absolutely must do this!". And, as they say, the rest was history.

Are you the only male in your class?

Yep! Most of the time! (Waves) Here I am! Smile!

What's it like being the only male in class?

Fine. If you're secure in yourself. Understand that you're "invading" what is today almost strictly female territory. Virtually all female dancers will welcome you if you're sincere.

Do be prepared to mentally edit some of the instructor's female centric comments. If, for instance, she tells you to tuck your veil "under your bra strap", understand the concept she is trying to impart, and don't get hung up on "I have no bra strap"!!! If the instructor and the other students treat you "like one of the girls", this means you've been accepted.

From the male perspective, class can get a bit "giggly". I find myself giggling along with everyone else (*giggle*)!

Most 'net resources and Belly Dance literature will be written from the female perspective. Don't let it bother you.

I'm a klutz. I can't dance, I have two left feet!

Sigh... If I had a nickel for every time I've heard a male (and a few females) say this, I'd be richer than Bill Gates!

Pardon me while I pontificate on this subject (and this goes for ANY dance form):

Guys, this isn't a reason not to dance, it's an excuse! And I said the exact same thing when I was dragged, kicking and screaming, to my first Greek Dance class. Now I'm teaching some Greek Dance! If I can do it, so can you!

Males, as a rule, are indeed klutzes. There are exceptions, of course, and there are also clumsy females. The first 6 weeks of Greek Dance were utter Hell!! I was going against the line (Greek Dances are generally line dances), couldn't get the steps, couldn't get the rhythm, didn't understand the music, it was just plain awful!

I kept at it. I conquered it. And found dance to be the most fulfilling activity I had ever undertaken!

It still takes me "1.2 forevers" to learn a new dance. So what? I'll get it eventually, and will feel all the better for the challenge.

Belly Dance, at least for me, is the hardest thing I have ever undertaken. This stuff is HARD!! When I first wrote this, I'd been at it for about two years. Most of the females get to that stage in anywhere from 6 months to 1 year. Don't let that get you down! You can do this!

You are asking your body to do things that you've never asked it to do before. Give it a break, and give it some time. Men have a double whammy against them: American redneck pseudo-culture prohibits men from moving their bodies gracefully, PLUS American culture in general prohibits everyone, men and women from moving their bodies in these ways!

So, yes, a lot of the problem is between your ears. Dance in general, and Belly Dance in particular is a voyage of self discovery. You will learn who/what you are. You will learn your body in a way that you've never known it before.

The most frightening part? Dance will change you. It will change your body. It will change your world-view. It will change your soul. Embrace the "horror"! You'll find the changes are good ones!

Aren't women built differently? They're made for these movements! I'm not!

Yes, women are built differently, they have wider hips, which make some moves easier for them. That doesn't mean men cannot do these moves, it means that men have to train a bit harder. Although build has some impact on the ease of certain Belly Dance movements, the larger obstacle to the average male is cultural stiffness. And remember, the opposite is true also, there are some movements that are easier for us males, and the ladies have to work harder!

This is why this dance is for human beings, not just one gender!

Do you find Belly Dance spiritual?

Oh, absolutely! Belly Dance has a spirituality that is all it's own. Each person must find it for him/herself. People of widely differing traditions find commonality in the spirituality of this dance form.

Are you Pagan?

Yes. Technically, I'm a Hellenic Polytheist. I'm NOT Wiccan or similar, although I can function in a Wiccan context easily enough. The Goddess Athena is my Patroness. It seems that a lot of Pagans are Belly Dancers and a lot of Belly Dancers are Pagans!

What about the health benefits?

The health benefits are substantial from almost any dance form. Belly Dance is quite a work out, it can reduce a testosterone filled weight lifter to jelly in short order if he isn't familiar with it. Most doctors and chiropractors agree: Belly Dance is the very BEST thing you can do long term for a bad back. And all us males have bad backs. Think about it...

This said, check with YOUR healthcare provider about YOUR body and YOUR situation before starting ANY new exercise regimen.

Will I be sore?

Yes. Especially in the beginning. Belly Dance instructors have this knack of having you visualize and find a muscle that you didn't even know existed, and then S-T-R-E-T-C-H-I-N-G it farther than you ever thought possible!

You often stand in one place not moving hardly at all, yet the sweat just pours off of you!

Ok, I'm interested in giving it a try! Are there male teachers? Will I be the only male in class?

Yes, there are male instructors. There may be one near you. However, most likely, your instructor will be female. And most likely, you will be the only male in the class. However, there are more males becoming involved with Belly Dance - I heard from one very well known instructor who told me she has no less than five males in her class!

It takes guts to walk into an all-female Belly Dance class the first time, regardless of how "well adjusted" you may be. However, you will most likely be made to feel very welcome, and the psychological discomfort will pass quickly.

How do I find a "male friendly" instructor?

This is the easiest part, although it may not seem so in the beginning. I went to a good deal of trouble to find Janette, my first Belly Dance instructor, a lovely lady who has been dancing for many, many years. She said "no problem, I've had both male students and male teachers before, come on down!".

And her class was no problem at all! Unfortunately, due to scheduling conflicts, I had to eventually leave her class and find another teacher. Janette recommended another teacher in town, Jamaica. I called her. She, like almost all Belly Dancers, was aware of the good male dancers. However, she had never had a male in her class before! Although she had had some previous inquiries, I was the first male to actually show up to her class! I retrospect, I think she was initially more nervous than I was, but now she treats me just like "one of the girls".

It has worked out well. Jamaica has an excellent teaching style and a great sense of humor!

My recommendation is to find out about every Belly Dance teacher in your area. Ask around if you can about how good they are, etc. Then get on the horn and call them and ask them about their class and males in it.

There are some teachers who do not accept male students, due to bad experiences. Be respectful, and move on. If you're serious, you'll find an instructor! I think, by and large, most teachers will accept male students, I certainly had no problems.

Beyond that, there is a lot about "finding a teacher" on the 'net. Link opens in new window Shira's website has a lot on the subject, plus a large listing of instructors nationwide. This article I recently wrote, may be of help also.

What should I wear to class?

Absolutely do ask the instructor and go with what s/he says. Most simply specify "something you can move in", and something around the hips so both you and the instructor can see what is going on. I started simply by wearing the same old jeans and a T-shirt that I wear to work with a borrowed hip scarf. The borrowed hip scarf was quickly replaced with a tassel belt I bought on eBay, but I continued dancing in jeans for quite a while. Because I was a typical stiff male (despite 5 years of Greek Dance!), it just didn't matter. However, eventually I loosened up enough to where jeans and a T-shirt didn't cut it anymore. I then bought a pair of harem pants and a stretch dance top. I now also dance with a coin scarf under my tassel belt - coins give great feedback for shimmying.

I've seen the whole gamut in class, sweats, leotards, harem pants, skirts, full-up beledi dresses, you name it. The more experienced a dancer becomes, the more "in costume" they generally practice in. You'll know when it is time to "trade up" in your costuming.

Any other advice?

Yes. Stick at it. You can do it. Work hard, but don't lose sight of why you're doing this - enjoy the dance too. Stop working on that impossible shimmy for a bit, put on some Middle Eastern music and just dance, however badly. Revel in those bad hip circles, those so-so hip drops, the shimmy that keeps tightening up and disappearing! They'll all get better, I promise!

For goodness' sake, don't worry about looking bad in class, that's what class is for! Don't apologize for being a klutz (unless you blunder into someone). Nothing will stand in the way of a determined student. I still remember the thrill of finding one day that I was no-longer the absolute worst dancer in class!

Remember that you are very likely the BIGGEST person in your class, so try to dance in back. That way you're not blocking the view of the shorter dancers in front of you, while you can still see the mirrors (and the instructor) because of your superior height. However, after you've been there awhile, be sensitive to the newcomers who will want to hide in back. Let them, you've had your turn. If you find yourself being "pushed forward", try to position yourself to the side for the same reason of not blocking shorter dancers' view.

Watch to the sides as well (Belly Dance classes are often crowded and/or held in small spaces), don't hit some gal in the face while practicing snake arms. Position yourself so your arms go either in front, or preferably behind the dancers to either side of you if there isn't enough room to spread out. Belly Dance classes are often crowded!

Get inside the music. Get some Belly Dance music your instructor recommends, and listen to it all the time until it gets inside you and you understand it. Play it at home, play it at work, play it in your car!

Don't get overwhelmed. There is a LOT to learn, and most Belly Dancers continue learning all their lives - this is a lifetime commitment. However - you can do a nice Belly Dance routine using only a few of the most basic moves.

Make a point of watching as much Belly Dance as you can find. Look at the different styles, and the different levels of competence. Try to figure out how the dancer is "doing that". As you progress, you will start to recognize movements that you can do! See how the dancer relates to the music - there is much to learn here.

And most important: HAVE FUN!!!! Smile!

Where do I find out more about other male dancers?

See my Links Page.

What in Goddess's name is the 3 AM Zill Brigade?

The 3 AM Zill brigade! This is what happens when someone is foolish enough to cause grief to the Belly Dance sisterhood. Belly Dancers will come to the aid of a dance sister/brother in need, and will line up outside the window of the unfortunate offender at 3 AM in the morning and play Zills (Finger Cymbals) at high volume, often accompanied by Zaghareeting and even, upon occasion, a Mizmar or two! Smile!

Are you on Facebook?

I'm not on Facebook and YOU shouldn't be either!

Who is John Galt?

John Galt remains an enigma. I asked Atlas the same question, he just shrugged... Smile!

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