Men Belly Dancing Way Back When
During the reign of Sultans of the Ottoman Empire (1345-1922) male belly dancers were often a hot commodity. With many females confined to their harems, and those out in public enforced to cover up, there weren’t a lot of opportunities to see women gyrate in sexy belly dance costumes. That left a gap for belly dancing men, who took old town Turkey by storm. There were two varieties of male belly dancers: tavsan oglan, meaning Rabbit Boy, known for tight pants and delightful hats, and the koceks who did their undulations and hip hits wearing women’s belly dance outfits with their long locks out. Both the tavsan oglan and koceks provided colourful entertainment to the sultans, aristocracy and commoners at feasts, festivals and weddings, where men and women were separated.
In Egypt as recently as 50-years ago, male would be strutting their stuff alongside female down stretches such as Cairo’s Mohammed Ali Street where you go for all your needs. But when Gamal Abdul Nasser took rule of the land in 1954, belly dancing boys were effectively pushed out as he felt they were a symbol of the overthrown King Farouk’s debauchery.
Egypt, just like Istanbul and other parts of Turkey, North Africa and the Middle East, have made it increasingly difficult for men to due to its perceived association with homosexuality which is taboo under Islamic law. But in a change of fortunes, male belly dancing is coming back.
Thailand has its lady boys, Turkey has its kol.
Raqs sharqi, (meaning Dance of the Near East), the belly dancing style best known in the west, is becoming popular again in the clubs, cabarets and restaurants in cities such as Istanbul and Cairo, and even further field. More men are performing as a reminder of the glory days of the Ottoman Empire and the centuries-old Egyptian tradition.
Back in 2000, a 19-year-old male belly dancer made international headlines after he was rescued by Turkish Police having been chained to a bed for three days by his father. His dad’s defense was that his son had been performing as a belly dancer.
Our chained heroine was not alone. More and more of Istanbul’s hip nightclubs have strapping young men performing belly dances virtually every night of the week. In that city, they are affectionately known as rakkas, derived from the Turkish word raks, meaning dance. They are famous for their dazzling, brightly coloured costumes that sparkle under nightclub lights. Male belly dancers posing as patrons at clubs in Cairo are often paid by the clubs to dance to bring some edginess and cool factor to the clubs.
So expect to see increasingly more males doing the Raqs sharqi ( meaning Dance of the Near East) in clubs, cabarets and restaurants in Istanbul, Cairo and cities further field such as Santa Cruz. Even Japanese Olympic gold medalist Daiichi Suzuki, now swim coach, is having his lads do belly dancing to get in shape – a fun reminder of the glory days of the Ottoman Empire and old Egypt.