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Male Bellydance Student, Now What?

By Zorba

You're not quite sure how it happened. You've been Belly Dancing for several years, been teaching for a few, are loved by your students, admired by your audiences, and watched enviously by your peers. Then one day your entire world is seemingly turned upside down. There is a male invading the hitherto feminine refuge of your beginner's Belly Dance class!

Since you've been dancing for more than six weeks, you certainly know about male dancers. But you've never had a male student before, and you're not quite sure what to do with him!

This brief article is intended to help. I asked for input from both teachers and male students on the discussion board at Bhuz.com so I could present more than just my viewpoint. As I have a wonderful teacher myself who had never had a male before, I felt such an article might benefit others.

I won't tell you whether or not you should accept a male in your class, it is your class after all. I'm a male Belly dancer, of course I think Belly Dancing should be open to all!

The first two thoughts that might cross your mind are "Is this guy for real?" and "How do I teach him?". For the first, don't be afraid to ask "careful" questions, my teacher did. She wanted to know the what and the why I was interested in this dance form. So I told her my story. She still wasn't quite convinced I was for real until I made a point of taking my wife to one of her performance venues.

If a male student causes problems in class, bounce him out, just like you would anyone else. I only ask that you not judge all male students by any bad apples you may encounter!

One male student told me that his teacher was very reluctant to accept him in her class - she had apparently had a particularly bad experience with a male student before. Much to her credit, she did give the male a chance despite her misgivings, and it has worked out.

I've had numerous teachers tell me that they have had multiple male students and have never had a problem with any of them. But one bad apple spoils the whole barrel, stories spread rapidly and grow in the telling!

For the second question ("How do I teach him?"), you'll be relieved to hear that the first answer and the last is "Teach him just like any other student". My poor teacher confessed to me once that when I started in her class that she "didn't have a clue!!" So she defaulted to teaching me just like anyone else. And it worked out fine! I also found out recently that she actually asked around among her dance sisters in the pro troupe she's in for advice - bless her! Apparently they all told her to teach me just like anyone else!

The male physiology (generally) means that certain movements look different on a male body but as it is the same body parts and the same muscles involved as with a female student, the actual technique is the same and can be taught your "usual" way!

As I explain to the guys in my Belly Dance Tips section of my website, having narrow hips sucks in this dance form. Your probable experience with narrow hipped gals will play well here - have your male do the old "hip enhancement" trick with trailing veil ends or other do-dads tucked in at the hips.

Most males are absolutely terrified of anything they perceive as "feminine". At the end of the day there is only so much you as a teacher can do about this and ultimately it is HIS problem, not yours. So take a deep breath and relax if this factoid is bothering you.

The rest really amounts to philosophy and expectations, both yours and your male's. They might include:

  • Differences between "masculine" and "feminine" dancing - maybe your male has no idea or sees little or no differences (such as myself), or thinks there are major differences! Opinions vary widely on this subject, among both male and female dancers.

  • Your viewpoint. Do male dancers employ "feminine energy"? "Masculine energy"? Both? No real difference? These philosophies will color your relationship far more than with your female students.

  • It has been my observation that males generally learn far slower than females. Exceptions exist, but most males are klutzes! Goddess knows I am.

  • However, quite a few teachers told me that their males learned at about the same speed as their females - so "your mileage may vary".

  • He'll either wash out in short order, or he's hooked for life! Just like a female student. I've seen a number of males come, and all too soon go, usually lasting only 1 or 2 classes. Again, most males have real problems with anything they perceive as "feminine". You can only give them a warm welcome, the rest is up to them.

  • You'll be used to presenting things in a feminine context. Don't over-compensate for the sake of your male. Most likely, he expects you to present things in a feminine context - and will be embarrassed if you are obviously "bending over backwards" for his sake.

  • On the other hand, your male would like to have some alternatives to veil wraps that involve bra straps!

  • Your male will most likely be anywhere from slightly nervous, to (as one male confided to me) downright terrified the first few times he comes to class. A warm welcome will help him overcome his discomfiture.

  • Many male dancers I've heard from, including myself, make an extra effort to put their dance sisters at ease.

  • When it comes time to perform, your male may, or may not have "baggage" about being a male in a "feminine environment". I did, and I still do to a certain extent: "Will I be accepted by the audience?". This gets easier with time, for every ignorant guffaw I hear, I hear ten voices of praise.

  • Last, but not least, why is he there? "The man driven to be a Belly Dancer is a man driven indeed." I came up with this saying after one of my instructors told me that I was obviously "driven". She's right, I am driven, but by what I don't totally understand myself. Your male may not either!

  • Student Troupe

    Una's Troupe Nijmeh, seamless integration of a male dancer. Thanx to Karri for this picture!

    A last word about your male student and your student troupe. This can be, but doesn't have to be, problematic. Regardless of how well a male dances, and how well loved he is by his dance sisters, the problem often remains of what to do with him!! Sometimes a male ends up looking like a fifth-wheel in an otherwise all female troupe!

    Certainly if, as I've seen all too often, the gals are wearing two piece cabaret outfits with bare midriffs while the guy is wearing a shirt (of all things); the look is unbalanced, to say the least!

    But say he's suddenly "good enough" to dance in your student troupe, which was "ok" for student night performances, but now he's even better and wants to dance with the troupe in "semi-professional" situations.

    It is unfortunate, but absolutely true, that a male in your troupe cannot be your weakest dancer - all eyes will be on him!

    Oh, what to do? The teachers at Bhuz.com all stated that they did, or would, put the male in the troupe alongside his dance sisters just like any other student - appearances be darned, and have him dance just like everyone else. Usually in the middle to balance the troupe.

    Frankly, from this male dancer's perspective, this is the way it should be.

    However, elsewhere I've heard of other approaches. One teacher wouldn't put the male in her troupe at all - interfered with the 'flow'. As regrettable as this attitude is, I can understand her point. So how do you get the male to not change the flow?

    Assuming the male is a good dancer (and is NOT "masculinizing" the dance), the real "problem" lies with costuming. Costuming is a very personal thing to any dancer, particularly a male Belly Dancer. And troupes come in two flavors: Ones that use identical or similar costuming, and those whose dancers all more or less do their own thing.

    This said, options you may wish to explore with your male, and that I've seen or heard of elsewhere include:

  • 1. Both he and his dance sisters do their own thing. Perhaps the easiest, but has little cohesion in appearance. Still, regardless of male/female issues, this can be a very nice troupe look as it gives maximum variety for the audience.

  • 2. Costuming him in similar colors and style to his dance sisters, but he wears a costume that is his and your interpretation of "masculine". Una's Troupe Nijmeh has used this technique to perfection. When I first saw them at Rakkasah 2002, it took me quite a while to realize one of the dancers was male! The integration of the male was seamless (he did great veilwork too!). I understand that there are now two males in Troupe Nijmeh!

  • 3. Maybe he "crosses the line" slightly and wears traditionally "feminine" fashion cues, thus blending in even better, but still presents as male. This is my own approach more-or-less (I don't really believe in differences between "feminine" and "masculine" in clothing other than the obvious anatomically driven ones.).

  • 4. The androgynous look. This can be very effective if the male is the right build, ridiculous if he isn't. This wouldn't work for me.

  • 5. Varying degrees of drag (If #4 won't work, this one definitely won't!). One male dancer told me this was his teacher's choice. Some males will go along with this, most won't!