Bellydance has long been dominated by women in both Eastern and Western countries. Historically, because segregation of the sexes was common in Middle Eastern/Arabic countries, men often were not allowed to be present while women were dancing. In modern bellydance the performers are often women, the teachers are often women and the students are often women and the Atlanta bellydance community is no different.
The idea that bellydance was and is for women is still being upheld in many Atlanta studios. If you are a man looking to learn about the dance in, information about masculine bellydance can be hard to come by in Atlanta. There are studios that are co-ed, but you would have to do your research to find them. There are sponsored workshops that feature male and female instructors, but it would depend on the host whether or not men would be allowed during the workshop. Sadly, there are no professional male belly dancers here in Atlanta even though the community is always accepting and excited to receive male guest instructors.
There is no real difference in the movements performed by the people of the Middle East and Arabic countries to differentiate the dance as “male” or “female.” Outside of the obvious physical differences (clothing, style, and posture), men and women are capable of performing the same styles of dance with few physical limitations. Stefan has an informative article on masculine vs. feminine bellydance and explains in detail the differences in the physical stylizations.
Folkloric dances, such as Saidi (pronounced SIGH-EE-DEE) are performed by both male and female performers. Both forms of this dance are beautiful, lively and earthy. The Tahtib is performed by two men and depicts a dance of combat and the handling of weaponry. The female form of this dance Raqs Assaya, a softer and gentler form of the dance, was brought to the stage by acclaimed pioneer, soloist and choreographer of Egyptian dance theatre Mahmoud Reda. Reda was a principal actor, dancer and choreographer in popular Egyptian films. In 1959 he founded the first folkloric dance company, The Reda Band. Amani Jabril hosted Reda in Atlanta August 2010 and he will be returning this summer, July 30th & 31st.
Following in the footsteps of Reda are performers such as Tito Seif, David of Scandinavia, Tarik Sultan, Mohamed el Hosseny and Amir Thaleb. Although belly dance is still dominated by women, these few men that have set themselves apart to become trailblazers and have become renowned and acclaimed for their artistic expression. The number of male performers, instructors and choreographers has grown despite stereotypes, cultural bans and hostility towards their craft. These men stand out, not only because of their gender but because they have earned the right to share the stage with their female counterparts and with pride, call themselves “belly dancers.”
You can see Tito Seif, Nath Keo and Tarik Sultan perform this Memorial Day weekend at Black Orchid Festival in Peachtree city, May 26th-30th. Online registration has been extended through May 27th.