While belly dancing is a time-honored art in certain countries in the Middle East, especially Turkey, it is usually associated with the fairer of the sexes, women.
However, there has now been a resurgence of male belly dancers in Istanbul, and they are making quite an impression and male belly dancing shows are all the rage these days.
The costumes worn by the male dancers are similar, if not identical to the ones worn by female belly dancers, adorned with bejeweled belts, flowing satin skirts and cloaks made of sheer fabric. The only difference is the obvious one: that men don’t wear bras.
One such male dancer, 26-year-old Zenne Segah, spoke to reporters about what life is like for him as a dancer.
“Male belly dancing is not new, but for the past three years demand has gone up. Everywhere I look, it’s zenne, zenne, zenne as if there’s less interest now for female belly dancers. It’s not just for women. It’s an art form,” he said.
Segah said he knew he wanted to be a dancer since he was a child, but for many years only female belly dancers attracted crowds in Turkey.
“Zenne dancers are now fashionable and we see them performing in all sorts of clubs—from the jet set to the gritty ones. People can now choose to do this as a profession and not as hobby.”
It’s just as well for Segah that the job is so well paid, as he said he earns the equivalent of around $200 for a short appearance at a birthday party, while that amount increases for hen and bachelor parties.
Alex, a Turkish beauty parlor owner from Istanbul, told reporters about the increasing role of men in traditional Turkish belly dancing, “If a man is in shape and can learn to dance, he can be more alluring than a woman. There used to be a stigma, but now it’s more accepted,” he said.
As there is a big stigma against gay people in Turkey, Segah also spoke about how difficult it is to be a male belly dancer in Turkey, “First they may be baffled about a man wearing a skirt and dancing….But after they watch me on the stage for five to 10 minutes, they see I’m just doing art. They see their wives and women cheering and enjoying it and they usually loosen up,” he said.