Men Performing Raqs Sharqi
I have not found any videos of men performing Egyptian Raqs sharqi to analyze, dating back to before the late 1990s/early 2000s.
Back in the early days of Raqs sharqi, even though Badia Masabni stated that, in her troupe, ‘we also had men and boys’ (Adum, no date, pt. Second Segment-Family), men usually worked behind the scenes, as choreographers, such as Ibrahim Akef, Isaac Dixon and Mahmoud Reda (he was also a performer but he only danced folkloric on stage, never Raqs sharqi).
Egyptian men still dance socially baladi (and today shaabi), using the same movement vocabulary that women use.
Morocco (Varga Dinicu, 2013, pp. 115–122) comments that men indeed dance Raqs sharqi professionally in many places, either dressed in normal everyday male clothes or dressed as women.
Morocco (ibid) argues that it was the arrival of Europeans, at the end of the 19th century, which pushed professional male dancers to the margins. Europeans did not like to see men dancing solo and so places that catered for foreigners, such as Badia Masabni’s Casino, only featured women dancing solo.
Shay (2006) points out that the preference for women performing became a class issue, as the westernised upper classes started assimilating European tastes. Shay, explains that (2006, p. 155):
Traditional professional male dancers carried out their trade in the most peripheral regions of the Middle East until the present, but in cities that had a major European colonial presence, like Cairo, Beirut, and Damascus, they largely disappeared from the urban scene.Shay (2006)
Male Teachers and Folkloric
In the contemporary international raqs sharqi scene, there are many well-known male teachers from Egypt.
However, apart from Khaled Mahmoud (some of whose workshops I have attended), based in the UK and who teaches and performs raqs sharqi, the majority of men only perform folkloric dance.
Some live in Egypt, such as:
- Abo Elazm
- Ahmed Abdel Razik
- Ahmed Refaat
- Badr Mohamed
- Hossam Abdel Ghany
- Mohamed Kazafy
- and Ousama Emam.
Others live abroad and teach oriental, but perform either folklore or their own fusion and innovative version of oriental, such as:
- Ahmed Fekry, Ehab Atia and Magdy el Leisy who live in Germany
- Khaled Seif, who lives in Switzerland
- Mohamed el Hosseny, based in Finland
- Samehh el Dessouki, in Russia
- and Yousry Sharif, in the USA.
Male Dancing Style
The style of the majority of these dancers, either when dancing oriental or folkloric, is quite balletic: lifted, light and with straight arms and legs and pointed toes.
Some of these performers were trained in the Reda Troupe and some in ballet. Indeed, Shay comments (2006, p. 154):
Taking ballet classes in the Middle East was not regarded as . . . effeminate . . . but rather bore the cachet of a high art from the West, superior to native dance traditions. . . . After World War II, many male dancers in the Middle East report having taken such training.Shay (2006)
Reda eliminated hip movements from his version of male dance so that, ‘at the same time that he de-emphasized female sexuality, he totally erased male sexuality’ (Shay, 2006, p. 155).
Morocco (Varga Dinicu, 2013, p. 121), who has travelled extensively to the Middle East from the 1960s, reports that:
When they do stick dances on stage in Egypt now they use balleticized semi-Tahtiyb movements and leave out all the hipwork. . . . Ordinary men dance both with and without canes, sticks, etc. and they move their hips.(Varga Dinicu, 2013)
The one internationally known male Raqs sharqi dancer who still lives in Egypt and whose style is oriental and not balletic is Tito Seif. I found some biographic information about him in an interview on YouTube (Beltran, 2014) and on a webpage of a festival where he taught (Rakstar, no date).
Tito started dancing at the age of 14 in a folkloric troupe. Later, he started his own folklore troupe, with both male and female dancers, in Sharm el-Sheik.
At some point, because of demand from the audience, he started incorporating Raqs sharqi performances in his programs, and, in the interview (Beltran, 2014), he recalls how one day he danced an oriental piece with one of the female dancers.
As the performance was a success, since then he continued performing oriental. Tito admitted that he learned a lot from watching dance scenes from old movies with dancers such as Naima Akef and Samia Gamal. Karayanni (no date, para. 11) describes Tito’s style by stating that:
He combines the acrobatic skill of Nayma Akeef . . . as he glides eloquently yet elegantly across any dance floor or stage he brings to mind the wondrous grace of Samia Gamal . . . as he smiles playfully and negotiates even more space . . . in the viewers’ emotional world, he reminds me of early Nagwa Fouad . . . above all, in my eyes he evokes the charisma of Tahia Karioka.Karayanni (no date)
Indeed, it is possible to see all these influences, as well as some influences from Dina and Randa in Tito’s dances, embodying the cultural heritage of Raqs sharqi (Nil Menajerlik, 2009).
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Hi – I’m Dr Valeria Lo Iacono and I am a dance researcher with a PhD in dance as a form of living heritage. I also teach belly dance and love to travel to discover new dances around the world. I have worked also as an academic and in the UK and in Korea. Thank you for visiting my site.
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