The Saga Of India's First Male Belly Dancer
It’s a different art form --- exquisite without being ostentatious. Pulling up his shirt in public and doing a shimmy with panache or shaking the belly with finesse, there are no stumbling blocks for this energetic young boy, who is supposedly India’s first male belly dancer Eshan Hilal.
Breaking free from the shackles of masculinity, wearing high stilettos, and refined accessories or magnificently accoutred in harem pants or crop tops, Hilal has gone a long way breaking taboos.
Growing up as a young boy in a conservative Muslim family with a coterie of religious thinkers and offering prayer five times a day. Hilal started his passion for choreography by saving his tuition money and attending kathak classes. Within the initial days of opening up before his father and revealing his inhibitions about dance,Hilal realised that the battle was not going to be an easy one.And that it would always be against prevailing stereotypes, prejudices, taboos and hypocrisy.
“My family initially allowed me to dance when I was around four years of age, and thought that I am dancing as a kid, considering it as a phase which would get over soon. But my journey literally started from there, and I found myself connected to dance, when I first performed Kathak as a 14 year old in the ninth standard”, says Eshan Hilal.
Belly dancing dates back as far as the Egyptian civilization. It is believed that, in most places, belly dancing began as a ritual in which both men and women could participate. As Islam began to spread through many countries, it became inappropriate for women to dance in public. Men, dressed as women, and took the place of women, in most of the ritualistic dance forms.Not so of course even now in countries like Turkey, Syria, Egypt where women belly dancers continue to enthral. In India now, male belly dancing is still very bizarre.
Criticized and forsaken by the family for his decisions, Hilal said, “My father called me names like Bhaand, Haraam, and Nachaniyaan”. He even said that we belong to a family of pathans, were we get entertained and not entertain others”.
To some Hilal might be mistaken for bisexual, a transgender or a gay while for others the beauty of his talent surmounts all stereotypes attached to the dance form. Inspired by Illan Rivier and Jamil, two renowned male belly dancers, there is nothing that impedes his confidence and passion for belly dancing.
Making a shift from the Indian classical form, entailing rhythmic foot movements wearing Ghungroo’s, facial gestures and Nazakt, belly dancing was a complete remould involving the hipbone and complex movement of the torso.
“Many people cautioned me to rethink about my decision for pursuing this form of dancing as it would make me look feminine. Some even condemned me saying that, I belong to the community of ‘Hijras’, but nothing really deterred my spirit and soul”, Hilal said.
One of the biggest road blocks to male belly dancers getting recognition in India, is the silent issue of sexuality. Stuck in a conundrum between the issue of sexuality and art, Eshan Hilal bravely chose to pursue his passion.
Taking dance as a form of expressing his inner self and confidence, Hilal plans to open a Belly dancing school saying,“There is no platform or support for male belly dancing in India. For all those bold men, who wish to pursue this art form, I envision establishing a proper belly dancing school and making this art form bloom”.