The male belly dancer fighting gender stereotypes

Belly dancing is often seen as Orientalist, erotic and undeniably feminine – but one Lebanese performer is using it to fight for gender fluidity.

In the Middle East, the word ‘belly-dancing’ is never used for this languorous dance form; it’s called ‘baladi’ – best translated from Arabic as ‘folk’ – and was originated in Egypt, though several variations exist throughout the Arab world.

In the 40s and 50s, Egyptian cinema was full of curvaceous baladi dancers who were respected as the Marilyn Monroes and Sophia Lorens of Middle Eastern cinema. But as the golden age of Egyptian cinema faded and religious conservatism increased in society, baladi was marginalised and associated one-dimensionally with male arousal.

Alexandre Paulikevitch is one of the few male baladi dancers in the Middle East. He learned how to dance from watching Egypt’s black and white movies and now performs as a soloist, challenging his audiences to think differently about baladi – not only as a post-colonial dance that’s distant from ‘belly-dancing’ or ‘danse orientale’ but as a dance that men and women alike can perform. Though Beirut is one of the region’s most open-minded cities towards the LGBT movement, Alexandre has had to fight to be respected as a gay performer who is freely expressing his feminine side.

We went to his class in Beirut to find out what he’s doing to revolutionise this Eastern dance.

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