‘When I Told Mom I Love Belly Dancing, She Asked Why I Couldn’t Do Something More Manly’

Posted by Arunima Gururani in #BHL, Culture-Vulture, Gender & Sexuality
September 26, 2017
Editor's note: This post is a part of #BHL, a campaign by BBC Media Action and Youth Ki Awaaz to redefine and own the label of what a 'bigda hua ladka or ladki' really is. If you believe in making your own choices and smashing this stereotype, share your story.

Eshan Hilal, a 24-year-old man from Delhi is an embodiment of busting myths about gender that patriarchy continues to force upon us. He is a belly dancer.

A professional male belly dancer is not something we often hear of since belly dancing is wrongly associated with only women, and further associated with seduction. Many don’t understand the art, and even few are able to comprehend the gender neutrality of it.

Eshan learned belly dancing by watching YouTube videos and later trained under Meher Malik, who is a well known belly dancer. His interest in belly dancing, and dance in general, (he is also a trained Kathak dancer) did not get him a positive response at home. He said, “When I told my mother about my passion for belly dancing, she replied by questioning me why I can’t do something masculine. While she knew that I’m a grown man and that she can’t stop me anymore but she also told me to not do it at home and to not tell my father about it.” Even after gaining so much support on social media, his father still feels ashamed of what he does.

There are various associations that have been created with different career paths. The result of this is a complete shock and often unacceptability of the fact that a person can actually have a choice in the career they wish to pursue.

Talking about the kind of backlash he’s faced for his career choice, Eshan says, “Religion plays an important role when it comes to dance as it is considered to be haram in Islam.” He talks about how modern Islamic teachings say that dance is not haram if one does not use it for activities like sex work or seduction that are apparently considered notorious. He further adds that his work and the art form is not any kind of prostitution. “I’m selling my services, like an actor. I’m entertaining people and I’m making money from it.”

Another common response Eshan often has to face is comments on his sexuality. The comments don’t bother him anymore but it is disheartening to see how so many people assume he is gay or bisexual only because his interests don’t seem “manly” enough. Eshan questions back, “You don’t ask people if they’re straight, then why ask them if they’re bisexual or gay?”

In a society full of prejudice, anyone with an appearance or opinion that differs from what is considered ‘normal’ is put down and ridiculed. Eshan urges people to ask themselves if what they’re saying and believing is just coming from this existing prejudice.

“Why are you focusing on the clothes? Why can’t you see the dance? Why is it all about cleavage and butt cracks? When Meher dances, what I see is how her belly catches small beats. I never look at how her skin is showing. ” 

As parting advice, Eshan says that one must always have respect for the passion, as well as themselves.“All you need is to believe in yourself and keep going even when people try to pull you down.” 

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