“Why Can’t You Do Something Manly?”

Team Project Sexuality

We live in a society that is trying to come out of its patriarchal set up, and there’s a lot to go through before that can happen. However, every once in a while there comes a person that challenges all the stereotypes that have existed in the minds of people. Eshan Hilal, a young twenty four year old man from Delhi is an embodiment of busting myths- he is a male belly dancer.

A man who does professional belly dancing is not something we often hear of. 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. He said that a lot of people do cheap things in the name of the art form, so he asserts that if one calls themselves a male belly dancer, then one must respect the art and properly learn it. There are various associations that have been created with different career paths. The sad part is that society has taught us to grow up with these associations of a certain gender with a certain profession. 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.

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. She also told me to not do it at home and to not tell my father about it. She knew that I was a grown man now and that she couldn’t stop me anymore.” After gaining so much support on social media, his father still feels ashamed of what he does.

Picture taken from Eshan Hilal’s Facebook

On talking about the kind of backlash he’s faced, Eshan said, “Religion plays an important role when it comes to dance, as dance 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 bad things. He further adds, “I’m not doing prostitution with this art form. I’m selling my services, like an actor. I’m entertaining people and I’m making money from it.” The other kind of backlash Eshan often has to face is the comments on his sexuality. The comments don’t bother him anymore but, it is disheartening to see how so many people assume his sexual orientation to be gay or bisexual only because his interests don’t seem “manly” enough. Eshan questions back these people, asking them “You don’t ask people if they’re straight, then why ask them if they’re bisexual or gay?”

Society has its own ways of putting people down and to make comments on what is considered to be right and what is considered to be wrong. Eshan urges people to introspect and ask themselves if what they’re saying and believing is just coming from a societal notion. He asks about existing perceptions and says that people see what they want to see, “Our society is full of hypocrites. 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. People who say that all this is embarrassing are the biggest hypocrites as they are the ones with such a flawed perception.”
To people with any kind of passion, Eshan says that one must always have respect for oneself and for what one is passionate about. He emphasizes, “All you need is to believe in yourself and keep going even though people may try to pull you down.”


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