There's no shortage of women whose hips don't lie in Egypt, but when we came across Jalil Jalil - a fit, bearded man who can shake his stuff with the best of them - we had to find out more about his unusual career...
Imagine you're at a wedding, and you're having the time of your life. You've drank, you've eaten and you've danced, and you've told the lucky couple how much you've loved them eight times already. It's time for you to take a break, return to your table and do a little people watching. The lights dim and the MC gets on the mic to introduce the customary belly dancer. Great, you think. Some eye candy. Or, if you're a girl, some time to snigger and comment on the voluptuous female and the awkward faces the men will make when she shimmies towards them...but wait a minute... This dancer is actually pretty slender and pretty covered up. She gets closer, and the light finally catches her face... She is actually a he. What do you do?
Being in the performing arts world is hard enough for Arab men, what with the patriarchal society depending on males to bring home the proverbial bacon, and hold "respectful" titles like engineer and doctor. Being a belly dancer, as Jalil Jalil explains, is nearly impossible and his chosen career path has seen him estranged from his family several times and shunned by society. However, this talented dancer has built a cult following, performing all over resorts in Egypt, as well as at weddings and special functions, and even travelling across the world to teach the art of Oriental dance, proving that a man can make it in a woman's world. We caught up with the belly bouncing boy to find out more about his taboo breaking talents...
Are you the first Egyptian male belly dancer? Who inspired you to get into the profession?
Most men in Egypt know about belly dancing. I can assure you that many of my friends are excellent dancers but few or almost no one dares to show their dancing in public or take it to the stage due to possible social rejection. Personally, I got inspired by the great Samia Gamal and later by Souhair Zaki.
Why you choose belly dancing over other forms of dancing?
I can honestly say that I am not the one who chose Oriental dance as a form of expression; it’s been part of my life since my early years. During my later studies of ballet, I discovered that it is a system. However, Oriental dance is the representation and evolution of our ancient culture.
What does your family think about your dancing?
I was born in a conservative and religious family but they are a little open minded. However, serious family problems regarding my profession made me run away from home several times. The fear of parents was my economic security. Soon, I showed them that Oriental dance can be respectable and you can make good money from it and nowadays the relation with my family is excellent.
What do people commonly think about male belly dancers?
A few years ago it was a taboo. However, the arrival of the new Sha3by era saw singers and animators likes Saad El Soghayar becoming even more popular and made the idea of men moving their hips to tabla rhythms more acceptable
Which venues have you danced at?
I have been dancing in five star hotels such as Barceló, Mercure, Pyramisa, the Mena House and on some boats on the Nile. I usually dance in weddings and I have travelled to teach our dance in Latin America and the Caribbean.
Female belly dancers are often seen as cheap or as prostitutes. Do you face the same problems?
Many dear friends invited me to dance in their street weddings and often in rural towns such as Ismalia, Beni Suef and Minya. To my surprise the audience received me always cheerfully and they are very friendly. I love the Upper Egyptian audiences!
Is there enough demand for male dancers for you to have a full career, or do you have another job to make money?
In our country the demand for male dancers is very small, except in places like Sharm El Sheikh where work is not well paid. My source of income mostly comes from the people who like good art and are satisfied with my work, and are not embarrassed to invite me to share their celebrations and make me known among their social circles.