Mouhawala Oula

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“Look! Sex and gender are separate!” I whispered to Judith Butler, shimmying shyly on my right. “Look! Women are learning femininity from a man!” I whispered to Judith Jack Halberstam, strutting hir stuff on my left. Both of them were struggling with the arm and wrist movements accompanying the belly dance. To tell the truth, in this class full of women, all of us moved like rusty robots compared to our lithe teacher, Alex. Still he was miraculously unwearied by us, taking struggling students under his wing like a mother hen. Eventually I lost patience with my untamable masculinity and retreated self consciously to the corner. “Face it!” I told myself as I peered at my gawky self in the distant mirror. “Femininity is not natural to you just because you were born a woman! You belong in an Aikido class!”

From my bashful teenage boy exile in the corner, I watched the women against the silhouette of a darkening city. Some danced like they were at their cousin’s wedding. Some danced like white women imagining an exotic East. Some danced like car mechanics. My gaze turned to Alex, lips pursed in pleasure, swirling in his own private ecstasy. Alex fluently speaking a language of grace and beauty so very far from our awkward ABCs.  His boyish girlish hips. His taut belly. Confused, I found myself blushing with lust, drooling with my mouth closed. I desired him.

Photo by Randa Mirza

Photo by Randa Mirza

We came from as  far as Amman and Damascus to watch Alex take his revolutionary show to the stage this October. Before he even stepped on stage, black and white footage of all women Egyptian belly dance movie stars rolled against the backdrop, thereby locating Alex, a man, in this rich tradition.

Backstage was Alex, beloved teacher and friend, preparing to take oriental dance out of the realm of cabaret entertainment and into the world of contemporary dance. It didn’t matter that he was about to wear a skirt.  His revolution would be structural. He was making bold statements about femininity and masculinity just by doing what he was doing. And doing it better than any woman in the room, with a body better than any of the men.

And then he did step on stage, plugging his ipod into his ears and belly dancing to music we couldn’t hear, plunging once again into his own private paradise. A world where belly dancing boys did not get beat up and mocked; a world where they got a standing ovation.

Contributed by euroarabe


*In October 2009, Alexandre Paulikevitch performed a ground (and gender) breaking dance performance at the Sunflower Theater in Beirut to packed audiences and raving reviews. More information here.

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