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PHOTO CREDIT: Above photo by John Rickman Photography, San Jose, California.

The Odyssey Of The Lizard Boy

by Valizan


With the emergence of more male dancers on the belly dance scene, it seems that men have gained an advantage when it comes to getting on stage.

Because there are still so few male dancers, we are automatically something different and fresh in shows that are typically saturated with beautiful, sequin-clad women. Drop a man into a belly dance show and listen to the audience oooh and ahhh over the fact that it's a guy up there. A man bellydancing. A dude shaking his hips. There is usually no judgment from the audience about whether the dancer is good or bad... just that he's — omigawd — MALE!

Unfortunately, this has led to male dancers being treated more like novelty acts than dance artists. I call this The Lizard Boy Syndrome.

You remember the Lizard Boy at the circus? He's one of the sideshow acts because of his head-to-toe scaly skin. The fact that he does high wire work, acrobatics, sword swallowing and sings with the voice of an angel (he went to Juilliard!) is irrelevant because people can't look past the fact that .... HEY, he's the Lizard Boy, look at his scaly skin!


No matter how much talent he may otherwise have, people will not see it because they are focusing on one facet of his being.

The same thing is happening with male dancers. People spend so much time getting their knickers in a knot because it is man dancing that they don't pay any attention to the skill he displays, and they reduce him to a one-trick pony. And as an artist the Lizard Boy never gets considered as any kind of serious talent.

Look at some of the big male names. Some have been dancing for over a decade. Egypt's Tito Seif has been dancing most of his life, frontline exposure to raks sharki and various folklores being part of his culture. Raffa trained under the great Aziz of Salt Lake City. All have trained to become better dancers. Do they not deserve a little bit more respect than recognition of their chromosomal status?

It would be very easy for me to simply stand on a stage, breathe and be male, but it hardly makes me an artist. When people treat me like The Lizard Boy, it makes me feel as though the hard work I put into learning shimmies, flutters, adding fluidity into my hands, undulations, those *&%$#! level changes and recognizing the nuances of the music are all tertiary to my genitalia and a glistening, well-lit pectoral.

One of my teachers once advertised me in a show as "and male bellydancer, Valizan." And I was somewhat miffed. With those words I had been separated from the other performers in the show.

The implication, at least to me, was here are skilled dancers and then as a treat, the dancing bear! 'Isn't he cute with his fur and how he balances the ball? He doesn't need skill 'cause he's just so durned cute!' I explained my feelings to my teacher and she explained that she saw my dancing as something that needed to be advertised because it was rare and special, but respectfully, she never did it again. Consider the reaction if the phrase "and black bellydancer Samra al Ifriqa" were used. Does Samra's skin colour have any bearing in her skill?

And some male dancers do take advantage of their maleness to get into big performances while their level of skill is not up to snuff. But the audience is still the ultimate judge. A bad performance, no matter which sex, merits exclusion until the dancer gets better... just like any female dancer.

The easiest solution is for more men to take up belly dance. Once enough people see men dancing, it will lose some of the shock value. Finally, male dancers will be considered for the sum of their arts, rather than the sum of their parts.



About the Author

Toronto-based Valizan began his journey into Middle Eastern dance in 1995 when he joined The Society For Creative Anachronism, an educational group that learns about the Middle Ages by recreating it. Teachers Rayah Blackstar and Moria The Black instilled basic technique, while classes with the sublime Roula Said took him to a new plateau. Current influences include Yasmina Ramzy, FatChance Bellydance, Jillina, Rachel Brice, Francisco Carranza and Aziz of Salt Lake City.

As one of the few male bellydancers in North America, Valizan has become a sought-after solo performer and teacher across Canada and the U.S. for his powerful style and energy. He also heads up his own tribal troupe, Shades Of Araby. Local appearances include Arabesque Dance Company's Asala, The International Bellydance Conference Of Canada, Tribally Inspired, Northern Migration, The Dark Side, Face Zenna at the Royal Ontario Museum, and The Bewitching Bellydance Ball. He also headlined In The Heat Of The Hafla in Milwaukee and appeared at Cabin Fever and The Albright-Knox Gallery in Buffalo, NY.


He was honoured to have been included in the 2007 Men Of Middle Eastern Dance Calendar.

He began teaching American Tribal Style bellydance at Arabesque Academy in 2004, and is currently in the FatChance Bellydance Teacher Training program. He became an apprentice in the Arabesque Dance Company in November 2005 when he began training in Egyptian folklore with master teacher Yasmina Ramzy. He is honoured to now be a lead dancer in the Arabesque Dance Company, and in the new project, The Righteous Rogues Of Raks.

Valizan also holds a degree from The Ryerson School Of Journalism.

The learning continues...





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