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A summary of the new trend and the historical background of the male belly dancers.
The audience, young and older alike, foreign and local, go wild, jump up, clap, shout and gyrate. What has provoked such enthusiasm is the performance of a male belly dancer in a fashionable nightclub in Istanbul. Male belly dancers are becoming increasingly popular; not for nothing is one of them called "Diva".
Some of today's rakkas (from the Turkish word raks = dance) sport carefully trimmed beards and exhibit quite a bit of hairy belly with their lavish, glittering costumes, whereas others entice with body glimmer and harem pants, veils and sequined headscarves or caps. Belly dance, particularly the male version, is pure entertainment, but has a long tradition in Turkish history.
Koceks and Tavsan OglansAll has its roots in the Ottoman Empire and the harems. The harems of the sultans, particularly that of Suleiman the Magnificent who ruled in the 16th century, were vast quarters, inhabited by the female members of the royal household. The numbers extended to the hundreds and comprised servant slaves, concubines, children and eunuchs. No males were permitted, other than the sultan, and the ladies were in dire need of entertainment to while away the long, leisurely days.
As dance and any kind of performing was prohibited by Islam for Muslim women, it was the foreign slave girls who were in charge of entertainment in the form of belly dancing.
The males, totally separated from such aesthetic delights, naturally wanted entertainment of this kind for themselves and that's how the male belly dancers or koceks came into being. They were young boys, often descendents from foreign slaves, who were trained for years and organised in companies. Not only did they dance but also play percussion instruments, especially cymbals, called zils.
They were extremely popular, wore their hair long and curled, painted their faces and dressed in women's dance clothes. The koceks only lasted as long as they maintained their youthful appearance and didn't grow facial hair. They were highly appreciated and often feted by poets. As they were also sexually available, jealous fights frequently broke out among the male spectators over a boy's favour.
The other type of male belly dancers were called tavsan oglan and were much less effiminate. They wore tight pants and funny hats, resembling rabbit ears and their working life span used to be much longer.
The commotion which often accompanied the koceks' performance and their general reputation finally lead to their official ban in 1856. Many emigrated to other Arabic countries.
Present DayAfter the decline of the male belly dance, modern times have seen a revival. Composer Ulvi Cemal Erkin, among others, has written music for them and performances are making a come back. The styles vary from sensual to folkloric and dancers even develop their own choreography and costumes. The nightclubs in Istanbul Bodrum and Fediye hop! Just check out this performance by "Diva"!