Bellydancer Serkan Tutar teaches belly haver Jason Johnson how to cut an Oriental rug
By Jason Johnson
November 01, 2010
MALE nurse. Male model. Male flight attendant.
Any time you have to add the word ‘male’ to a job description, you’re obviously dealing with a female-dominated field.
We may have grown accustomed to the concept of men moving into areas traditionally associated with women – and vice versa – but the idea of a male bellydancer still comes as something of a shock.
To be sure, when my editor informed me that professional male bellydancer Serkan Tutar would be giving me a bellydance lesson, I was SHOCKED.
Perhaps ‘terrified’ would be a more accurate description.
The lithe and foxy Mr Tutar, who will perform here on Nov 5, is so light on his feet that one wonders if he keeps lead weights in his pockets to give gravity a fighting chance.
The winner of the Male Bellydancer Of The World 2008 award, he was obviously born to dance.
As for me? No.
But when we met at the Bellydance Discovery studio founded by local bellydance choreographer Yuki Chua, Mr Tutar quickly put me at ease.
When I told him that I was nervous about the bellydance, he told me that he was the one who should be nervous.
‘You’re the journalist,’ he said.
Frankly, he had a point.
As we got down to business, Mrs Chua suggested I should dress the part, which made me a tad apprehensive.
Spangles are generally not a good look for tall, beefy dudes.
He got me a green ‘hip scarf coin belt’, which was okay, since it matched the stripes on my Adidas polo shirt.
It’s not every day that you endeavour to do something impossible, but trying to keep up with Mr Tutar’s flowing, sinewy moves was exactly that.
To the rhythm of traditional Middle Eastern music, the remarkably well-preserved 37-year-old danced with an undulating, boneless grace that, short of removing my own bones, I could never in a million years have imitated.
His head bobbed, his shoulders rolled, his fingers flexed, his torso contorted, his feet flitted and his bottom shook.
As for me? No.
I have the approximate dexterity of a muppet.
When I tried to shake my hips, I found that my head would also shake, which apparently isn’t supposed to happen.
The coins on the hip scarf would make a ‘ching-ching’ sound every time I moved my butt, which was alarming.
Most men would prefer a quieter butt that doesn’t draw attention to itself.
I found I could almost keep up with Mr Tutar’s arm movements, but while his gestures were fluid and expressive, mine looked like the desperate flailings of a Frankenstein monster – ‘Rrrrrr-RRRRR!’
Worst of all were the intricate belly movements – my round gut was simply incapable of any sort of intricacy. His torso was like an ocean, mine like a hill.
Thing is, even though I knew I was horrible, I still had a great time. I didn’t feel unmanly, I simply felt untalented.
‘This is in our blood, Turkish people,’ he said, explaining his love for dance.
‘We always have in us our rhythm, our music. At wedding parties, at friend’s parties, we always have the music.’
Having picked up an appreciation for bellydance as a child while his family was living in Saudi Arabia, Mr Tutar trained himself by watching video tapes of his hero, bellydance icon Nesrin Topkapi.
At 22, Mr Tutar actually got the chance to train with her in the flesh.
‘She’s amazing, both as a person and as a dancer. She’s a legend, the most famous and respected bellydancer in Turkey.’
In many parts of the world, being a male bellydancer would obviously raise eyebrows, but Mr Tutar said that in his native Turkey, it’s relatively common, and he never received much flak from friends or family members.
His mother is a fan, and was there with him when he won his world title in 2008.
The one person who seems to give him any sort of grief, strangely enough, is his accountant.
‘When I started as a professional dancer, I was, of course, not working as much, and my accountant would get angry with me and would be giving me advice: ‘Serkan, stop the dancing and go find a job.’
‘But I told him that if I had to work eight hours a day, I would quickly get old.’
As we continued talking about bellydancing, and about male bellydancing in particular, it was inevitable that sex would enter into the discussion.
To the uninitiated, bellydancing would seem to be all about sex, but having learned his skills at the feet – and hips – of an exquisitely tasteful bellydance master, Mr Tutar has a much more nuanced view.
‘I try my best to show that dance is not just about sex. For myself as well as my students I say please, whatever you are doing, don’t do it in a cheap way.
‘You can be a table dancer or a lap dancer or a go-go dancer, but do it with quality.’
Divorced three years ago from a wife who supported his unconventional career choice, Mr Tutar now lives in a country house on the outskirts of Ghent, Belgium.
He raises his own chickens, grows tomatoes and teaches bellydance classes in the city.
While most of Serkan’s students are Belgian women (the Middle Eastern women who’ve emigrated to the region think they know it all already, he said), he has had some male students.
However, not all of them have been as comfortable going public with their love of bellydance as Mr Tutar would like.
‘There are a lot of male dancers now, much more than before, but still, some of them write me e-mails asking me not to show their faces in the videos.
‘I always say, ‘Talk with your family, don’t do anything in secret. It’s not fair.’
‘Why do you want to do bellydance? To make you happy. But are you going to be happy if you do it in secret, behind your family’s back?’
As part of his regional tour, which has also included a performance in Hong Kong, Mr Tutar will be conducting a series of open classes for those – including men – who are interested in learning to bellydance.
The classes will be held from Nov 2 to 7, and you can register or find out more at http://www.bellydance.com.sg.
A couple of the timeslots have already been filled, with bellydance enthusiasts coming from Taiwan and Thailand.
You can also visit Mr Tutar’s own website, http://www.serkan.be.
Having gone to meet Mr Tutar with my own preconceived notions of what a male bellydancer might be like, I can say that he lived up to none of them.
Not that there’s anything wrong with being effeminate or eccentric or flamboyant, but Mr Tutar wasn’t any of these things.
He’s just cool.
‘You can be whatever, it’s nobody’s business,’ he said, ‘but you don’t have to imitate something. It’s not natural.
‘How much can a man be like a woman? Men are naturally different. The muscles are different. The bones are different.
‘You can try to dance like a woman of course, but to what per cent? You don’t have to make yourself silly.’
Yeah, but he could have told me that before I put on the hip scarf.
WHAT: Sultan Of Bellydance
WHEN: Nov 5, 4pm
WHERE: Scarlet City (opposite Ang Mo Kio MRT station), Ang Mo Kio Hub, 53 Ang Mo Kio Ave 3, #04-01/03
TICKETS: $30 (inclusive of one drink) from http://www.bellydance.com.sg or at the door