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Belly dancing men make comeback in Turkey

The impact of Ottoman cultural revival is seen in the increasing popularity of male belly dancers in Turkey.

On a cold evening in Istanbul, one may now encounter the unexpected when entering a nightclub: male belly dancers (in Turkish referred to as zennes, rakkas or koceks), who get the most somber crowd dancing until the early morning hours. The politics of the neo-Ottoman administration has had surprising effects in the last decade, one of which is the gradual yet steady increase in the popularity and availability of zennes across Turkey.

Tarik, in his mid-20s, told Al-Monitor what it means to be a male belly dancer in Turkey. After reassuring him that his real name not be revealed and photos not be published, he said, “My family does not know I dance for a living. In their worldview, zennes are male sex workers. I'm gay but I'm not sex worker. I make a decent living through my art.” Indeed, it is a demanding job to perform on stage five times a week, in addition to performing at private parties.

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