What is the first word that comes to your mind when you talk about belly dancing? An Arabian woman with ‘ideal figure’ dancing to the beats of darbuka? This is the stereotype that Eshan Hilal is breaking with his belly dancing!

Fashion graduate Eshan Hilal’s love for gender fluid dressing is something he takes pride in and is probably the first Muslim male in India to become a belly dancer.

24 years old Eshan might not be the man that conventional masculinity would approve of but he certainly is the person that people can draw their inspirations and motivations from. Eshan is defying all the odds that a conservative Muslim society stands upon and holds sacred. He is brave, bold and not hypocrite. He is what he is. He offers hope, unusual and uncommon pleasures of bravery,  courage and love.

In shorts, he is expressing his true self and the society is not accustomed to honesty!

We approached Eshan to interview him to know more about his journey and struggle as a Muslim male belly dancer.

What/who inspired you?

Inspiration is that beautiful feeling which comes in you from the ones who actually amazes you and fuels you to do something on your own. And I get inspiration from lots of things for lots of things. Where it concerns about belly dancing its Meher Malik who taught me and inspired me a lot but there are other plenty inspirational male belly dancers as well like Illan Riviera, Jamil, Tito Seif, Rachid, Tarik Sultan, Khaled and many others. Besides these, I’m a huge devotee of Madhuri Dixit. I love her.

Do you find yourself to be struggling because of your personality/gender complications and hypocrisy of society’s tough standards of masculinity?

Ji Bilkul, I miserably fail to understand that who has decided that man cannot be graceful and woman can’t be sturdy. since childhood

Eshan Hilal strikes a pose during his ramp walk.

Since childhood I’m listening to things like “yeh mat karo, aise mat hansso“, “don’t cross your legs like women,” etc.

I remember that as a kid,  I used to keep one pillow in my lap while talking and people would ask me not to do so because girls do that….like really….? Is there any unpublished book or something where all these things are written and genders are bounded by them?

And I think this stereotyping comes with both the genders. Had I been a girl, our society is so cruel that they would’ve given me tags like a ‘harlot’ and lots of demeaning remarks.

How was your childhood? Did you face harassment or bullying because of your unique beautiful persona?

Oh yes! My childhood was perfectly imperfect in many ways. I was quite an effeminate child, which means people like us are always mature of their age. I was very well aware that I’m abnormal. There’s something wrong in me.

This is what I’ve been listening to at the age when I was actually struggling to figure out that why the hell Tom is after Jerry’s life and why Bluto wants Popeye’s girlfriend.

Bhaand, Patpair, Hijra were the words I heard very often. There was always a comparison between me and my so called masculine enough brother, who is an ideal man according to the society.

Society comes later but your family are the ones who start treating you like a shit. I always try to understand their point of view as well. They’re my parents of-course they never wanted my bad, I’m sure they treated me like that so that society will not point me out but we all need to understand one thing that we are the ones who make this society.

Why we only keep such sick thoughts about one’s existence that we only feel shame on that. I wish I could re-cherish my childhood memories the way others do because I used to feel purposeless. But I actually don’t want to forget them because I’m proud of the way I’ve sustained with all my dignity till now.

What are your plans for future?

Once you’re a belly dancer, you’re always a belly dancer. I quit my job cause of belly dancing and trying to establish my own fashion label so that I can give equal time to my dance life. I’m getting lots of events now and even reality show offers.

Eshan Hilal says it was belly dancing which allowed him to express himself, feel sensuous and become confident.

Though I’m still learning belly dance and will gonna learn forever cause there’s no art form you can learn whole in one life. I want to go out and take workshops from my desired dancers. I want to show to people that a man can also belly dance without dressing up like a woman.

How important is it to pursue your interests as a career?

Each one of us is born here to deliver something to this world and make best out of our lives. if you opt your interest as your career no the obstacle will stop you from achieving success. you always feel more inclined towards your work and ready to work till you don’t get that peace and satisfaction. People often ask me, Don’t you feel exhausted? you sit in your workshop, deal with your kaarigars, run here and there in markets and then you go for dance classes then self-practice.

What I reply to them is “I’m not working. These are my hobbies, I’m playing and enjoying.”

Do you see Indian or sub-continent society to be hostile towards creative people, particularly the people like you?

Nowadays, artists are much more appreciated than before. Honestly! if one is getting a lot of appreciation, “toh gaaliyan bhi saath hi aati hai.” Irrespective of whether you’re in India, Pakistan or any another country. There are lots of Pakistani friends and fans who are actually sending me such beautiful and overwhelming greetings where at the same time my Muslim friends here in India are quite upset that why am I projecting this all so openly. When it comes to Muslim community…we love entertainment but when someone comes from within, we start calling it “Haraam”.

There are lots of Pakistani friends and fans who are actually sending me such beautiful and overwhelming greetings where at the same time my Muslim friends here in India are quite upset that why am I projecting this all so openly. When it comes to Muslim community…we love entertainment but when someone comes out from within, we start calling it “Haraam”.

And in my case, the dance form I’ve chosen is more difficult but luckily I’m blessed with lots of blessings and people are actually encouraging me. And where it concerns about belly dancing for men as Muslims, there are lots of men in Egypt who are Muslim and practising this art form. According to historians, male performers were considered more reputable than females and were preferred more popularly.

After interviewing Eshan, we wonder why is bravery, courage, honesty and steadfastness always attributed to the conventional masculinity which seems to lack all of these qualities, while an ‘effeminate’ man like Eshan is exhibiting all of these qualities with full swing. It certainly makes us reconsider and reexamine our society, its structure and established norms of nature and morality!