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‘My parents beat me to stop me becoming a belly dancer’

As a male belly dancer, Eshan Hilal is a rarity – and in India it takes courage to choose this path. His parents beat him to make him stop dancing as a child, but they failed. At home, there are still deep tensions even as his career goes from strength to strength.

“For me, worshipping is my dance. I feel connected to God. My blood cells dance with me. When I dance I feel my existence on this planet. I feel like this is the purpose I’m here for.”

At his performances, Eshan Hilal often wears a long flowing skirt, a sequinned net blouse that ends just under his ribcage and a jangly coin belt. His fashionably cut hair is swept back.

For as long he can remember, he’s loved dancing. As a five-year-old he would dance to a song from Bollywood superstar Shahrukh Khan’s hit film Koyla and everyone found it entertaining. But as he grew older, family elders shook their heads in disapproval.

“They said, you’re a boy and behave like one,'” says Eshan, now 25. “You are not supposed to dance because it’s girly. We want you to be rugged, be a man.”

When all the boys played cricket, the young Eshan would sit at home, do embroidery and play with Barbie dolls. His younger brother would ask him to go out for a bike ride, but he preferred stay indoors.

Eshan is Muslim and most members of his family believe that dance is against their religion. Disapproval quickly turned into hostility. Eshan vividly remembers the first time he was called a randi – a rude Hindi word for prostitute – at about seven years old.       Continue Reading