How's Work?: Pittsburgh's Sultan of Dance
Meet Hakan, one of the nation's few male belly dancers.
PHOTO BY BECKY THURNER BRADDOCK
Job: Belly Dancer
Are people surprised to learn there are male belly dancers?
Almost always. I would say in the United States there are 200, maybe 300, of us total in a dance form that has hundreds of thousands of people [participating] in it.
Your name actually isn’t Hakan. Why did you choose to dance under a pseudonym?
A friend of mine in a band who does Turkish music was inviting dancers [to shows] . . . She told me that putting up posters saying, “Ishtar, featuring a random American name” wouldn’t fly . . . I looked at a Turkish-to-English dictionary, looked up a few words and found “Hakan,” which means sultan, which is also a common name in Turkey.
What venues are available for you?
Sometimes [dance] teachers will invite in dancers from different places, and there will be a workshop . . . I get to travel the entire country by going to workshops and performing in different shows. There’s also restaurant work. It was more popular in the ’70s, but there are still restaurants that are Middle Eastern-themed or even Indian-themed, and they will hire some dancers to try to add ambiance.
Are you of Middle Eastern or Turkish descent?
No, I am mostly German and Polish.
And how do you view that? Are you appropriating something from another culture or learning an art form that happens to be from another culture?
The way that I view this is that it is not appropriation, given the amount of research I have done into the culture to understand the music, understand the context of the movement, understand the dance form itself. It’s more about learning the culture.