The dancer’s hips gyrate seductively, skirt swirling, arms flowing, shoulders rocking rhythmically to the hypnotic beats. But this talented artist is not your average belly dancer. And his beard is the first clue as to why.
Sravan Telu is a man who’s making inroads into this most feminine of art forms. The first male belly dancer in his hometown, Sravan is brimful of passion for this ancient tradition.
“Dance should exist to inspire us, not shame us,” the 27-year-old from India says.
Sravan has been fascinated with exotic art since childhood. He became captivated with the folk dance form after watching a YouTube video of Meher Malik, a prominent Indian belly dancer.
“She was so graceful and I was totally in love with the dance form. I thought, ‘If she could do it, why can’t I?’” he recalls. “I slowly started learning the dance by myself through her videos on YouTube.”
He tried to create the choreography himself by watching YouTube tutorials, and he became more eager the older he got.
“It took me a while to realise that I wasn’t able to get proper body posture simply by learning through YouTube videos,” he shared.
So in 2011 while attending college where he studied towards a bachelor’s degree in computer science, he decided to join an institution so he could learn how to dance more professionally.
The way this Eastern Cape teenager can twist her body will make your jaw drop!
Despite the support he received from his family and friends Sravan came in for plenty of flak.
“People asked, why couldn’t I do something classical, or why not just stick to folk dance. But I was adamant,” said Sravan who now works for an IT firm.
“Even today, I face discrimination at my office. Colleagues call me all kinds of names. They do not have the guts to accept me as I am.”
His sexuality is also often questioned. “I have been asked if I’m a transgender who got a sex-change surgery done and then there are some who ask me if I’m gay because of the costumes I wear for this,” he says.
With time he’s learnt to brush off the negativity.
“I just don’t care. It is an art form. I’m good at it and I want to get better at it.”
It’s been a decade since he took up belly dancing professionally and now he’s an instructor at a school of belly dance where he uses his experience to not only inspire aspiring male belly dancers but advocate for the LGBTQ+ community and body positivity.
“I could dance my heart out in front of them,” says Sravan about performing for the LGBTQ+ community.
“They never judged me nor made fun of my choice. It was like I had found a whole new universe where I wasn’t ridiculed for my passion.”
Belly dancing has also boosted his confidence which in turn has made him become more body positive.
“I had body image issues but after I took it up, I started to love my body,” he says.
“I also became fitter and more flexible, and it also helped me get rid of my chronic backache.”
Sravan performs at festivals and concerts but over the next couple of years, he’d like to become a professional dancer, not just a trainer or performer.
He believes his purpose is to advocate for marginalised groups through his love for dance.
“An art form is an art form. It doesn’t have a gender or a race or an age or a body type. Any human can take up any art form.”