'Eshan Hilal', a male belly dancer from Delhi, is breaking stereotypes with his moves

Mishkaat Imrani
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Eshan Hilal

Delhi boy, Eshan Hilal believes if you don't love and respect yourself, no one else can do it for you. His passion for dance first made him learn Kathak and then Belly Dance. This 26- years-old TEDx speaker is definitely one of the best Belly dancers we have in the country but was it all easy? Let's hear it from him.

"I used to dance in public gatherings and functions, and people would mock me. Being a kid, I never understood their sarcasm, but I knew I was a great dancer because, in the end, they used to appreciate it as well", said Eshan Hilal, who doesn’t recall a single day of his childhood without dancing. His family had no issue with his dance until he was a kid, but later as he grew up and they saw this hobby turn into a passion, they were not on board with his choice. "Unfortunately, nobody was supportive, and my childhood was scarred. At the age when kids should play with their friends and go out, I didn't have a single friend. They would even bully me and this constant criticism and negativity made me a rude person", he said.

Initially, he would dance on the songs where mostly the hero of the movie was highlighted. But then, gradually, his interest shifted to the women-centric songs, and he found himself loving the performances of Waheeda Rehman, Madhubala, and Meena Kumari. "I used to watch them on the internet all day. Later I developed a fascination for Madhuri Dixit as well. And when I came to know that she was the disciple of Lucknow Gharana of Kathak, I decided to follow her footsteps", said Eshan while talking about how it all began for him.

From Kathak to Belly Dance and a lot in between:

Eshan became a student of the Lucknow Gharana and learned Classical Kathak. He was completely in awe of it until one day, something else left him enchanted. He came across a belly dance video on YouTube and was so fascinated by it that he asked his guruji if he could learn it. "Guruji said it was immoral, and how can I even think of doing something after belonging to such a noble Gharana. So, I gave up on the idea, but then in 2015, I saw Meher Malik on TV. She was flawless, and after that, I had to research what Belly Dance was all about", he said.

After this, all Eshan wanted to do was learn Belly dance, so he contacted Meher Malik's school to learn the same. "The first time I called them, they weren't taking any male students. But after 2 years, they did, and that's how I got into it", he further added. The journey of learning belly dance was of course, not easy, but Eshan was adamant.

"The first time I had even fallen down and was sure Mujhse nahi hoga. In my very first belly dance class, I realized that the basic essence of this dance form is accepting and loving your body. And I realized I wasn't in love with myself enough. In my childhood, I considered my femininity as something very normal and loved the way I was, even when others kept trolling me. But with time, this unacceptance and mockery made me feel that I was wrong. I realized that I don’t accept myself, and I had lost that Eshan who was carefree, reckless, and someone who used to love himself.", he said.

This realization in the very first class gave Eshan a new perspective, and it changed everything for him. "I decided to love myself again because nobody can love you if you don't love, accept, and respect yourself.", he said.

From styling his mother to designing clothes for the leading designers and brands

Meanwhile, he kept having arguments with his family about pursuing Belly dancing as a full-time career. After receiving a big no from his parents about the same, he was then confused about what else can he do if not dance. "I thought what else do I enjoy, and realized I loved dressing up dolls and even my mother for weddings. After that, I asked some of my senior friends, and they suggested I can do something called fashion designing", he told Local Samosa.

Eshan then shifted to Mumbai and did his graduation in fashion designing. He was always good with illustrations and loved how designing gave him the freedom to express his ideas. In the next few years, he worked for brands like Biba and designers like Tarun Tahiliani and Lalit Dalmia. "I design clothes that have a sense of grace, are gender fluid and androgynous. In an attempt to break the barrier of the gender box, I design my own clothes and even worked for certain people. After a while, I decided to leave designing to pursue belly dancing professionally. But yes, I do have a dream to have my own label someday, by the name EH i.e Eshan Hilal", he smiled.

Leaving a legacy behind!

Since 2016, Eshan Hilal has been doing belly dancing professionally. He has conducted various workshops and has taught over 5,000 dance enthusiasts as of now. He feels even though it's a profession where you earn less, it's satisfying. "What we earn is beyond anything. We get to know about people's minds, passions, and creativity. The respect, affection, and love I get now is overwhelming. And these are somethings that I always craved. My mother keeps telling me that if I am not going to get married and won't have kids, then who will carry my name forward. And I feel, my name is going to be here for eternity, and all these people I've taught will have a part of me in them", he said while smiling.

"Male belly dancers have always been there"

When we asked Eshan about how he sees the future of belly dancing in India, he had a lot to say. He feels that even though there's progress and openness, we still have stigmas to deal with in the society. "It's associated with women, which is sad, because male belly dancers have existed for eras now. Yes, initially it was women who started it as they wanted to celebrate their body and femininity. But then due to the patriarchy, they weren't allowed to do it. So, who else was there to entertain? So, the men themselves started cross-dressing and performing. Later, the civilization happened, and then people wanted to see more women, and that's how belly dancing was again associated with females. But the male belly dancers were there for long", he explained.

Eshan also feels that male belly dancers are considered immoral and are stereotyped. They are questioned about their sexuality or considered to be a part of the LGBTQ community. "I have taught 20 males as of now, and I understand it's tough for them to embrace what they love. But yes, I do feel we have a bright future, and I'm very positive", he further added.

"Parents should stop saying 'Keh diya to bas keh diya' and should be more understanding"

Growing up with no friends and no support from family, Eshan's childhood was definitely challenging. And that's why he feels parents should talk to their kids. Instead of imposing their decisions on them, they should lovingly support them. "People think I hate my family, but I love them! It's just what's wrong according to me, will be the same, no matter who does it. So every time I talk about my family and how they don't accept me with my dance, it's all because I don't want others to get treated the same way. I remember there was a lady who came to me after listening to my first TEDx speech and said that all she wanted was to understand her kid. And that really made me think if there had been someone to guide me and my parents when I was a kid, I wouldn't have to go through all this", said Eshan.

Quick questions:

1) Tips for someone who wants to be a belly dancer: Learn your craft well, and don't go behind instant fame. Focus more on isolation and keep your feet grounded and face it without tension. Also, please make sure that you are maintaining your financial stability. Do back up your passion and dream!

2) Favourite belly dance accessories: An anklet or a Paazeb, a wrap-around palazzo, and a belly belt.

3) Favourite local markets to buy jewellery in Delhi: Pahadgunj market, Banjaara market, Janpath, and CP.

4) Favourite local markets to buy clothes: Nehru place, Gandhi Nagar market, and Chandni Chowk. I don't usually buy clothes from these markets, but they are my go-to place for fabrics.

5) Favourite Belly dancers: Meher Malik and Didem Kınalı! I love them both!!

Also Read: Shivam Bhardwaj aka The Guy In A Skirt is here to break stereotypes with his fashion skills!

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