WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because, according to Shakira, the hips don’t lie.
By Eugene S. Robinson
Rachid Alexander is nothing if not totally OZY.
The 29-year-old was born in Curaçao, moved to the Netherlands when he was a kid, and is now a bright and shining light in the nascent world of male belly dancing. Yes, you read that right. Not that you’d given it much thought, but if you had, you might have imagined a softer, zaftig woman of Middle Eastern descent shaking her hips to some sort of wild and snaking rhythm whenever you heard the word belly dance mentioned.
Dance was magic, and what we now call belly dance was more magical than most.
A word that Alexander gently corrects to “oriental dance” whenever we use it. You see, belly dance, from the French danse du ventre, was what Sol Bloom called it; Bloom was one of the first people to make it big with a debut at the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago. But with a history that goes back to 6000 B.C., the danse du ventre has picked up lots of names along the way as its practitioners did for fertility what Native American rain dancing did for crops: made a connection between dance movements and natural phenomena. Dance was magic, and what we now call belly dance was more magical than most, as it plied its trade at weddings, births and worship services.
Curaçao was once a West Indian colony; since 2010 it’s been an autonomous area within the Kingdom of the Netherlands.
All of this was fairly occult to Alexander when he had a close encounter of the first kind with the dance that would change his life. “I saw oriental belly dance when I was 6 and was touched by the art form,” says Alexander. “But by that time I was living in the Netherlands. It was in a theme park, something like Disney World but much smaller.” And between bouncing back and forth between Curaçao and the Netherlands with his mother, a nurse, and his father, a carpenter, Alexander, at age 8, got seriously into the folkloric dances of the Caribbean and his native island. He saw it as a way to connect with where he was from — until six years later.
“I was almost 14,” says Alexander. “I saw belly dancing on television and I felt again what I felt when I was 6. That was the moment that I started to search for teachers.” The sister of one of his friends was doing belly dance in Florida; Alexander learned that she was was coming to Curaçao, and from there, the road was clear. “When she came, I started to take private classes from her, and that was how I started with oriental dance.”
Which is a polite way of putting what really happened.
A year after Alexander started, the TV invitations started to flood in. “It did not take long for people to notice me,” says Alexander, laughing. ”Curaçao is not so big. I would say it took like a year after I started to give performances that people really started to notice and recognize me more.” Back in the Netherlands, he found even more success. “They just started with the program Holland’s Got Talent, and out of 2,500 auditioners, I was one of the 25 best and made it to the semifinals.” From there, the ball started rolling, in the Netherlands and the rest of Europe.
Rachid Alexander is, by oriental dance standards (by any dance standards, really), phenomenal.
And for some really simple reasons: Rachid Alexander is, by oriental dance standards (by any dance standards, really), phenomenal. While there are other notable male dancers in the field (Farid Mesbaah in Egypt comes to mind), it is Rachid Alexander who has managed to move the discussion about this dance beyond the whole “is this something men should even be doing?” question. His fluidity and gracefulness is nonpareil.
With the rush of acclaim, there comes a heady appearance schedule. “There are some festivals where I perform, and, of course, organizers invite me for several parties and events,” says Alexander. “But I’m performing in oriental dance festivals all over Europe, Asia, the Middle East, and once a year I’m also in the United States and the Caribbean.”
”What he does with dance and his body,” says Krzystof Lubka, creative director at Poland’s Grupa Tanca Wspolczesnego Kiosk Ruchu, “is nothing but great dance genius, even if you know nothing about oriental dance.”