How Alexandre Paulikevitch — Beirut's singular male belly dancer — breaks barriers with his art

What makes Alexandre Paulikevitch unique? He's one of a very small handful of male baladi dancers in the Middle East.
(Courtesy of Alexandre Paulikevitch)

What makes Alexandre Paulikevitch unique? He's one of a very small handful of male baladi dancers in the Middle East.

Baladi is an urban style of music with roots in Egyptian folk music dating back to the early 20th century, when large groups of people moved from the country to the capital city of Cairo. Traditionally, baladi dance is a form of belly dancing performed by women who use their bodies to move sensually and rhythmically to the music. The notion of dance as a form of creative expression strictly reserved for women in the Arabic world is precisely the kind of gender role stereotype Paulikevitch is seeking to combat as a male baladi dancer.

Paulikevitch grew up in the Christian area of Achrafieh in Beirut where traditional gender roles and conservative ideals ruled. When Alexandre attended a co-educational school for the first time in his teens, he was able to embrace his sexuality as a gay man with the support of close female friends. However, he only discovered baladi dancing when he moved to France in his early twenties.

(Courtesy of Alexandre Paulikevitch)

While in Paris, Paulikevtich felt free to express his sexuality and to experiment with his feminine side. Eventually, he decided to pursue the performing arts as a full time career and began learning the theory and practice of baladi.

When he returned to Lebanon in 2006, he found that the stigmas around gender and homosexuality remained intact. Since that day, Paulikevitch has become a passionate human rights activist, fighting for the LGBT community and women's rights in Lebanon and abroad. Moreover, Paulikevitch has continued to dance, performing in Beirut and across the Middle East — despite having suffered violent attacks and continued threats based on his art and identity.

(Courtesy of Alexandre Paulikevitch)

For the many followers of his art form, Paulikevitch continues to amaze audiences with his dance techniques. His performance art is an act of protest that challenges preconceived notions of what it means to be feminine or masculine in Beirut. For Paulikevitch, baladi is a blend of both male and female energy, where displays of courage, beauty, creativity and freedom of expression are attributes of both genders.

(Courtesy of Alexandre Paulikevitch)

To see more of Alexandre in action, watch the Beirut episode Interrupt This Program Friday November 6, at 8:30/9pm NT.