WATCH | How this male belly dancer is shaking off gender norms

“Dance should exist to inspire us, not shame us,” Telu Sravan Kumar says.

As one of a handful of male belly dancers in India, he has firsthand experience of the torment and prejudice that comes with challenging the status quo.

But with every sway of his hips, Kumar is changing mindsets and nurturing his own confidence.

Belly dancing originated in Egypt in the 1700s, where travelling bands of women performed their rhythmic routines.

Kumar was 22 years old when he became enraptured by the art, and watched as many YouTube tutorials as he could to learn the fundamentals.

Fortunate to have the support of his family and friends, Kumar advanced from his self-taught beginnings to rigorous professional training at Payal’s Dance Academy in Hyderabad.

“By putting myself out there through dance, I was often critiqued,” Kumar says.

Men questioned his sexuality and even his gender, ridiculing him for choosing to perform such a typically female-oriented dance.

Undeterred, Kumar continues to pursue his passion and advocates for marginalised groups. Not only has he broken societal barriers with dance, he’s transformed his own perspective of himself.

“People think that you need a particular size of body if you want to be a dancer, but it’s completely false,” Kumar says.

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Belly dancing celebrates wider hips and fuller stomachs in a way that many dance forms do not. “Dance has allowed me to embrace my body,” Kumar says.

He has gone from strength to strength in his training, and has since become an instructor at RAQSology.

Now sharing his zeal with others, Kumar is setting the stage for a more inclusive future.

“When we find empowerment through dance, we can break stereotypes,” he says.