Earlier this month, 25-year-old Lebanese dancer Moe Khansa released a video for the song “QESAT AL AMS.” The video is about suicide, Khansa says, and it’s dedicated to Hassan Rabeh, a Syrian dancer living in Beirut who took his life after dancing amidst the Syrian crisis. Khansa himself has been trying to blossom as a performer in Beirut for a while, amidst a society that fears femininity and considers his work too “queer” to financially support.
Although Khansa performs all sorts of dance, he is best known for belly dancing. Inspired by his childhood memories of watching his mother belly dance, he says that he holds onto belly dancing in particular because “it’s a real part of who I am. It represents my childhood, something from my memories and our culture.”
“I used to blissfully watch [my mother] sway amongst her family and friends — it was so beautiful,” he said in his 2014 TED Talk on belly dancing. “I would watch those majestic lines she would create with her body, those ornaments. That’s how belly dance spoke to my heart.”
Khansa laments that media have distorted the concept of belly dance into merely a seductive form of female striptease rather than something more Eastern, magical, artistic, narrative and transformative, something that emphasizes skill, personal challenge and culture.
He now uses the medium to challenge preconceptions about gender and self-expression in ways familiar to drag and vogue performers.
“Why do I belly dance? I belly dance to celebrate our culture. I belly dance for love, for truthfulness. I feel so masculine when I belly dance. I feel like a real man who has the courage and the audacity to perform this.”
His Instagram page is full of clips of him belly dancing and pole dancing.
Photographed by @myriamboulos Performing live with @mozahzah this Saturday September 2 in Radical: Choix et Conséquences / 10day Arts Exhibition/ organized by @havenforartists at the Institut Français du Liban. The set will include new originals from the EP. Concerts & Performances start at 7:30 pm. Entrance: 20,000 LBP See you there 🌿
In July 2017, Khansa released another music video in collaboration with a musician named Mohammad Zahzah which repurposed Egyptian singer Mohammed Abdel Wahab’s 1929 hit “Khayef Akoul Li Fi Qalbi” (“I’m Afraid to Say What’s in My Heart”).
The video depicts Khansa’s memories of belly dancing for his family as a young child. As he got older, he says, he felt more restrained by expected gender roles and less able to express himself. However, at the end of the video, he and several other young people reclaim dance as a means of self-expression, gender be damned.
Khansa is reportedly inspired by taboo gay artists like controversial American photographer Robert Mapplethorpe and Italian iconoclastic filmmaker Pier Paolo Pasolini. He is also inspired by Björk, FKA Twigs and Arca.
Though he says he is currently bankrupt and living with his parents, he is still devoted his his artistic collaborations, while trying to develop authentic work.
“I belly dance to make you laugh, to make you cry,” he said. “I belly dance because life is short and there’s so many things to say. I belly dance to express and to experience something different and to invite you for this experience.”