chapter
Dancing Boys
Pages 12

The informal, and occasionally formal, institution of the dancing boy-the term used by most Western writers in their descriptions of the Islamic world-has been attested for centuries by European observers throughout the Middle East, North Africa, and Central Asia, as well as the Indian subcontinent and throughout the Islamic areas of Southeast Asia such as Indonesia and the southern Philippines. These individuals have been called by a variety of names: bachchec [batcha], literally “child” in Persian and some Turkish languages, luti (itinerant performer), raqqas (dancer) in many regions, kocek (little) and tavsan (rabbit) in Ottoman Turkey, khawal in Egypt, as well as less specific designations such as khanith and mukhannas [mukkannath] (from the same Arabic root) in many areas of the Arab world, and hajira in Pakistan and India, which also generally designated passive, sometimes castrated homosexuals who were, in many instances, expected to dance and entertain. The specific terms used for these entertainers depend on the linguistic and cultural areas in which they were found. These generally young dancers invariably had in common that they were viewed by their contemporaries as being available as passive sexual partners, generally for financial reward. Although many sources stress the extreme youth of these performers, it is known that these men danced well into their late twenties and even much later. The word dancer might be better rendered as performer, because these two young males, who were often highly skilled in their art, sang, played instruments, performed gymnastic and highly acrobatic movements, mimed, clowned, and acted, as well as danced.