CARBONDALE – Being a male belly-dancer is unique in and of itself. Being a trans-masculine one is even more unique.
But Kamrah, who will headline the Rainbow Variety Show tonight, also claims the label of “geek.” He’s 42, older than most dance performers, with a degree in microbiology, lots of experience in laboratory science, martial arts mastery, and melding of anatomy with dance. Oh, and he’s autistic.
He brings many different paths to the word “intersectional.” Kamrah also strives to bring race and ethnicity into his mix, studying the many cultures associated with belly dance, while using the “fusion” label for himself.
His combo is capturing attention. Kamrah went “viral” in March 2021 with a TikTok video that has drawn more than 35 million views as of today.
Music, mental health, a respect for anatomy
Much of his appeal is rooted in Kamrah’s many intersecting perspectives, says Drake Von Trapp, Kamrah’s partner who will also soon earn his master’s degree in dance.
“Kamrah has this really eclectic mixture of collected skills, that come from these unique life experiences,” says Von Trapp. “They give him this really interesting understanding of movement and biomechanics.
“I find those perspectives are very unique and brings some necessary nuance to some of the popular ways that people talk about dance. And it allows him to offer useful, thorough information about how his philosophy of movement works, why it functions the way it does, and why it’s better than doing it a different way.”
Kamrah, whose off-stage name is Gabriel Vidrine, first took up belly-dancing 20 years ago prior to his gender transition, and only privately. He thought it was great exercise and also a way to fight off depression. “It helped me make it through my day,” he said. “I had something to look forward to.”
He was also drawn to the pivotal role of drums and bass, which Kamrah says appealed to his “scientific” side. “I loved the way the movements fit in with the music. How I could make my body look like it was producing the music.”
Kamrah went public with his love of belly-dance in 2009, offering workshops and performing. As he continued to study belly dance and anatomy, Kamrah said he realized a way to belly-dance that was different than he’d been taught, and also less harmful to his spine.
That awareness of anatomy is central to Kamrah’s workshop themes and also one of his greatest talents as a dancer: isolations. They’re what a dancer is doing when they’re “popping and locking,” and other forms of modern dance, when only one part of the body is moving.
A time working in a biological research facility also triggered depression in Kamrah, who is inherently opposed to animal research. He ended up leaving that job and turned to massage therapy after he experienced how massage relieved vocal cord dysfunction that he and doctors had assumed was asthma.
“I realized massage is a miracle,” he said. “It’s a lot more than getting a rubdown on your skin.”
Though he experienced gender dysphoria for years, it would be 2016 before Kamrah could follow through on gender confirmation surgery.
Trans-masculine belly-dancer Kamrah also educates about gender, culture
Now, Kamrah performs openly as a trans-masculine belly dancer, with weekly shows and frequent tours year-round. He’s also part of “Raks Geek,” a dance and fire company featuring cosplay characters, and has created his own “Raks Terror” show, melding horror with belly dance.
Being a male belly dancer is a unique situation Kamrah says he is often helping others understand. Many assume belly-dancing is a historically female pursuit, but Kamrah and Von Trapp clarify it’s always involved both men and women.
And for those who criticize belly dance as an appropriation of Mediterranean culture, Kamrah clarifies that he takes care not to use an Arab name (Kamrah as a word has no connection with any culture), and doesn’t claim to be of Arab descent. He also studies and educates others about the many cultures that feature or influence belly-dance including Egyptian, Lebanese, Greek, Turkish, Asian, Indian, and the integrated approach of “fusion.”
“The people who are usually complaining are usually white women in the U.S.” he says, addressing the syndrome of overly “orientalizing” Egypt. “They have this idea of Egypt being frozen in the past, with everyone sitting around smoking shisha and listening to old records.
“Of course we should respect their tradition. But Egypt has its own rappers, rock, hip hop, heavy metal…They’re just as modern as we are, and they’re fusing things and dances themselves.”
Rainbow Variety show line-up also features local performers
Tonight’s Rainbow Variety Show also features local artists, including:
• Shane Bruce: This Carbondale-based mental health counselor is also a musician, both solo and with the group The InVocations.
• Elana Floyd-Kennett: Also a mental health counselor, Kennett also helps run the Gaia Interfaith Center and performs throughout southern Illinois.
• Rafael Frumkin, An award-winning author and Southern Illinois University professor, Frumkin will read from his two novels including the new “Confidence,” named among the 24 most anticipated LGBTQ+ books in 2023 by Buzzfeed.
• Jacqui is a new Carbondale resident taking to the stage for the first time locally.
• Curt Wilson: A board member with The Center for Empowerment and Justice and frequent performer, Wilson is also part of the band Nuclear Winter. He will perform solo on sitar.
• Pat York: Also a wildland firefighter, York is a performer, singing teacher and sound healer with a unique knack for harmony.
Proceeds raise money for the Rainbow Cafe LGBTQ Center and its outreach in LGBTQ+ support for kids, families and adults; harm reduction; and advocacy for COVID vaccination and community health. The show starts at 7:30 at the Varsity Center, 418 S. Illinois Ave., Carbondale. Space is limited; order your tickets on Eventbrite.
(photos courtesy Kamrah and Rainbow Cafe LGBTQ Center. This article also appeared in the February/March 2023 print edition of The Real Mainstream, available here.)