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HEAD, TORSO, HIPS, LEGS:
What Does It Have in Its Closets?

Many-Colored-Land  — The Look  — HAVE A PLAN  — Fast Costumes  — Troupes  — Index
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Have a Plan

Choose Your Genre and then plan for head, torso, hips, legs, feet and ornaments.

The excitement of acquiring your first dance costume OR the exhaustion of meeting a deadline for an upcoming performance can result in not enough planning, which means not the costume you dreamed of. Have a plan for all the parts of the body: head, torso, hips, legs, feet and ornaments. It will not take that much extra time and will make you look twice as good.

Go a little further and have alternative plans: the beaded bedlah set is not the answer to all performance challenges. Add the following essentials to your closet so that you can be prepared for any performance. Consult the table below for fabric, style, headdress and ornamentation suggestions.

  • Beledi dress
  • Coin belt
  • Coin bra
  • Coat (Ghawazee or Turkish)
  • Harem pants
  • Hip scarves
  • Pantaloons
  • Skirts
  • Tunic
  • Vest

A now-defunct web site (venusbellydance.com) suggested the following combinations. (The first three are family-friendly, perfect for public performances where some of the audience might be offended by a bare torso.)

HEAD

Hair, jewels, flowers, scarf, hat, veil, turban.

Orientale
(Egyptian, Turkish, American)
Folkloric Tribal
Orientale: A dressed-up head is expected. Beautiful hair can be its own ornament, styled and perhaps topped with a tiara or headband or a few flowers. In any event, hair should be under control. The Folkloric head is often covered with a scarf, or a head scarf over veil; turbans, ethnic hats and caps; wrapped veils.Egyptian folk costumes often require a triangular scarf wrapped from forehead to base of skull and then back to the top and tied, with loose ends tucked in. An edge of coins adds glam. The Tribal head is often elaborately covered: turbans, hair extensions, braids, huge flowers, jewelry, ornamented veils. Turbans were the original choice of headgear for American Tribal dancers. Flowers are now frequently worn by both Tribal and Tribal Fusion dancers.
"Hats abound in the Middle East... If you are performing a dance from a specific area, do your research and make sure the headdress is appropriate. I remember the story of a dance troupe which performed at an event attended by many Arabs. They had purchased hats from Egypt to wear during one number and were quite puzzled when audience members broke into laughter. It turned out that the hats were authentic indeed— they were circumcision hats for boys!

"The quickest and easiest answer for those with short hair is a head-band decoraged with coins, ethnic jewelry, or beads. This band has elastic in the back and goes behind the head, not under the chin, and can be secured with hairpins. It can be placed over a veil, and the veil itself can be tucked under the chin... The headband can also be created from braided pieces of fabric to create a turban-style headdress.

"Turbans are impressive, dramatic and easy to make. They can be fashioned from simple gauze for a folkloric look or from glitter veils for a opulent [Orientale] style. Turbans can also quickly lend a unified look to a dance troupe with members who have a variety of hair styles. Troupes like Gypsy Caravan and FatChanceBellyDance... add ethnic jewelry to their wrapped turbans to create the fabulous eclectic ethnic look known as 'California Tribal' or 'Berkeley Bedouin.]"— Lauren Victoria Gray, Essence of Orientale: Hair, Hats and Head-dresses, Crescent Moon magazine, July 1996, Print.

TORSO

Body Suits, Bra and Belt Sets, Coats, Dresses or Robes, Galebeya, Tops

Orientale
(Egyptian, Turkish, American)
Folkloric Tribal
2-piece Bedlah (bra and belt set) or form-fitting dress that shows movement of deluxe fabric, highly ornamented, is the standard for the Egyptian - Turkish spectrum. Circle and ruffled skirts with matching bras and vests in glamorous fabrics with a folkloric touch are common for American Orientale. Tunic or galebeya with flared sleeves and slit sides. Fitted 'ghawazee' coat or vest. A choli, sometimes with a coin bra worn over it, or a halter top in appropriate fabric. Tribal fusion: bras or halter tops.

BODY SUITS, AKA Body Stockings

Body stockings are used to hide figure imperfections or to present a more modest appearance. This suit usually covers the torso from bra to skirt. A popular style is a leotard, flesh-colored or otherwise, cut down in front and back and held up with clear straps. Other variations are net; colored; and translucent styles that extend as far as the wrists.
Orientale: often used under bedlah for modesty and to smooth flesh. Folkloric costumes usually cover the midriff so body suits are not necessary. It would be hard to make them compatible with the folkloric look even if the midriff were bare. If you choose to wear a body stocking, choose it with care, because a polished look is not normally the aim of a tribal costume. Mesh body stockings (black or other colors) are often the choice.

BRA and BELT SETS

Bra and belt sets are used by Orientale dancers and Tribal dancers; but, again, the fabrications and ornaments are completely different and create a completely different kind of persona on stage.
Bedlah: The two-piece bra and belt set that comprises the basic uniform for the Orientale dancer, often ornamented with bead fringe and sequins that pick up light and amplify movement. Buying a bedlah can be an expensive nightmare. Evaluate every proposed purchase for fit and quality.
  • Difficult to alter, so buy one that fits.
  • If mail ordering, use a reputable vendor who does exchanges and refunds. Allow yourself ample time so you can exchange costumes if needed.
  • Susi, author of Making Wise Choices in the Belly-Dance Wear Market-place for the Gilded Serpent, discusses evaluating a proposed purchase for quality and figure flattery.
  • If your first set is a metallic color, you can mix and match skirts and accessories to make several costumes.
  Tribal: Unlike the Orientale set, these do not have to match. A coin bra and a tassel belt are traditional, but many other combinations are now used: pieces made from assuit, from Indian mirror cloth, from vintage embroideries.

COATS

Orientale: A large shrug or sleeveless cape made of silk, lace or organza is the Orientale version of a coat. Folkloric: Ghawazee, Persian or Turkish coat, with or without sleeves. Tribal: Ghawazee coat, with or without sleeves.

DRESSES or ROBES

The Orientale dancer will sometimes choose a form-fitting dress over a bedlah. The dress will often amplify movement and reflect light the same way a bedlah does.. and sometimes more so than a bedlah since there is more of it.

Form-fitting dresses with long side slits and folkloric stylings are popular for theatrical cane dances (Raqs Assaya). The dress may or may not have sleeves.

Folkloric dresses (Beledi dresses) are often worn with pants underneath and a hip or waist sash. Cane dance dresses, however, are sometimes slit to the knee or higher with no pants underneath to show off the leg movements. Dresses are not normal components of American Tribal costuming. That said, Tribal fusion costumes based on the tunics and skirts of the Roma dancers of Rajasthan (Kalbelia dancers) have many of the same qualities of a dress. In addition, Tribal fusion icon Rachel Brice has recently been photographed in the long columnar dresses favored by ladies of the Art Deco age.

GALEBEYA

Ankle-length robe. Traditionally made with a button placket, like a Western shirt. On men, voluminous to allow movement; on women, less voluminous, sometimes with slits on the side to allow movement. The ones made of assuit are prized by all genres of dancers, MED to Tribal.
Orientale: A robe with sash or belt is sometimes used for the folkloric parts of the Orientale dance set. The difference between a dress and a galebeya when the galebeya is form-fitting and highly ornamented would be the folkloric stylings of the decorations; the fabric may be silk velvet but the only part that amplifies movement would be the sash. Yes, there is a lot of overlap. Folkloric: Tito, beladi dancer extraordinaire, uses galebeya in deluxe fabric over pants with a hip scarf or sash as his signature costume. Choosing a drapey fabric adds stage presence.

The ones made of assuit are prized by all genres of dancers, MED to Tribal.

Tribal: The ones made of assuit are prized as the perfect foil for dances that involve balancing.

TOPS

Often the most frustrating part of the costume, whether it is a bra, halter, vest or fitted top. It has to fit, it has to move, it cannot ride up, it cannot sag down, it has to support your breasts without making you look like a refugee from a 60s movie. A performance-grade fitted top requires expertise to make or time and money to buy.

A shrug provides modesty and hides a lot of bra problems; if you didn't have time to complete the back of your costume bra, the right shrug will get you on stage with confidence.

Orientale: Fitted vest and short peasant blouse of deluxe fabrics can substitute for a bra in some dances, presenting a minimum of fitting problems and expense. Folkloric: A tunic with full or flared sleeves and belt works well. Deluxe, light-weight fabrics and trims add stage glamour. Try shortening a Beledi Dress and wear it over pants. Tribal:
  • Cholis are popular. Stretchy cholis have less ethnic zing to them, but they have become popular, since they avoid fitting problems. People who need to wear a bra underneath need to plan ahead, unless the choli back is closed and the shoulder comes up over the bra strap.
  • A shrug is helpful when a minimalist outfit needs to be quickly glammed up.
  • Halter top in various fabrications. People who need to wear a bra underneath need to plan ahead.

HIPS

Belts, Scarves, Sash, Shawls

Orientale
(Egyptian, Turkish, American)
Folkloric Tribal
If a dress is worn instead of a bedlah, the hip area will usually be emphasized with a hip belt or wrap of glamorous fabric or by some tailoring or ornamentation in the hip area that accentuates hip movement. Hip scarf, sashes. Tassel belts, ornamented camel ropes, Indian torans. Tribal dancers often choose skirts and belts that flare out during their frequent turns.

HIP SCARVES

A pretty sash, tied around the hips, can be used by all beginner students and is frequently incorporated into folkloric costumes. A coin hip scarf is a traditional first costume purchase by beginner dancers. Unfortunately, when the stamped coins wear through their threads and start dropping on the floor, they present a danger and must be replaced.

Another issue to be aware of is the difficulties caused by lack of tailoring. A square or rectangular scarf may hold up when tied over voluminous ATS layers, but in most other applications it will begin to shift and slide down under the weight of the decorations and the movements of the dancer. Choose a fabric that is not slippery. Try a few darts at center back to improve fit.

Orientale: If your costume needs one, make sure it is upscale. Do not wear one with a costume bra that was not made to match it if the occasion calls for bedlah; you will look unprofessional. A pretty sash, tied around the hips, is frequently incorporated into folkloric costumes, as is a fringed hip scarf or shawl. Tribal: A fringed hip scarf or shawl under a tassel belt is classic.

Tribal and Tribal fusion: A tassel belt with folkloric fabric base and tassels or yarn fringe is traditional performance wear for both.

LEGS

Overskirts and Panels, Pants, Skirts

Orientale
(Egyptian, Turkish, American)
Folkloric Tribal
Wide variety of skirts and pants, some straight, some form-fitting, some voluminous. Skirt or Pantaloons Skirt hem circumferences are huge: 10 yards or more. Worn over pantaloons. Multiple layers of skirts and overskirts are not uncommon. Tribal fusion: flared, jazz, yoga or flounce pants are common.

OVERSKIRTS and PANELS

These add color and texture, protect costumes from wear, and hide problems. The genre will dictate the fabric used. It needs to enhance your costume and move the way you need to move while dancing.
Orientale: If you wear one, make sure it is upscale and enhances your costume. An organza overskirt with pearls and sequins, for instance, might work very well. A linen one would probably not. Folkloric: In the right fabric and color, these can add amazing depth to a simple costume. Tribal:
  • Multiple overskirts are sometimes worn.
  • Tribal fusion: Panels of yarn or ribbon are layered over skirts and pants and under tie belts. Panel skirts of assuit or other stage-worthy fabric are frequently used. These are especially helpful when the minimalist Tribal Fusion knit top and pants need to be quickly glammed-up for stage.

PANTS

Bare legs flashing during a performance, especially when on stage, are distracting to an audience. Unless bare legs are a planned part of your look, use pants or leggings (long or short) underneath. Even if there are no turns in your dancing, you never know what a fan or a breeze may do.
Orientale: Harem pants are a good investment. Silk, lace, embroidered and delicate fabrics enhance your look. Folkloric; Salwar pants and pantaloons are a good investment. Tribal: pantaloons paired with skirts, panels and overskirts paired with flared pants or yoga/jazz pants. Fluffy pants, garter pants, and Melodia-style pants are often used in Tribal fusion and Experimental MED dances.

SKIRTS

Orientale, skirt dancing or fantasy Roma: circle, spiral, and ruffled skirts in glamorous fabrics are popular choices. Folkloric: The Rajasthan Roma of India wear elaborately ornamented circle skirts with form-fitting tunics and head veils. Tribal: ruffled skirts with 10-yard-or-more hems that fly out during a turn are very popular and very traditional. These are often fabricated in Indian cotton (lightweight, a good backdrop for Tribal accessories, but fragile and not color-fast, so handle carefully).

Folkloric stylings based on the ruffled Rajasthan skirts and circular Kathak skirts of India are also becoming popular. Potential problems to avoid: cheap fabric (wear, tear and color fade) and parsimonious yardage (awkward fit) in the ruffled skirts; and circle skirts that have not been hung to stretch out bias before adding the hem decorations.

FEET

Shoes, sandals, foot jewelry, slippers.

Orientale
(Egyptian, Turkish, American)
Folkloric Tribal

SHOES

Dancing barefoot is very dangerous. Just one bead or coin embedded in your foot can ruin your week, as can a burn from dancing on hot concrete. Ballet slippers, dance sandals and Chinese cloth shoes are common choices.
  • An article on Costuming for your Feet at Shira.net discusses attractive options for dance shoes (foot jewelry, half soles, dance sandals, and heeled shoes are discussed.), followed by a section on foot problems and how to compensate for them.
  • From a 2008 article in Body Sense: Wear the correct shoes and check the size regularly.
    • Arch support;
    • Wide toe box;
    • Deep heel well;
    • A strap or closed back to keep heel and ankle aligned.
An article on Costuming for your Feet at Shira.net discusses the footwear commonly used, broken down by country of origin.
  • Egypt: heels were once expected, but well-groomed bare feet are now an option. Shira states that some stars wear their heels on stage and then kick them off.
  • Lebanese dancers are still expected to wear heels: bare foot is considered low-class.
  • Turkish dancers usually wear heels, probably because it ups the sex factor. However, unlike Lebanon, it is not de rigueur.
   

ORNAMENTS

Size matters.

Orientale
(Egyptian, Turkish, American)
Folkloric Tribal
Victoria Teel has some excellent advice for costume jewelry purchases.
  • Rhinestones:
    • Buy AB finished rhinestones; the AB finish reflects more light and picks up the color from your costume.
    • Avoid jewelry with rhinestone settings that catch costume and veil threads: rub the stones against your shirt and make sure the prongs don't catch the fabric.
  • Earrings should be about 3 or 3.5 inches long: chin length or just under the chin. 4 inch or longer and you are likely to hit your teeth with it when you turn your head. 2 inches or shorter, and the earrings disappear.
  • Necklace: Looks best when you have it half way between neck and cleavage. Pendant no more than 2.5 inches long and one inch wide.
  • Necklace and earring sets are not always balanced --- the necklace may be the perfect size but the earrings may be too long, or vice versa. Be firm with yourself.
In 1990, when managing a tour of a dance ensemble from Uzbekistan, Laurel Gray showed a Hollywood movie about Genghis Khan to one of her teachers, a famous Uzbek choreographer. "In one scene, Bortai, the Khan's future Tatar wife, was carried bare-headed through the desert on a litter, clad only in a chiffon, negligee style garment. My teacher's response: 'She is naked! She isn't wearing any jewelry!' He knew that no self-respecting Tarar woman would venture outdoors without her jewelry or without her head covered."— Laurel Victoria Gray, Essence of Oriental, Cresent Moon magazine, 1996.


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