Re: What Does a Steampunk Bellydancer Wear? Part 1

The answer is “anything she wants” because the music and costume you choose as a dancer for your steampunk number really depends on how you choose to define “steampunk”. Like many other American bellydancers, I’ve been bitten by the steampunk bug and what follows is my research into how best to translate steampunk into a Middle Eastern dance context.

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Silk shantung ghawazee coat worn over paisley cotton voile undertunic. Made by Kathleen Crowley (see blog on sidebar), posted on Tribe.net. Notice how the floor length coat resembles Western dresses of the Victorian era. You could leave the accessories as is or steampunk them up, substituting washers and gears for the coins on the belt and bra, for example. Another possibility would be to go with a knee length coat worn over a full skirt with ruffled pantaloons underneath.

To start with, you could legitimately go 100% ethnic. Steampunk fashion is generally based around a Victorian/Edwardian look and the traditional costume and music of the Middle East have not changed that much in two hundred some years.  My suggestion would be to pick a Near Eastern country that Europeans of the 19th and early 20th century would be familiar with such as Egypt, Turkey, or Northern Africa and use the costume of those regions as a jumping off point.

A second approach would be to base your costume and performance on Middle Eastern dance as seen on the American stage of the late 19th and early 20th century. Thanks to the American Memory project at the Library of Congress, we have actual footage of what early dancers were wearing at the time. Here Princess Rajah balances a chair (notice that she does some floorwork as well) and  Ella Lola does a Turkish dance. You can find second hand copies of these silent films on YouTube, but I prefer to point people to the actual Library of Congress site as it has more context information.

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Princess Rajah spins during her chair balancing dance (American Memory, Library of Congress) . Although her ruffled skirt appears short, it is actually ballet-length, falling a little above her ankle.

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Ella Lola does her Turkish dance (American Memory, Library of Congress). Her knee-length skirt appears to be made of assuit.

This is the dance as it existed when it was first crossing out of the ethnic immigrant communities and onto the Western vaudeville stage. The costumes are variations on either 19th century street/stagewear. The movements are still done today and are completely recognizable to a 21st century Middle Eastern dancer.

A third possibility is to base your costume on a more Orientalist theme–the Near East as seen through Western eyes. “Salome”-style costumes were very popular on the 19th century/early 20th century stage at this time and have a fantasy element that is very in keeping with the steampunk aesthetic.

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Sarah Skinner models her Salome-inspired bra and belt ensemble which she created for her seven veils dance.  Click here and scroll down to the June 24, 2008 entry (“Salome Costume”) for her blog post about the construction of this outfit. Follow her links at the end of the post to read more about Salome and her take on the dance of the seven veils.

Andrea Deagon, an academic and a dancer, has done research on the origins of the Salome story. Her slideshow, “The Salome Dancers: An Eastern Dance Takes Western Roots”,  which showcases a number of the images and performers of the era is available here.

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Princess Farhanna (Pleasant Gehman) posing in her turn-of-the-century bellydance costume.

Princess Farhana also created a beautiful, 1900s-era costume. She writes about making this ensemble on her blog (“Creating Flash Out of Trash, Feb. 23, 2009).  A dancer after my own heart, she used materials she already had and a lot of gold spray paint. The end result: a costume that looks expensive, but only cost $36.00. Click on the Feb. 12, 2009 photo (“It’s a Small World After All!”) for a closeup of the costume including the lace rosettes she hand-glued onto the skirt.

Other Orientalist-inspired eras to look at for costuming ideas would be Art Nouveau and Art Deco. I’ve often thought, for example, that Queen Latifah’s costume from the movie “Chicago” would make a great, 1920s-style beladi dress.

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Queen Latifah as Matron “Mama” Morton belting out “When You’re Good to Mama” from the movie musical “Chicago”. Notice the fabulous arm drapes.

Re: Happy Blogday to Me!

life-spring-hat-gordon-parks-3-03-50Photo by Gordon Parks taken March 03, 1950. From the Life Photo Archive found on the Google search engine site.

I can hardly believe it, but my little blog is one year old this month. Ah, it seems like just yesterday when I first started making the clickety-clicks on the keyboard and now here we are, still going and still growing.
Time for a little housekeeping. As you may recollect, I ran an entry on Fashion in Politics in which I made mention of the Sarah Palin wardrobe scandal that garnered a lot of airtime during this past presidential election. According to Ken Vogel of Politico.com, the final auditing has been done and Republican National Committee has disclosed that it paid $173,000 for clothes for Palin and her family. No followup on what happened to the outfits afterward. The total was $23,000 less than initially thought, but that’s still a freakin’ great wad of cash. No word on whether any jobs were created by the RNC “stimulus spending”.

Here are some cool costume items that don’t fall into a overall category, but which I was very taken with, nevertheless:

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Star Trek corset by EveningArwen, posted on Etsy.com. Follow this link to see other photos of this great costume piece.

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This fabulous Red Rose coat was made by ejacqui and posted on Craftster.org. Follow this link to see other photos and read more about the construction. She actually made all those roses by hand.

Re: No Place Like the O.Z.

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Come to the Dark Side. We have better outfits. Kathleen Robertson as Azkadellia flanked by her bad boys in the Sci-Fi Channel mini-series, “Tin Man”.

Why do I love the Tin Man mini-series? Two words, friends: Steampunk Oz. “Tin Man” is an original mini-series from the Sci-Fi Channel. The mini-series re-imagines L. Frank Baum’s Wizard of Oz as a much darker, more dystopian, yet ultimately hopeful tale. Briefly, the story follows our heroine, D.G., who is transported to the O.Z. (Outer Zone) and must discover her past in order to survive. Along the way, she is helped by Glitch, a former science advisor to the queen who had his brain removed as punishment, Wyatt Cain, a former Tin Man (Central City police officer), and Raw, a fearful, lion-like psychic.

From a costumer’s point of view, the character costumes created by Angus Strathie are delicious. I’m surprised that more fans haven’t re-created these costumes. If you have made a “Tin Man” costume, for heaven’s sake, post some pictures to the Net so the rest of us can enjoy them.

While I’ve written this post from sf/f costumer’s point of view, steampunk enthusiasts seeking inspiration will want to watch this movie repeatedly. “Tin Man” is probably as close as we will ever get to a steampunk documentary. The series covers what I consider to be the “steampunk era” (Victorian/Edwardian, 1910s, 1920s, 1930s) with a healthy dose of 21st century sensibility thrown in.  If you look closely at the Queen’s blue dress, for example, which she wears on her island prison, you will note that while the dress appears Edwardian, the corset which would normally not be seen  is actually part of her outerwear–a nod to the 21st century’s penchant for wearing underwear on the outside.

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Kathleen Robertson (Azkadellia) shows off three of her five outfits, all to die for.

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A photo of the black, feather-decorated dress Kathleen Robertson (Azkadellia) wears in the show.

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A close up of the same dress, showing the cool, multi-colored sheen of the shoulder feathers. The whole outfit reminds me of a raven. Notice the Queen in her blue dress in the background.  Her top looks like it may have been made from an Indian khameez.

In the O.Z., crime does pay–in the form of a fabulous wardrobe. Kathleen Robertson as the sorceress Azkadellia undoubtably has the best clothes in the film. We first see Azkadellia wearing her gold dress with the armored collar. She subsequently changes into her black coat dress, her black feathered dress,  and, for the big finale, her chail mail dress. She also has a wonderful Indian-inspired nightgown which I was unable to find good, clear photos of.

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A closeup of the black coat dress from commercial costuming company, Fan Chaos.

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Although Azkadellia’s outfit appears to be one piece, it is actually a long, black dress-like coat over a fitted peach bustier and black skirt.  The peach bustier suits Kathleen Robertson’s coloring. However, I think it could be changed to pale, true pink and still be recognizable.

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Azkadellia’s tattoos change into flying, bat-winged monkeys–how cool is that? Of course, that means many unneccessary shots of her heaving bosom–can we say “sweeps week”, boys and girls? Yes, we can.

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Photo of the “Tin Man” cast from Alexia Fast’s website. From left to right, Zooey Deschanel as D.G., Alexia Fast as Young Azkadellia, Alan Cumming as Glitch, Raoul Trujillo as Raw, and Neal McDonough as Wyatt Cain.

While Azkadellia’s costumes are probably the most complex in the entire film (leaving aside Raw’s makeup), there are plenty of other less work-intensive choices for the costumer. D.G.’s street clothes, as seen above, could easily be put together from purchased sources. If you wanted to wear something that is more obviously “Wizard of Oz”, try her waitress uniform pictured below. It’s a direct tip of the hat to the original Judy Garland’s Dorothy costume. D.G. wears her Other Side street clothes most of the time although she briefly changes into a red cocktail dress with a black sheer overlay when she infiltrates the Mystic Man’s nightclub. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find a clear picture of that dress.

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D.G. in her diner waitress uniform (“Tin Man”). A sly wink to Judy Garland’s costume in the “Wizard of Oz”. I’d recommend wearing this outfit with red sneakers, just for fun.

Wyatt Cain’s (Neal McDonough’s) costume is the next easiest to do. Again, most of his clothes can be purchased, although you may have to specifically shop for Western or Victorian wear in order to do it. Cain’s vest and sidearm say “gunslinger”, but his overcoat and slouchy, fedora-like hat say “private eye”.  I wasn’t able to get a good look at his footwear, but my impression was that he was wearing heavy-duty walking shoes, not boots.

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Cain (Neal McDonough) in (mostly) full uniform, minus the hat. The leather vest really makes the outfit.

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Cain, minus his coat, showing off his striped, collar-less shirt. Cain’s colors are very muted–soft greens, olives, washed out blues, and browns.

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Alan Cumming as Glitch. The zipper headpiece really makes this costume and transforms it from “vagabond” to “steampunk”.

Glitch (Alan Cumming) has a very multi-layered costume that has been heavily distressed. He is actually wearing a 19th century frock coat that is very high cut–it stops at the rib cage as opposed to the waist. Immediately underneath his coat is an elaborately decorated red vest which we see clearly only once while he is drying off around the fire after jumping from the cliff. Under the vest is a long-sleeved white shirt and under that is a red and black or possibly red and navy striped undershirt. If you are planning to re-create Glitch’s look, I highly recommend making all the layers very light weight as this costume can get hot quickly.

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Don’t lose your head. Glitch’s outfit and head from a publicity display for “Tin Man” (Flickr). You can just see the edge of Glitch’s vest peaking out from underneath his coat.

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Raoul Trujillo as Raw and Zooey Deschanel as D.G. Sci-Fi Channel photo by Art Streiber. Notice Raw’s furry feet.

Next to Azkadellia’s corsets, Raw’s costume requires the most technical skill because of the makeup and prothesises involved. The actual clothing–furry vest and knee breeches–is not that difficult and you can get a good look at it in the full cast photo above. Notice that in the cast photo he is wearing shoes while the above two-shot with D.G. shows his feet.

The great thing about “Tin Man” is that you have option of doing either “alternate versions” of the main cast or re-creating the striking costumes of the supporting characters. For example, we see Az, D.G., and their mother briefly in a flashback scene with the girls’ tutor.  Those outfits would be a great family group costume to re-create.

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Young Azkadellia (Alexia Fast), the queen, and young D.G.  Part of the queen’s skirt is made of bronze sequinned fabric. I really like young Az’s dress, but young D.G. also has an attractive gown. Photo from Alexia Fast’s website.

Azkadellia’s long coats–her imperial troops–would make another good group costume. The soldiers’ most striking uniform element is their long leather dusters with red/silver ornamentation and occasional bits of body armor. The overall effect is very Nazi storm trooper. The high mandarin collars appear to be part of the coat rather than a separate shirt. Underneath, as far as I can tell, they are wearing sleeveless black T-shirts, black pants, and black combat boots.  I wasn’t able to find a good still showing the insignia, but I would suggest taking a look at the sets in Az’s tower as I think the circle shape is being replicated on some of the screens.

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Some men bring flowers, others bring lockets. From left to right, Azkadellia, her chief hench guy, Zero (Callum Keith Rennie), and her secretary (actor unknown).  I thought initially that her secretary was wearing a variation of the longcoat uniform, but he’s actually wearing a variation of Glitch’s costume–high cut frock coat with a vest and shirt underneath. The coat is leather, but the outfit appears to be very similar to Glitch’s.

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Our heroes are shocked to discover just how good they look in black leather and begin to reconsider joining the imperial guard. Another view of the longcoat uniform.

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Callum Keith Rennie as Zero in all his evil-y goodness. Rennie plays villains so often these days that most people forget he played good guy detective Stanley Kowalski in the television series “Due South”. Notice the half-armor he sports. The armor seems to be largely ceremonial, but Zero does use it to defend himself when he and Cain throw down.

For a colorful and memorable group costume, I would suggest the “Tin Man” Munchkins. Although they only appear briefly at the beginning of the series, the Munchkins are very original and interesting looking. The body paint would take time, but the clothes themselves are relatively simple and have an overall “American Indian” motif.

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D.G. surrounded by Munchkin resistance fighters of the Eastern Guild (“Tin Man”). Notice the Kiowa-style feather harnesses. The buckskin pants and sleeveless shirts wouldn’t be hard to replicate.

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Munchkin leaders interrogate D.G. whom they think is a spy (“Tin Man”). Notice the striking face paint and chest armor.

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“Well, if it isn’t the great and terrible blah, blah, blah himself.” Richard Dreyfus as the Mystic Man (“Tin Man”) flanked by his lovely assistants. Although the dancers have a great number, this was the only still I could find that showed their outfits. The “panniers” they’re wearing are actually tamborines they use to beat out a drumroll for the Mystic Man’s entrance.

As a dancer, I was struck by the Art Deco flamenco costumes worn by the Mystic Man’s assistants in the Central City nightclub D.G. goes to. This would be another neat group costume to do for a duo or a trio.  The Mystic Man is dressed like a very formal 19th century stage magician. He wears an evening tuxedo with a white vest and white pin-tucked shirt. One hand is bound up in a black pouch. I’m still not sure what that is supposed to symbolize. Over the top of his tux, he wears a Chinese robe and a Turkish smoking cap.

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Richard Dreyfus as the Mystic Man (“Tin Man”) showing off his fantastic Chinese robe. I wants it, precious, yes, I do.  Folkwear has a great pattern for this robe (“Chinese Jacket”). I got this photo from the Dye Dept , the Canadian company that did some of the distress work for the series. If you go to their website and look under “textile arts, dyeing, and costume breakdown”, you will see a photo of Glitch’s coat which they also worked over.

Re: Major Cover-Up

One of the first questions prospective Middle Eastern dance students ask me is “do I have to show my belly?” The answer is no, there are a number of long tunics that you can wear. In fact, I often recommend hip-length or ankle-length tunics to my beginning dancers for several reasons. They are easy to make, relatively cheap, and they camouflage the fact that the dancer doesn’t have more expensive and harder to make items like a costume bra.
Tunics come in a variety of styles. The easiest one to make is the unfitted beladi dress. This is two lengths of rectangular fabric sewn together with an opening at the top for your head. The sides can be left open at which point it becomes more like a medieval tabard or they can be closed down the sides with armholes. The side from the ankle to the mid-thigh or the just below the hipbone can be left open for ease of motion. You can add sleeves or leave it sleeve-less.

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From the Artemis Imports website, dancer Melanie models a dress made from two veils trimmed with coins. This is the glitzier, nightclub version of a beladi dress.

To sew up a beladi dress very quickly, use a long rectangular veil or veils. Depending on your height, you may be able to get away with using just one 108 inch long veil. Otherwise, use two. This will produce a short-sleeved dress. Use a third large veil or two smaller ones for sleeves. If you would prefer a shorter (hip-length) tunic, use smaller (36 inch long) rectangular veils.

The nice thing about a beladi dress is that it can be made more cabaret or more ethnic-looking by the kind of fabric used and by adding other costume pieces. Opaque fabric in solid colors, stripes, and paisleys is more ethnic. Anything sparkly or see-through is more cabaret. Harem pants, a coined hip belt, and painted-on facial tattoos will make the dress more tribal/ethnic looking. High-heeled dance shoes, bare legs, a beaded hip belt, and matching head band will give a more cabaret/showgirl feel.

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Kalilah of the Calgary, Alberta troupe, “Daughters of the Nile”, poses in her Saudi thobe at Global Fest 2008 (Flickr).

In America, the term “thobe” or “Saudi thobe” refers to a loose, T-shaped kaftan with a heavily decorated front panel. In the Middle East, “thobe” means the high-necked, long-sleeved robes worn by both men and women. A Saudi-style thobe is a “thobe nashaal” or “big robe”.  You can make your own thobe, but most dancers buy one from Middle Eastern dance suppliers.  Thobes usually run in the $100-150 dollar range depending on the material that they are made from and the amount of decoration that they have.

A thobe can be left loose or it can belted (worn with a shawl, hip scarf, or costume hip girdle) and worn as a loose beladi dress. The sleeves of a thobe are large and open so you will need to wear a leotard or other top underneath.

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An Egyptian-style dance dress made from a velvet evening gown by Dina Lydia, otherwise known as Dina the Costume Goddess. I highly recommend her site which is full of good tips and great pictures.

In Egypt, night club dancers favor what are essentially evening or cocktail dresses with strategic cut outs and beading at the bust and hipbone line.  Dance dresses can cost anywhere from $200-600, depending on the style and designer. However, you can easily make a similar dance outfit yourself by getting ahold of a second-hand evening gown and glitzing it up.

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A splendid example of a traditional Ghawazee coat modeled by dancer Tamara and posted to Tribe.net.  Ghawazee coats are usually worn over a chemise as seen here. However, there are many variations on this garment.

A Ghawazee coat is a fitted tunic that can come either to the hip or to the ankle. It is worn over a long-sleeved undertunic and can be cut either over the bust or under the bust. The under the bust style is usually worn with a decorated, costume bra. Because a Ghawazee coat is fitted, I highly recommend making a muslin–a test garment–first before cutting into your good fabric.