Re: Dance of Thrones, Part Two

I had initially intended my first Game of Thrones-inspired bellydance number to a be a one-off, but when the character of Melisandre was introduced, I knew that I absolutely had to do a fire/candle dance as a Red Priestess. I’m pleased to report that my dance partner, Christina, and I, performed a successful candle duet to “Valar Morghulis” at this year’s spring recital.

Christina and I worked on the piece for the better part of a year and we went back and forth on different concepts for both the dance and the costumes. We finally settled on making the dance about the candles moving through space and we stuck to a Northern India look (kameez, narrow legged pants, and veil) for the costumes. We had a tray of battery-operated candles in front of us and we each danced with two candles, one in each hand. The Red God bless the maker of battery-operated candles! I remember the old days when candle dances were done with real flames and real wax candles and were usually the occasion for hot wax burns.

Christina and I made our red tunics with printed cotton from my fabric stash. The tunics were very simple with no extra decoration. We supplied our own purchased yoga pants (black) and we wore red veils with gold metallic dots, wrapped around our heads Indian-fashioned. The veils were special occasion fabric (polyester chiffon) that I got on sale at our local Jo Ann’s Fabrics. We used hairpins to fix the veils in place on our heads, wrapped them the way we wanted, and then used safety pins to keep the veils from moving out of alignment.

Having watched the recital DVD, I am very happy with how the dance came off. It was one of those rare moments when the mood and the movements we envisioned in our heads looked as cool on stage as it did in our imagination. Our candle duet actually looked as if it could have been a scene in the Game of Thrones TV series.

Re: Dance of Thrones

At this year’s big spring dance recital that just took place this past Friday, I danced a Persian fusion number to the main theme from “Game of Thrones”. I had initially hoped to do a Dothraki- inspired piece, but couldn’t find the drum music used in the series.

An exhibit of costumes from Game of Thrones. Cersei’s gown in front, Melisandre’s dress in background.

Listening to the main theme, I decided that the haunting violins with the underlying drumbeat really had more of a Persian/Northern India sound so I planned my performance piece around that.  While the court gowns we see in the series have a kimono/Medieval look to them, other courtiers such as Master Varys have garb that is more Central Asian-inspired. The capitol of King’s Landing itself is very old, has a hot, dry climate, and has a very Mughal Court vibe to me so I wanted a costume that read as Persian, but could conceivably be worn by a court dancer at King’s Landing.

Here’s a Persian painting showing a dancer and a musician. The dancer is wearing a long, belted gown.

Persian dancer with a short coat, Qajar dynasty.

As you can see from the pictures above, I had a couple of options in terms of Persian dance wear. I opted to go with my long Turkish coat worn over a full skirt with black leggings underneath. It was a compromise between historical and modern Persian dancer costumes.  I considered adding a sash, but found that it limited the skirt and the robe from billowing out as I spun.

Sansa (Sophie Turner ) modeling the court hairstyle at King’s Landing (Game of Thrones, Season 1).

I considered doing up my hair a la Sansa, but finally opted to keep it simple, pulling it up at the sides, letting it fall down the back, and then adding flowers around the crown, tribal bellydance style. That turned out to be a good call as the theater where the recital took place was very hot and stuffy.

If you know something about Persian dance, you know that dancers oft mime feminine activities such as putting on their jewelry and makeup. With Queen Cersei as my muse, I mimed poisoning a goblet, slicing throats, and fighting with a sword and shield. At the end, the lights went to red, suggesting a pool of blood.

The whole number was well received. Next year, I’m hoping to dress up one of my fellow dancers and myself as priestesses of R’hllor (aka Melisandre) and do a candle duet.

Re: Makeup Tips from Moria Chappell

I had the pleasure of taking a hair and makeup workshop from Moria Chappell in August. If you’re going “Moria who?”, this website should explain who she is. If, incidentally, you have the opportunity to study with her, I highly recommend doing so. Moria (pronounced “Mariah”) is an impressive dancer who is as interested in ethnic dance and the older forms of belly dance as she is in tribal fusion. In addition, she’s a warm and encouraging teacher as well as being an all-around swell person.
Moria trained as a cosmetologist so I was particularly interested in what she had to say about stage makeup.

  • In answer to the Middle Eastern dancer’s dilemma about how much makeup should you wear for the small stages we tend to perform on, Moria recommends doing the same highlighting and contouring that you would do for the theater stage, but just less intense.
  • It pays to have someone that you trust in the audience to give you feedback on how you look e.g. were your features discernable or did your face seem to blend into your neck?
  • Good makeup brushes are the key to a professional-looking application. If you have good brushes, you can get by with cheap makeup.
  • Wear false eyelashes to accent your eyes. If you always found them too heavy for your eyelids that way I did as a young dancer, apply them Moria’s way: tilt your head straight back and position the false lash above your own lashes and about mid-way over the pupil of your eye. Now press in place. The false lashes should go up at the outside corner of your eye. If the lashes seem to be dragging your eye down, take off and reapply. Tilting the head back is the key to applying false lashes.
  • Think of your hair as a sculpture. Layer locks of hair over each other in order to build height, then add scarves, flowers, and jewelry.
  • Keep hair and hair ornaments in place with bobby pins inserted one over the other to form an “X” shape. Locks and ornaments bobby pinned like that will stay in place all night (and I can vouch for the true of this statement).

Re: Bustin’ Out, Part IV (The Final Chapter)

This post is dedicated to the coin bra which I love and its close cousins, the armor bra and the leather bra. Let’s start by defining some terms and talking about design considerations for each type of bra.

The coin bra, as I’m going to be using the term, refers to a bra in which the cups are entirely covered with individual coins which are hand-sewn on. I am not talking about coin bra covers which are pre-made meshes of coins and/or coins mixed with other elements such beads, bells, mirrors, etc. that are meant to be tacked onto a covered bra nor am I talking about lengths of coins used as trims.

In my day, the coin-covered bra was THE dream bra that every dancer aspired to. It wasn’t as easy to buy pre-made bra and belt sets as it is today so a dancer who owned a coin bra (see below) had either worked her fingers to the bone or had paid someone else top dollar to make it. Either way, she would be the object of much admiration and envy among her fellow dancers.

Marta Schill Kouzouyan on the cover “The Compleat Belly Dancer”, the first bellydance book I ever bought.

When designing a coin bra, your first consideration must be the weight of the coins themselves. Real coins or coins stamped out of metal are heavy and many of them together are very heavy. Aluminum coins are our friends when it comes to covering bra cups. If you are reluctant to give up the real coin look, consider mixing real coins with aluminum ones or add the metal coins to the belly drape of the bra. If you are still determined to go with real coins (and the finished look is indeed fabulous), remember that you will need to do a lot of bra engineering to make that costume piece comfortable.

Americans: it is illegal under U.S. law to deface American coins by drilling holes in them. It is, however, perfectly legal to drill holes in foreign coins so deface that foreign currency all you want. You can pick up bags of mixed coins of other countries at coin dealerships. Jewelry supply companies may also have coins.

Metal coins without holes need to be prepped before you can work with them. You need to have access to a coin press to make the holes and then you need to spend some time filing off the burrs (rough edges of the holes). When I was looking to drill some coins, my friend, Glynda, talked to her metal smithing teacher and he let us use the metal drill press in the university art dept. lab. I only had a small handful, probably about 20 coins altogether, and it still took us about a hour and a half. The drilling goes quickly, the filing takes a while.

When you’re sewing the coins onto the bra, start at the bottom of the cup and work your way up, overlapping the top row over the below one as you go. You will need to use tough thread such as dental floss, carpet, or button hole thread because the back and forth movement of the coins will eventually saw through the thread. Speaking of coin movement, don’t sew the coins down too tightly. They have to be able to move freely or you won’t get the characteristic jingling sound. To do this, it helps to use a bead as a spacer between the coins and the fabric. You take your needle through the back of the bra cup, through the bead, through the hole of the coin, around once or twice, back up through the bead, and into the fabric. Before you tie it off, flip the coin back and forth to check if it is moving easily. If not, loose the thread up until it does. Then tie it off and repeat. (I did mention that coin bras are a lot of work, didn’t I?) Depending on the smoothness of your knotwork, you may need to line the inside of the bra cups to keep them comfortable.

Be sure to buy more coins than you think you are going to need. Murphy’s Law of Costuming states that if you run out of coins before your bra is completely covered, it will be next to impossible to find an exact match. If you are using aluminum coins, you may find that you need to use two coins together instead of just one in order to get that clink-clink sound.

Metal bras appeal to those of us who have never lost our Red Sonja fantasies. The She-Devil with a Sword was a creation of sword and sorcery author Robert E. Howard and appeared both in print and in the comic book adventures of Conan the Cimmerian. Ignore the modern re-incarnations. My Sonja will always be the lady below.

As a young woman, I never saw Sonja’s chain mail bikini outfit as sexist. After all, Conan himself was only wearing a loin cloth most of the time. More importantly, Sonja could take care of herself in a fight unlike the other damsels Conan usually encountered who cowered behind him and needed rescuing from various eldritch horrors. So it’s understandable that everyone likes the “warrior woman” vibe that a metal bra gives off.

If there were any justice in this world, Jennifer Lopez would play Red Sonja.

Lotus bra cup made Talon Armory. Click here for their Etsy page. These bra covers are made with small holes so you can sew them onto an existing bra.

First, a word of caution: working metal is an advanced skill. If you are a novice, you are better off commissioning your bra from a skilled metal worker. Second, a great many metal bras on the market are art bras. They are meant to be shown off as sculpture or worn on a runway, not danced in. So it pays to deal with a metal worker who has had experience creating bras for dancers.

Chain mail bras are actually quite common these days and aren’t the one-off project they once were. Again, knitting metal links into a 3-D form is an advanced skill

Metal-look bra made by Organic Armor. Latex over foam or cloth which is then painted to resemble metal.

A compromise solution is the Organic Armor bra seen above. These bras look like metal, but are lightweight and more comfortable to wear. And because they are made of latex, they can be painted any color and molded into fantastic shapes. Click here to go to Organic Armor’s home page and be sure to check out the dancer videos on the Belly Dance Wear page which shows their creations in action.

Re: Bustin’ Out, Part III

Now we come to my favorite part of bra construction: decoration. Let’s spend a little time talking about general considerations when it comes to decorating your bra:

  • Is this your first costume bra? If so, you will want something that will go with a lot of different outfits so consider making it in either gold or silver. Some dancers split the difference and use BOTH gold and silver. You could also go with copper if that suits your coloration.
  • Keep your decorations lightweight. Pick up the bag of sequins, coins, shells, washers, or whatever you’re planning on putting on your costume bra. Does it feel heavy? If it feels heavy now, the completed bra is going to be heavy, too, and it is going to feel like a ton once you’re dancing in it.
  • Unless that’s the look you’re going for, avoid placing your appliques, beads, coins, etc. right over your nipples. Instead place your decorative elements either above or below the nipples of your breasts. If you really want to highlight your nipples, take a tip from burlesque dancers and put your decoration slightly above your natural nipple line. It gives you an automatic “breast lift”. A cultural note: Egyptians do not regard breasts in the same way Westerners do. Breasts are just devices to feed the baby with and do not have the sexual connotations they have in the West. Therefore, Egyptian-made bras and costumes often feature nipple-centric designs which is something to keep in mind if you are purchasing an imported costume.
  • Hand sewing is the order of the day. Yes, a low temperature glue gun will help you tack ornaments and trims into place, but don’t rely on glue alone to keep a critical costume element like your bra together. There is no substitute for sewing down or at least tacking down trims and ornaments. Depending on how you are constructing your bra, you may be able to use a sewing machine to make the straps and possibly the sides as well. However, the cups typically have to be done by hand.

In my day, we had two options when it came to decorating our bras: ethnic (which meant coins) and cabaret (which meant beads).  Today’s dancers have a lot more options. My advice is to collect photos where possible of designs that you appeal to you and ask yourself what you like about them.

Here’s a nice example of a hand beaded cabaret bra made by Ozma, an American dancer living in Japan. I like the restrained yet luxurious beading and the sleek, modern feel. Ozma made this as part of her peacock costume. Yes, she made and beaded the skirt and the arm and ankle bands as well.

Zipperbra by HeyCarrieAnn (Craftster).

I hadn’t considered using zippers as a decorative element before, but I like the effect. HeyCarrieAnn created the above as an art bra, but you could adapt it for a costume bra. If so, I would suggest sewing the zippers down rather than gluing them as she did.

Button covered bra found on Ebay. Seems to have been taken down now. I like the cheerful play of colors although I would have covered the bra base in hot pink fabric rather than leaving it plain.

Buttons have become a popular decorative motif these days. Buttons have the advantage of being relatively cheap and easily available. Be sure to use flat rather than shanked buttons for your decorative purposes. Shanked buttons stand up from the surface of the fabric and tend to catch things like veils, etc.

Button covered bra from Gypsy Rain in Australia. These kind of bras are meant to be worn over a choli, not on their own.

Geekella models her bra and hip scarf Craftster (2008).

Tassels are always a fun alternative to coins for a tribal or semi-tribal look. I like the way Geekella has used stretchy black fabric to add horizontal interest across the clevage. A nice tribal fusion design.

Pink ruffled, black-striped bra by webs55 (Etsy). Here’s a link to her Etsy page.

We’ve haven’t talked about the selection of the base fabric for the bra because the base fabric is usually secondary to the beading or other decorations. However, the above bra is a great example of the visual punch you can achieve with minimal decoration and the right selection of covering fabrics. What I like about this bra is its versatility–you could wear this for a tribal fusion costume, you could wear it as part of a burlesque costume, it could go gothic, it could go steampunk.

Re: Bustin’ Out, Part Two

So you’ve decided to take the plunge (no pun intended) and create your own bellydance bra? Let’s talk about what you are going to need to make one.

First, if you intend to make a traditional covered bra, you are going to need a well-fitting, hard shelled bra. By “hard shelled”, I mean a bra with sturdy cups that are made out of solid fabric.

Why a hard shelled bra? Because a decorated bra with beads, coins, shells, or some combination of all of the above is heavy and stretchy lingerie fabric will pull apart under the weight.  Yes, you can reinforce the cups to some extent, but that won’t help if the bra wasn’t built well to begin with. And yes, you can make your own bra from scratch, but be advised that making a bra completely from scratch requires very advanced sewing skills. If you are a beginning or intermediate sewer or a complete non-sewer, you are better off using an existing bra and transforming it.

Finding the right bra is the most critical step of the process. The most important thing is the fit of the cups. Do they fit your breasts without wrinkling (too big) or  your breasts bulging out at the top (too small)?  The larger your bust, the more you will need support along the sides. Can the current sides be covered and used as is or are they too delicate? If the latter, you can chop off the bra sides and use them as a pattern to make sturdier ones.

  • If you have tried to find a decent hard shelled bra in your size and have come up empty-handed, don’t despair. There are several bra alternatives you can use.
  • The first is, as I mentioned earlier, to chuck the whole idea of a two-piece costume and go with a beladi dress. The term “beladi dress” covers a wide range of garments from simple T-shaped tunics to close-fitting, heavily beaded, evening gown-style dance dresses. The advantage of going with a beladi dress is that it provides a head-to-toe line which is very flattering to petite and short-torsoed dancers.
  • The second is to go with a midriff length top. This can be Indian-style choli or it can be a T-shirt or dress that you have hacked off under the bust, hemmed, and elasticized. A big advantage to wearing an Indian-style choli, as many Tribal dancers do, is that it makes the fit of the bra less critical. Since the dancer is wearing her own lingerie bra underneath the choli, the costume bra worn over the top can be for decoration and doesn’t have to be supportive. Some Tribal style dancers wear decorated bikini tops over their cholis.
  • A third possibility, especially if you are a Fusion dancer, is to go with a leotard top.  There are a plethora of midriff-length, jazz dance-inspired tops and unitards that you can buy right off the rack which is a big plus especially if you are a troupe costumer and are trying to outfit a group of people on a tight budget.

Back to the basics of bra construction. Once you’ve found your ideal hard shelled bra, you will need to do the following:

  • Cover the bra with your fashion fabric. Pick a bra base that matches as closely as possible your covering fabric e.g. black bras for dark fabrics, white or beige for dark color fabrics. That way, if a little bit of the base peeks through, it won’t be that obvious.
  • Chop off the straps and the side band (unless you are covering the side band). Whatever you do, don’t rely on delicate lingerie straps to hold up your heavily decorated costume bra. You’re going to need either ties or elastic. Personally, I favor tough, inch-wide waistband elastic. It’s easy to get and holds up well under the stress of performance. However, ties are also very popular and have the advantage of being adjustable.
  • Decide on the placement of the straps. It helps to have an assistant when you’re doing this.  The halter is a favorite because it is quick, easy, and doesn’t require an individualized fitting. You’ll see this style a lot especially with purchased bras. My problem with halter-style straps is that the weight of the cups and of your breasts presses on the vertebrae in your neck. At best, the bra will literally give you a pain in the neck. At worst, you might develop serious back or disc problems.  A more ergonomic way to do the straps is to have them extend naturally over the shoulders or to cross them in the back.  That way, the weight of the bra and your bust is balanced evenly.
  • Decorate the cups of your bra, your straps, and side pieces and connect them all together.  We’ll discuss the decoration part in more detail in the next post.
  • Try the finished product on and make the final corrections. Remember, anything that’s mildly irritating now is going to be agonizing about half-way through your performance.

For more detailed accounts and photos of the bra construction process, I recommend Googling “how to make a bellydance bra.” Thanks to the magic of the Internet, a number of dancers have shared their techniques on-line and while each one has her individual preferences, especially when it comes to covering the bra, the basic process is the same.

Re: Bustin’ Out, Part 1

The costume bra is one of the most iconic parts of a bellydancer’s costume and yet one of the most problematic. When I was a young dancer, some thirty years ago now, making your first costume bra and belt set was like Luke Skywalker making his first light saber: it was the journeyman piece that meant that you were ready to join the sisterhood of the dance.

Making your own decorated bra can be a lot of work, but if you are a craft-y sort of costumer, it can also be a lot of fun. The most difficult part of the process I’ve found is getting a hard-shelled bra whose cups fit properly.

The classic bra and belt set is most flattering to women who have a hourglass figure (that is, a waist smaller than their hips and evenly proportioned on the top and bottom) and a bra cup size that ranges from B-D. Can other figure/bust types wear this kind of costume? Yes, but they have to take extra steps to make it look good on them.

  • Pear-shaped women should make sure that they wear something extra on top–cabaret sleeves, epaulets, cabaret jackets, choli tops, short Ghawazee jackets, etc.–to balance out their silhouette.
  • On apple-shaped women, the bra and belt set creates two horizontal lines across the torso which calls attention to its rectangular, waistless nature. A good way to fix this is to draw the eye up in a diagonal direction–say, a sequinned applique that wraps across the waist and continues up onto the arm.
  • On very large and very small busted women, a decorated bra, especially a very sparkly, heavily coined, or shiny metallic one, can make them look disproportionate.  The eye is drawn to the very large or very small shiny circles at the expense of the rest of the costume.
  • The best fix is to make the bra blend with the rest of the costume as much as possible. One way would be to wear the bra over a choli (a midriff length top) in a matching color. Another way would be to wear the bra under a baladi dress. The baladi dress could be transparent and cover the bra completely or it could be opaque with a deeply cut neckline that allows a bit of the bra to peek out. Yet another option would be to make the bra and belt part of an Egyptian-style dancing dress. Dancing dresses are more like long evening gowns than the T-shaped baladi dresses.
  • If the bra must be front and center, I would suggest covering the cups with a matte (as opposed to a shiny fabric) if possible. Regarding bra decoration, small-busted dancers will want to create as many horizontal lines as possible, both with the stomach drape (the fringe or beads under the bra that draw attention to the abdominal work) and with the motifs on the cups themselves. Large busted dancers should try to create diagonal or straight lines with their cup decorations and stomach drapes.

You will also want to consider how you plan to clean the bra. Remember, heavily decorated bras can’t be washed. They usually have to be aired out and eventually your sweat will break down the fibers and the threads. Removable bra pads that can be unstitched, taken out, cleaned, and sewn back in are a good idea.  If you are beading your bra, consider putting the beads on bias tape (for fringe) or on making separate appliques and then attaching either the tape or the appliques to the bra.  That makes taking the bra apart for later cleaning or reconstruction a lot easier.

Re: I Embrace My Inner Peacock

Finally, finally, finally, it looks like my peacock costume is coming together. I found a peacock feather printed cotton at a local quilt store that I really liked (about $8.00/yd) and bought everything they had left on the bolt. I won a custom made bellydance tassel belt at a silent auction one of the local troupes put on so I’m going to have Liz, my seamstress, make part of the fabric into a belt. Depending on how much is left over, I’m thinking about having the rest made into a short-sleeved, knee-length Ghawazee jacket that I could wear over a variety of shifts.

Peacock Fabric Example

This is the exact same fabric I found at my local quilt shop, shown here made into a mouse pad. It’s a Carrie Miller print and comes in about six different colors, but I thought the kelly green background (see in photo) was the most striking. (Image from Etsy).

Right now, I’m in designer heaven, rummaging through my stash of trims and fabrics to see what goes with a kelly green peacock print. I’ve got some electric blue sequins, some gold and blue metallic trim, and some coin trim with small gold coins.

More information as the project develops down the line.

Re: What Does a Steampunk Bellydancer Wear? Part 2

arm-lace-gauntlet-tombo-designs

Stretch lace gauntlet from Tombo Designs. You know you want it.

Because Gothic and Steampunk fashion share a fondness for some of the same time periods, you would not be off base in choosing a Gothic theme for your Steampunk bellydance performance and costume. For all things gothic and bellydance-y, I highly recommend Laura Tempest Schmidt’s appropriately named Gothic Bellydance Resource. Tempest analyzes the elements of Gothic bellydance costuming, talks about Goth performance elements, has a collection of dancer images, and provides links to definitions of the Goth subculture.

My major recommendation, if you are planning to go the Gothic route, is to beware of doing an all-black costume. Remember that when the stage is dark-colored, the backdrop is dark, and the lights are down, you and your black costume are going to disappear almost entirely. Do your audience a favor and wear colors that can be seen at the back of the room. These can be “Gothic” shades like wine red or intense purple or you can go for broke and wear all white.  If you must go the “basic black” routine, consider making everything on your costume–and I mean EVERYTHING, not just your bra and belt–as shiny, sparkly, mirrored, sequinned, or LED-enhanced as humanly possibly. You want your audience to see your entire body move, not just stray patches of skin.

Up until now, I’ve been talking about essentially using other time periods as a basis for your Steampunk costume. While it can be very useful to have a prototype to work from, another–and very fun–approach is to seize upon the fantasy element of steampunk and build a costume (and a character) from entirely from scratch.

Imagine if you were living in an alternate reality and you wanted to put together a Middle Eastern dance costume, not knowing anything about what a “bellydance outfit” should look like. You would know, for example, that you wanted to highlight the movement of your hips and shoulders so the question becomes how best to do that. What kind of outfit would you construct? What materials would you use? Metal? Leather? Gears? Flattened beer caps? Washers? Bits of brass? Fringe? What would you be able to find lying about that you could cut up or reuse?

elizabeth-james-handmade-top

Elizabeth James poses in her handmade, snake dance (as in dancing with an actual python) costume. Posted on her blog, Altered States.

washer-bra-by-basha-tribe

Costume bra decorated with washers and metal chains by Basha (Tribe.net). Nice use of diagonal lines on the cups.  She made this outfit for a goth industrial number that she did.

washer-necklace-by-basha-tribe

Matching choker by Basha (Tribe.net) crafted from washers which are wrapped and then linked together.  This design would also look good made from brass or copper. When you are a Middle Eastern dancer, a trip down the hardware aisle of your local department store can be very inspirational.

leather-bodice-steampunk-etsy

Bodice made from an old leather coat that has been cut up and re-purposed. Posted by Jazuchan on (Etsy).  Second hand leather garments have the advantage of already being broken in so they are soft and comfortable.

leather-turkish-arab-vest

The standard Turkish-Arab vest re-done in faux leather by Velvet Mechanism (Etsy).  I’ve seen similar vests made with just canvas or polyester straps in which case they are usually referred to as “harnesses”.

What I’m talking about is not just a theatrical approach to costume making, but a theatrical approach to CHARACTER building. Who is your character? Are you a dancer in a converted factory on the outskirts of town? A saloon hall entertainer in a science fiction-influenced western as portrayed in TV shows like the “Wild, Wild West” (1965) or “The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr.” (1993)? A clockwork robot? A retro-futuristic space traveler?

And what kind of music are you dancing to? Drums? Electronica? Sound effects such as the wind, spacecraft landing, etc? Trash can lids being hit with hammers?

All of these considerations are going to influence the kind of costume that you make and the kind of performance that you give. Below are a few ideas for steampunk character costumes.

barbary-coast-shakedown-2007

The dancers of Barbary Coast Shakedown (Mira Betz, left, and Elizabeth Strong, right) post in their California saloon hall girl costumes.  The granny boots add that extra panache. Posted by foca71 on (Flickr)

mira-betz-in-blue

Mira Betz again in a 1920s, jazz hall-influenced costume. She has sleeked her hair back and drawn in pincurls on her forehead with a makeup pencil. The cool hair ornaments are actually appliques that are secured to her hairdo with bobby pins. (Flickr)

robot-dance-fayzah-claudia

Fayzah Claudia as an android in a retro-futuristic space suit reminiscent of the 1920s-30s.  See more images of her body suit, complete with helmet and raygun on her website.  See clips of her performance on “Fantasy Bellydance” by World Dance New York (Fayzah appears about 1:58 in). You can also see a brief glimpse of Sarah Skinner in her Salome costume as well.

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.

kathleen-crowley-ghawazee-coat-ii

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.

princess-rajah

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.

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