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.

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Re: What Does a Steampunk Bellydancer Wear? Part 2

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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?

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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)

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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)

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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: 1001 Nights

Morgiana marks the doors of the other houses on her street to confuse the robbers. From Gustav “Tenggren’s Golden Tales from the Arabian Nights” (1957).

I was invited to perform in a local Middle Eastern dance showcase. The theme was “Dark Fairytales” and, after considerable pondering, I finally lit upon a suitable fairytale–“Ali Baba and the 40 Thieves”. Specifically, I opted to do a re-enactment of Morgiana’s dagger dance from the story.

My first act, after picking out the music, was to see how Morgiana had been interpreted through the years. One of the nice things about the Internet is that occasionally you come across someone who has already done your work for you. In my case, Sherrazah Bint al-Waha had already looked for, found, and scanned different pictures of Morgiana’s climatic dance. All of the photos cited here are taken from her web page.

Although the story of “Ali Baba” is set in Persia, as you can see, Morgiana is variously portrayed in Egyptian, Indian, Art Deco, and Orientalist garb.

An illustration from an 1890s (?) edition of the “Arabian Nights”, artist’s name not given. I would call Morgiana’s garb here Egyptian or Turkish.

A completely Art Deco Morgiana. Artist is Lacy Hussar. The picture is from the 1921 Houghton Mifflin edition of the book.

This is the illustration from the version of the “Arabian Nights” I remember as a kid, probably a reprint of the 1946 Grosset Dunlap edition. Artist is Earle Goodenow. Morgiana’s attire is much more Persian here although don’t ask me where the peaked cap and face veil came from.

Another picture of Morgiana from Gustav Tenggren’s 1957 “Arabian Nights”. His illustrations show a strong Indian influence.

For my solo, I opted to dress in as Persian-like a fashion as I could. I wore a magenta and gold kaftan over a long narrow black dress and belted it with a turquoise and white hip scarf. Over my shoulder, I wore a lavender baldrick attached to a short, realistic looking prop dagger, a sort of mini-scimitar I had just gotten from the local comic shop. The dagger was heavy and I needed both the baldrick and the hip scarf to keep it in place. My hair I simply tied back in a pony tail. I had toyed with the idea of doing a half-turban, but decided against it because it kept slipping off. As it turned out, the theater where we performed was sweltering–80 degrees and 110% humidity–so I’m glad I decided to go turban-less.

I also decided to give a Persian cast to my dance as well. From what I’ve seen, Persian dance tends to be halfway between Middle Eastern and Indian dance–small amount of hipwork, large amount of upper body work, with a strong element of mime thrown in. There is a part of Persian dance where the dancer, playing a “tough girl”, pretends to be a man, showing off her biceps. I took that as my jumping off point, figuring that imitating a man as part of her dance would give Morgiana a legitimate reason to be packing a dagger.

I opened my solo being very flirtatious and feminine, then segued into the “manly” part of the dance–showing off my muscles, shooting my bow, drawing my dagger, using it as a mirror (pretending to look into a hand mirror is another Persian element), sharpening it, splitting a hair, and, as the music sped up, engaging in mock combat. At the end, I suddenly strike, stabbing the robber captain through, wiping the blood off my sleeve, and then walking out in an unsmiling fashion.

I’m not sure how much of the “chirpy entertainment turns deadly” mood I wanted to convene got across to the audience, but they seemed to enjoy it any way.

Re: Akasha, Queen of the Darned

Barbie, Queen of the Damned.

One of my Middle Easter dance students, Jessica, decided that she wanted to portray Akasha, the lead vampire, from the movie “Queen of the Damned” for her next performance. This isn’t as far off base as it sounds. Aaliyah, the singer/actor who portrayed Akasha, wears a bellydance-inspired costume for much of the film and since Akasha is supposed to have been an Egyptian vampire, there is a Near Eastern element to the music as well. In fact, there is a scene in the movie when Akasha enters a disco and proceeds to do some very bellydancer-type isolations.

Aaliyah as Akasha wearing the iconic costume from the movie poster.

Our first problem was finding some screenshots from the movie that allowed us a good look at Akasha’s costume. You wouldn’t think that would be a problem, but it was. There were plenty of closeups, headshots, and three-quarter shots, but no full length views of Akasha. What’s up with these movie photographers anyways?

A closeup of Aaliyah as Akasha showing the vampire queen’s crown headdress made from what appears to be North African heart-shaped pendants.

The best reference pictures we could find on-line were of fan made versions of Akasha’s costumes, most of them using the movie poster version with the coiled breastplates.

Here’s a nice one. I believe its from a Brazilian carnival celebration.

Another excellent effort. This photo was taken at DragonCon 2006.

Perhaps the best fan effort I’ve seen so far (photo taken at DragonCon 2007). Love the fangs! I tried to persuade Jessica that she needed to wear some Dracula fangs for the full effect, but she refused. Spoilsport.

This fan made costume is a fusion of the movie poster version and Akasha’s copper costume (see below).

Stuart Townsend as Lestat and Aaliyah as Akasha wearing her copper costume from the latter part of the movie.

We finally had to go to the movie itself to attempt to get a good look at the costumes. If you’re planning on doing this yourself, I recommend a remote control with a fast forward button. The dialogue and acting are as wooden as the proverbial stake.

After some consideration, Jessica opted to go with a re-creation of Akasha’s copper costume from the last third of the movie–a sort of the Nefertiti meets Xena, Warrior Princess look. The major part of the costume is a copper collar/breastplate with a matching hip belt. The rest is simplicity itself–a white circle skirt made from what appears to be lightweight white cotton and with matching sleeves attached to copper armbands.

When she gets it built, I’ll take some pictures and post them. Vampire bellydancers–a concept whose time has come.

Re: Mata Hari

Dancer Sarah Skinner models her reproduction Mata Hari costume.

Generally speaking, most Middle Eastern dancers (aka bellydancers) don’t try to create characters when we dance. Our time slot is short, we’re dancing in an informal venue (e.g. restaurant or private home), and we’re just trying to interpret the mood of the music and make sure that the audience has a good time. Our costumes are chosen for their color and flash. Middle Eastern dancers and dance shows typically try to create a Near Eastern (or a Western idea of what the Near East is like) atmosphere.

But every now and then we do get the opportunity to create a stage piece, a dance that tells a story.

Most of us know or have heard of Mata Hari–a dancer, femme fatale, and spy who seduced men for information and was subsequently executed as a traitor. Sarah Skinner became fascinated with Mata Hari (actually Margaretha Zelle’s) story  and was determined to re-create not only the costume, but the dance performance that made her a star. Orientalism–the West’s fascination by and distrust of the “exotic” East–was a driving force in Mata Hari’s career as a dancer just as it shapes Middle Eastern dance today.

On her blog, ShakeMyDay , Sarah discusses the process of creating the costume and the dance. Unfortunately, while there are many great costume pictures, there are no clips of Sarah actually doing the dance. I may have to break down and buy Gothic Bellydance 2 in order to see it.

Sarah’s costume blog also details her other costumes and performances.