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