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.
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.
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.
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.
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.