Two of Antique Textiles:
Costuming Before the Reign of Egyptian Costumers
can only be understood backwards;
But it must be lived forwards.”
quotation has fascinated me for many years; it seems to promise
that, somehow, --someday, I might be able to look back on my life
as a professional dancer and a dance teacher with some clarity
and understanding. Perhaps I will have some epiphany about why
I chose dance rather than a career that would actually make sense
financially! Apparently, what I have overlooked is, as long as
I am still living, all I—or anyone can do is continue to live
life looking forward while gathering as much baggage as it is
possible to drag along until it is so unmanageable that sorting
and letting go of bits and pieces becomes not only desirable—but
form I first embraced held charms and challenges for me, unparalleled
by today’s versions.
view today’s dance values as interlopers—meant to mitigate Belly
dance’s checkered past by exchanging its innate free emotional
expression for speed and difficulty of execution and an over-the-top
outpouring of energy that is neither sensual or exotic.
Well, no matter:
whatever its ultimate destiny, I love it still and have slowly
come to appreciate more fully the allure of the art that we lovingly
once called “Belly dance.”
came into my life in the close of 1969 as an intriguing, exotic
idea. However, by the 1970s, it caused me to focus on many skills
that, most probably, would have escaped my attention had I continued
teaching Kindergarten in public school. Certainly, I would have
missed the opportunity to explore and expand my skills for costuming
myself in recycled antique textiles, beadwork, tassels, and handmade
lace, as well as learning to care for and appreciate these items.
In this regard, my indulgence in Belly dance widened my interests
in collecting, displaying, and repairing certain antique fabrics
as well as recognizing them as artworks.
a photo of me, circa 1975, in a little homemade costume that I cooked
up from two kilos of deep blue bugle beads, along with sew-on jewels
and blue mirrors from Green & Co., New York. However, the item
in this photo that I loved the most was the iris-sequined skirt
that I made from what had an ornate flapper’s dress back in the
‘20s. It had already seen hard use when I purchased it at a local
flea market, and though it needed airing, I knew better than to
attempt to wash it!
sequins from the twenties and earlier were not the hardy plastic
shiners that we use today. Various materials--from metal pieces
to gel and bone--went into the making of these shiny tidbits.
tulle base fabric had a field of creamy white iris sequins that
reflected pink, green, blue, and white. I simply cut the dress
slightly below its worn armholes, opened its side seams and applied
a casing for elastic.
I danced in
this skirt many times and had to repair it numerous times because
its ground fabric—the tulle--was delicate. When one dances, accidents
happen! One accident happened that became the ultimate demise
of this beautiful dance skirt. I lost the use of it when the
fabric was approximately 70-75 years old, and though I was saddened
to lose it as part of my costume wardrobe, I like to think that
it met its demise in an honorable way! A partier accidentally
sprayed me with champagne one evening; the gelatin sequins not
only softened in spots, but also they began to smell like a long
day at the beach! It was so hard to say goodbye—until one had
good a good whiff of it…
Bra Designed from Two Collar Pieces
was greatly enamored of items containing mirrors and was thrilled
to find a 1940s dress with a cute little flower design collar
appliqué made of beads and tiny mirrored button-like pieces.
I easily divested the ugly navy crepe dress (with discolored armpits)
of its appliqué pieces and sewed them onto a simple bra.
the theme by coupling it with a flowered skirt, shown here while
I was doing “floor-work.” Floor dancing was very popular in the
‘70s and ‘80s because the Egyptian craze had not yet hit the United
States. However, because of so-called floor-work, many costumes
experienced extremely hard wear; I learned to sew my costumes
with tough carpet and button thread pulled through a little brick
of bee’s wax for strength and perspiration resistance.
‘40s Gold Mesh Handbag Bra
stretch of imagination helped me put this bra together. In just
a couple of trips to the flea market I found and purchased:
- A large
gold-mesh handbag that was in good condition,
- Gold mirror
trim that its seller had removed from some object that had disintegrated,
leaving only its rows of tiny mirrors intact.
- A dozen
antique metal tassels tipped with crystal beads that the seller
said had been part of a Victorian lampshade. (At last, I would
be the life of the party wearing at least parts of a lampshade—not
on my head but on my bra!)
- A gold
metallic crocheted lace and sequin vest.
One can remove
metal mesh (painstakingly) from another object with the use of
two pairs of needle-nosed pliers, and the mesh can be re-molded
to fit by bending its teeth together, interlocking--strategically
creating any shape desired. The effect becomes very smooth, shiny
I had never
seen mirrored trim before, and I have never seen it since! It
wore very well, but over the years of use on my bra, my salty
perspiration tarnished the golden mirror backs in places. Still,
tarnished or not, nothing has the reflecting power of mirrors
(and I had been lucky enough to find gold ones)! After this bra
had met its inevitable retirement date, I saved the mirror trim
that remained salvageable, and I plan to re-use it in the refurbishing
of another dance item.
the few antique metallic tassels that remained intact, I will
re-employ in the renovation of one of my old dance belts.
1920s Dress That Became a Greatly Admired Costume Skirt
item of costuming that I made, similar to the famous white iris-sequined
skirt, drew a great amount of admiration and comment from the
dancers of my era. This black evening dress came from the flapper
era. I think that the resulting skirt was more widely admired
than my water-shy white iris one because of its unusual design
and the fact that it was on soft tulle rather than silk like many
of the skirts and slinky dresses of the ‘10s and ‘20s. I think
that perhaps more of the flapper dresses held together a bit longer
because they were designed with tulle rather than silk, which
seemed to have a very short half life in rigorous party surroundings.
I still have
this skirt—and its fabric is, I estimate, nearly 90 years old!
I have retired it from dance use, though I still put it on occasional
display. I danced in it on numerous occasions (among them, Jamila
Salimpour’s “Great Eastern Faire” held at the Belleview Hotel’s
Crystal Ballroom in San Francisco, in 1982).
Jet and Marcasite Beaded Bra
dancer who aspired to dance as much as possible, had to have her
so-called “ethnic look,” and this was one of mine. It consisted
of heavy stripped harem pants and a finely made “German silver”
headpiece featuring fish and other tiny objects, (purchased from
and antique shop) coupled with a real gold coin necklace (coins
purchased individually from an international coin dealer) and
a custom designed metal lacy belt with real coins (purchased from
the San Francisco Coin Exchange) dangling from it.
made a simple bra and adorned it with old jet bead appliqués that
I removed from a tattered woman’s jacket from the 1800s (purchased
from an antique dealer).
until later that I learned that jet beads had been worn in mourning
clothing in the Victorian era, but by that time, jet beads had
entered a window of resurgent popularity, and I still loved wearing
this lightweight costume bra as I danced my Belly dance fantasy
“ethnic” floor routine.
Part Three of Antique Textiles: A New Life for Them in Dance
I will show those of you who are still interested in more of these
odd costuming bits and their sources, a dance belt I used for
nearly thirty years. Shown in the midst of its most recent renovation,
I will tell you the secret of its bizarre origin. Additionally,
I will explain why yet another dance belt of antique lace (and
other items) was over thirty years in the making!
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4-18-07 Antique Textiles:
Renewed Life for Dance by Najia Marlyz
fact, we often danced for many little luncheon gigs in offices
and other places as a surprise birthday
gift—to the music of our own solo sagat. Now, that is a skill
that I have never seen anyone repeat since the early seventies!
Lace and My Muses Part
1: Egyptian Mummy Lace or “Assiute Cloth”
by Najia Marlyz
I fastened around my hips a white Assuite cloth
encrusted with gold knots throughout, forming pictographs of falcons,
pyramids, crosses, and diamond shaped designs.
Dancer of the Year Pageant 2007 Sunday Photos, Photos by Michael
Baxter, Photo Prep by Michelle Joyce, May 27, 2007 Danville, California,
produced by Leea. The competition for the Finalists.
Tribute to Reema by Taaj
said, “The day of the contest, backstage we could all just
feel her. We were like, ‘This is for Reema! She’s
Belly Dance, Through the Eye of the
Camera by Ishtar
dominate photography and film industries in both the west and
the east. As well as ideas concerning the status of the dancer
and gender, films involving belly dancers can give us information
on the class dynamic and stratification that exists.
Music Copyright Law for Belly Dancers
(or for any Performing Artist) by Yasmin
Hollywood blockbuster movies down to clips on YouTube the law
is the same and it applies to anyone who uses someone else’s
music for their own purposes.