Najia dancing in a lamp shade watched by
George Elias on
Textiles Part 3:
Creating Your Unique Statement
It is possible
that you may never have performed professionally while wearing
a lampshade on your head… but I have!
I dance in only a limited number of events currently, I thought
it might be amusing to reveal how one exotic piece of my “Orientalist”
costuming tomfoolery came into being when I performed during
the late ‘70s. However, nobody in my audiences long ago could
have imagined the original intent for the beautiful beaded
net I wore attached to my ponytail and draping delicately over
my face for the grand entrance dance. Soon after the megansi (entrance
dance), I lifted the softly swinging, draping beads and flipped
them back over my hair so that they framed my face and softened
the line of my hair, which I had partially pulled back into
a severe ponytail above my lose hair.
I found my
beaded hand-crocheted lampshade overlay in a local flea market,
draped over a stained shade on a little table lamp from the
‘20s. The overlay was orange, pink, green and silver, and
its construction was crocheted of green cotton thread and tiny
round beads. I received many admiring comments for the exotic
“hair ornament’ and was careful not to reveal its source nor
to reveal its original use during those times because I knew
it was laughable.
One of my
most beautiful Orientalist ethnic belts was designed for me
in about 1973. It is constructed entirely of flat brass wire
welded into its lacey swirls—somewhat in the fashion that Battenburg
lace is made of cotton tape. Even though I have previously
shown my photos, wearing this belt, here is a close up of it
alone, showing its details. Even though, certainly, my shape
changed throughout the thirty years that I was performing,
because the belt had been formed in two sections rather than
one, I was able to re-adjust it and re-back the pieces, so
that I could continue to use it in my costuming throughout
a long span of performing years. I think that it is important
to design your dance pieces so that they can be reused at a
later time without a major over-haul or so that you might pass
them on to another dancer for re-cycle.
was combing through the Alameda Flea Market one Sunday thirty
years ago, (which seems only a short time ago in retrospect)
I discovered a piece of cross-stitched tea-colored raw silk
fabric that also had been embroidered with gold thread. I made
it into a short skirt and wore it as part of my normal wardrobe
for a while.
I found a second somewhat similar piece of fabric (that was
a little bit whiter and cross-stitched in lavender and turquoise
threads) in a later safari I made through Berkeley antique
shops. I got the notion that the combination of the two fabric
pieces could become a skirt for dancing that, though not flashy
or glittering, was somewhat translucent and gauze-like and
could lend itself well to the occasional dances I did for conservative
women’s clubs and religious social groups in my area. The
skirt served me well in those venues and I still use it today
while I teach in my home studio or coach dancers in their studios.
Here is a photo of the resulting dance skirt I made from the
two pieces of fabric.
recently showed me a photo of a local dancer who has been performing
in an antique crocheted dance belt quite similar to the one
that I made in the ‘70s. I was thrilled! My crocheted belt
was truly a favorite choice for me, and I imagine that she,
too, will enjoy dancing in this style of costume that is a
slight reminder of the Victorian era. I would love to see other
dancers pursue this style as it is soft, feminine and enhances
a dance that features soft and subtle movements.
has long been one of my dreams that dancers would begin
to use and preserve lace and antique fabrics for dance
costuming once again—as well as revering and resurrecting
the old steps, movements, and sentiments of dance. Now,
a least part of my vision is coming into fruition!
for the “Victorian” belt began as soon as I laid my eyes on
a pair of old roller shades that came from a San Francisco
Victorian house that was undergoing restoration. The shades
had two pieces of crocheted lace adorning the bottom edge of
each one. I bought the shades and had the crochet pieces off
the dusty old rollers even before returning to my car. Both
pieces had to be washed and laid out in the sun to dry on a
terry towel while I prepared a backing that would serve to
show off their intricate patterns.
day, I managed to find long strands of gold mirrors at the
flea market and hand stitched the mirrors on both the belt
and the bra to integrate the two unrelated pieces. Also, to
relate the design of the bra with that of the belt, I attached
a couple of dozen antique metal tassels with glass beads on
the tips of each metal strand. This type of metal cording was
used in costuming and fancy street-wear during the late 1800s,
until about 1910-20, when less expensive fiber cords replaced
it. Perhaps it fell from favor because, originally, it was
bright and shiny but its sheen tarnished and there was virtually
no way to clean or renew its shine at that time.
crochet pieces were limp and definitely lacey in character,
to give my belt shape and body, I attached them to velvet backing
in a deep-gold color and added a layer of stiff underlay. The
decorative points at the bottom of each of each section were
perfect for jump rings holding silver and bronze coins that
I bought at the San Francisco Coin Exchange. My resulting
dance belt was light in weight, easy to put on, and it made
it easy to dance in the heat of the summer. Even now, the
belt that I made and wore throughout the ‘70s and ‘80s is,
once again, undergoing a slow restoration and remodelling.
costumes seem to take forever to finish! One of the most
striking belts I designed was over thirty years in the
for the over-long span of time was that I had found a fabulous
section of very old cord lace that someone had removed from
another garment that did not seem to blend with anything else
that I was able to find. I have no way of knowing how old
this particular piece of cord lace is, but because it is old,
it is somewhat tarnished. It has woven strands of gold, bronze,
and silver over a heavy cord design, which includes “beads”
made in the same way over something hard—like shaped cardboard
an extensive search for beaded fringe to accompany the cord
it appeared that none of the fringe or bead colors seemed to
blend with it, and it did not seem to lend itself well to coin
decorations; so, I had to put the project on hold for quite
a long time. However, it sat in the back of my mind as well
as in the back of my closet. Yet, one afternoon in Cairo, I
was drinking coffee in Mahmoud Abdel Gaffar’s
costume shop, and out of the corner of my eye, I saw a hank
of beads in a
bronze iris color that I had never seen before. I asked Mahmoud
about them, and he said that the beads were a sample and that
there was not enough of them to make a costume, --but I could
have them as a gift! I knew exactly where they were destined:
my closeted cord lace (and still imaginary) belt.
When I returned
home with the precious bronze iris beads though, I was thwarted
once again because I could not find backing in any color that
did anything special for all the other components—until I found
a piece of velvet that changed color when seen from different
directions! It was blue in the ground and dusty rose in the
hairy part of the velvet. By combining that velvet and some
dark purple velvet, I had enough material to complete my now
30-year dance belt! That set my needle in action at last, and
the belt seemed to quickly and simply assemble itself over
my summer vacation last year—before I could make any more excuses
or further delays.
just when I thought the piece was finished, this spring, a
sterling silver bracelet with inset stones of marquisette (similar
to the jewelry that was popular around 1910 or so) found its
way into my hands. After disassembling the pieces of bracelet
and sewing them into the cord lace design, here, after so many
years, this belt for dance finally found itself sewn together
and is dancing at last…
late than never,” my mom always said.
a comment? Send us a
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