Traditional Mehndi Adornment

by Marie Anakee Miczak

Traditionally, along with the lovely and exotic costuming, jewelry and makeup, dancers would wear special Mehndi designs on their hands to draw more attention to their movements. Mehndi, the use of henna to stain the skin in India, can be incorporated into ones costume today as well quite easily. There are two ways of going about this. One way is to use real henna to stain the skin and leave a tattoo (or temtu) which can stay apparent for up to three weeks. The other way is to use a body-paint, makeup or my special fake Mehndi method which I will explain later on. Using an alternative to the staining henna can be a better option for those who do Middle Eastern dancing as a hobby or side profession and do not want their hands decorated when their not performing. Also, in the traditional dancer Mehndi design, the fingers are capped or dipped in henna meaning the nails will be stained as well. Once you stain your nails with henna, they will forever stay that lovely gold-red color until they grow out. Some women are not pleased about this and for them, washable body paint or makeup would be better.

The most lovely part about the traditional dancer Mehndi design is it's shear simpleness. Definitely anyone can do it, even if they have never performed Mehndi before. After mixing the paste or buying pre-mixed henna, create a large circle in the center of your palm. You want to fill this circle completely so that you have a large, bold dot in the middle of your hand. Some finding using a circular stencil quite helpful in making the dot. After the paste has dried on both hands, scrape (do not wash) it off and apply some olive oil to the design to help it set if you like. In order to decorate your finger tips, for that capped effect, you need to mix a henna paste that is more liquid and like paint consistency. After you have done this, dip your finger into the henna about 1/8 inch past the bed of your finger nail. Let the paste dry completely before putting your hands in gloves or plastic wrap to keep the paste from chipping. You can always use an electric hair dryer to speed things up or the traditional candle
method if you're a purist. After completely dry, scrape off the dried paste and apply some oil. The temtu may appear light orange at first but don't worry, it can take a few hours or days even for the true color to appear which can be anywhere from dark brown to light red. You may wonder why such a simple design is used for dancers. Since, many dancers perform on stage or some distance away from the crowd, it would make sense that the design be simple and bold.

If you would like to use makeup in place of henna for a very temporary design, feel free to do so. You can apply the body paint or makeup using a paint brush. If using makeup, be sure to use "long ware" or "water proof" type so any sweat on your hands won't run the fake Mehndi. Keep the makeup colors in the reddish-brown family and from far away, it will look just like real Mehndi. When you're finished performing, you can simple wash it off. Let's say you want a Mehndi design that will stay put but don't have any henna at hand. You can use a little trick I've mastered which i
Mehndi: Rediscovering Henna Body Art
by Marie Anakee Miczak
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Paperback - 199 pages (1999)

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nvolves self tanner. Use very dark self tanner and apply a very tick layer for the dot in the middle of the hand and simply dip your fingers in it for the capping. It may take a while to dry completely, but the results are really good. Whatever you choose, don't use magic markers are inkpens. It looks totally phony and it's not very safe either. The ink can get into your bloodstream. Personally, I feel authentic Mehndi using henna is best but for costume purposes, fake, when done well, is acceptable as well.

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