Not So Steampunk Belly Dance
by Jasmine June Cabanaw
posted February 26, 2011
As Tribal Fusion belly dance has gained momentum, so too has the incorporation of steampunk fashion in Tribal Fusion costuming. Tribal Fusion being the tricky genre that it is, some people have begun coining the term “steampunk belly dance”. While this seems innocent enough, using terms without properly defining what they mean can lead to a slippery slope of “everything” belly dance. We need to remember that belly dance is based on movement and not on aesthetic. It is belly dance, not belly fashion.
Steampunk is an aesthetic that draws from science fiction, fantasy, and eras in which steam power was in popular use- primarily Edwardian and Victorian. Belly dancers who don costuming influenced by steampunk mix lace with stockings and top hats and industrial metal (like coin bras made from washers and metal chains). In San Francisco, Tribal Fusion belly dancers frequent the store Five and Diamond, in which ruffles and Victorian-era lace can be found amongst gears and rivets.
It makes sense that steampunk fashion would be used in Tribal Fusion costuming. Tribal Fusion is already theatrical and fantasy oriented, just like steampunk. That is to say, that the influence of steampunk has been a natural progression. However, it is important to note that the theatrical quality in Tribal Fusion proceeded steampunk; Tribal Fusion set the stage for a variety of costuming styles.
“Steampunk” bands, like Abney Park, dress in the full steampunk regalia and have “steampunk” belly dancers perform live to their music. The steampunk is in quotations here, because how can a band or a dance be defined by an aesthetic? The answer is that something that is music or movement based simply cannot be defined as “steampunk” For example, if one was to listen to Abney Park without having seen what the band looks like, steampunk wouldn’t come to mind because steampunk isn’t a musical genre.
Steampunk isn’t a dance genre either, in belly dance or otherwise.
To label a belly dancer as steampunk is misleading; it’s not the belly dancer who is steampunk, but her costume. The Tribal Fusion dancer, Rose Harden– who has been labeled steampunk by some- shed some light on the subject. She pointed out that photos of belly dancers in costume are so easily accessible because of the Internet. When a person who does not know much about belly dance sees these costumes, it is easy for them to label the dance based on what they see in the photograph. For example, while researching this article, the dancer Fayzah was mentioned in several articles about steampunk. Yet she has stated that her costuming and performances are not influenced by steampunk. In one of her costume pieces, she wears pinstripe cuffs, which could be defined as steampunk fashion, but this does not mean that her entire style is steampunk. It just goes to show you that we should not define a belly dancer by her costume!
Since Tribal Fusion is also easily accessible, there have been dancers who begin performing and calling themselves professional when really they are just hobbyists. A professional belly dancer would never label her dance genre based on an aesthetic.
As for the hobbyists, some fall into the trap of calling themselves steampunk (or some other creative title) because they don’t understand what belly dance truly is. If a dancer wants to be professional, she needs to keep in mind that belly dance is more than just its costuming.
"These pictures are from a Steampunk Convention where I was a costume vendor.
I saw on Facebook that you needed some Steampunk costume pictures. I just now thought that you probably mean Steampunk belly dance costumes. Hmm….oh, well. I am attaching some regular Sp costumes just in case you can use them. "
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