Belly Dance Costuming Evolves
Photos and Commentary from a Rising Star of Costume Design
by Katalin Schafer of Hungary
video interview by Lynette Harris
posted October 18, 2011
Belly dancing is a beautiful art form that has a rich cultural history, but if I am brutally honest with myself, I must admit that my interest in Belly dancing started because of those beautiful, feminine and exciting costumes rather than the actual dance movements! Sometimes, when a small girl sees her first Belly dancer, she believes that this amazing vision must be a princess! Many women still hold that small girl inside her heart who dreams of becoming a princess–at least a dance princess. Naturally, she begins taking Belly dance lessons in order to wear those breath-taking dance costumes!
When I enjoyed my first Belly dance classes, we dancer students thought that the Turkish designs were the most fashionable. They consisted of four parts: the loose skirt, a fully decorated belt and bra, at least one matching arm decoration, and a veil.
The skirts were mostly made of synthetic chiffon fabric that was slightly transparent.
The costume fabrics were covered with cheap palettes, sequins and pearls and were excessively heavy.
Nowadays, the Turkish designers still produce these secondary lines, but they have also started to use excellent silks and crystal decorations for the bedlah (bra, belt and skirt ensemble) and their designs reveal more of the dancer’s body.
One of the most famous Turkish designers today is Bella. Turkish designers prefer neon colors and other brilliantly hued fabrics.
While the definitive cradle of classic Belly dance is largely unknown, its central location today is, of course, Cairo. This wonderful, teeming capital of Egypt sets many of the current trends in both cabaret and country (Beledi) costumes.
Egyptian costumes usually have 3 basic parts: the narrow skirt with its attached belt, a matching bra, as well as arm, head, and throat (choker) decorations.
The Egyptians tend to decorate the skirt heavily–not just the hip-line but the entire fabric!
They prefer to hand-apply motifs on fabrics such as sequined leopard-skin appliques, flowers, or any other recognizable pattern. For the most part, Egyptian designers and dancers prefer the classic and primary colors like red, blue, yellow, green, black, or white.
There are many creative and fantastic designers leading the fashion life in Cairo; among them today are: Sahar Okasha, Halah Mustafa, Hisham Osman or Eman Zaki. These fantastic Arabic designers have renewed existing costume fashions with their modern ideas, and they have begun to use, in addition to the usual fabrics, lace and other textiles that feature special decorations such as pearls, wooden beads, shells, or anything that they can imagine to enhance their designs. I am often inspired by the creativity of Egyptian designers!
When I created my Belly dance costume brand that I call "SCH-Fashion", I started to design my own costumes and those for my dancers who are in my dance theatre. I would like to find my own unique way of costuming because I work from my heart. I like the shear, light and elegant 100% pure silk costume that feels as if I have nothing on my body and gives me a free-flowing energy, and I prefer the smokey, autumn colors.
For folkloric dance, there are different styles such as Saidi, Khaligy, Beledi, Fallahi, Melaya Leff, etc. Of course, these costumes cannot have a very haute-couture appearance because they must adhere to their traditional origin, but nowadays, the creative designers show us also the opulent look in folkloric costuming as well. They are using more excellent fabrics and unusual decorations than they did a few years ago.
Because our colorful dance form is still living, changing, and evolving day-by-day, the costume designers will inspire us endlessly. This movement is a never-ending energy flow full of elegance and ferocity, sensuality and femininity. I hope that I will be a part of this wonderful Oriental dance life for a long time.
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