Costuming Trends 1987
At the Rakkasah Festival
by Najia Marlyz
Published Habibi, vol. 10, number two July 20, 1987
Re-written for GS March 19, 2013
posted May 12, 2013
Although the trend at Rakkasah ‘87 was definitely toward better dancing than we have seen in the past; the costuming I saw would be high on anyone’s list of worn-out ideas. Nowadays, we have more and more of almost everything; it is immediately apparent that there is more material in the skirts—such as double skirts, ruffles, tatters, tiers, beads, and even elaborate sequined patterns, and embroidery. All in all, a more covered look exists on the stages of today, 1987. Yet, in spite of more flesh coverage, we are seeing less and less of those hideously baggy, heavy opaque harem pants with elastic ankles that once were so popular among young women of the ‘60s who claimed that they "hated their legs". I rarely hear that statement anymore, and good riddance to it.
Many of our dancers are demonstrating greater versatility in their dancing costumes and in performing various styles of dance lately. Sometimes they are dancing in shoes, completing a complex, sophisticated costume, and next they might be appearing barefoot in beledi (country style) costumes, dancing to music of the fellahin (peasants). What appears to have become passé seems to be wearing those little gold or silver shell style flat shoes. Also, there are so many better alternatives to having to resort to wearing a ballet shoe or the barefoot look for use in performance of ethnic-styled bellydancing. More often now, dancers follow the custom of Lebanese show dancers and perform in costume-matching high heeled shoes, some with platforms.
Ankle Bracelets and Such
Moving a little higher up on the anatomy, but not far, we have noted newly introduced little attentions to the ankles that are reminiscent of the Egyptian countryside “khol-khal” (ankle bracelet). Unfortunately, not all of these ankle treatments turn out to be a satisfactory asset. They ranged this year from sequined stretch bands or tattoos to ankle chains with coins and bells. (At least, tattoos cannot fall off or get stuck in your skirt’s hem!) While wearing these extra costume accessories, one must take care to wear the costume in a long enough length below the ankle, because ankle adornments draw attention and can give the dancer, a "big footed" look that is even worse when emphasized by a sparkly bangle. Considering the lack of pleasing foot technique often seen in belly dancers, this is a flaw in costuming that we cannot afford! The whole effect foreshortens the dancer, giving her a shorter appearance, and ends up featuring her bunions while she blithely dances pigeon toed–without realizing the harm she is doing to both her appearance and the future health of her feet.
Longer Beaded Fringe
This year, beads on the bedlah are even longer than they were last year. The use of long beaded fringe is a definite trend today, with its roots in Cairo. These long hand-beaded fringes can hang nearly to the dancer’s knees and are quite heavy; and although they are definitely gorgeous, they seem to have a life of their own. They are difficult to dance in because, exactly like a ship in water, they have inertia and must be dealt with constantly. They always seem to be syncopating to the actual beat of the music, causing a struggle. Oh, well! Perhaps we should suffer a little for our art and our fantasies!
This year, fewer people seem to have indulged in last year’s ill-conceived distraction theory. The thought was that if one wears the dance belt placed about 2 inches below the navel, paunches of fat (sometimes known as muffin tops) are thought to be hidden. However, the ploy seldom works! Today, we are seeing belts follow the bikini line, and those who feel they have paunches are, instead, taking a cue from the Cairenes and corralling those muffin tops into variations of the body stocking. Good; the less pasty, white flesh, we see flopping languidly over sequins, the better for everyone. Actually, the trend of wearing belts lower on the torso seems to be aided by using some of the fancy leotards being marketed this year for aerobics enthusiasts who are into fashion wear for the gym. Updated leotards are a fantastic accessory help to the costume world, but I think their use is becoming overdone when used as the basis of an ethnic costume en troupe.
Bracelets and Arm Pieces
I was pleased to note that many more arm adornments were used this year, other than the occasional heavy Afghani slave-bracelets and cuffs of the past. Now we have gloves, (short and long, fingers cut off or not) gauntlets (one and two), armbands (wide and narrow, fringed and not), sleeves (puffed, hanging, and Dolman), as well as cascades of beads, sequins, coins, mirrors, bells, etc. All this effort seems to have resulted in an unexpected bonus: namely, more sensible, related arm carriage and movement. My theory is that armed treatments have caused the dancer to be more aware of her arms so that she tends to flail less and not dance with arms grotesquely, and quite unnecessarily, held high overhead, endlessly waving to and fro, often slapping her in the face. I am convinced that awareness is half or more of our arm distress in performance.
Headdresses and Hats
Finally, we dancers have welcomed a variety of toppings, which like ice cream sundaes, sometimes have grown to over-kill proportions. I urge a "back to moderation" movement with the over-blown belly dance headdresses! Great gobs of plumes have their place, wafting in the Las Vegas air, worn by pretty, bare-breasted women, parading in formations with their buns on glorious display. However, their enlarged headpieces, attempting to make up for a lack of costuming elsewhere, hamper dance movement and cause an unpleasant limitation in range of speed. Better solutions were seen at this year’s Rakkasah Festival on Dahlena (a beaded Juliet cap) Horacio Cifuentes (inventive little horned owl-like headband) Alexandria (a small pill box hat with Orientalist frou-frou), and many others that showed innovation were as welcome on stage as a summer breeze.
My main point of this 1987 Rakkasah report was recently voiced by Hayat, a dancer from Richmond, California, who said, "A few years ago, we had a uniform: bra, belt, skirt, and/or harem pants with veil, rectangular or circular. Now, dancers feel more freedom to create something new, because they acknowledge that the dancers in Egypt are also searching for new styles."
Birgitta of Berlin on the right?
Vince Delgado is the drummer on right
Is this Stasha on the right?
Is this Sharlyn‘s Silk Road?
Ready for more?
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