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author Michelle along with Sandra and Zaheea model thier Bella costumes

Gilded Serpent presents...
Bella: Profile of a Costume Designer
Michelle Joyce

As belly dancers in the first world, I am not sure how many of us give thought to the conditions in which our costumes are produced.  Though the US dollar has fallen almost 40% since 2002, we are usually unwilling to accept an increase in the cost of costumes. 

Additionally, we just gobble up the cheapest costumes, rarely questioning who did all that beading and what their working conditions might be like.

I must admit that I never used to consider these things either.  I became addicted to Bella’s costumes because I found hers to be the most flattering, original and well-made costumes on the market.   But over the years as I have gotten to know Bella herself, I now know that hers is a business that I can be proud to support.

Bella has over 200 women on her payroll and insists on paying each of them a fair wage for their work. She considers it her responsibility to take care of them and knows that many have grown to depend on the income they receive from her. 

When I asked her if she would soon retire, she just frowned and said that there are too many mothers who need her to stay in business for the good of their families.

As belly dance continues to increase in popularity around the world, Bella’s business has been booming.  Though some of her costumes can be quite expensive, she still struggles to keep up with all of the orders she receives from around the globe.  But despite the extra income, she lives very, very simply and takes care of those around her.

“I am not a luxury person,” she shrugs.

If you have ever been to Bella’s Istanbul store, you know that she is compulsive about taking in stray animals.  Several dozen cats live inside the store, making it difficult to sit down for more than 10 seconds without a cuddly kitty jumping into your lap.  Bella’s store is a kitty dream home with shiny beads and string everywhere!

Though these cats (and one dog) cause no small amount of mischief, the entire store is designed to accommodate them. 

Costumes are zipped into protective suit bags and the lint roller is kept at arms length in case even a single hair should end up on the clothing of a customer.

As a customer in her shop, Bella and her warm staff personally dress you in costume after costume and you simply stand there.  They then meticulously size each costume to fit perfectly.  They are eternally patient and friendly, showing some of that old fashioned Turkish hospitality in the form of tea and treats. 

Bella will never give you a straight answer as to if you look good in any costume, so you must always bring a friend with you if you need feedback. 

“The most important thing is that you like it,” she says, refusing to give an opinion.  She would not even answer me when I asked her to discuss in general how to best costume different body types.  “The professionals know what they like already, what is the reason for saying what I like?”

Bella takes great pride in her creations and touches each and every costume with her own hands. Sometimes she sews on the stones, sometimes she beads the fringe, sometimes she sews on the sequins, but each costume has been worked on by Bella personally. And she prides herself on never making the exact same costume twice.

She is a bit of a workaholic, staying up until 2am sewing and sketching new designs at home after a long day at work.

She says that she loves to make sketches for really different costumes, but says with a sigh that they are harder to sell and that she spends most of her time doing what people want and expect from her.  Occasionally she also makes costumes for ballroom dancers and for circus performers, but she rarely has the time. 

Surprisingly, Bella had absolutely no interest in this sort of work when she was young.  Her mother was a tailor who sometimes did work for singers and dancers.  Bella went to school in hopes of doing something else, but at the age of 19 began working in her mother’s store.  She slowly grew to love the business and worked side by side with her mother for many years.  At first they only made belly dance costumes for local Turkish dancers, but when a dancer from New York came to their store it was the beginning of their international expansion.  Today, Bella reports that Korean, Japanese and American dancers are her biggest customers.

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Ready for more?
5-6-07 How to Charge What You Are Worth by MIchelle Joyce
The first step to becoming an effective negotiator is to emotionally detach yourself from the outcome. If you can’t walk away from the deal, you have already lost.

10-24-06 Adventures in Turkey 2006 by Michelle Joyce, photos by Michael Baxter
I am not exaggerating when I say that Sandra actually threw herself into Bella's arms and wept when she first laid eyes on her.

1-13-05 The Grand International Bellydance Tour or How We Fled India at Midnight, Eluding Our Captors and Evading our Go-Go-Dance Responsibilities. or What Would Fifi Do? by Michelle and Sandra
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12-18-07 Bully Belly by Tatseena
For example: a promoter is thinking about planning an event and is talking to a friend and says, “I can’t help it if some other teacher has planned a show on the same day or night; they are different styles anyway.”

12-13-07 A Report on the First International Bellydance Conference of Canada Part 2 - Sunday Club Party Photos by Denise Marino and Lynette
Live orchestra, Randa, Amir, a packed house and very festive mood. How could it be any better?

12-6-07 IBDC- Part 1 A Brand New Idea for Belly Dance: The Festival Idea in its Formative Years by Amina Goodyear
I’m speaking of a festival and its promoters that promised more than they were able to deliver.


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