Gilded Serpent presents...

Bellydancing Fashionably

by Martha Duran
posted May 26, 2009

Is there such a thing as “good taste” in Bellydance costuming? I haven’t met any dancer until now who doesn’t get distracted over a vendor’s space filled with bedlas of all colors, veils, jewelry & hip sashes, in other words, anything that sparkles makes a bellydancer drool. Many of us dancers do impulse shopping without being selective: ¨Whatever shines, is mine¨.

While surfing the internet or getting to know many vendors in the USA during several workshops, dance festivals and competitions, we Bellydancers are fortunate to meet locals who travel to Egypt and hand pick their merchandise, upload their selections of new styles on their web site catalogs and even do special troupe purchases and wholesale shopping for their costumers; but do all this guarantee good taste?

Most vendors reflect quality through their pricing; some of them carry Middle Eastern designer-apparel, a few carry self or hand made high or low quality items. Many will sell you a bang for your buck and focus on the fact that Egyptians have manufactured the merchandise, and that makes the prices higher.

So whom can you trust? Who’s your style ally? Who can become your shopping buddy? What’s the fashion etiquette in Bellydance? Are there such things as “do’s and don’ts” in Middle Eastern dancewear?

Well, many don’ts can be found in a very interesting and hilarious log that I found months ago while surfing the net. It’s called ¨Home of the Goddess of Ugly Belly Dance Costumes ¨ What were they Thinking?  

A Goddess, as she calls herself, who prowls the web for "fugly¨, as she designates certain Bellydance memorable costumes. The Goddess says that, apparently, a dancer happens to find a costume that would make me wonder: “Why?”

The Goddess manages her blog with the only purpose of educating subscribers and an occasional visitor.  Personally, I find it to be very amusing; the costuming ideas we get are sometimes incredible but there is no one there to correct us.

It’s surprising what some sellers convince us to buy in their auction sites.

I find hilarious when a dancer attempts theme Bellydancing, for instance, a stars and stripes costume symbolizing our USA or costumes meant specifically for a Christmas Bellydance, and my personal favorite: Made From Leftovers! Why? Why? Why do dancers inflict this on themselves?

What makes a Tribal Bellydancer think that a Tribal Fusion Bellydancer should wear scraps as adornment while they are dancing rituals or merely Tribal dancing?

Sometimes it is a little insulting to realize what some dancers use as elements of their copy-paste image. Most of us have seen a show of a Rachel Brice wannabe that didn’t really understand it when she tried to copy Rachel’s style. When someone replaces an item with something similar in order to copy another person, the adornments on the costume loose their meaning.

Costume sketch of Gargan, a multibreasted dancing figure from Jabba the Hut’s palace in the movie, "Return of the Jedi."

Many Tribal Bellydancers don’t understand where the idea of using tassels on a hip belt originated or why dancers use studded bracelets so they hang a silky or acrylic curtain tassels on their hips, knit a few braids here and there with leftover sparkly ribbon or yarn from a winter scarf, or adorn themselves with acrylic bangles on their wrists in mismatch colors. What makes them Tribal-fashionable? A corset? A skull here? A tattoo there? Not the scraps they used: Bellydancers don’t wear leftovers! A Bellydancer’s costume symbolizes some part of the Middle Eastern culture.

“The costume represents how we really feel about ourselves, and the odd thing is that the costume also represents freedom. It doesn’t matter freedom from what; all that matters is that women can feel good about themselves for a few amazing moments.” –Leyla Najma

In the early days, women usually wore the native caftan/kaftans while dancing. Caftans mostly concealed the contours of the body, with only a scarf or belt tied around the hips to highlight the movements (not the whole closet and jewelry box).  Dancers from tribes like the Ouled Nail wore cuffs and bracelets with studs and spikes as self defense accessories to protect themselves from the hands of not-so-gentlemen, not ugly looking jewelry made from scrap leftover from an ‘80s necklace!

My uncle is married to a wonderful Middle Eastern woman. She always says that as my ¨khaltic¨ (an aunt on the father’s side) she will look after me in whatever I do, wherever I am. She has been very enthusiastic about my Bellydancing and always looks out for any ethnic mistake in my wardrobe or in my dancing and then, she reminds me:

“Always remember that you’re representing a country’s culture!  Sometimes, less is more; sometimes, more is less.”

Consequently, every time I get near a store or vendor, I keep in mind that I have a fashion guru in my family. (…Not that I haven’t bought an ugly costume myself!)

Not every Bellydancer has her own khaltic, born and raised in Arab countries, but we all have our superheroes in Bellydance, who personally helps you on what you want or need in Bellydance wear and nicely offers you the ethnically correct costume options available for the dance you want to represent. We also have an outstanding selection of costume apparel in designer bedlas handmade in Egypt and chosen personally in Egypt by
trustworthy dancer-sellers who reach out to all dancers by bringing to the USA high quality costuming at affordable prices.

But beware! —Not all sellers are worthy of your trust, as you can see in the wide selection of “fugly” costumes have been available to us on multiple sites.

Sometimes you can even bump into sellers overseas who guarantee you will get Bellydance Superstars’ costumes but you end up with a “Made in China” as evidenced by a low quality faux hip scarf, a stiff veil or a “see-thru” butterfly top adorned with acrylic beads all over. You may even encounter one unconscionable Egyptian vendor who never sends you your merchandise, like the case I read in this blog: (It is here where a woman, Israa el Metwalli, and a man, Mokbel Mohi el Dine, took the money then vanished.)

The “Do´s and Don’ts” in Bellydance are all over the Internet; terrible costumes, horrible sellers, and disasters are bound to happen, but thank Heaven we have our beautifully costumed stars of Bellydance to set an example!

Ouled Nail  by Ger Daniels


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