Bellydance Costuming 101

Jeweled fabric
Whirling Dervish
Whirling Dervish
A dervish or darvesh is someone guiding a Sufi Muslim ascetic down a path or "Tariqah", known for their extreme poverty and austerity. Their focus is on the universal values of love and service, deserting the illusions of ego to reach God. In most Sufi orders, a dervish is known to practice dhikr through physical exertions or religious practices to attain the ecstatic trance to reach God. Their most common practice is Sama which is associated with Rumi. | Whirling Dervish, Sufi, Spinning, Dress, Bellydance, Red,

A primer in Turkish, Egyptian, Tribal, and American styles

From playful to flirtatious, from grounded to compelling, belly dance styles can be found all over the world. Each form has its personal style and music. So it’s easy to assume as there are many different styles of dance and music, there is just as much regarding variety in costume apparel.

At first glance, there may be assumptions that all belly dance costumes are the same, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Along with different textures, dyes and adornments, each costume style comes from a different distinct region. This article serves to review four major styles currently seen in the belly dance community with their primary characteristics and influences.

Turkish Style

Turkish Oriental style costuming was what defined the ‘look’ of belly dance in the US during the 60's and 80's. The traditional Turkish costume consists of a matching bra and belt set with long fringe and a full skirt made to show off the form of the dancer. You won't see pants or dresses with this style.

Often skirts can be found with thigh-high slits over both legs or with hip accentuations already designed into the skirt rather than wearing a separate belt. V-shaped hip scarfs are considered to be a unique element to Turkish costumes. Other adornments may include big hairstyles, with lots of bracelets and armbands stacked up high. Veils are seen wrapped around the dance before a performance.

The silhouette look of the costume is simple, so many costume designers have added touches of originality to these looks by adorning their pieces with ornate jewelry such as crystals, rhinestones, beads, and sequins, or a lot more fringe and appliques. Another method to make the costumes stand out more is adding cutouts to the design or added pieces such as unattached sleeves.

In contrast to the Turkish Oriental style is Turkish Roman. Here we see a different look that involves more layers of fabric, covered bellies and less sparkle.

Egyptian Style

Egyptian Style can be broken up into two primary forms: baladi and Raqs Sharqi, and each folkloric style has its associated costume, which influences the dancer's style.

Rachel Brice
Rachel Brice

Rachel Brice is a contemporary performer in Tribal Fusion Style Belly Dance based in Portland, Oregon. She is the artistic director and choreographer for The Indigo Belly Dance Company and an original (and frequent) performer with the Bellydance Superstars. In June 2011 she opened her own dance studio in Portland, OR, called Studio Datura. There she hosts regular dance classes along with workshops from her 8 Elements™ Approach to Belly Dance training program. | Photo: | Link |
A baladi dancer will be seen wearing a formal galabiya as it is prohibited for midriffs to be exposed in Egyptian dancing. A galabiya is a full-length cotton gown worn by the performer and comes with wide sleeves.

Often, they are decorated with embroidery along the hem, collar, sleeves and skirt. A scarf can sometimes be tied for dancing, but otherwise, the garment is worn loosely. These are meant for more traditional folk dances.

The costuming for modern Raqs Sharqi is seen as less folkloric favoring soft, flowing looks instead. The majority of pieces are made up of two-piece lycra costumes, usually a bra and decorated skirt or dress. A body stocking in a mesh color that matches the skirt is also worn in observance of the law.

The looks of these dancers invoke images of Las Vegas and Elvis Presley with enough glitz that the dancers can be seen across vast rooms. A full costume ensemble will include a gown (or bra/skirt) plus headband, sleeves, and veil.

Tribal Style

American Tribal Style has a distinctive and colorful appeal of costuming in the belly dance community. There is a feeling of character with this style as it utilized elements from around the world such as cholis from India, Afghan jewelry, and tassels.

These costumes are a thick, layered look and make use of skirts that are over 25 yards of fabric on top of harem pants. Many of these costumes are made with natural materials such as cotton or rayon due to the amount of layering involved. Cholis or vests are worn alone or with decorated bras on top.

Bellydancer in silk
Bellydancer in silk

A modern bellydancer in a silk outfit. The amazing think about silk is that it's a natural protein fiber, some forms of which can be woven into textiles. The protein fiber of silk is composed mainly of fibroin and is produced by certain insect larvae to form cocoons. The best-known silk is obtained from the cocoons of the larvae of the mulberry silkworm Bombyx mori reared in captivity (sericulture). The shimmering appearance of silk is due to the triangular prism-like structure of the silk fibre, which allows silk cloth to refract incoming light at different angles, thus producing different colors. |
Jewelry leans more towards more cultural and ethnic looks rather than glitter and stones. Tassels, turbans, and tattoos are commonly seen in these looks. Bigger is better is a common theme in Tribal Style, and is regarded with makeup applied dramatically and ethnic hairstyles created with braids, dreads or hair falls to give added dimension. To complete the look, many dancers add several flowers or ornate headpieces made of cowry shells.

American Style

Classic American belly dancers enjoy a wide variety of styles and adornments in their costumes. There is a bigger feel of glamor in the style due to the influences of the Middle Eastern movie industry. While the style shares movements and forms with traditional Eastern dance, Classic American Style is allotted more freedom in the interpretations of the dancer's apparel.

Usually, an American dancer will wear a two-piece outfit that is made up of an adorned bra top, vest, or blouse paired with a skirt or harem pants. The midsection may be visible, but it is not a requirement. Dancers with sewing skills will use fabrics such as silk, satin, lace, or chiffon as the base of the costume, or even a belly cover up. They then add sequins or beading to make them pop. Glitter or metallic materials are seen in these styles.

For accessories, hip belts are customary, and usually, match or complement the bra or top. The belt is either made up of coins or beads sewn into a V-shaped piece of fabric. Other pieces such as necklaces, armbands, bracelets, rings, headpieces, earrings, bindis and ankle bracelets are also worn. When it comes to jewelry, American dancers enjoy pieces that pop with glitter and shine.

There are other forms of American costumes, ranging from simple, delicate pieces to more elaborate creations that borrow or reinterpret different styles, making many looks original. Sometimes dancers can be seen wearing simple lycra pants with matching petal skirts, or items such as fishnet and tulle.

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Updated Jan 14, 2018 6:23 AM EST | More details


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