I have given this subject a lot of thought lately and as I was watching dance videos today I decided that I would write about it. My purpose here is to bring attention to an area I feel could be made better, not to bash anyone for their ability to sew or their budget for costuming. A critique is meant to show a technique that may be improved upon, not a criticism of the individual.
I was brought up in the belly dance culture to believe that what we do as belly dancers is representative of all belly dancers by the public viewer. And, in fact, over the years I have heard the comparisons from people I have spoken with after a dance performance or even when I and my fellow dancers are being hired for conventions, birthday parties and other special events. This includes what we wear.
On my website and in my studio I started referring to the clothing that belly dancers wear as attire, ensembles and outfits and I found that students started taking more care and pride in the clothing that they wear. I see less of the "not really harem pants' riding up at the ankle or pulling down at the hip, or for Pete's sake, the waist. In my studio we wear harem pants and hip scarves when we practice, sometimes an over skirt and a short peasant blouse or Arabic vest. With no differentiation in performance and work out wear students and dancers can see themselves executing isolations and small sharp movements more clearly. They also know exactly how the ensemble works with the dance. I tell them that they are training their veils, skirts, etc. to perform well. But, seriously, it gives the dancer a complete view of the movement and how it appears to the audience. Less "my leg movements are weird" and more "wow! my hip movements are so clean."
Through books on costuming, my first teacher Pat, my second teacher Zuleka and scores of other dance influences over the years, I have been told that "Your costume should always have a finished look to it" and that "...appearance of costuming should enhance what we want noticed and/or obscure what we wish diminished" and using these two guide lines for costuming I think I have made beautiful costumes for myself and for others. Belly dance attire is highly personal and as such, what one dancer feels is beautiful another dancer may look upon as odd or not-beautiful. Well, that's what keeps us from looking all the same!
My observations while watching videos of dancers that Monday morning were:
- Un-decorated bra straps.
- Hooks of the bra not covered.
- Fraying and un-hemmed veil and skirt edges.
- Costume pieces that plainly do not fit.
- Underwear - yes underpants, panties, boy shorts, yuck!
My views may also seem somewhat elitist but I don't want to wear something to perform in that a non-dancer can pick up at the swap meet or a that an audience member comments on as "Oh, I bought the bra just like you put those sequins on at Target last month!" When women come into my shop and look at bra tops they are often surprised that they are made on a store bought bra base. This tells me that when I'm dancing folks are not thinking about my underwear.
You may be looking for a simplistic approach to your costuming but an uncovered bra strap is simply an unfinished bra. Using a woven ribbon or trim in a color that matches or complements your costume goes a long way in telling your audience that you are passionate about what you do.
I find personally that when the belly dancer turns around, lifts her hair and shimmies and I am seeing the three sets of hooks on the back of that bra, I am not paying attention to her dance but the state of her clothing. I've always said that belly dance is one part music, one part dancer and one part costume. So if the dancer mentioned above turns and lifts her hair and I see a neatly covered bra strap or a beaded/sequined applique cleverly covering the hook&eyes (a non-dancer probably would not even know what the applique is being used for) my mind may register it but my eye will drop down to the hips and focus on the shimmy.
Ragged and uneven edges to veils and skirts are a fad that comes around every once in a while and has a whimsical feel to it. If you are going for the ragged edge on your dance pieces be aware that it is a planned and sot after effect. If you have a frayed out skirt or veil edge it is not the same thing. Upon closer inspection you will see that ragged and uneven edges are usually hemmed or Fray Checked and sometimes trimmed with single-row-sequin or a hand beaded over-stitched edge.
I tell my dancers to always practice dancing in a new piece or whole ensemble to make sure that it does it's job. That is: to move well and stay in place. Make adjustments before you perform not after you, and many others, have seem what is wrong with it!
In conclusion I want to say, belly dance attire is a strong part of the dance, it is a passion of mine and I hope yours! It helps our audiences see past the reality and into the possibilities. And, plain and simple, our belly dance attire makes us feel good. Pick up a needle or plug in the sewing machine and start, finish or fix your outfit. If necessary, sign up for a sewing class or open YouTube and learn to sew. You will be rewarded with a feeling of accomplishment, as well as, the awe and praise of others.
Dancing with love, Samrah