Part of the joy of Middle Eastern belly dance is the opportunity to “let go” and become an alternate form of ourselves. With our personas come new names, personalities and wardrobes.
Most dancers select a “dance name,” often a more exotic version of their own name or a name whose meaning suits their personality. This moniker is often selected from the Middle East where interesting Arabic names abound.
Dance attire creates the dance image you would like to project. Are you a Cabaret dancer? Tribal? Fusion? A Gypsy?
Clothing can enhance your dance yet can also detract. Selecting the right costume for your body type, image and audience is as important as your dance ability.
In the Beginning …
Okay, you signed up for your first belly dance class. Now what do you wear?
One important thing to remember is that this is not aerobics class at the gym. Though some instructors may beg to differ, I ban tennis shoes from class. Belly dance is an earth dance and, thus, the feet should be grounded to the earth … in our case, the floor. To this end, barefoot is best but impractical. Floors can be dirty, sticky and germy. Soft leather ballet slippers work well. My favorite are Capezio's full foot undies that protect the feet but free the toes. If cost is a factor, canvas ballet slippers are good as are ballet-style bedroom slippers (an elastic band can be sewn across the instep to keep them securely on the feet). Slipper socks and socks work well, too (though socks can be a bit slippery on certain floors). Though I learned to dance in heels and ballroom shoes are often worn in performances, I prefer students learn first flat-footed. When the dance originated, women danced barefoot or in flat sandals.
Clothing choices can vary and students do tend to get creative as the classes progress. For the dance, clothes should be loose or stretchy. Blue jeans are too tight in most cases and hinder movement. Preferred “waistline” should be at the hip. An unhindered midriff works best for hip-awareness and better movement. Jog pants can work but yoga pants are best. A flared gypsy-style skirt can also be worn, as can harem-style pants. In the beginning, simple is better. There will be plenty of time for “dress-up” once you master the movements.
How to top it off? A simple tee shirt is fine. Sports bras work, too. Indian choli tops are also a good choice. Most new students cover their midriffs, though by the fourth class, most will begin to bare them. I use elastic hair twisties to knot tee shirts and tops at the midriff. Please, no coin and beaded bras in class. Save them for the stage.
Hips don’t lie but can be accentuated. To become “hip aware,” it helps to have something tied about the hips. This can be as simple as long scarf or elaborate as a fringed shawl or beaded and/or coined hip belt.
To be prepared, having a veil helps. Most instructors have a limited number of loaner veils. A veil is a piece of chiffon fabric (please, do not use organza) fabric about 45-inches wide and 2 ½ - 3 yards long. Check out the remnant section at the fabric store or use discount coupons found in the Sunday newspaper. Fabric comes in many colors, color variations and may have glitter or design patterns. Make sure to test the fabric first before purchasing. Rub the fabric against your clothing and hair to make sure it doesn’t cling. If it clings, make another choice. Check the fabric’s weight by tossing it in the air. It should flow gracefully. Avoid hard and stiff fabrics. Silk can work but is not my choice for a beginner learning veilwork. Silk can be a bit heavy to work with for a beginner. If budget is a problem, I’ve had students use a sheer drapery panel they purchased on sale. Some students will use a cotton sarong, though not recommended as to its weight and smaller size.
You may also want to own a pair of zills (finger cymbals) for class. As with veils, most instructors have few to lend. Beginner sets can be found in dance kits available in bookstores and gift shops. These zills are often of thin metal and, though good for practice, tend to sound rather “tinny” and unpleasant to the ear. A nice set of zills can be purchased reasonably from a manufacturer like Soroyan or Turquoise. You want a nice, weighted brass with elastic you can adjust to fit your fingers. We will cover zills more completely in a future post.
The most important item you should bring to class? A smile.
Where to Shop …
Where do you buy beaded and coined hip scarves and all of those other cute belly dance accessories? Locally and on the Internet. The Internet may be less expensive but do be aware of shipping fees.
There are many sources for belly dance wear. Some can be found in your own “backyard.” Being a tactile person, I like to touch the fabric and quality of things before I buy. Yet, with a reliable supplier, one can purchase based on a photograph and description.
When purchasing belly dance wear, be aware that quality differs and is not just based on price. In buying beaded and coined hip scarves, understand that the more involved the workmanship, the more coins and beadwork and the weight of the belt determine the piece’s quality. I find that the better hip scarves come from Egypt, the lesser from India. Just my personal opinion, though I own both. Be aware of added on shipping and handling charges when purchasing items on line. Sometimes these charges cost more than the item and often make the “cheap” price not so reasonable. There are many reliable on line sources but when buying from E-Bay and the like, it’s “buyer beware.” Research and think before you buy.