Every dancer loves a beautiful costume… Consider it an occupational hazard to love all things sparkly and always find yourself marvel at pretty new designs at events you may attend. So how do you navigate a world and profession where you’re surrounded by so much beauty and temptation to buy all the time? Well, I’m sure everyone handles this differently, so be warned, this is a highly subjective article! But I’ve tried to base it on my many years of dance and performance experience, as well as tips and ideas I’ve accumulated from fellow dancers and teachers.
When I first started out performing Bellydance, costumes were very hard to come by. Even hip belts were hard to source, and I would rely on my teacher going to Egypt or Turkey to pick up a few to bring back and sell in class. Roll on the convenience of online shopping decades later, and costume concerns have somewhat changed. It’s now easy to source most things by the click of a button, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that you get what you want or really need.
Sizing, quality, cut and fit can be very hard to get right when shopping online. Make sure you do your research first and that you can return if needed, and do be prepared to get needle and thread out to make a few adjustments too. I always recommend trying before buying if at all possible, because a costume needs to both fit, feel comfortable and make you look your best, in order for you to really enjoy performing in it. As with normal cloths shopping, once you find a designer or outfitter that you like, it does make everything a whole lot easier. Once that’s done, you can start shopping for your capsule costume wardrobe, or if you’re anything like me, start expanding your collection! Fifi Abdou is said to have had over 5,000 costumes before her retirement, but you really only need a handful of items to see you through. The truth is, you don’t want to keep performing in same rags all the time, and costume fashion also changes. So save yourself a fortune both money and storage wise by only investing in your essentials. Here’s my costume capsule list:
Get a lovely and foremost well fitting bra and belt set, also sometimes referred to a bedlah. Don’t compromise on quality and try to get as plane a style as possibly. You can vary the skirts, arm lets and other accessories to change it from performance to performance. Wearing it with a coloured or decorated body stocking, can also transform a bedlah into an oriental dress! I still use some of the first ones I ever bought…
A circle skirt will not only work with your bra and belt set, but can also be used for gypsy and character dances. A ‘proper gypsy skirt’ will be tiered and have several meters of fabric in it, but you can also get a plane wide skirt, or even pick up suitable skirts from a charity shop. Skirts in other shapes will work too, and are often an inexpensive way to update your bra and belt set.
Invest in a lovely and good quality dance veil that flows well. Multi coloured are great, but you’ll probably use a single coloured one more often, especially if it’s a colour that goes with several of your skirts. Your veil can also work as a coverup and even as a hip belt at workshops and classes. Personally, I find rectangular ones more versatile that semi circular ones, but experiment to find your perfect fit, or simply get several, as they’re not usually that expensive.
After a veil this is likely to become a key prop. Get a plane one to suit several occasions. Glitter, light up and sequin ones look great, but are only novelty pieces you’ll rarely use. They also tend to get caught up in your costume and damaged more easily. Importantly, they can also cause havoc with your hair! Get them from as little as £5-£10. Recently I’ve discovered that these are really useful too for reaching things that may have gotten lost under sofas and beds (such as my sons toys!).
More forgiving and often more flattering than a revealing costume, a saidi dress or baladi costume, can be a relatively cheap and useful investment. The flashier and ornate, the harder to accessorise and therefore change.
Who doesn’t love a beautiful and well fitting two piece costume. No faffing about with the skirt rolling down or up, but simply slip on and dance with no worries. But with designer costumes costing up to £450 or more, they are really investment pieces. Fashion changes, so you may want to sell yours on after a while, unless you (like me) like collecting costumes for different occasions. Take good care of your two piece (something I will cover in an article soon), and you will be able to make a decent return when selling it on.
Having a pretty ‘cover up’, also referred to as a gallabeya, is useful when travelling from gig to gig, as well as looking glamorous back stage at shows and haflas. Normally they’re a one-size fits all, which can be difficult if you’re not a ‘standard size’. Find your perfect one when on holiday in the Middle East, where these are sold cheap in most markets. The less sequins and rhinestones, the longer they will last.
Personally I love my Khaleegy dress, but I know some dancers only buy and wear these very rarely. Even if you only use this a couple of times a year, getting your own can prove to be a good investment. They are supposed to be oversized, so if you’re a normal build a standard one will probably do you. However, because I’m very tiny, I have had one custome made. The joy is, it doesn’t look like everyone else’s and I some times also use it as a cover up too. Everyone likes a fun khaleegy dance, and the more comfortable you are with your own thobe, the more fun you’ll have when performing or taking part in workshops.
Once you dance with isis wings you’ll probably want to do it again, yet I mention them in this section, as not all dancers like them. You also need a lot of space to practise with these, which is important to bear in mind. Try to borrow some or attend a workshop on how to dance with isis wings before you commit. The teacher should also be able to give you tips on what to look out for when purchasing these. Don’t just pick some up and ‘wing it’ (sorry, couldn’t resist!) as a lot of technique is required to make these look their best.
As with the isis wings, they tend to be a love or hate prop. They can look truly impressive, but need special control and technique to master. I know too many dancers who have a sword tucked away under their bed, because they picked it up at a festival on the whim. A good sword should be well balanced and cared for to always look its best. Often easier to dance with than a Saidi cane, this is where you will find out whether you like balancing things or not. Others simply like them because of the dramatical element they provide to a performance. But always remember to give the sword the attention and respect a weapon deserves, if you decide to dance with it.
In Turkey you’re not considered a ‘real’ belly dancers until you master these, yet some dancers never really warm to theme. They can be picked up from as little as £5, but you get what you pay for. Once you’ve tried and feel ready to play some more, pick up some better quality cymbals, which may cost more around £20 or so, and by then I’m sure you’ll become hocked…
Unless you do a lot of weddings, prop performances or fancy shows, this is a prop most likely to gather dust on your shelves. Some collapsable ones may not take up a lot of room, but why waste the money in the first place. Pick up cheap second hand ones at fairs instead, especially if you’re new to the prop, but do make sure they’re not too bend and wonky!
What’s hiding at the back of your dance wardrobe? Have you got costumes you’ve never used? Props you’ve never learned to dance with? And how do you in general manage your costume and prop collection? Leave me a comment below so we can keep the knowledge sharing going.
Happy belly dancing and shopping for all things sparkly 😉
Did you miss my last post? Read it here: How to use visualisation to improve your dancing