Okay, I know you’ve probably heard or read other dancers discussing proper belly dance costuming, but apparently we aren’t speaking loudly enough, or typing fast enough. Or something. Because this is still not getting the attention it deserves.
Everyone has costuming problems. I have yet to sit through a belly dance show without some sort of costume mishap. And sometimes, it’s even my mishap. It happens to us all. No matter how many times we practice in it and how many metal detectors go off because of the safety pins, when you get on stage a skirt will slip a little too far. Or you have no idea what you were thinking when you bought that latest fringed crasseled monstrosity. Or your hair flowers are determined to fall off everywhere you go, even after resorting to Super Glue. Or the color ended up looking hideous on you after all. I’ve even seen an A-list belly dance star, in a professional show, actually stop dancing to remove a costume piece that was not cooperating (she handled it gracefully and with a sense of humor, so it was not embarrassing). It happens, and it happens to all of us.
But that doesn’t mean there aren’t things that we can do to prevent it. There are guidelines we can follow to present ourselves as professional dancers, and not professional strippers. Yes, I just said that.
Rule #1: NO UNCOVERED BRAS. This continues the stereotype that we are strippers, and is UNACCEPTABLE. If an audience can see the bra straps and hooks, it is not properly covered. A single swag of beads or a few feathers glued onto a lingerie bra is NOT a costume. Do you really want your audience to be thinking, “Is she wearing…a bra?” No, they should be thinking, “Wow, what a beautiful costume. Look at the bead work.” We are NOT up there to dance in our underwear. If funding is an issue, there are functional new costumes available for less than $200, and used ones on Bhuz.com, eBay, etc. for less (or more).
Rule #2: NO VISIBLE SAFETY PINS. Yes, we all use safety pins to make sure that our belts don’t migrate around our skirts, but they should not be visible. Also, if you are concerned that your bra will pop open, you should consider stronger (or more) hooks (the proper kind, NOT the lingerie kind) and placing a safety pin on the UNDERSIDE of the strap. This will probably require assistance but is better than having a huge, visible safety pin obviously keeping your bra closed. You can disregard this rule for any 70s/80s punk-inspired looks.
Rule #3: WEAR A COSTUME THAT FITS. Be honest with yourself. Belly dance is a beautiful art form that embraces women of all sizes and ages–and that’s one of its most wonderful aspects. But no matter how thin or fat or in-between you are, muffin tops and armpit bulges are not pretty. This also goes the other way. If you have to stuff a sock in it, you need to get a smaller size. Yes, we CAN see the sock. If your skirt slips, add elastic, safety pins, or wear a body stocking to pin it to. (Disclaimer: I’ve probably made this mistake the most…because I lost a lot of weight and suddenly nothing fit and I had gigs. But I got new costumes ASAP.)
Rule #4: WEAR A COSTUME THAT FITS THE PIECE. Asharah recently posted a blog that should be required reading for any belly dancer. If you are performing a classic Egyptian piece, don’t wear yoga pants, please. Although there is such a thing as tribaret costuming, and that’s cool. Just don’t call it a classical Egyptian piece. People will be confused when they expect a bright shiny bedlah or a sleek and modest dress and end up with yoga pants and a halter top. If you read my previous post, you should know that I have NO problem with fusion and pushing boundaries. But your costume should still match the piece. When I danced as a zombie Nurse from the Silent Hill games , I dressed like a zombie Nurse from the Silent Hill games. No shiny things there. And yes, there was fake blood, just like I promised.
Rule #5: PRIVATES REMAIN PRIVATE, meaning your costume should fit (see above) and should be modest enough that your privates do not hang or pop out, even in your most athletic movements. It also means you should be wearing proper underwear for the costume. I’m not saying don’t wear daring costumes; I’m saying make sure they are merely daring and not scandalous.
This topic is getting into dead-horse territory, yet I still see these mistakes. I’ve even made some of them myself. This post isn’t meant to point fingers or embarrass anyone; I’ll be the first to admit I’ve had some whoopsie costume moments. I fix the problem and move on, and so should you!
Let’s talk about fusion belly dance. To some in the belly dance community, “fusion” is a dirty word, met with eye-rolling disdain. Many claim that fusion dancers only call themselves fusion because they aren’t good enough to do any other form of “real” belly dance. Or they are looked on as invaders from other dance styles who throw in a couple of hip shakes and call themselves belly dancers. Or they are snidely called “artists” (again with the eye-rolling) because these dancers want to take belly dance in a non-traditional direction.
I’m a little biased, as I am a fusion dancer, but these responses are pretty disrespectful to those of us who work hard at our craft, spend vast amounts of money and time on classes, costuming, and performances, and love fusion with as much passion as any “traditional” dancer and her art. Yes, there will be dancers who really aren’t that great, or dancers who put on a purple hip scarf and black makeup and sell themselves as professional fusion belly dancers, but that’s true of all art forms.
I am also a “traditional” belly dancer, in that I dance Egyptian and Lebanese styles. While I know I’m not the only dancer that sits on the dual performer fence, I am one of the few that I know of that equally love both styles. Traditional belly dance changed my life. Fusion belly dance changed my life. Before I knew what fusion (specifically gothic belly dance) was, I enjoyed belly dance and had fun with it, but I had never thought about it being more than just an interesting (and slightly weird) hobby and a way to lose weight without going to the gym. But once I found fusion, I knew that was what I needed to be doing. Fusion belly dance is why I am where I am now. But I am always called back to the grace and elegance (and the sparklies) of the more traditional forms of belly dance.
So why I am writing this blog?
It’s time to educate fellow dancers about fusion. I know I won’t convince everyone of the value of fusion, but please, do take some time to read what I have to say about art and fusion and belly dance.
Belly dance is a folkloric dance with deep roots in many of the countries in the Middle East and western Asia. Therefore, it has a long history—and a murky one—but one that comes from many places. Belly dance as we know it is already a fusion, a distillation of these folkloric dances into what we know today. Do you really think Egyptian dancers were wearing sequined bedlahs way back when? Ballet was later incorporated into more modern belly dance, so most belly dancers today are already fusion dancers. I might be wrong, but I don’t think ballet is traditionally Egyptian.
It gives you something to think about, doesn’t it?
Since belly dance is a traditional dance and a part of several cultures, it deserves respect and preservation. There should always be dancers that peer into the past and try to get the roots of the dance. There should always be dancers willing to travel to Egypt and Lebanon (and elsewhere) to study with the “real deal” in order to preserve and promote traditional belly dancing.
Yet belly dance, like all dance forms, is an art. What is art? According to one dictionary, it is: 1. The expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, typically in a visual form, and 2. works produced by such skill and imagination. There’s that pesky word . . . “creative.” And another pesky word . . . “imagination.”
I’m not saying that traditional belly dance is not creative or imaginative. But creativity and imagination don’t like limitations and will often burst forth violently when held too much in check.
That is what happened to me. As I mentioned before, I loved belly dance in its more traditional forms. But seeing fusion for the first time lit my brain on fire. After first watching Ariellah and Asharah dance, I spent one sleepless night planning, scheming, and imagining all the wonderful things I could do with an art form I loved but without boundaries, without fetters, without limits. I could barely contain the rush of creativity that burst forth from me as I thought about what belly dance could do for me, and what I could do with it.
Belly dance is an art. And art should never, ever be limited. Art should push boundaries, crash through walls of culture and class, and make people angry, sad, happy, horrified, thoughtful . . . It should unite us as humans, the only animal on this planet that creates art, and it should be considered precious. Art is what makes us well rounded human beings. It shows us our sensitive sides or our darker sides. It makes us uncomfortable while at the same time bringing us home and bringing forth our inner light. How awesome is it that we can communicate the deepest feelings we have without ever saying a single word?
Do you really want to limit something so beautiful and so precious as creativity? As children, our creativity is crushed under the heavy weight of school, responsibility, and growing up. We let our creativity die—or sometimes we kill it—in order to sanely work in sterile environments like cubicle farms or in jobs we detest. Only a few, who aren’t dissuaded by constant comments like, “When are you going to get a real job?” from parents maintain that creative spark and develop it to become the painters, dancers, and other artists we know.
I’m not willing to kill my creativity in order to limit myself to just one form of dance. And now I can almost hear those eye rolling in their sockets. “Oh, she’s just another ‘artist,’” you say sarcastically. Yep, that I am. I am an artist, and I will continue to belly dance to music you hate or to fuse belly dance and other dance styles in order to make you angry or uncomfortable. Or maybe it will make you happy or perhaps even inspire you. If I’ve made you feel anything, I’ve done my job.
Fusion belly dance is here to stay. Belly dance as an art form is going to grow and mutate and break its limitations whether you like it or not. Even traditional belly dance has grown and changed. We don’t live in a vacuum, and even traditional-style belly dancers will take movements they like from other dance forms, and, suddenly, everyone is doing it, not realizing that it really isn’t a belly dance move. Fusion dancers are just more open about it when “stealing” movements and styles from other dance forms.
This is not to say that we should completely discard the traditional. Tradition always has its place, and it should be honored because of it. But stay too hide-bound, and you stifle the very creativity and inspiration that developed the art form in the first place. Let art grow, but respectfully and in full awareness of the traditional.
I hope this at least makes you stop and think before you snort and wave dismissively at the next fusion performer you see (yes, I have seen this happen during a belly dance show). She has every right to take belly dance in her direction, just as you have the right to keep the traditional alive and well. If you don’t like it, then at least be respectful enough of those around you to let them watch an artist perform.