Thursday, July 7, 2011

Belly Dance: Aesthetics

Finally, after a very long wait for an exchange, I received the top and harem pants to match my belt from Scarlet's Lounge today. After trying on various costume combinations, I made some aesthetic observations. In general, my student troupe, Parvana Moonfire, wears costuming that might be considered Tribaret in style. Our first costumes came from Fairy Cove Silks and Flying Skirts. We wore a tie-in-the-back choli top and Tribal harem pants from Flying Skirts, with a silk halter bra top and petal skirt layered over these. A coin scarf or Tribal belt (and sometimes a fringe scarf layered with it), a Tribal necklace and earrings, cuff or bangle bracelets, and flower hair pieces completed the look. And of course a bindi between the brows! This look was visually lighter than the usual Tribal style of full, tiered skirts and heavy coin/cowry shell bras. More elegant and not as Folkloric in feel.

Eventually I created a Tribal-Gypsy skirt dance, so we switched to 25 yard skirts. Since I had new troupe members and wished to work with a new company, we ordered silk jacquard bra and belt sets from Scarlet's Lounge. These, again, have a Tribaret look. The belt has big yarn tassels and fringe, but the fabric has delicate gold embroidery in a paisley print and is embellished with minimal beads, sequins, and Tribal style pailettes. The base pieces are the same cholis as before, though now available in a sleeveless style, harem pants, and the full skirt. So we are closer with this costume to the traditional Tribal look, but still with a bit more glitz and elegance.

The next look I want to create, for dancing when we do not need the big skirts, is to layer the matching bra and belt set over harem pants and a glitter dot over lay with panels in the front and back. This brings the costume more toward a Cabaret style, but without the very glitzy, heavily beaded and sequined bra and belt set that is customary (and typically much more expensive!). This switch in costuming aesthetics parallels my recent artistic turn away from Tribal dance and toward classic Egyptian belly dance, specifically with Baladi styling. For future students, the matching bra and belt set will come from L Rose Designs, in which a Folkloric style, silk or satin brocade vest will be worn over a velvet dance bra, with a fringed belt that matches the vest. This will be combined with the harem pants and glitter dot piece previously mentioned. In my opinion, this costuming will work nicely with both classic Egyptian and Tribaret (combining Cabaret and Tribal movements) choreographies.

To sum up my aesthetic philosophy, I am leaning toward simplicity and restraint in costuming. While there is nothing wrong with the heavily layered Tribal and Tribal Fusion looks, to my eye a cleaner, more elegant look allows the dancer to take center stage, rather than the costuming. Often it seems hard to see the Tribal dancer, with her piles of jewelry, head turbin and various hair pieces, heavy make up and Tribal face markings, tattoos and numerous piercings, and multiple layers of clothing. The Cabaret dancer, on the other hand, often has way more skin showing than the average woman is comfortable with, and many belly dancers do not like the loud, gaudy glitz of the typical Cabaret costume. What I try to achieve is a happy medium.

I do think the pulled together look of a matching bra and belt is preferable to a mix and match, pieces and patches approach. A simple color scheme, one necklace, earrings, a few bracelets, and a minimum of fuss with the hair, say, a feather and/or flower hair clip with a scarf tied around the head looks complete but not overwhelming. The audience wants and needs to be able to see the dancer and her dance!! The costuming, music, and style of dance should be married, and the fact that belly dance is the cultural dance of a particular people and needs to be respected as such must always be kept in mind when making these choices.

I prefer to have my troupe members have the freedom of some choices, particularly when it comes to the selection of colors and accessories. However, from my experience, it is very important to the execution of a great performance to have the group look polished and unified as a whole. Therefore, as a troupe leader, one must avoid giving too many choices and taking too many opinions into consideration. Focus your vision, make your choice, and firmly lead with good taste and, above all, a celebration of feminine beauty!

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