by Valeria Lo Iacono
If you are getting started, you might be interested to get an idea of the clothing you might want to buy. For your first lessons you do not necessarily have to worry about having any of these items but as you progress, these 10 items might certainly be of interest.
This is the basic and first item that every belly dancer needs to start with. If you are a beginner a hip scarf helps you check that the movements of your hips are correct and, when you perform, it enhances your hips’ movements. There are different types of belly dance hip scarves, with coins, with beads, with fringes. The choice depends on your taste and the style of belly dance. Instead of hip scarves, hip belts with beads can be used. The difference is that hip belts are rigid, while hip scarves are soft and tied at the front or at the side. It may be worth having different types of hip scarves, with and without coins, as in some workshops where many people attend, teachers prefer for people not to wear hip scarves with coins because of the noise.
There are many different types to choose from: fish tail skirts (usually made of velvet and chiffon); chiffon skirts that are long and flowing; gypsy skirts made of a heavier material and quite wide, popular in tribal style. Skirts can be more or less revealing, from light chiffon ones with long splits, used in Turkish oryantal, to the ones in thicker materials such as cotton, long and wide without any splits, preferred for American tribal.
Belly dance tops range from coin or bead bra tops, usually part of the classical cabaret style costume; choli tops, cut just above the navel like the ones that Indian women wear under their sari, used a lot in tribal style; bolero tops, short tops tied in front with a knot. These often tend to have long sleeves that are tight at the top and open up midway through the arm in a bell shape.
Belly dance pantaloons can be wide at the bottom (in a bell shaped fashion, such as the ones called tribal style) or tied around the ankles with an elastic band. In this case they are called harem pants or chalwar in Persian.
This is the cabaret costume, with beaded bra top, bare midriff, beaded hip belt and long skirt. It can be heavily beaded or not. In the past bedlah used to be in effect quite heavy. Nowadays, the modern fashion in Egypt is to make bedlah which are lighter, with rhinestones rather than lots of beads hanging off. The best bedlah can be found in Cairo and they range from the cheapest of lower quality, to mid range to expensive designer ones. In Istanbul you can also find a variety of styles and prices, with the best quality and most expensive ones being the costumes made by designer Bella.
Also called Gallabiya by belly dancers, is a one piece costume. It can be quite simple, plain and made of cotton, or more decorated with sparkling beads, like the ones used by cabaret belly dancers. So, for galabeya the same applies as above. You can find a wide variety of styles and prices up to the most expensive designer dresses by costume designers in Cairo.
Kaftans, alabeys and Thobe Al Nasha’ar or Khalegi dress
What the above have in common is that they are wide and long, covering the shape of the body. While thobe l nasha’ar is the dress used in Khaalegi style, kaftans or alabeyas are everyday clothing items that can be used by bellydancers to cover their costume when they are not performing. Alabeya’s characteristic is that it has a series of buttons at the front that can be easily undone to take it off when you need to go on stage and perform.
Headbands or turbans
Cabaret belly dancers sometimes use headbands to hold their hair, while tribal dancers often use turbans. They are also useful when performing with a sword, to make it easier to balance it.
These are similar to ballet soft shoes and they are usually silver or golden, to match the beads in the costume. Footwear is neither essential nor required in belly dance, but these shoes are a good solution if you want to protect your feet but do not want to wear high heels. However, some dancers, especially Turkish and Lebanese, like to wear high heels but for me the beauty of belly dance is not to have to wear uncomfortable shoes. Also, normal soft ballet shoes can be used to protect the feet, or Hermes sandals, or even now they make footwear that only covers the ball of the feet.
These are similar to belly dance hip scarves, but longer, just like a long skirt. They often have also long fringes that are nice as they swing while you dance.