"It is the darkness that is the light, and the stillness that is the dancing"

TS Elliot


Oriental dance costume

“Classical Oriental” dance or 'Raqs Sharqi' gave rise to the oriental dance costume.

Classical Oriental, a term created by the western world, is what most people refer to or associate belly dance with today and is the commonly seen “cabaret style”.

The oriental dance costume is largely influenced by a western interpretation of the dance and it's costuming, and Hollywood has a large part to play in its evolution. In Egypt today the Classical Oriental costume looks like an adorned body glove. A tight fitting, lightly adorned or over encrusted one or two piece costume.

You will find one-piece costumes comprised of a body hugging skirt with high slits either parting on the thigh or up the middle, entwining into a bra-like top with a slight point to the bra. Apertures in the costume are created around the belly, back or torso sides and filled in with a skin coloured gauze.

The incorporation of this skin coloured mesh is sometimes placed where the skin would be bare because of the Islamic decree that bare skin should not be exposed. This law is not strictly enforced in Egypt today and so the mesh is not used in all oriental dance costume.

Plastic beads and sequins mark out patterns on the costume or decorate the straps, with little or no beaded fringe. Then there are similar costumes found in a two-piece style, with bra and tight fitting skirt separate. The colours range from metallics, through pastels and into fluorescent greens, pinks and yellows.

The other type of costume you will find in Egypt is the two piece. This consists of...

  • a bead and sequin encrusted bra-type top designed to push up and maximize the bust which may include short beaded fringing or a few strands of larger beads hanging from the bra cups to drape the rib cage, and
  • a full circle skirt, made up of one or two layers of chiffon, georgette or some other type of light flowing fabric which sometimes includes pre-printed patterns

The skirt then gathers onto a waistband with slits up both sides to reveal the legs. To accompany the skirt is again a heavily bead encrusted belt of various shapes, generally coming to a rounded or 'V' shaped front and back.

An extra oriental dance costume piece that is sometimes worn is a sequined or beaded head-band and or sequined upper arm bands.

In Turkey the most common costume relating to this “cabaret” style of dance is similar to the Egyptian two-piece costume though from the belt and bra hang long tassels of small glass beads, and the colour variation within the beadwork is minimal.

Why not go from learning about oriental dance costume to learning how to belly dance?

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