Class vs. Costume: What to Wear When

Dress up night in class! This is a stage costume, vs. class wear

One of my great passions in bellydance is costuming. Creating new looks, designing and sewing beautiful pieces, hunting out unique jewelry and elements to add to a costume is something I find extremely fun and exciting. I’m always on the look out for bits and baubles to transform into something new and gorgeous; it’s one of my favorite parts of the dance!

So once you have this stunning wearable art it’s time to head off to class, right?

Well, maybe not always. Bellydance classes of any type are a wonderful opportunity to dress up and feel feminine and lovely. I often have students who take this time to feel beautiful in their  bodies by wearing special makeup, hair ornaments, and even clothing.

But it’s important to know what’s appropriate for class, and what is better left on stage.

Part of the reason for the differentiation is functionality. I love wearing comfy class clothing like capri pants and babydoll t-shirts for dance as they allow me to move and easily see my movements when I drill. As an instructor, I also like to keep my feet and legs visible to help students see what drives each movement. If you’re a student, wearing long flowy skirts can be fun but might make it a bit tough for your teacher to see your movements to guide you. Plus, many of our costumes are great to wear on stage, but not necessarily comfortable to wear for extended periods of time. Costume pieces like heavy coin bras and tassel belts might not be advisable if you want to stay comfortable while learning.

Another consideration is the level of wear and tear that regular use may put upon an item. Certain fabrics, like delicate Egyptian assuit and thin Indian lurex, are gorgeous to wear. But they often won’t hold up if they are worn regularly in class. The fabric may tear or rip, and is often not easy to repair. Other costume pieces may have elaborate accessories and decorations such as heavy pendants, stones, and coins. Regular use of these items can result in bits falling off, or damage to the pieces. Expensive pieces of jewelry, such as silver and stone, that are one-of-a-kind are also often best left in the safety of home. All of these are great examples of items that are better shown on stage than regularly in class. They can be great to enjoy on a special day, but are often best left to be showcased during performances.

I love dressing up for class, and I encourage my students to do so too. The key is finding the happy medium between comfort and beautiful adornment. I’ve found having several pieces of dedicated class clothing, including affordable jewelry and simple scarves I’ve picked up along the way, is a great substitution to using my fancier stage items. This way I’m able to dress up and sate my bellydancer’s desire to be ornamented while still protecting my one of a kind costume pieces.

What makes GREAT Tribal music?

Finding great new music is a passion of mine. I love making playlists for my students and classes, and even craft a new one inspired by each of my monthly workshop topics. I spend what some might consider a surprising amount of hours carefully selecting each song and, even beyond that, hunting down great new tunes to bring into each rotation each year. Why? Well for Tribal style bellydance not all songs are created equal. And, depending upon what you’re intending to accomplish in your dance, some music is far more suited to your dance than others.

Then Misha, you might ask, what makes a great Tribal bellydance song?

I personally like to look for a few things right from the beginning. When I listen to the whole piece, is the main quality of the song fast or slow or medium? In Tribal, and really in bellydance in general, we have different moves that are suitable for each. So I tend to select songs first based on their tempo. This helps me know intuitively which moves I will most likely be able to select from our GC vocabulary.

From there, I look at the overall quality of the piece. When I dance Raqs Sharqi, Turkish style bellydance, or American cabaret, I love to have music that has a dynamic orchestra and “lots going on.” I’m a big fan of rhythm changes, and I adore a good chunky lyrical phrasing on top of a sassy drum beat.

But for Tribal? My music predilections change quite a bit. When I dance Tribal I generally begin first to look for a more steady beat. A rhythm that doesn’t change or, if it does waver, one that is steady and easy to follow through those changes. One that’s clear and that both leaders and followers will be able to track as it moves them through the piece. While I love to hear lyrical changes, these aren’t as important to me as a dancer as they would be for a more Oriental style piece. Instead, I’m searching for music that I know will provide a firm foundation for Tribal improv.

I love to use songs that have an earthy feel – lots of drums and in particular I adore hearing reedy instruments like mismars and neys added to the mix. While I will use modern or contemporary pop from time to time, especially songs that are a lot of fun and peppy, I generally stick with more folkloric sounded music in order to honor the “Tribal” look and feel of our costuming and movements.

I tend to avoid music that has lyrics, especially those in foreign languages, unless I’m certain I know what the singer is saying. It’s incredibly important to be aware of the lyrics because what you might think is a beautiful love song could actually be a religious piece and something that is not appropriate to use in a dance performance or practice.

Whatever you choose, be sure to enjoy it! Half the battle of finding “great” Tribal music is simply finding music you enjoy dancing to, so be sure to listen and make certain that you love it!

Want to get an idea of some of *my* favorite tunes? Check out the playlist here or click the 8 tracks playlist photo below:

The Camel Connection: How Culture Inspires Costuming

One of the costume staples of Old Skool Tribal Bellydance (and, let’s face it, we still see it as a favorite today too…these things just never go out of fashion!) are beautifully decorated tassel belts. Sometimes, the tassels hang from a straight rectangular shape. On other occasions, the base for the belt is triangular. In both cases, the belt “base” is often highly decorated and elaborately beautiful. And they also give great accentuation to the slightest hip twist, shimmy, or circle. Here are two great examples of one of the more commonly seen shapes:

Beautiful Belts created by Gypsy Caravan Master Teacher Nina from Gypsy Rain Tribal

The tassels themselves may be thick or thin, although the fav for most dancers are chunky tassels that have a delightful swing whenever hips are swayed. They can be made of a fiber, like yarn or string, or fancier sets of strung beads. Sometimes they’re topped with pom poms or shisha mirrors, each becoming its own art piece  in miniature.

If you’re wondering how we came to incorporate these items into our dance costuming, take a look at the photos below and see if anything looks a bit familiar:

Photos by Misha and Brian, Pushkar India Camel Festival, October 2013

As Tribal dancers, our costuming is a mix of elements from a variety of cultures. We borrow jewelry inspiration from Morocco, India, Afghanistan, and African tribes like the Tuareg and Berber people. Our swirling skirts speak of Flamenco and Romany dance, and we place flowers in our hair to evoke beauty and style ourselves as modern Goddesses. Ah but those tassels! Glancing at the photos above we can see that our own belts are quite reminiscent of the trappings that decorate camels and horses. And, indeed, our own belts are often inspired, and sometimes even include real examples of, these elements. Just as the tassels decorate the animals and showcase their beauty and movement, we are able to utilize them in the same way for our dance.

What I particularly love about delving into the cultures that inspire our costuming and movements is that it gives us the opportunity to learn so much about the world and its people. Our tassel belts are just one example of how our dance has drawn inspiration from other countries to develop its own unique style.

And the ultimate inspiration? Check out this amazing man who’s elaborately decorated camel stands as a symbol to the current population of these creatures. {And consider chipping in a bit to help}

3 Classic Bands for a Tribal Bellydance Jam

In the early days of Tribal – we’re talking, woah, more than 10 years ago – all of this fab technology like music subscription services like Spotify and Pandora, mp3’s online, Youtube…they just were not really available. Or, well, some were in their infancy, but we just didn’t have this wealth of music at our fingertips (let’s all take a moment to be grateful for iTunes!). So our community of Tribal dancers, instructors, and performers was a tight-knit one that was hungry for music that would work well for the dance. So what’s a dancer to do? Well a lot of what was available was great but, in the tradition of most bellydance music, had a lot of lyrical overtones and rhythmic transitions. Beautiful music but for group improv it could be quite challenging or just not work at all.

And so, the dancers made their own music!

In some cases partnering with musician friends, in other cases simply saying “let’s just do this ourselves!” our early Tribal Mama’s (and Papa’s!) got together and made some gorgeous music that is still heard on the regular today. These artists have long been in rotation in my rockin’ playlists, and I suspect they’ll quickly become a favorite of yours whenever you’re looking for earthy, steady beats.

Here are three “Classic” artists whose Tribal sounds have carried our hips swaying through the years:

Gypsy Caravan – Wait Misha, isn’t that your dance style? YES. But also a band! Mama P’s fab partner is a musician and OH did they bring the sound! Before I became immersed in GC style, the music was my absolute fav, and I had their entire discography in my collection before I’d managed to find too many other artists. GC stands out as a very consistent producer of music that’s simply perfect for Tribal dance – they get it and create music that works quite nicely for the style. The Gypsy Caravan Band’s enjoyed great success and recognition, too, for their work to create beautiful music, winning multiple awards from the community. And the band’s members continue to play even today, after different incarnations as Mizna and Caravan Project, two other musical groups also worth a listen. Check out: Saidi Walk for a fun and peppy medium speed song and Carolyn’s Walk, probably my all time favorite slow song EVER

Helm – If Gypsy Caravan had, well, Gypsy Caravan then Fat Chance Bellydance had Helm. This band worked closely with FCBD and created some wonderfully classic pieces filled with reedy mizmars and neys, perfectly blending in with the baseline to provide just enough melody to carry along with the hypnotic drums. Like GC, they even created a rhythm cd to help dancers learn the different drum sounds and patterns, another great resource to add to your music collection. Check out: Hosanni Oo, sure to put a shimmy in your step, and Soul with Spice which is a great example of a Tribal style drum solo

Solace – Solace, headed up by Jeremiah Soto, is another “classic” band from the early days of Tribal. Over the years, his sound has shifted and occasionally specialized, wandering from the original pounding dums and teks to explore more electronic vibes appropriate for tribal fusion dancers and even Indian and Asian beats. I’ve heard it said that Soto created Solace as a sort of response to the Tribal community, and he’s proven that his music is a gift that continues to deliver to dancers even today. Check out: Exiled for a smoldering chiftitelli great for sword work or general slinking and Bounce, recently chosen as the song for the annual ATS flash mob