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.

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}

Behind the Magic: Tribal Hair Version 1

For today’s blog, we have a video blog. Here’s a glimpse into tribal bellydance costuming. I’ll give you a sneak peek into all the goodies that are in this “hair garden” as I take my hair down from a day’s dancing. I’ll share my tips and tricks for creating a beautiful hairstyle quickly and easily. Grab a cup of tea, settle in, and let me show you how to make a beautiful tribal hair garden.

This blog first aired in my private Facebook group – I maintain it for students only. Great perk of taking my classes – I often post videos so that your learning won’t stop!

Belly Dance Costume Resources: Links List

As belly dance incorporates a variety of different styles, cultures, and traditions there are a number of different costuming options. The links below are a basic introduction to bellydance costuming and will lead you to different patterns and articles about costuming resources. Half the fun of dancing is the dress up, so enjoy!

General Costume Information

Shira’s wonderful work on types of costumes

Great listing of types of costumes and costuming options…click side links for patterns for most of them

Dawn Devine Brown’s fabulous Hints and Tips booklet

Oriental Costumes: Their Designs and Colors (online version of historic text)


Shira’s Circle Skirt

Circle Skirts

Misha’s Tutorial: How to create a circle skirt from another skirt

Bras, Tops, Dresses and Coats

Harem Pants

Hip Belt Pattern with history

Misha’s Tutorial: How to cover a costume bra

Misha’s Tutorial: How to make a Ghawazee Coat out of a dress

Multiple Patterns

Bra decoration, hip scarf, circle skirt

Shira’s patterns, sewing tips and links