The 5 Styles of Belly Dance Costumes: A Quick Guide
Below is a brief introduction to 5 styles of belly dance costumes by an expert.

Cabaret:  The Cabaret costume in America comes with a history:  many dancers in the 60’s and 70‘s had styles reflecting the look of older Arabic and Turkish costuming… lots of coins, chain drapes and metallic fabrics mixed in with beading; separate skirts and hip belts made for more diversity in appearance.  These outfits were absolutely two-piece tops and bottoms, either skirts or harem pants.  Plenty of jewelry topped off this authentic look, and absolutely, absolutely, finger cymbals!  This mode is perfect for the dancer who loves to think on her feet!  Is improvisation your muse?  Imagine costuming  Turkish belly dance costumes with lines that give you personal space and freedom, and yet reflect your commitment to excellence in your command of the show at hand – and there will be many shows!

Egyptian:  Egyptian belly dance costumes are often seen is often portrayed with a form-fitting top and hip-hugging skirt; some of the more traditional costuming have a netting or translucent fabric over the midriff connecting the two.  Other more Western looks have the top and skirt completely separate with a bare midsection (the “Bedlah” style).  The ultimate in elegance, these creations are born to accentuate and compliment the more subtle Egyptian movements – yet nothing is subtle about these sensual and come-hither costume designs.  That said, remember… when looking for an Egyptian outfit, rules are made to be broken!

Fusion:  Fusion Belly Dance is comprised of traditional belly dance steps combined into either another dance style (Spanish, Indian, Brazilian, Ballroom, etc.) or even with Martial Arts.  So… the costuming can depend upon the look desired to reflect the merging of the styles.  What, really?  Maybe not!  Okay.  Here, the sky is truly the limit!  One way to begin is to explore the theme of the dance you are envisioning, and clothe yourself in a belly dance costume accordingly. Wait! That angle will not calm your inner rebel!  Go for it – test several looks, and then flaunt them all!

Gypsy:  The Gypsy (Roma) dances are gleaned from nomadic groups who traveled along the Silk Road from India to Spain.  These free spirits adapted folkloric dance moves from every village and clan, creatively adapting them to their own musical compositions (also largely appropriated).  The costuming, of course, is likewise radically diverse, whether it’s incorporated into amateur or professional belly dance costumes, reflecting the changes in climate as well as the ethics and virtues of the lands they covered.  To dress for the Gypsy look, you really need flashes of color and movement – a layering of garments ranging from worsted cotton to lace.  Don belts and jewelry in joyous excess; remember, your ultimate image is freedom!  Add ribbons, flowers and/or jewels to your hair (free flowing or severely secured in a knot).  Remember, you are a dancer of many situations and identities…

Tribal:  ATS (American Tribal Style) is created from a series of steps, mostly exaggerated, that are performed in sync by a group of dancers.  A mostly unnoticed method of signaling (cues), is transmitted around the troupe beginning with the leader, and keeps the “tribe” performing almost magically in unison.  In the truest sense of this genre, you and your tribal sisters may want to agree to select costuming tribal belly dance costumes that are that is similar (especially in skirt size and movement), yet contrasting in colors and accoutrements.  But, get the edge! The excellence of your personal attire will come in your choice of details: hand-made jewelry, headpieces, makeup, and body art.  Lead the tribe!     

About the author:
As Author, Instructor, Choreographer, Dancer, Percussionist, and Event Producer, Marta Schill has worked within the American Middle Eastern dance community since the early 1970’s.  Her full biography can be found online in the October 2008 issue of the Chronicles magazine.