So, you’ve taken a belly dance class or two, you know proper dance posture, you can hip lift and circle like a pro, and your snake arms are gorgeous, and you want to take it to the next level. Here are some essentials for anyone wanting to shake it on the regular.
1. A Coin Belt or Hip Scarf
It doesn’t have to be fancy, or expensive, but it does have to make some noise and accent your hip movements. Preferably, it should be in a color you adore. Triangle shawls, yarn belts, fringe belts, and coin belts are just some of the ways you can adorn your hips.
2. A Choli or Halter Top
A choli is a midriff-bearing top with sleeves of varying lengths that is traditionally worn by Hindu women. They generally tie in the back with two sets of ties. One at the shoulders, and one across the rib cage. These tops are excellent for practice, as they are super comfortable and allow for good visuals when drilling belly rolls, undulations, and chest lifts and circles. For performances, they are an essential foundation piece. Simply wear your tribal bra over the top and you’re half-way costumed! A halter top is another totally acceptable foundation piece for both practice and performance, as they allow for the same midriff-bearing and freedom of movement. Halter tops are often worn for performances that are leaning towards the tribal fusion form of belly dance, while cholis are worn frequently by performers of the ATS and other more traditional sects of belly dance.
3. A Circle Skirt
These skirts are literally what they sound like-a skirt made from a circle (or more specifically, two half-circles) of fabric of varying yardage. Generally, these skirts begin at 10 yards for performances, and can go all the way up to 40 yards! Circle skirts are often layered one over another with the skirt of the higher yardage being displayed over the smaller one. Skirts are almost always tucked in one way or another. A basic tuck is the hip tuck. The wearer grabs a small amount of fabric somewhere around 2/3 of the way down the length of the skirt on the sides of the body, and tucks that into the waist of the skirt at each hip. This adds a TON of accent to every hip movement, and makes all of your traveling steps and spins look ethereal, smooth, and gorgeous. Skirts are often made from gauzy, lightweight cotton fabrics, but also come in silks, chiffons, and lace. They’re easy to make with basic sewing knowledge, but keep in mind when buying fabric for this that you are talking about A LOT of yardage, so even the lightest gauze fabric has substantial weight when using 25 yards.
4. Harem Pants or Pantaloons
These are worn under your skirts for added volume, visual interest, and modesty. They can be anywhere from 3 yards to 10 yards of fabric, and can be made from almost anything your little heart desires. A pair of 3 yard pants made from simple, cotton quilting fabric are great for practice. Pants made from silky fabrics and using a bit more yardage are great for performances. But don’t feel like you can’t wear your fancy pants for practice. Go for it!
Okay, there are a lot of props a belly dance COULD have, but we’re trying to keep it to the essentials here, so I’ll try not to get carried away.
A veil. A chiffon, satin, or silk veil, about 2-4 yards depending on how much veil-age you want, is great. I recommend starting out with a 2 yard. It’s less fabric to whip around your body and try not to trip over as you’re learning how to dance with veils. A good veil dance makes this art form look ridiculously easy, but take it from me, who has only done it for six months or so-it is NOT easy. Chest circles with snake arms tricky for you? Try doing it while moving a few yards of flowy fabric around your body in an attractive way. Veils are also used for modesty and cover both before, and during performances. They are normally wrapped around your body “toga style”. Tucked at the waist, wrapped around the waist and then pulled up across the front of the body and tucked into the opposite shoulder. Sometimes they are simply tucked in at the shoulder, draped down one side of the back, and tucked in again at the waist of your skirt.
Zills. Also known as finger cymbals. Again, eventually you want a pretty high-quality set of them, but not until you’re performing with them on a regular basis. They can be really expensive when you move into the high-end, solid brass professional level. For starting out, I suggest getting a reasonably priced ($20-$30) set of practice zills. For one, they’re lighter. A lighter weight will be easier to handle when learning cymbal patterns and beats. The general rule for zills is-the heavier they are, the better they sound. So keep that in mind when you’re picking out a pair.
Okay, now we’re talkin! These are my favorite parts of belly dance costuming and performance. All the sweet trappings you get to pile on to your arms, neck, and head! We’ll start from the top down, so I can be sure I don’t forget anything.
Headpiece. There are virtually endless ways to adorn one’s head for a belly dance performance. One basic way is with a head scarf. Secure it firmly to your head using bobby pins. But that’s not the end of head scarf adornment. No, no. You get to then stick a ton of STUFF onto that scarf! The choices are truly up to you. A lot of dancers go with hair flowers, as well as hair pins. The flowers and other baubles are generally kept toward the crown of the head and back.
Another way to decorate your noggin is by using a headband. You can make one easily enough with a hot glue gun, some fabric, and old jewelry and/or flowers. A trip to your local craft store for a nice, wide headband and some stuff to put on it is all you need.
Necklaces. Like all accessories, what you put around your neck is personal to you. You can go very traditional with coin necklaces and kuchi pendents, or use your own existing jewelry. The key is layering. Find pieces of varying lengths that will drape nicely and that’s all you really need.
Bracelets. Personally, I like to use metal and leather for all my jewelry. Metal cuffs and bangles look awesome. My rule for bracelets is: cover as much of your forearms as possible. You can also use upper arm cuffs and wraps. These can be simple stretchy fabric wraps, or metal arm cuffs depending on how much money you want to invest into your decorations. Many times, dancers like to wear slave bracelets-which are rings and bracelets that are attached by metal chains and coins over the top of the hand.
By no means does the absolute beginner have to own all of these items! This is not an exhaustive list by any means. There are endless possibilities and combinations of costuming props, but these things will give you a solid wardrobe to work with! To find these items or purchase them, check out our Belly Boutique! Not finding what you’re looking for? We’ll special order anything for no extra charge, just give us a shout.