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Tribal and Tribal Fusion Belly Dance Costumes
Tribal belly dance costumes are rich and complex. Elaborate headresses and turbans, exotic make-up and face decoration, tribal jewellery, layered skirts - as I watch my tribal sisters getting ready for performance, I'm sometimes glad I'm not a tribal belly dancer myself. I'd be exhausted before I even got on stage!
Tribal belly dance is not, as many assume, an authentic tribal dance. It's a uniquely American invention, and the basic style of the costume was set in the 1960s by the style's originator, Jamila Salimpour, gathering together an eclectic mix of influences from Middle Eastern, American Indian and African designs.
Tribal bellydance was formalized into a system known as American Tribal Style (ATS) by Carolena Nericcio in the 1970s. From there, many forms of tribal fusion belly dance have evolved, but many still use the fundamentals of tribal bellydance costuming.
The Top Half
The picture on the right is of Carrie Moore from Gypsy Horizon Belly Dance, wearing a classic (if I can use that word) ATS belly dance costume.
Note the flowers in the hair - never only one, and never without additional decoration such as feathers, chopsticks, bands or scarves. She wears a single facial jewel - many tribal dancers wear a line of diamantes (a type of bindi), following the line of their eyebrows.
In general, ATS dancers are more covered than other belly dancers - if they wear a coin bra, they'll wear it over a drop-shoulder choli top like Carrie's here.
There is a special tribal bellydance choli, which ties at the back and leaves most of the back exposed, but there are many interpretations of it - some low cut at the front, some more modest, some with different styles of fastening at the back, and some with ties at the front. The drop shoulder style is popular.
The finishing touch is lots of chunky jewellery. I've never seen a tasseled armband (like the one Carrie's wearing) before, but tassels on the hip belt are very common.
Belts and Skirts
Tribal hip belts aren't all bling and jingle. If tribal dancers are going to wear a lot of jangly coins, it's more usually on their chest, not their hips!
The tribal belt is more likely to be made of wool, tapestry and tassels with some coins or metal discs thrown in. They have an ethnic look, although (like the rest of the tribal costume) they're not necessarily authentic.
Tribal bellydance skirts are voluminous, like traditional flamenco skirts but worn on the hip, not the waist.
Underneath, they may wear underskirts in a different color, like flamenco dancers, so there's a flash of colour when the skirt is in motion. You'll also see a flamenco skirt worn over harem pants.
Oriental bellydancers rarely wear hip scarves in professional performance, but you will often see Tribal dancers wearing them. Often they are flamenco shawls, or embroidered scarves like this Turkish style one.
Tribal Fusion Pants
We commonly associate harem pants with belly dance - but many tribal fusion bellydancers wear pants which look more like something from jazz dance! They're typically snug fitting around the bottom and thigh, and flare out from the knee.
Melodia pants are the best-known of this style and have sparked a host of imitations. The flare is usually very exaggerated. There are many variations, including pants with attached skirts, fringing or beading, flares that can be tied up, drawstring sides, and lace or mesh cut-outs.
The video of Rachel Brice (below) doesn't show much of her mesmerizing dance style, but it does give several good close-ups of her costume, make-up and tattoos.
Rachel is probably the best known tribal belly dancer, due to her membership of the Belly Dance Superstars troupe, which includes several wonderful Tribal and Tribal Fusion dancers.
All text copyright Marisa Wright. Photos by Alaskan Dude.