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Costumes for Sinuous Bellydancers

Updated on March 29, 2016
Ilonagarden profile image

I took bellydance lessons and performed, then became interested in costume. The historical relationship of dance and culture is fascinating.

Belly Dance Costume Styles

If you are putting together a look for your own dance performance, or if you have in mind an authentic costume for your next costume party invitation... there are numerous variations of belly dance costumes to choose from, and not all look like Barbara Eden of "I Dream of Jeannie", although they can.

Some are tribal, some are simple caftans decorated and dressed up, while even the cabaret costumes have surprising variations when you think of the many types of skirts, vests, colors and hip scarves or belts that are available. If you have ever attended a Hafla, you know half the fun is to visit the "souk" or the marketplace of videos, costuming baubles and gorgeous scarves, bras and belts that are displayed for purchase. This lens is a little like that- I hope you have as much fun looking at all this "dressup" stuff as I did putting it together.


The basic performance costume

Bedlah is the cabaret costume, with beaded bra top, bare midriff, beaded hip belt and long skirt. The word bedlah is Arabic for "suit" and refers to an entire set such as those items named plus the jewelry, headband, veil, and harem pants. These are coordinated in color and decoration. This is probably the most popular belly dance costume, and the one popularized in movies and nightclub performances.

Costumer Details

The Bra and Belt can be the most expensive, depending on the workmanship. Usually the two match each other and contrast somewhat with the skirt and veil.

I found some representative costume pieces, well put together and not flimsy.

Today, it is very popular to go with softer belts or coin decorations sewn directly on the skirt. The professional performers still seem to prefer the heftier versions of beaded and fringed belts.

Colors range from every hue in the rainbow, some prefer to harmonize theirs with the colors of the skirt and pants, others like contrasting colors. Gold and silver are very widely used for the bra and belt, but many tribal outfits have black choli tops and coin belts or scarves at the hip. Research the look you want to create and then choose your colors.

All About Belly Dance

Bellydance: A Guide to Middle Eastern Dance, Its Music, Its Culture and Costume
Bellydance: A Guide to Middle Eastern Dance, Its Music, Its Culture and Costume

There is so much more to know about bellydance costumes from different cultures, and the music that goes with it. Start a library of information. This book includes moves, information on learning the dance and its moves, as well as good historical information.


Costume Tip

Use a nylon cover for the midriff. Simply cut off the legs of sheer panty hose and attach top under the band of the bra and the base at the skirt band. Voila- instant and subtle coverage.

Tribal Fusion

Some think it is the hottest look

It melds some of the tribal elements with modern dance pants and panel skirts at times, netted gloves, dramtic and dark colors plus lots and lots of tribal jewelry bling. You need to see pictures and examples of the dance to get the full impact of this steampunk type of bellydance dance costume.


Tribal Costumes

Ethnic and fastasy costumes

Tribal costumes allow for a great deal of individuality, just as the dancing style does, but it also has a certain adherence to preferred decoration and costume components. The skirts are usually full, or if pantaloons are used they will have fullness and possibly tiered ruffling. Lots of coins and authentic styled (if not actually the real thing) arm bands and jewelry are used. Many of the styles used by Ghawazee dancers are incorporated, such as a turban or hair covering, large flowers, decorative hair picks,etc. Richer colors and fabrics are often chosen, too. Earthy rather than merely shiny.

But by all means, remember the costume jewelry. The jewelry makes the look. Any Middle Eastern ethnic look has jewelry, especially coin jewelry that provides accent for the movements and interest for the eye.


Raks sharki or sharqi: "eastern or oriental dancing"

Raqs baladi: "folk dancing"

The Gypsy Costume

Colorful and ruffled skirts

Swirling skirts, head scarves, large heavy jewelry, and bright colors announce the Gypsy costume. The materials are sturdier and more in keeping with what might be worn by the caravan lifestyle of these nomadic people.

Tribal Style


Sometimes a tambourine is part of the costume and played during the dance, as well. Don't be surprised if you see other props such as snakes or fire rings... it's all for entertainment.

Gypsy/ Cabaret Mix


More of the Gypsy costumes have sleeves or the semblance of them through armlets that have a blousen look.

To make your own gypsy costume, try this Simplicity pattern:

Simplicity 2521 Sewing Pattern Khaliah Ali Gypsy Belly Dancer Costume Size 26 - 32

Tribal Costume Look - Hairstyle tutorial

...create a tribal hair style


Sometimes that is what really sets the look apart

Many dancers use veils, and there are types of dances which are created with a long introduction utilizing the veil to create mystery and intrigue. When you add such props as Isis wings, entire dances can be choreographed ( or improvised) with the swirling of the fabric adding a dimension and movement to the dance. It is quite an art to do this well, but simple veil movements almost always look graceful and add to the performance.

You can buy veils, but truthfully they are so very simple to make that it is much easier to go to your favorite fabric store, preferably one that sells silks, and buy about three yards. Then follow these directions:

"A basic rectangular veil should be twice the length of your arm. Hold your arms straight out to the sides. With a tape measure, note the length from the fingertips on your left hand to the fingertips on your right hand. To this number, add 2 feet. This will be the length of your veil." Then simply make a rolled hem at the edges. That is it.

I was taught, and I think it is true that a dancer should have zills or a tambourine when dancing, more often than not. It can be a learning curve to play rhythm instruments like these well, but the biggest secret is to practice consistently, - just get out the zils and play along with music that you listen and practice to. Indian dancers use ankle bells and bracelets for additional musical emphasis.

Headbands and headwear often provide a balance to everything that is going on with the costume and can keep hair,( and sweat) out of the way. Fingerless gloves and sleeve-like poufs or beading is also very graceful. You can't use everything at once,but it shows the variety of looks that can be dreamed up to make your costume unique and best for your look.

A necklace might be more wanted, or long earrings, practice with them to see how comfortable they are with your moves and other parts of the costume.

Bellydance Jewelry

Khaleeji and Baladi dances - With their distinctive costuming

All The Costume Explained - In a visual file

Style File: A Visual Vocabulary of Middle Eastern Dance Costume
Style File: A Visual Vocabulary of Middle Eastern Dance Costume

Fifty original drawings provide a concise visual guide. An invaluable reference tool for dance students, teachers, and belly dance costume designers.


Rich Fabric And Unique Design Sets The Dancer Apart


The Beladi and Khalegi Dresses

more modest, and very authentic ethnic costume

These are both full body dresses that are made for dancing and sometimes they have a hip scarf or belt for accent. Obviously they are a more modest choice for those who like to dance, but don't wish to show so much of their skin.

Khaleeji means 'of the Gulf', and refers to a dance style typical of the Arabic peninsula and the Persian gulf including Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Arab Emirates, Qatar, Yemen, Kuwait and parts of Iraq. It can also refer to the makeup and the dresses that women of this region wear when they dress for formal events like weddings. The dancers in this style wear a caftan called a thobe nashal. Khaleeji music has a unique rhythm.

You will notice the variants in spelling of belly dance terms like "beledi" and "khaleegi" when transliterated in English. It's all acceptable.

This type of bellydance costume is becoming more popular.

Cabaret Look - For the traditional Egyptian belly dance

This is the most popular dance costume in the Middle East and the Egyptian and Turkish dancers usually wear this type, It can range from very skimpy to a more covered look, although the midriff is only covered in a nylon covering that doesn't obscure the view of the muscular shimmies and undulations of the belly dance.

The more modern look has the bead fringes sewn into the smooth skirt, and provides a more subtle fashion design that goes with the subtle shimmies and smooth movement of the Egyptian cabaret dance.


A Look At the Past

The Mata Hari look

When Little Egypt burst on the scene in the Chicago World's Fair, she wore a simple folklore outfit, but it wasn't long before dancers improvised. Mata Hari, famous for her dancing created a look that was mimicked whenever Oriental dance was on the billing.

I Like.... - Belly Dance Costumes

Which costume style is your favorite?

See results

Learn How To Do Veil Work - Veils add mystery to the dance

How to choose and dance with a veil

Your Comments Are Welcome

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    • Steph Tietjen profile image

      Stephanie Tietjen 5 years ago from Albuquerque, New Mexico

      Thorough coverage of the topic. I need to get back to belly dance, fabulous exercise and fun! Thank you for a Really great article.

    • OhMe profile image

      Nancy Tate Hellams 5 years ago from Pendleton, SC

      Many, many, many years ago, I enjoyed Belly Dancing and still have my costume. It was fun exercise.

    • profile image

      JoshK47 6 years ago

      Definitely loving these costumes - quite pleasing to the eye. Great work. :)

    • profile image

      JoshK47 6 years ago

      Definitely loving these costumes - quite pleasing to the eye. Great work. :)