The following are suggestions for alternative costumes for eastern dance; not all of them are practical for "belly dance", where a hip line accent is a necessity. None except the Indian costume shows bare skin between the bottom of the bra line and the hipline because this style of costume is a much later development than the period of time encompassed by the SCA. A more authentic interpretation of the so-called "cabaret" style of belly dance costume would be a long, sheer white blouse with a short, fitted vest over it.
[fig 1] For those who enjoy emphasizing the "creative" in SCA, this is a field ripe for recreation. Enough documentation exists to prove that these dancers, using some type of castanet or cymbal, or clapper, danced with great joy and vivacity. (fig. 1). We lack knowledge of exactly what their music might have been, but certainly there were flutes, lyres, and some type of drum. Appropriate colors for these costumes could include yellow or green and vermillion, since these are mentioned as "appropriate to women devoted to the cult of pleasure".
[fig 13] Classical Persian Costume (fig. 13) as shown in the Persian miniatures consists of loosely fitted, long dresses with long sleeves, generally worn with a long coat over it. There are a couple of major difficulties with trying to document a costume in this manner. First, it is difficult to know what time period these figures are actually intended to portray. The Persian miniatures are usually illustrations from the Shah Nameh, or Book of Kings, written by Firdausi about the glorious history of Persia. Firdausi glorifies that part of Persian (Iranian) history when they were still ruled by Persians, their golden age being about 800 A.D. However, Firdausi wrote his masterpiece for the Turkish conquerors of his native land in the 1400's. The second difficulty is that since portrayal of the human figure was in actuality prohibited by Islam, the Persian miniature artists avoided conflict by not attempting to portray daily reality. They intentionally used a flat perspective system and portrayed mythical heroes in a sphere that was considered to be beyond reality. It is the same idea used by the Romanesque artists who portrayed royalty and religious figures as icons, removed from reality. All the ladies pictured, of course, have white headscarves and are extremely modest. It is, therefore, difficult to say what the average woman might have worn from 800 A.D. to 1400 A.D. A more accurate idea could be gained by study of the many statuettes found in these areas. The periods of Persian costuming are: the Median (900-600 B.C.), the Achaemenian (550-330 B.C.), the Parthian (250 B.C. to 224 A.D.), Sassanian (224-652 A.D.), the 12th century, the 15th century and the Safavid dynasty (1501-1722), and Zand (1750 to 1796).
Dr. Harouny, an Afghani Persian woman now living in the United States, describes the historical dress of the Persian Empire in an unpublished treatise on Persian dance Radif-E Raqs. Since this information is so difficult to locate, I have excerped much of the description of Persian dress:
At the beginning of the Persian empire, dress was simple with clothing being woven and tailored by the women of the family. Clothing of Lamb's wool was common and styles were uni-sex in nature. A Persian when dressing, first covered the body with white cotton underwear. Over this was placed a single garment a single garment made up of two pieces attached at the rear. The upper part was a circular cut of pleated cloth, the bottom a large long skirt. The skirt had either one or two pleats permitting a long stride of the legs. The top of the garment extended from the back over the shoulders and arms, falling in pleats in front, the large pleats providing ample arm movement, the side pleats over each arm functioning as sleeves. At the waist, a leather belt pulled in all the pleats of the skirt.
As the empire grew, more wealth created a taste for more luxurious fabrics which featured richer decoration, and the use of rare dyes. Whereas formerly wool, cotton and linen and been used, now silk made its debut from the Chinese. Beautiful fabrics were created with gold and silver threads. Purple was generally the royal color, white had religious connotations, and lapis lazuli blue, olive green, turquoise and many shades of brown were commonly used. The Parthians came to power and ruled for 470 years, and Persia became even more influential.
The Sasanians succeeded the Parthians in 224 A.D. and a reaction set in against foreign influences. This feudal society afforded the upper classes great luxury. The typical dress was a loose long sheath tightened at the waist and pleated at the knee. Over the sheath, draped much like a sari, was a stole of elegant material, usually fine muslin, which could be fastened around the waist to serve as an additional skirt or draped over the shoulder. Another style of the period featured a knee length dress, which revealed a pair of trousers underneath. When Islam came to Persia, a radical religious and social change occurred, but the desert Arabs had little effect on culture. Rather, they adopted the dress and manners of the Persians and there were no major changes for many years. Dresses became somewhat shorter and the sleeves wider and fuller. Armbands with Kufic designs were worn to indicate adherence to Islam. Sassanian textiles were delicate, soft and had exquisite patterns on them.
Styles continued in much the same manner up to the 11th and 12th centuries. At the height of the Abbasid period, popularly reflected in the Thousand and one Nights tales, the women wore over their dresses a coat which was open in front with a scarf or belt at the waist. With the advent of the Turks from Central Asia to Persia the later invasions by the Mongols, new ideas were introduced. The same long dresses were worn but now were covered with elaborate embroidery.
Safavid styles embraced the whole of the 16th and 17th centuries along with the first third of the 18th century. They were a reaction to the Turkish influence and an attempt to model ancient Persian ideas. Safavid women's dress consisted of long trousers tight at the ankle with a draw-string waist covered by a loose ankle-length robe open in front with sleeves that were tight at the wrist. Like the men, women wore a mantle as part of their basic clothing in public. The dress length might vary, revealing the trousers which might be striped. A large length of cloth cut on the bias would be worn as a cumberbund around the hips, and folded over with both ends hanging down from the front of the waist falling just above the hemline of the dress. A princess wearing such a garment might carry jeweled daggers tucked on each side as an ornament and as self-defense.
The wearing of chadors, the type of outer veil wore today when outside the home did not evolve until the 18th century. Until then, women had simply covered themselves with white veils when outdoors.
What this illustrates is how slowly fashions changed in the near and middle east. There are two definite styles of pants: the more purely Persian pant is cut narrow and is cuffed and loose at the bottom. The true Turkish Hareem pants are extremely full, gathered with drawstrings, and gathered tight at the ankles. To reproduce these costumes, it's important to note that the Persians loved flowered, decorated fabrics, and that stripes are more typically Turkish. Both loved bright colors located close together on the color wheel, such as: turquouse/purple, yellow/brown, etc. The Persian musician (shown on the cover) is a lovely example of Turkish hareem pants worn, for convenience with a blouse and vest. In order to make these correctly, you must use a minimum of 60 inches wide for each leg. Attempting to make them with 45 inches width or less results in a skimpy, non-authentic look. People from India, Pakistan, Central Asia, and the Persians of the Bandari area, all wear styles akin to the Persian pants, which are cut narrow in the leg with a cuff.
[fig 7] The dress of the Ghawazees as seen in 19th century illustrations is simply the Persian coat with slits, which they called an Yelek. This is the same basic garment (an Anteri) worn by the Turkish Cengi dancer shown in figure 7. The remains of the long decorative sleeves portrayed in the miniatures can be seen in the pieces of cloth trailing open at the elbows. Under this slit coat, the Ghawazee wear the large Turkish hareem pants. The coat should be nearly ankle-length to be authentic and the neckline may be cut lower around the breasts. As an alternative to the long coat, there is the Ghawazee variation using a tightly-fitted waist length coat. There is even one variation (not shown) of a coat with a hip length ruffle over a full skirt. A skimpy coat cut off at the knees is not authentic. It should also be noted that there is a sheer white underdress or long blouse worn under either coat or jacket. The Ghawazee retain the Persian cumberband by using a scarf. These 19th century Ghawazee also braided their hair and wore an elaborate headpiece to cover their head.
Another Ghawazee variation was described by Quamar el-Mulok, (fig. 12) who interviewed two of the dancers of the Mazin family, Karam and Amal, in 1976 is as follows:
"... a thin, white blouse, covered by a little sleeveless vest. Where their grandmothers had worn long, dark skirts of velveteen or satin, Karam and Amal wore knee-length skirts of dense chiffon or georgette, covered from top to bottom with rows of bugle bead fringe tipped with large spangles....Yesteryear's girdle of tasseled, ankle-length brocade streamers and shorter tasseled silk ropes attached to a narrow roll of cloth around the hips was now an arrangement of four or five broader streamers covered with large, flat spangles, hanging down the front of the skirt to the hem. Gone were the silver anklets, the long necklaces of coins and strings of beads, the small fillet or cap perched atop the bound-up hair. In their place was a necklace that has become symbolic of Egyptian folkloric dance: a breast ornament of filigree crescents of decreasing size suspended from a coin-edged rib band sewn to the garment beneath, and a regal headdress."
Fig 12 shows the padded roll worn more towards the hips because modern dancers would more realistically wear them lower; in actuality it was probably worn closer to the waist. It is possible that the Ghawazee simply wore what the common people wore, which had to be durable to last working the streets, and that they added a hip roll and perhaps jewelry to accentuate their moves. Unfortunately, there we cannot determine when this costume originated. This style has been superseded by a simple balady dress (balady means "country"), sometimes decorated with beads, for the modern Ghawazee.
The Ghawazee are among Egypt's Gypsies, and naturally subject to foreign influence. This raises the question of what the native Egyptian dress actually was. Irena Lexova, who copied pictures from the Egyptian pyramids and studied them as dance movement had the following conclusions: Women in the Old Kingdom put on the short men's skirts (i.e. aprons) or danced completely nude on many occasions because the usual long dress was too restrictive of movement. Nude dancers wore a belt around the waist which concealed nothing. Otherwise dancers might wear long or short transparent garments, sometimes with one breast completely revealed. Women's ordinary dress in the New Kingdom consisted of a transparent broad, long cloak with narrow or broad sleeves. Their most frequent ornaments were narrow or broader brightly decorated collars, shown in both the Middle and new Kingdom illustrations. They also wore bracelets, earrings, ribbons round their chests, ribbons or garlands on the dancer's heads, and hair combs. One peculiar ornament was a cone made of semi-solid perfumed fat which was fastened on top of the head and provided sweet fragrance as it melted.
After the last of the Egyptian kingdoms, there is little or no documentation on what people wore. But a look at the clothes worn in Egypt today show that little has changed, except that fabrics are heavier and nudity is no longer so acceptable. The men performing the stick dance are wearing the same type of long tunic earlier worn only by the women. According to Amira El-Kattan, a modern Egyptian dancer, the Egyptians never wore pants, and often slit their tunics up to the thigh to give more freedom of movement. Both Egypt and India would have been able to produce very fine cottons of superior quality.
We do know that the Egyptians were famous for their production of a special type of Egyptian net embroidery called Asyut or Asuit. In the Museum of Montbijou at Berlin are preserved specimens of netting made by Egyptians over three thousand years ago. These nets are made from flax. The Egyptian production of this hand-made net surpasses modern fibers in intricacy of design, each net composed of some three-hundred and sixty-five individual fibers. Their dye techniques were equally sophisticated; metallic salts to improve the fastness of dyes has been found in textiles in tombs dating from before 1500 B.D. These early embroideries were done with the application of precious metals, especially gold. The pure metal was beaten into thin plates, divided into small slips which were rounded by a hammer, and then filed to form wire. Few remains of ancient wire work have been found. This net would certainly have qualified as "transparent", as shown on the tomb pictures.
Records of this beautiful art disappears in Egypt until the 1800's when it was reintroduced by the French and Germans, possibly in the area of Asyut, where metal embroidered shawls began to appear and were made for export. Egyptians today call this fabric "tulle bitteli", or "tule" and pronounced as "tulley". One manufacturer calls them "toile", which is French for net. If any of these old shawls can be located they are prohibitively expensive. However, modern imitations are available from eastern dance suppliers, and are quite affordable. Even though their use cannot be strictly documented in the intervening years, an imitation asyut dress were be a very wonderful ethnic accent for a costume. Modern Egyptian dancers, as shown in fig. 6, are very fond of Asyut and it makes a lightweight and practical dance costume. Of course, modern dancers would prefer more material underneath than the ancient Egyptians wore!
[fig 14][fig 13] The cultures in the area of North Africa has a costume which is too interesting not to mention (fig. 14). The Haik is worn with variations by both men and women and makes an extremely practical field costume, although some dancers might consider it a bit bulky for dancing. A similarly draped garment is worn be Bedouin tribal women. Anyone attempting to recreate a "trance dance" could certainly wear a haik (or Melia as it is called in Tunisia). As shown in fig 13, the haik is a completely wrapped, no-sew garment. Although documentation is scarce on when this garment became popular, it most closely resembles the ancient greek pailla. The garment is wrapped from left to right, starting in the back. The first wrap forms a "blouse" by the attachment of special cloak clips, which resemble the ones used by the Celts. The Tunisian version, (right, fig. 14) however, has a decorated chain between the left and right circle. The Tunisian dancer pictured in fig. 14 (right) wears a blouse (Qamisa) and draws hers tightly underneath the breast, while the Moroccan girl beside her (left, fig. 14) simply wears the haik loosely drawn at the shoulders. The Haik is belted at the waist, and the Tunisian dancer wears a distinctive white, fringed yarn belt.
Another dance extremely appropriate to this costume would be one using a large pot as a prop. Tunisian dances typically feature a "w" arm position with the arms held upward from the elbows; the wearing of numerous bracelets would also be authentic and flattering. A headpiece is mandatory, although several types are seen. The type of headscarf, know as a Mharma or Shaar, which was seen on black slaves in the United States was likely derived from this area, where it is still worn. It is actually two pieces, a larger scarf to cover, and then a smaller scarf or decoration with the ends tied on top of the head.
[fig 12] Since the connection between Gypsies and India has been so thoroughly explored, it will perhaps not be surprising that their costume has a great deal in common with the costumes of medieval Northern India. The Spanish cave Gypsy in fig 12 would look much like the court lady of India if she also wore the head veil. Kay Ambrose, in her study of Indian dance, presents the costume in fig. 9, as an authentic medieval costume for Indian dance. She explains that the heavily overdressed appearance of today's Bharata Natya which conceal the dancer's figure do not appear before the 19th century. The lady pictured is a court lady of Rajput. "Rajputs have that love of ornaments, gold brocades and diaphanous swinging skirts which is almost feminine but is so often characteristic of the genuine warrior. They love to glitter like the Sun, from whom they are supposed to be descended.... Their ladies are dreams of modest delicate beauty. Their dancers also dress in full court regalia.... Also in Rajputana, the village women of Jaipur kick waives in the hens of huge skirts with every step and lustrous eyes regard the stranger with composure. The perpetual water shortage makes white an impractical colour, and the result is costumes of flaring yellows and reds and patterned, emerald green. " What gypsy could ask for more!
Gypsy costumes must be researched in relation to a distinct geographic location. Middle Gypsies in Iran and Turkey wear the same long tunic as other middle easterners, or the North Indian type skirt. European Gypsies changed their costume to accommodate local customs. But in almost every descriptions of Gypsies their large, full skirts are mentioned as well as their love of bright colors (especially red, black and green). Married Gitanas in Spain are said to wear a red scarf to indicate their marital status, while unmarried women let their hair hang freely.
For a truly authentic Eastern look, there is no substitute for wearing Kohl (or sorme in Persian). The dictionary defines kohl as an "antimony". It is essentially an inorganic solution which blackens the area around the eye, and is completely hygenic if the stick used to apply it is clean. Kohl is inexpensive and long-lasting when worn; it is waterproof, but not "spit-proof". Kohl can be purchased from the larger middle eastern grocery stores, or from some belly dance supply sources. To apply kohl in the same manner as the ancient Egypitans: obtain a wooden stick of 3-5" in length (with ends rounded), dip in in olive oil, wipe off the excess oil, and then in the kohl. Hold the stick horizontal to your eye, place the front end of it on your eye, at the inside corner, and move slowly outwards, keeping it between the two lids and still touching the eye. This does not produce any pain. In face, the Bedouins use kohl as eye medicine because the excess kohl will gather at the inside of the eye and be washed out. This effectively removes any sand or particles that have gotten in the eye. WARNING: If you wear contacts, you must apply the kohl FIRST, before putting in contacts. Secondly, since I am familiar with HARD or GAS PERMEABLE contacts, I make no guarantee as to what this will do to SOFT contacts.
Many tribal or authentic looks assume that a woman has long hair. Naturally, in today's society most women do not. There are ways, however to get the same effect. You can make headpieces and caps with fake braids or ponytail pieces built-in. Secondly, you can do what modern Central Asian dancers do to achieve long braids (This type of dance requires the braids as part of the costume.) Bedouin women wear an odd number of braids, from 5-7. Central Asian women may wear as many as eight. However, if you have thin hair, you may only be able to braid in five. The procedure is as follows:
Purchase a piece (or two) of quality synthetic hair in ponytail form. It must be the kind with hair sewn-in individually. Cut this apart into a minimum of 3 sections per ponytail if your hair is thick, or 6 pieces if your hair is thin. Section out your own hair into as many sections as you with to braid, and pin. Pick up a section of imitation hair and likewise, comb and section it into 3 parts, laying it down carefully. Now put your hands to your own hair and separate it with your fingers into 3 parts, leaving your right hand in place. With your left, pick up the sectioned artificial hair, using your fingers to maintain the separations and lay it underneath your own hair, matching a section of artificial hair for each of your own. Grab one outer section with your right hand and one with your left and start braiding. Braid OVER and not under; this will help to hide the knot at the top of the artificial braid. It is critical to start this process slightly above the hairline and to braid tightly and cleanly, since they will loosen up. Central Asian dancers do not put any kind of tie on the ends, since theirs are long enough to reach their hips it actually doesn't unbraid. However, any type of tiny bells or beads would be quite apropriate for a "nomad" look.
A bedouin nomad's headpiece, to be worn over a scarf, is also easy to
make. Weave, or purchase, a strip approximately 40 inches long and about
1 inch wide (not including another 6-8 inches worth of extra strings).
To these attach any pieces of jewelry or small bells which strike your
fancy. To wear, wrap from the front so that the pieces cross in back, and
the extra strings hang at each side. Wearing a small cap underneath may
facilitate keeping the headdress on, and also supporting the weight of
a heavy headpiece. Turbans are also worn with a cap underneath, which might
or might not show. Although turbans, or turban-like wraps were by women
in some cultures, turbans were generally male headgear.