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  1. #1
    V.I.P. Dev's Avatar
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    Default The history of Belly Dance costumes

    Hello Everybody,

    I have always wondered where the actual Bedlah inspirations come from, Looking at historic photographs from the Middle East region I don’t see any resemblance of modern day Belly Dance costumes with folkloric costumes , I have read somewhere Badia Masabini is the first one to adopt a 2 piece costume for her dancers to perform at night clubs to fulfil Foreign tourists imaginations of Harem girls. If that theory is true I would like to know where Badia got her inspiration from?

    Thank you all.

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    V.I.P. lizaj's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Dipali View Post
    Hello Everybody,

    I have always wondered where the actual Bedlah inspirations come from, Looking at historic photographs from the Middle East region I don’t see any resemblance of modern day Belly Dance costumes with folkloric costumes , I have read somewhere Badia Masabini is the first one to adopt a 2 piece costume for her dancers to perform at night clubs to fulfil Foreign tourists imaginations of Harem girls. If that theory is true I would like to know where Badia got her inspiration from?

    Thank you all.
    One theory is Hollywood! Fantasy oriental costumes became real!
    http://www.moviediva.com/MD_root/MDi...ianNights3.jpg

    Google Image Result for http://www.joyofbellydancing.com/images/vinphoto11.jpg
    Last edited by lizaj; 10-15-2008 at 10:36 PM.

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    V.I.P. Aniseteph's Avatar
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    There are some bare midriffs in 19th century French Orientalist pics.les almes by Pierre Louis Bouchard
    And Gérôme seems to think ME dancers need bare midriffs (as compared to bare everything'ed harem girls ) , e.g. Jean Léone Gérôme: Dance of the Almeh

    Ooh, wow, isn't the Internet amazing, here's a French film of 1905. Orientalist cliches and special effects (but not much plot), at about 5:55 there's a girl brought on wearing a 2 piece (I watched all of it including part one, how's that for dedication to research? The music will drive you nuts...)

    Mata Hari made her big debut in Paris in 1905; jewelled/metallic bra though influences for her image were Indian and further East, not ME. Maud Allen was about the same time, jewelled bra and Visions of Salome, and the Salome craze. A little later there's the Orientalism of the Ballet Russes with a few bare midriffs.

    Here's a still from a 1918 German film by Ernst Lubitsch (who went Hollywood shortly after) - Pola Negri as an Egyptian girl, showing the Europeans how they dance back home (yeah, right. If you think that doesn't look too authentic there's Emil Jannings blacked up as her captor. Oh dear oh dear... ):

    (the link is erratic, sometimes I get the red cross in the box, other times it's OK)
    There's another one they did, she's a dancing girl again, all sheikhs and harems. Can't find any stills but this from a review: "Pola shakes, cavorts, gyrates, slides, wiggles... almost always with a least a little midriff showing, if not a whole bunch". Pola also goes Hollywood and probably so does the whole image by the early 20's, if it wasn't there already. Ooh, cue Theda Bara's INSANE snakey bra.

    I haven't found any very early Hollywood films with 2 piece-clad dancing girls, but it could be that it was still slightly risque (but OK for those decadent Europeans!). Maybe.

    But by the 1920s I wouldn't be surprised if your Western punter had the 2-piece image well ingrained, especially Europeans, and it was what they wanted/expected to see.

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    V.I.P. Kashmir's Avatar
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    I believe her inspiration was Western Orientalist fantasies - ie she was giving the men what they expected to see. There were all those 19th century paintings of partially clad models; there was the Indian costume (India was well known in Europe); there was the likes of Mata Hari (not a belly dancer) and Maud Allen and Theda Bara; there was the huge interest in all things Egyptian - providing they were at least 3000 years old; and there was the Ballet Russe - which between 1909 and 1912 performed six "Oriental Ballets" in Paris which were to influence western fashion and perceptions of the East for decades.

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    Moderator Amulya's Avatar
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    V.I.P. Dev's Avatar
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    Thank you ladies. All links were very helpful. Aniseteph thank you for the warning about the music, I muted it and watched the video, pretty flashy and well advanced looking at the time it was released.

    I have few more questions but let me check out all the links first, I may find my answers.

    Thank you all.

    Regards
    Dev

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    V.I.P. Aisha Azar's Avatar
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    Default Ghawazi

    Dear Dipali,
    We always think to look to the West as far as where the East gets its "inspiration", as if the people there are not capable of coming up with ideas either from their own back yards, or have to somehow wait for the West to inspire them. This, to me, is real colonialist attitude. I would rather explore some of the possibilities from North Africa and from the Middle and Near East.
    There is a thinker on the subject named Graham-Brown, who considers the idea that the costume may have been inspired by the clothing of Hindi women, rather than Hollywood. I can't think of her first name right now because I have barely had my first cup of coffee.
    I once gave some thought to the following after reading some descriptions of Ghawazi costumes. Please try to remember that there is no source that supports this idea; it's only me conjecturing aloud....... The Ghawazi were known to wear garments that were diaphanous, or sometimes no garments at all, under short, ribcage length yeleks, as opposed to the longer ones we always think about. Muller's "The Almeh's Admirers" is one realistic example of Orientalist art that portrays this bared midriff. So, in effect, the street dancer might have had on a skirt or shalwar with a hip wrap, a sheer top with a tight vest-like garment covering her breasts (or not, depending on how it was constructed), and the effect was very much like the bra/belt garments that Badia's ladies wore. This may (and I want to really emphasize the word MAY here, since this is just conjecture and not fact at all) be just as valid an inspiration for Badia as were Hollywood movies. But, we in the west have been told so long that we are the inspiration for everything that it is hard to look around that to what might have inspired people in their own back yards.
    Regards,
    A'isha
    Last edited by Aisha Azar; 10-16-2008 at 01:23 PM.

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    V.I.P. Mya's Avatar
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    Hello A'isha - I understand your point of view and thank you for that new bit of info there as for me often times i am asked the same question about costuming and my answer has always been one-sided. I am happy now to be able to offer a possible alternative as food for thought even if not as fact.

    I give you an alternative here as well with which you are more than welcome to disagree and dismiss without fear of upsetting, offending or having your opinion criticised. My understanding of the influence of the west on costuming was never a positive one in terms of the west "inspiring" the east - i agree that this would be a quite annoying obnoxious colonial approach.

    My understanding was always one with negative connotations - the western fantasy of the east and their interpretation of it in movie costuming made it's way back to the east where it was adopted because of the cabaret and movie industries trying to appeal to western audiences/tourists.

    To me the concept of colonialism tends to have the characteristic of intent going along with it and i don't see the west/hollywood intending to influence the way costuming was presented in the east - even if that is what the end result was.

    Not asking you to change your opinion, but perhaps just adding another perspective or slant on the same idea.

    Mya

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    V.I.P. Aisha Azar's Avatar
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    Default Costuming

    Dear Mya,

    Quote Originally Posted by Mya View Post
    Hello A'isha - I understand your point of view and thank you for that new bit of info there as for me often times i am asked the same question about costuming and my answer has always been one-sided. I am happy now to be able to offer a possible alternative as food for thought even if not as fact.
    I usually try to give alternative points of view where there is no hard evidence to support one view or another. I tell my classes about both the European and Hindi theories, plus what I have thought about, making sure they hear the pros and cons of all these views to the best of my ability.

    I give you an alternative here as well with which you are more than welcome to disagree and dismiss without fear of upsetting, offending or having your opinion criticised. My understanding of the influence of the west on costuming was never a positive one in terms of the west "inspiring" the east - i agree that this would be a quite annoying obnoxious colonial approach.My understanding was always one with negative connotations - the western fantasy of the east and their interpretation of it in movie costuming made it's way back to the east where it was adopted because of the cabaret and movie industries trying to appeal to western audiences/tourists.
    This is certainly the belief that has been most perpetuated, and to me seems quite colonialist in that once again, the West takes credit for what may or may not be the way it was. Here is a little food for thought.... why would the movie industry be set up for European tourists? Usually the movie industry is based on the largest market appeal..... which would be the Arabs themselves, from all over the Middle East in the case of Egyptian movies. Hardly any European tourists would even understand what was being said in the movies, nor have any understanding of culturally based elements. The club industry is the same. It appealed greatly to wealthy Arabs even as much as it did to Europeans. It would have had to have some elements of appeal to both groups, though I can see where it might have a great appeal to Europeans. I would like to see some photos of the average audience at one of the shows at Casino Opera, so that we could see who was there!! then we would have a much better idea of what was going on. Many of the Arabs that I know are way into the newest, most innovative thing out there, and the club may have had great appeal to them. We have been trained to think of "innovative" as something that only happens in the West, but that is not true.

    To me the concept of colonialism tends to have the characteristic of intent going along with it and i don't see the west/hollywood intending to influence the way costuming was presented in the east - even if that is what the end result was.
    I agree, except that the psychology of the West being an influence in the East is the general theme here, not just the movies, but in every part of life. I was referring to the general theme and not the movies in particular.

    Not asking you to change your opinion, but perhaps just adding another perspective or slant on the same idea.

    Thanks for sharing!! I do not have my heart and mind set on one theory or another, but I did want to include some alternative thinking on the subject, just to give people a way to see a possible to connection to the people themselves, rather than an outside influence, for a change.
    Regards,
    A'isha


    Mya

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    V.I.P. Tarik Sultan's Avatar
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    Default Bedlah fact not conjecture.

    The first time the world ever saw a badlah was in the West. The most famous and probably one of the earliest was worn by Maud Allen in Oscar Wild's play Salome. This was the late 19th century. She wore a jeweled bra top, with a jeweled hip belt and a skirt of thin material.

    Maud Allen Actress and Dancer as Salome Photographic Print by Foulsham & Banfield at AllPosters.com

    That is a well documented fact, not a conjecture. I have a small collection of old photographs showing American and European actresses and models in bedlahs all of them from the turn of the century. The most famous of which is Little Egypt who was a complete fraud. Notice how her costume includes all the features of the bedlah, including veil. This was also late 19th to turn of the century. Decades before it was seen anywhere in the Middle East.

    ourworld.compuserve.com/. ../idd/Littleeg.htm



    Egypt at the turn of the century was not an isolated back water and the Egyptian people were not living under rocks. The educated class was fully aware of what was going on in the outside world because like India, they were a part of the British Raj. Being a person of South Asian descent, I am sure that you are fully aware of how attitudes regarding dress, speech, education and general way of life among the elite and civil service class was effected by the British colonialist mentality. The same was true for Egypt. All one has to do is look at photographs of the period to see how radically Egyptian society changed in a relatively short period of time in manner of dress and life style. The colonial experience was a major event in modern Egyptian history and one that the society is still coming to terms with today, as is Indian society. Therefore in any discussion of the history of that period, the colonial experience and its impact on the people and their culture must be taken into consideration.

    People in Egypt saw European movies, they saw European magazines, they saw European advertisements and the educated and wealthy even traveled and studied abroad in England, france and America. Therefore, they were well acquainted with the images in the Western media. How do you think Mahmoud Redda was able to see Fred Astair?

    Here's another thing to consider. The two piece costume was not just used for Orientalist themes. By the 1920's a two piece costume or some variation of it was the standard costume of all female nightclub dancer from the Cotton Club to the Ziegfield follies.




    Josephine Baker


    Carmen Miranda

    The whole concept of nightclubs and music halls were European imports.
    This was the Jazz age after all. A time when people were celebrating concepts of feminine beauty and modernity. What was happening in Cairo was a reflection of what was happening in nightclub entertainment in the larger western world, which set the standards in entertainment at that time. Badia and her colleagues were a part of that larger world. They were not looking to celebrate the glories or nostalgia of the past, but declaring that they were a new modern generation.

    Her club was located in Ezbekiyah, which was the heart of British Cairo. This was a new section of the city modeled after Paris, full of new modern art deco building and modern infrastructure. This then was the context that Raks Sharki developed. Not in isolation, not in internal reflection. Egypt at that time and Cairo in particular was an urbane, modern and cosmopolitan center. That is a fact that can be easily confirmed by a simple google search on the subject.

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