The history of Belly Dance costumes

Dev

New member
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.
 

lizaj

New member
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/MDimages/Copy_of_ArabianNights3.jpg

Google Image Result for http://www.joyofbellydancing.com/images/vinphoto11.jpg
 
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Aniseteph

New member
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 :rolleyes:) , 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... :naghty:):

(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. :cool:

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.
 

Kashmir

New member
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.
 

Dev

New member
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
 

Aisha Azar

New member
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
 
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Mya

New member
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. :D

Mya
 

Aisha Azar

New member
Costuming

Dear Mya,

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. :D

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
 

Tarik Sultan

New member
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.
 

Farasha Hanem

New member
Tarik, I hope I'm not off-topic with my question (if the mods feel my post needs to be made its own topic, I have no problem). Why was Little Egypt a fraud? I've never heard of this. :think:

There is much that I don't know regarding the history of bellydance. Up until the past year, all I knew was what I'd read in the books I'd bought at the bookstore. I've learned more here than I ever did in those books, which contains a lot of "information" that does not coincide with what I'm learning here.
 

Mosaic

Super Moderator
Great subject you have raised Dipali, It is something I have wondered about, but had never really gone into.

I am enjoying the info coming through in the replies, thanks everyone.
~Mosaic
 

Tarik Sultan

New member
Tarik, I hope I'm not off-topic with my question (if the mods feel my post needs to be made its own topic, I have no problem). Why was Little Egypt a fraud? I've never heard of this. :think:

There is much that I don't know regarding the history of bellydance. Up until the past year, all I knew was what I'd read in the books I'd bought at the bookstore. I've learned more here than I ever did in those books, which contains a lot of "information" that does not coincide with what I'm learning here.
There was no solo performer named little Egypt at the 1893 World's Fair. There was a troupe of Egyptian dancers and all their names are listed. The famous picture of Little Egypt is of one of many imitators cashing in on the Orientalist craze after the Fair, all calling themselves "Little Egypt". The first clue is the costume. No Egyptian dancer was wearing bedlad, let alone doing veil work. There are pictures of all the dancers at the Fair in their costumes and none of them are the "LIttle Egypt" in that picture. It was all publicity and urban legend that she stole the show, caused people to have heart attacks and saved the Fair from financial ruin.
 

Farasha Hanem

New member
Thank you very much, Tarik, for the info on Little Egypt, and to you too, Dev, for the links in the pm you sent me. I would have responded earlier this evening, but our internet started giving me fits. You are both so very kind and helpful, and I appreciate that. As I said earlier, I am learning much here. I am now finding that the books that I have are pretty much useless as far as the history of bellydance is concerned. Some of them have been helpful as far as dance technique, costuming, etc. (one even has recipes), but their info on the origins of the dance are obviously erroneous. One talks of Little Egypt dancing at the World Fair in Chicago, so I know the author didn't do enough research. The problem is that there's no telling how many other inexperienced dancers (such as myself) have fallen for and believe the bunk that's being perpetrated.

Of course, we've veered slightly off the original topic, and I do apologize for that. Before I unhijack the thread, I do want to say that I'm passing what I'm learning here to my teacher; I'm sure she'll be very interested. Just wish I could get her to join us here in the forum. I've been telling her about this place, and how wonderful everyone is. :)
 

Caroline_afifi

New member
It is still on track and discussing what was going on in that period before Badia Masabni.
I am not aware of anything that indicates there was bedlah before this.

By the way, from what I understand, the Cairo Sheraton is built on the land which housed Badias Club for many many years.

I was told this by my mum in law I think. :think:
 

Aisha Azar

New member
Sarah Graham-Brown

Dear Dipali,
I thought I would tell you a bit more about Sarah Graham-Brown, who certainly has a better historical view of clothing in the Middle East than I do. She wrote a book in the 1990s called "Images of Women", with an extended title explaining that the book is a photographic essay on women from the Middle East. I do not own the book yet, but I plan to do so soon, and to read up on her ideas about clothing there, since I have only done so in passing before this. I am sure that there are those here who might want to discredit Graham-Brown, but if I were you, I would look at her work with a serious eye before deciding she does not know her gluteous maximus from her ulna!
In studying dance, I have often found that we have been given in formation that can be easily skewed. For example, when I first started studying Gulf dance, I was told that it was "Saudi womens' dance", from Saudi Arabia, only performed for and by women, never danced in front of men, etc. the very first video I ever saw that was actually from the Gulf was of women dancing Samri in front of men. ALL of the information I had been given to that point, about the dance, the costume etc, was incorrect!!!!!!! I was simply astounded and thank goodness I was watching it with people from the Gulf so I could ask questions. I have since found that the dance did not even originate in Saudi Arabia, and all kinds of other discrepancies in the info that was taken as gospel by me and most dancers that I knew at the time. It was what we had been told by the "experts" here in the States. Many were at the time doing the bizarre "versions" of the dance as well as misrepresenting its role in the culture!! It taught me a valuable lesson, that it never hurts at all to look further than the dance community for information.
In the end, I am still looking at other sources and as yet have no strong opinions as to how and where the idea for the costume originated. It certainly will not endanger anything to keep an open mind about it, do more research, think about alternative explanations without saying the are written in stone, etc.
Regards,
A'isha
 

Tarik Sultan

New member
Farasha Hanem said:
Thank you very much, Tarik, for the info on Little Egypt, and to you too, Dev, for the links in the pm you sent me. I would have responded earlier this evening, but our internet started giving me fits. You are both so very kind and helpful, and I appreciate that. As I said earlier, I am learning much here. I am now finding that the books that I have are pretty much useless as far as the history of bellydance is concerned. Some of them have been helpful as far as dance technique, costuming, etc. (one even has recipes), but their info on the origins of the dance are obviously erroneous. One talks of Little Egypt dancing at the World Fair in Chicago, so I know the author didn't do enough research. The problem is that there's no telling how many other inexperienced dancers (such as myself) have fallen for and believe the bunk that's being perpetrated.
Just a heads up. Any book that starts of by stating the dance started at X time for X purpose is way of base. There is very little out there by way of books that is factual. The best book out there so far is "A Trade like any other" about female entertainers in Egypt. All we can say about the history of the dance is that there is no reason to indicate that it ever was anything other than what it is now, primarily a social dance. We can see by looking at it that the movement vocabulary reflects the geographical area where Egypt is located, East Africa, because we see similar movements in the dances of its East and Central African neighbors. We also see movement elements that are similar with Central Asian countries. Egypt is a cross roads and its population has always been influenced by a combination of indigenous Africans and Near Eastern peoples, which is also reflected in many of its cultural practices both in Pharaonic and post Pharaonic times. Exactly when and how these elements came together to create Raks Baladi, we will never know. All we can be certain of is that it evolved over a period of time, but how far back that is..... And honestly, does it even matter? Even if the dance did start as some sort of ritual way back when, that is not what it is now and the people there have no recollection of it. Its is primarily a social dance and that is all we really need to know.

We do know that the performance form we now call Sharki eveolved out of the social dance of Raks Baladi in the early 20th century because that is documented. So any time we see a book or a movie depicting ancient dancers wearing bedlah we know its false because the bedlah was invented in the late 19th century.


Farasha Hanem said:
Of course, we've veered slightly off the original topic, and I do apologize for that. Before I unhijack the thread, I do want to say that I'm passing what I'm learning here to my teacher; I'm sure she'll be very interested. Just wish I could get her to join us here in the forum. I've been telling her about this place, and how wonderful everyone is. :)
We just brought it back. Regardless of why it was invented or where it was invented, the bedlah was invented in the late 19th century. There had never been a specific costume for female performers before the late 19th century. Before that time female performers wore their best house clothes as is testified by such eyewitnesses as Lane. It consisted of a long sleeve shirt, over which was worn a tight fitting bodice and harem pants. Over that they sometimes also wore a kaftan with some sort of belt or shawl around the hips. This was what all women wore at the time. Its just that in public dancers didn't wear the veil. Towards the end of the century, for the first time, we see the Ghawazee wearing skirts and European shoes. Exactly why this change? One explanation I read is that when they came to the US. Americans thought the sight of women in any type of pants was shocking, so they wore skirts. Truth is we will probably never know.

According to the informants in the book A trade like any other, at the turn of the century female dancers wore long tunics with elaborate embroidery on them and a scarf around the hips. When Badia and her colleagues opened their clubs, this was the first time dancers were seen in Bedlah. The dancers on Mohamed Ali Street who worked local weddings and Saint day celebrations didn't start wearing the Bedlah until some time in the 1960's.

So once again, if you see a picture of a dancer before the 1930 in Bedlah, most likely FAKE, IMPOSTOR, PRETENDER
 
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Dev

New member
Dear Aisha,
Thank you for your different perspective, I have found a few pictures of Hindu Goddesses and the similarities are noticeable.




IS it posible going by what everybody is saying that probably its a hollywood inspired and hollywood got it from India and could not work out the difference between the Indian and Egyptian , so put Indian clothing into Middle Eastern inspired movies and it took off from there. Oscar wilde was a British person so probably even he mixed it up ! Dont know sounds a bit dramatic.

Tarik Sultan said:
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
Tarik , Another possibilitie As egypt was also a colony of the British in the same time as India, probably the aristocratic Egyptians had the chance to come and visit other Asian countries under the British rule, Far East Asia and India, Ceylon, where two piece costumes are quite common for the ladies to wear in everyday life, Any connection could be there too. Remember Indian culture was hugely influenced by Parsian-Arabic cultures, and some of the Indian clothing come from that region and altered by the Indian to suit their need. So I would not be surprised if it was something very cross cultural.
 
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Aisha Azar

New member
Copstume, etc.

Dear Dipali,
Dear Aisha,
Thank you for your different perspective, I have found a few pictures of Hindu Goddesses and the similarities are noticeable.




IS it posible going by what everybody is saying that probably its a hollywood inspired and hollywood got it from India and could not work out the difference between the Indian and Egyptian , so put Indian clothing into Middle Eastern inspired movies and it took off from there. Oscar wilde was a British person so probably even he mixed it up ! Dont know sounds a bit dramatic.



Dear Dipali,
My feeling is that anything is possible. It has been considered by some that the costume was Hindi inspired by those writing movies in Hollywood and by those in theatre before them, who really had the idea it was all just "The Orient" and that Egypt and India had no reason or right to a separate identities so it did not matter if they were mixed up in the name of "art". We could say that these places were the original influence for the costume perhaps. There is reason to think about this theory as well. I have never seen any information that makes a definite and totally believable statement about the origins of the costume either in Hollywood or in Egypt. (Not saying such iinfo does not exist, just that I have not seen it...)
Regards,
A'isha
 

Tarik Sultan

New member
Dear Aisha,
Thank you for your different perspective, I have found a few pictures of Hindu Goddesses and the similarities are noticeable.




IS it posible going by what everybody is saying that probably its a hollywood inspired and hollywood got it from India and could not work out the difference between the Indian and Egyptian , so put Indian clothing into Middle Eastern inspired movies and it took off from there. Oscar wilde was a British person so probably even he mixed it up ! Dont know sounds a bit dramatic.



Tarik , Another possibilitie As egypt was also a colony of the British in the same time as India, probably the aristocratic Egyptians had the chance to come and visit other Asian countries under the British rule, Far East Asia and India, Ceylon, where two piece costumes are quite common for the ladies to wear in everyday life, Any connection could be there too. Remember Indian culture was hugely influenced by Parsian-Arabic cultures, and some of the Indian clothing come from that region and altered by the Indian to suit their need. So I would not be surprised if it was something very cross cultural.
You've hit the nail on the head dear boy! Yes the bedlah was invented by the Europeans, but the inspiration for it in the first place was the choli and circle skirt of the Indian women. The British were in India far longer and earlier than they were in Egypt and so for them, the quintessential image of the East WAS India. So to them, the outfits of the Egyptians were not "Eastern enough", so Indian inspired outfits in their minds were representative of "THE EAST". Of course in English theatre and Hollywood, this image was embellished and theatricalized. What was solid fabric is now see-through, add more jewels, show more cleavage, more skin, make it more exotic and exciting.

Now as far as where would Egyptians see these sort of films? They were watching European made movies at the turn of the century. Egypt didn't start making movies of its own till the 1930's or some time around then. And from looking at them, its clear to see how heavily influenced they were by Hollywood and British cinema at the time. Quite often, if it weren't for the fact that the dialogue was in Arabic, you wouldn't know that the film wasn't made in England or the US. The sets, costumes etc are so European in style and feeling you can't see the difference. As I said before, we have to look beyond the dance itself and consider the larger context of Egyptian society and its place and relationship with the rest of the world at that time. The Western influence was ubiquitous in architecture, clothing, music, education, infrastructure, especially among the elite ruling class.
 
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