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Belly Dancer Costumes

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What do belly dancers and gypsies have in common? Not much, except that both appear exotic to Westerners.


The dance style most Americans refer to as "belly dancing" is a fusion of folk traditions from across the Middle East. Some elements come from Morocco and Egypt in north Africa. Others from Persia (modern-day Iran) and Turkey. A few come from as far east as Pakistan and India. Which might be where there's a remote gypsy connection.


The Romani people, commonly referred to as Gypsies, originated in northern India. Their westward migration in medieval times brought foreign music and dance that fascinated Europeans. And many Europeans mistakenly thought they came from Egypt. That's where the word "gypsy" comes from, and it's another connection to Middle Eastern dance.


Belly dancers wear costumes that are sexy and allow them to show off their moves. Beads, coins and fringe sparkle and sway with movement, adding to the allure. Our romanticized concept of "historic" belly dancers comes from the Ottoman Empire--modern Turkey. Travelers told tales of the Sultan's many wives and concubines, who lived in a wing of the palace that was off-limits to men. The women of the harem (or seraglio) worked toward pleasing the Sultan. Their actual clothing covered far more than the harem pants and midriff tops modern belly dancers wear. That outfit was the fantasy of a French fashion designer in 1910. Countless Hollywood costumers have elaborated upon it ever since.


Gypsies wore whatever castoff clothing they could find, no matter whether the colors matched. And because of their nomadic lifestyle, they carried what little money they had by sewing it to their clothes.


So we do get some similarities in the costumes, though they came about by very different routes. If you're fascinated by the exotic, choose a bright-colored costume.  It it's not already decorated with ruffles, beads, fringe or coins, add those. And then practice your sexy, sinuous dance moves. Add a tambourine or a pair of finger cymbals. Your goal is to please your audience, whether that's one special man or a whole group of party guests!