Ooh la la... Costumes!
The Urban Dictionary describes this month’s Hipspiration “Va Va Voom,” not only as the sound of a car engine, but the following:
1. The feeling you get when you're filled with inspiration or full of excitement and energy
2. To be interesting, exciting, or sexually appealing
3. A phrase or expression used when a particularly attractive person is seen
As Arabic Dancers, I ask myself, what makes us go “Va Va Voom”? What excites us and upon sight makes us shout, “Ooh la la!”? After reflection, I’m overwhelmed with a plethora of answers. While I believe there are several inspiring, energizing, sensual, and interesting elements of the dance, let us pause in April to reflect on the Arabic Dance costume.
The “bedlah” is used to describe the sequined bra and belt set that we traditionally see on classic cabaret performers and dancers today. In Arabic, “bedlah” means suit or outfit.
Before the bedlah, dancers were accustomed to performing in their everyday dress. Classic dancers such as Suhair Zaki preferred the figure-hugging baladi dress, which covered the body from shoulders to toes. What’s fascinating is that the cabaret costume featuring the decorated bra, skirt with side slits, and belt developed from the influence of the Western world in the 1920s. Hollywood’s film industry was booming and developed costumes projecting an Oriental fantasy drawing inspiration from the female allure that was associated with the vamp. Dancers in Egypt we’re not even allowed to show their bellybuttons as the Western world’s costume depicted. Arab dancers adopted the costume, but covered their mid-drift by adding a long strip of material running vertically between the center of the bra and the skirt.
From this birth of the bedlah, the cabaret costume has evolved. Through the years we have seen a variety of costume fads, from Negwa Fouad’s long fringe in 1978 to Dina’s short skirts in the 1980s. Today we see prints, asymmetrical cups, clear straps, feathers and more trending fashions. Cairo’s dancers now also wear stylish and classy dresses similar to the party clothing of Arab people, only with more sequins and beads. Ironically, this mimics the pre-bedlah dresses that Arabic dancers were wearing before the cabaret costume developed!
When deciding what costume to wear, there are many things to consider. Does it match the piece of music? Does it fit right? Will it stay on and endure heavy shimmying, pops, locks and rolls? Is it appropriate for the venue? Does it accentuate the dance or inhibit it? The list goes on. Perhaps one of the most important questions to ask yourself ladies is, “Does this costume make me feel Va-va-voom?” Rock something that suits you, and that makes you feel completely gorgeous daaaa’ling. Don’t worry about looking like anyone else or fitting someone else’s ideal. Life is just too short not to feel absolutely stunning.
“Costume Porn… The latest trends in Egyptian Belly Dance Wear”
Buonaventura, W. (2010). Serpent of the Nile. Northampton, MA: Interlink.
Dictionary: Va va voom. (2012, November 28). Retrieved March 27, 2013, from
Varga Dinicu, M. C. (2011). You asked Aunt Rocky: Answers and Advice about Raqs
Sharqi and Raqs Shaabi. Virfinia Beach, VI: RDI.
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Ziva Emtiyaz is an award winning International Dance Artist excited to share her knowledge and life experiences about the big world of dance!