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Costuming Advice

Below is some student information, but it is not a definitive list, as I am not a dressmaker after all! There are three main styles of dance, each with their own costume, music and technique. Attending performances, parties and watching videos all offer ample opportunity to the discerning dancer and are very instructive. Also look on the Internet as there is a wealth of information on materials, trimmings, costume styles and sewing instructions.

For Classes
Clothing that stretches is imperative; anything that is non-stretch is restrictive, so please bear this in mind. A scarf around the hips accelerates the learning process considerably.

It is lovely to see you make an effort in class with your dance accessories, but with Beginners, leggings or sport pants are more suitable, as I want to ensure that legs and feet are used properly, and of course I can see if you forget to soften your knees! Protective footwear is imperative. Shoes should be comfortable and flexible so that you can roll your feet easily.


Types of Costuming for Performing
Costumes are much cheaper in Egypt, but they are widely available in the UK. If you need lower budget/other ideas, try these:

Hilal Influenced styles are included for reference as it formed part of my education and training. Though I elect to dance within the Hilal/Raqs Sharqi Society frame and also outside of it too.

Classical or Sharqi (Oriental/Cabaret)
For Hilal Style
Leotard & full circular skirt or full length dress. Leotard obtained (Gandolfi in Baker Street) and custom fitted without sleeves. Chiffon sleeves added. Then decorated with motifs . Full circular skirt of microfibre.

Modern choice obtained from Brighton Orient


  Hilal Influenced Modern variety  








Sha'abi or Folk


Legendary Fifi Abdou Raqs Sharqi Style Sha'abi  





Iconic Fifi in a Gallabayeh one would normally expect to see some stick dance in this costume (Raqs Al Assaya -stick dance).

Raqs sharqi style can be achieved with t shirts and full circular skirts. Over which an artfully placed bigger hip scarf akin to a sarong creates a sculpting effect - and this is how the outfit can be used for baladi -which is far more contained.

On the right hand side a Raqs Sharqi Society group dance in a sha'abi costume that could lend itself equally well to baladi as well. The more coins =the more sha'abi

Ghawazee style
In the first picture you have the costume of the famous Benat Maazin Troup of Ghawazee dancers. This female troup led by the Father Yusuf were famous in their heydey . They worked with the Sai'idi musicans (Mizmar and Rababa bands) like the Musicians of the Nile led by singer Metqal Qenawi. This picture is of Alexandria who herself studied with the Maazin and was a contemporary of Edwina Nearing who researched and reported on the Ghawazee prolifically. See The Gilded Serpent for these articles.


To create the look you can make Muslin top, the ubiquitous circular skirt and bolero, big shawl for hips. This is Nawarra and I on the right in a more flattering adapted ghawazee costume..
Baladi was formed in the early 1930s whilst Colonial powers occupied Egypt and the military introduced western instruments like the accordion into the musical repetoire. Many Egyptians migrated to the larger connurbations to find employment and the new music style gave birth to a new dance style. . Baladi is likened to Urban Folk. It means of the people/county and has a nostalgic and soulful connotation similar to blues and jazz



For baladi costumes Gallabeya or baladi dress (close fitting)
Tilli /tulle bi tille/assuit (antique Coptic wedding veil)
Leotard, straight skirt or circular skirt with a sarong (must be close fitting)

See this page devoted to Tillis with gorgeous photos

In the photos above you can see my Teacher Suraya Hilal in a glorious tilli. I am wearing in the other photograph a modern take on a baladi costume obtained from Mandy in the Shimmy Shop (visit Jewel of Yorkshire Festival too which she manages).


Whatever you buy, make sure that it is a good fit, and will be suitable for your needs eg; an ornate heavy costume may not suit you if you are dancing to really fast music and you are doing lots of quick turns for example.

Useful Books
There is a free booklet by Dawn Devine Brown, which has almost everything you need to know about costuming. The booklet is a PDF and can be downloaded for free. You will also find on Dawn’s website a list of books to buy but one that you may find particularly interesting is Costuming from the Hip. The book is an introduction and overview of Middle Eastern costume design. Dawn talks about colours, costuming styles and what suits your body type. She also has a wide range of books if you are a skilled at sewing.


Besides some of the websites mentioned here, please look at my website for links to costume supplies or do a search on the internet for belly dance costumes which should bring up many sites to search. Many of them will be international so please bear this in mind when buying from an international supplier as shipping costs can be expensive.

Material for Skirts/Tops (London)
Try Indian shops and markets for fabric: Green Street in East Ham, Alperton, Southall and Goldhawk Road, Sheperds Bush. Also Ridley Rd market - Dalston. - Apaprently lots of dance material and a brilliant haberdashery - Dalston Mill Fabrics - - well worth a visit.

The internet is a very good resource for materials and for sewing knowledge so check out the above websites and also to find out how to sew skirts, veils, etc. I am encouraging students that do dressmaking, to approach me about making skirts for other students. Watch this space…

One Stop Shop
You can buy some amazing things on ebay, at haflas and workshops, and also there are some shops that you can visit and make your selection. But if you buy cheap expect cheap and this applies wherever you go..

Click on the web site for suppliers and other links.

For leotards make sure they aren’t too tight, or cut too high in the leg, otherwise flesh will show. Victorian style bathing suits spring to mind! If you choose a pale colour it is more likely to show if you perspire, cotton is possibly better than Lycra. Gandolfi’s, 150 Marylebone Road offers wonderful custom made leotard for about £25.00.
Tel: 020 7935 6049.


  • Scarves try Indian and charity shops. Egyptian shops offer anything and everything
  • Slippers from dance and belly dance supply shops
  • Sequins, stones, coins and bugle beads can be found in craft and embroidery shops. Ells & Farrier, Beak Street have a wide selection which get cheaper the more you buy so you may want to liaise with other students and buy in bulk or look on the Internet for suppliers
  • Sticks and staves (masculine style stick dance) try hardware shops (broom handles) and garden centres. Make sure that they are the right height for you. Specialist umbrella and stick shops are also handy to try but don’t buy anything too heavy or unwieldy. You can also get sticks from belly dance supply shops and those who visit Egypt!!



Tillis (Tilli /tulle bi tille/assuit/antique Coptic wedding veil/Egyptian wedding veils)
These amazing panels of cotton netting with hand beaten silver designs are exquisite antique dresses/fabric. Perfect for performing in theatres.

Try antique textiles markets for these (Portobello Road on Saturdays, Marylebone and also Angel Islington). You might also consider Auctions as well.

They are very expensive – about £200-£300 each for the two panels needed and these would be quite plain! Plus they are fiddly to sew and would cost a lot if you commissioned someone to do it for you. Gold is always more expensive than silver. It used to be sold by weight.

They are also available on the internet and the real stuff is being made in Egypt again. You can buy ready made dresses with the proper silver designs and also buy it with cheap metal in Egypt at Mahmoud abd el Ghaffar or Mahmoud’s as he is better known! Unfortunately they can be very stiff but they are making them softer but with the fake metal and are very reasonably priced.


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