Kate Swanson is an Australian writer and dancer with nearly 40 years' experience in ballet, jazz, flamenco, ballroom, Latin and bellydance.
Tribal belly dance costumes are rich and complex. Elaborate headresses and turbans, exotic make-up and face decoration, tribal jewellery, layered skirts - as I watch my tribal sisters getting ready for performance, I'm sometimes glad I'm not a tribal belly dancer myself. I'd be exhausted before I even got on stage!
Tribal belly dance is not, as many assume, an authentic tribal dance. It's a uniquely American invention, and the basic style of the costume was set in the 1960s by the style's originator, Jamila Salimpour, gathering together an eclectic mix of influences from Middle Eastern, American Indian and African designs.
Tribal bellydance was formalized into a system known as American Tribal Style (ATS) by Carolena Nericcio in the 1970s. From there, many forms of tribal fusion belly dance have evolved, but many still use the fundamentals of tribal bellydance costuming.
The Top Half
The picture on the right is of Carrie Moore from Gypsy Horizon Belly Dance, wearing a classic (if I can use that word) ATS belly dance costume.
Note the flowers in the hair - never only one, and never without additional decoration such as feathers, chopsticks, bands or scarves. She wears a single facial jewel - many tribal dancers wear a line of diamantes (a type of bindi), following the line of their eyebrows.
In general, ATS dancers are more covered than other belly dancers - if they wear a coin bra, they'll wear it over a drop-shoulder choli top like Carrie's here.
There is a special tribal bellydance choli, which ties at the back and leaves most of the back exposed, but there are many interpretations of it - some low cut at the front, some more modest, some with different styles of fastening at the back, and some with ties at the front. The drop shoulder style is popular.
The finishing touch is lots of chunky jewelry. I've never seen a tasseled armband (like the one Carrie's wearing) before, but tassels on the hip belt are very common.
Belts and Skirts
Tribal hip belts aren't all bling and jingle. If tribal dancers are going to wear a lot of jangly coins, it's more usually on their chest, not their hips!
The tribal belt is more likely to be made of wool, tapestry and tassels with some coins or metal discs thrown in. They have an ethnic look, although (like the rest of the tribal costume) they're not necessarily authentic.
Tribal bellydance skirts are voluminous, like traditional flamenco skirts but worn on the hip, not the waist.
Underneath, they may wear underskirts in a different color, like flamenco dancers, so there's a flash of colour when the skirt is in motion. You'll also see a flamenco skirt worn over harem pants.
Tribal Fusion Pants
We commonly associate harem pants with belly dance - but many tribal fusion bellydancers wear pants which look more like something from jazz dance! They're typically snug fitting around the bottom and thigh, and flare out from the knee.
Melodia pants are the best-known of this style and have sparked a host of imitations. The flare is usually very exaggerated. There are many variations, including pants with attached skirts, fringing or beading, flares that can be tied up, drawstring sides, and lace or mesh cut-outs.
The video of Rachel Brice (below) doesn't show much of her mesmerizing dance style, but it does give several good close-ups of her costume, make-up and tattoos.
Rachel is probably the best known tribal belly dancer, due to her membership of the Belly Dance Superstars troupe, which includes several wonderful Tribal and Tribal Fusion dancers.
All text copyright Marisa Wright. Photos by Alaskan Dude.
jamila sahar on February 05, 2012:
Beautiful and informative hub ! thanks for sharing, beautiful pictures and costumes as well ! look forward to reading more !
Kate Swanson (author) from Sydney on July 26, 2011:
Hi Scarlet and thanks. Love your website!
Scarlet's Lounge on July 26, 2011:
Great blog! I bookmarked this and will recommend to my friends.
Kate Swanson (author) from Sydney on June 25, 2011:
Thanks TG! I'm one of those who laboured under the misapprehension that Tribal was supposed to be a re-creation of ancient dance styles - and for that reason, I used to think it was somewhat pretentious. When I discovered that Tribal bellydance is actually modern, American and proud of it, it changed my view of Tribal completely!
TG uk on June 25, 2011:
I'm not a tribal bellydancer, i love the costumes, but i'm firmly of the oriental and cabaret dance styles. However, i very much enjoyed your article. I already knew most of this but you've made it all very clear for new-comers and i'm sooo pleased you made the point about the origins of tribal style being a 1960s american creation, its so irritating to have to keep correcting ppl on that!
Kate Swanson (author) from Sydney on November 30, 2010:
Ooh, why don't you write a "how to" Hub about it when you're done, with some pics? Post here with a link if you do.
writinginalaska from southeast Alaska on November 29, 2010:
thank you Marisa, i found some other ones too and am in the process of making a belt now. Would you like to see it when i am done?
Kate Swanson (author) from Sydney on November 24, 2010:
I found these instructions, Writinginalaska,hope they help:
writinginalaska from southeast Alaska on November 24, 2010:
i wish someone would write a Hub on how to "make" a tribal belt. I want one and they are so expensive. But thanks for the good information. ;) lvh
SognoPiccolo from Wilmington, Ohio on September 13, 2010:
loved this. I love belly dancing... The movements are so fluid and amazing as are the artistic side with the costumes and jewelry.
Kate Swanson (author) from Sydney on September 07, 2010:
That's a common misconception, Teresa. Tribal belly dance is a uniquely American style,invented in the 20th century. It draws on many ethnic dance styles including Indian, but it is not a direct copy of anything.
Teresa on September 07, 2010:
I think the famous tribal belly dance is from India. They have rich in history and culture. It is just part of their daily life. Mix with the tradition and religious, the belly dance has its own interesting element which cannot be found in other countries within the same region.
nancy peterson on April 29, 2010:
very beautiful dancer and the costumes are nicely elaboretly put together. the music annd the costumes combined with the type of dance arrangement go together wonderfully. it is nice to watch and enjoy the art of ancient bellydance at your best. i am slowly getting into the art of ancient practice of the gift i have of the tribal dance amongst other studies that goes along with the ancient art and practice belief also the religion aspect of it it is encouraging and refreshing .
Susana Smith from UK on April 09, 2010:
I love these costumes - they are absolutely beautiful! I think the tattoos look wonderful too; very fluid.
rebu from Coorg,India on April 05, 2010:
superb...costumes are very nice n the video too..thnx for sharin..
msorensson on April 05, 2010:
I love dance. Period. All kinds of dances. Thank you for this hub.
lmmartin from Alberta and Florida on April 05, 2010:
Loved the video -- so graceful. Thanks for this interesting information. Now I'm all set if the subject comes up in conversation. Lynda