Cosplay belly dance is an interesting genre of belly dance, since we dance in elaborate costumes anyway. It is a relatively new offshoot of fantasy belly dance. However, most of the characters in cosplay belly dance are drawn from sci-fi, comics, movies, or some aspect of pop culture that has nothing to do with the Middle East.
This expansion of belly dance has come about as a result of dancers’ efforts to popularize their art among different audiences. In the 1960’s, Turkish dancer Ozel Turkbas aimed traditional music and dance at American audiences, and, as a result, many Western women began to want to learn and perform belly dance. Unfortunately, there were few teachers who actually knew the art form, so dancers usually had to imagine and improvise.
Belly dance in this country has always had an element of fantasy, but it initially revolved around a pastiche of harem girls, sultans, and Arabian Nights, imaginative reconstructions of ancient Egypt, or colorful and free-spirited gypsies. Dancers often mixed in moves from ballet, jazz, modern, and Latin dance. They might portray characters, but they would usually be goddesses, priestesses, or historical figures such as Cleopatra that conceivably could have belly danced. They often created beautiful, dramatic performances, but they could not claim any type of historical accuracy.
Now, with the advantage of travel and video, there are many dancers who have painstakingly researched the regional dance styles of the Middle East and perform them for Westerners.
Dancers who live in cities with large Middle Eastern populations often dance for ethnic audiences, where they have to perform authentically.
But most American audiences prefer entertainment over accuracy. Many modern styles of belly dance have nothing to do with Middle Eastern culture except for utilizing the dance moves, which they perform in non-traditional ways.
Even the familiar bra and belt costume that people associate with belly dance is not Middle Eastern. It was inspired by Hollywood fantasy, and Cairo nightclub owner Badia Masabni chose it for her dancers in order to attract Western audiences in the 1920’s. It was revealing enough to be considered risqué for several more decades.
Today, we’re a lot less modest. The bra and belt costume allows great freedom of movement and shows off the intricate isolations characteristic of this dance. It is also easy to decorate for different styles of dance and is an excellent base for cosplay.
Cosplay belly dance in particular allows for a great deal of interpretation and creativity. The performer selects appropriate music and combines belly dance moves with the qualities and energies of the character, so it becomes a very theatrical interpretation.
I had the privilege of organizing the Geek Bellydance show for Agamacon, a new multigenre convention in Aiken, South Carolina. I’m always looking to introduce belly dance to new audiences, and this was my first time doing a show at a convention, so I wanted to have a diversity of characters from different genres to appeal to this crowd while keeping the dance quality high.
My initial thought was to do the Orion slave girls from Star Trek, since they belly dance anyway, but I feel their characters are too clichéd. Then my friend Monica Gaudet suggested Poison Ivy, which I already have the hair for, and she even made my headpiece and mask. At the same time my friend Misha Huls of House of Ortael, who makes chain mail jewelry, had made a custom green chain mail bikini for a client who decided not to take it, so I was able to get it.
His wife Tammy is a dancer, and she helped us adapt it to belly dance and also made my earrings. From there, it was simply a matter of adding tights, gloves, and ivy – enough ivy draped around me for the character, but arranged to still allow freedom of movement. I kept one long vine to dance with. This is not my most comfortable costume, but it’s still one of my favorites, and I’ve been able to use it in subsequent events as well.
Because of the popularity of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, I asked tribal fusion dancer Taylor Gary to do Rey, and she did an amazing job capturing Rey’s strength and edge. To represent the gamer world, Taylor portrayed Tifa from the Final Fantasy game, and Emily Alsdorf created an Assassins’ Creed character. Another comic character was Storm, dynamically danced by Jacqueline Ojimba.
Evadne (Vany) Medina performs theatrical belly dance and presented two of her pop culture characters, Frida Kahlo and Charlie Chaplin. Vany brought her trademark skirt work to Frida, and portrayed the Little Tramp with a rose and cane. To represent the dark side, Gothic fusion dancer Donna Savage portrayed Maleficent, and I played a classic vampire in a long red dress, bat wings and fangs.
For many people, this was their first time seeing belly dance, and they loved it. It’s always wonderful to introduce this art to new audiences, and we’re already gathering ideas for next year.