Thursday, June 28, 2012

The problem with bras

Belly dancers wear bras. Everyone knows that. It was decided way back in the day, when someone decided to paint a dancer in a bra, or cast a dancer in a movie and had her wear a bra. I could probably do some research and track it back to the exact time when someone decided that this was what belly dancers cover their chests with, but I'm writing a blog post, not an academic article, so I'm going to be lazy.

So. Bras. We wear them. It's a thing now.

I have a love-hate relationship with the whole bra thing. I love choosing adornments to put on my bras, layering this and that, dangling baubles here and there. I even enjoy the stitching, except when I stab myself in the fingers (which admittedly, happens pretty often). I love draping embellished chains across my belly to emphasize my rolls and flutters. But... I hate bras.

Bras are underwear. We do not want our costumes to look like underwear, however, because that is tacky. So we buy a bra and we cover it with fabric (even though bras are available in lots of beautiful fabrics, the bra Must Be Covered otherwise you are Cheapening Bellydance or something). Then there's the whole strap issue. You can't just use the existing straps and fasteners because then people can tell you're wearing lingerie. Because for some reason, we've decided to base one of our main costuming items on a piece of lingerie.

I LOVE the bra above. I've been working on it off and on since Decemberish, when I wore it for the holiday show. It's covered with a beautiful embroidered brown fabric, accented with lovely green trim which I purchased in NYC, which is in turn embellished with Swarovski crystals and dangles from a necklace I cut apart. There's a vintage chandelier crystal, a vintage winding key, chain, real coins, the straps are velveteen ribbon embellished with a silver and citrine necklace. It's luxurious.

I HATE the bra above. Ever since I decided that I wanted to be able to wear it without a tie-top or vest over it, I've been in a battle to properly cover the straps and back. The fabric and ribbon are not stretchy, which means carefully trying to tailor things to fit perfectly. Last night I finally got the back to fit without sagging... Now it's uncomfortable. Forget lifting with my diaphragm, I'm pretty sure that will pop some stitches.

I've been planning a bra adorned with beetle elytra, but now I'm second-guessing myself after the struggles of making this bra. Maybe it's time to try an embellished halter top or choli.


  1. i also have a love-hate relationship with this idea, much for the same reasons you do. I also hate it because
    1. i would NEVER wear a bra like this too class because it just WAS NOT supportive
    2. my boobs change sizes VERY frequently - cup sizes. i have several different bras that i wear.
    3. i cannot bend over in 90% of my bras without almost falling out.

    why would i want to wear this to before vigorous activity in front of LOTS of people? lost on me.

  2. I have seen some bad bra mishaps on stage. Generally they can be avoided by having a well-constructed bra that fits well -- but if your size fluctuates a lot, you'd of course have to invest in bras in each size, and that would be expensive and/or time consuming.

    Having already gone through one drastic cup size change, I now live in paranoia of having to replace my costumes due to another change. It's doubly frustrating when you've put a lot of time into MAKING something with special materials.

  3. I have a love-hate relationship with bras, too. All bras, not just the belly dance type.

    I've never researched the history of the bedlah, and I'm sure it's filled with all sorts of contradictions, but the one thing I have noticed is that Orientalist Art dating from the early 1800's through the 1920's is filled with images of dancing girls in bedlah like costumes , so I'm assuming that some of the inspiration for modern bedlahs has come from there. Here's a link to a PhotoBucket site that has some good examples:

  4. I was thinking it might be the Orientalist paintings, too, although a lot of those have the Turkish vest/entari combination which I really love and used as the basis for my steampunk belly dance costume. There are a couple in there with a proto-bedlah.

    I suspect that the bedlah as we know it came from the Orientalist pin-up photos, and then really bloomed when Egyptian dancers started to adopt the Westernized idea of belly dance from Hollywood movies.

    And yes, I have complicated feelings about my mundane bras, too ;)

  5. I'm sure Ruth St. Denis in her "Legend of the Peacock" costume had some influence:

    As did Theda Bara and Claudette Colbert in their Cleopatra costumes. Theda Bara also wore her own amazing peacock dress:
    Theda's costume is just below The Black Swan.

  6. Oh yes, you can definitely see the influence of those images on modern dance costuming. I have to say, I wish we wore peacock capes instead of bras. Not that I could afford one, and not that it would be safe in a house with two cats and two corgis...

  7. LOL! That would make for some happy dogs and cats and one sad AJ. You'll have to have a separate house to protect your peacock and beetle wing costumes.

    In the meantime enjoy this:

  8. That dress is my favorite thing in the history of the world.

    And I could already use a separate house just to keep the pet hair away from my costumes! It would also be nice to be able to apply my makeup without the cat coming over and headbutting my arms.


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