Tuesday, April 14, 2009


The “Siren” costume was one of the most complex sewing and construction projects I have undertaken in a long time.

In August of 2008, Hollywood Music Center invited me to be a part of their “Tales of Desire” show . The themed event- each dance had to somehow interpret “desire”- took place December 6, 2008. It was not only a live show in a 500-seat, state-of-the-art theater, but also a DVD shoots. In addition to myself, the cast included some of the most innovative, inventive performers around today, both in terms of dancing AND costuming…like Unmata, Mira Betz, Atash Maya, Aubre, Elizabeth Strong, Sherri Wheatley,Kristina Canizares, male dancer Arish Lam from Puerto Rico and Tjarda from Holland’s popular troupe The Uzume, among many others.

So… there was not only the challenge of interpreting the theme performance-wise but also creating a costume that would look as good on film as it did on a large stage under bright lights. Though I am Egyptian-trained, and perform cabaret-style on a regular basis, I also do a lot of fusion and experimentation, but my roots are in traditional belly dance- not Tribal. The fact that the show was billed as Tribal Fusion informed my choice of costuming materials and the look as well- so I wanted to honor the look and feel of the show while staying true to my blingy, sparkly self!

My piece was titled “Siren”, the music I used was HMC’s moody “Sapurey’s Mantra”, from the “Serpent’s Garden” CD. I played a character that was rejected by her lover and gained vengeance by using desire itself as a weapon. I opened my show with a modernized version of the traditional Persian raqs-e bazak, a dance featuring a pantomime of a woman applying her make-up. Since this is performed seated on the floor, I needed skirts ample enough to do floor work without giving the audience more of a “show” than they bargained for! I searched through my closet to see what I had in the way of large skirts, and found something amazing which I’d forgotten I’d owned- a huge multi-panel full circle skirt I bought used from LA-based cabaret dancer Anaheed nearly twenty years ago, when I first started dancing.

The skirt, with ridiculous amounts of yardage, is exquisite. It’s hand-made, constructed of iridescent burgundy chiffon, vintage Indian Sari material, with metallic embroidery and shades of fuchsia, bright yellow gold and hot pink; golden metallic trim and incredible lavender antique Persian Lace - the type used probably hasn’t even been made in over forty years. I used a royal blue chiffon circle skirt for an under-skirt.

I decided to go with an old-fashioned “harem concubine” look that would be equal parts Hollywood 1940’s Oriental fantasy
(Think Hedi Lamar in “Sampson And Delilah”) mixed with ideas from Golden Age Egyptian films and a little vintage Bollywood thrown in. The color scheme of the skirt informed my bra, belt and accessory construction.

I wanted to use a lot of metal, but didn’t want a coin costume, so again I went “shopping” in my closet and found a brass 1980’s South Western chain-link Concho belt in bright gold. I sometimes wonder why I save this kind of stuff, but it always comes in handy! The belt had oval Conchos attached by heavy links, which I removed with a pliers. I “antiqued” the Conchos, painting them with black nail polish, wiping each panel so the polish stuck only to the engravings.

With craft glue, I attached over-sized round “lapis lazuli” stones to the center of each Concho, surrounded by large magenta cabochon stones and Swarovsky crystals. This took THREE DAYS to dry. The centerpiece of the belt is a large metal flower-shaped buckle off a 1970’s belt purchased at a garage sale for a dollar; I covered all the “petals” with small Swarovsky crystals.

I constructed a belt and bra and covered them in antique gold lame’ overlaid with gorgeous hand-made vintage lace, which I dyed lavender to match the skirt. Following the patterns on the lace, I traced the shapes of flowers and leaves by gluing on assorted sizes of aurora borealis Swarovsky crystals. The bra and belt were both out-lined with vintage magenta and gold sequin trim I picked up at a going-out-of-business sale.

For the center-piece on the bra, I took a quite tarnished-but perfect for the vintage look- Egyptian Dowry necklace, and picked out the turquoise stones, replacing them with crystals and cabochons, then secured it to the bra; and also covered two antique gold earrings with rhinestones, attaching them to the middle of each bra cup. I sewed the Conchos and belt-buckle onto the hip-band with dental floss- an old trick I picked up from theatrical costumers. Floss is much sturdier for holding heavy pieces in place, and these metallic bits were definitely weighty! The belt was finished with two layers (royal blue and gold) of 2” fringe to retain that “old-fashioned” look. I added six 8” heavy drapery tassels, made of gold bugle beads. I bought four more 10” drapery tassels, in buff and magenta, and covered the knots in golden faceted crystals. I wanted these to hang from each hip to about knee-length, so I hand-braided long strips of glitter-dot fabric in lavender, magenta and antique gold, attached the tassels, and secured them to the belt.

The accessories were also time-consuming. I made felt medallions covered in cabochon and crystal stones, and attached them to stretch-sequin trim in dull, brushed gold, creating different-sized bands, three for each arm, one for each ankle. The wrist pieces were fashioned from oval-shaped crocheted antique doily lace which I cut up and mounted on felt, covered with crystals, with bands made of flesh-toned elastic straps, which I salvaged from the bra, attached with snaps instead of clasps. I took a huge pair of older, tarnished Egyptian costume-jewelry earrings, and blinged them up with Swarovsky crystals in blue, red iris and aurora, and did the same with a necklace I already owned. For the tiara, I bought a net bridal tiara form, and cut up gold appliqués,gluing them into place jigsaw puzzle style. They looked too bright, so I sprayed the whole crown with antique gold paint for a retro look, and again traced the designs of the appliqués with crystals, and added the “lapis” cabochon stones, and crafted forehead bindi’s in matching rhinestones. I even used magenta glitter on my lips, and magenta nail polish.

The whole process was a huge under-taking, but it was all more than worth it when I heard the audience gasp in unison as the lights came up on my performance!

By the way, I just visited with Mher from Hollywood Music Center and found out that “Tales Of Desire” will be released as a two DVD set in early June 2009. Yay!


  1. You did a fabulous job on your costume and I got to see a little of your performance from the wings...Is the dvd coming out soon? I thought it was slated for March!

  2. Can we expect more adventures in costume constructions in the future? I always wonder how other dancers construct their costume. Reading about it gives me a whole new perspective about the costume and the dancing when I see it in action.