Tuesday, November 15, 2011
BELLY DANCE BODY ADORNMENT
Something all belly dancers have in common is a love of body adornment. We pile on make up, jewelry, wigs, hair decorations, costumes and permanent or temporary tattoos until we look like human Christmas trees, or a prize doll that you’d win at a carnival!
Many of the cosmetics and accoutrements we use are modern inventions, and worn just for fun, such as body glitter…but a lot of the adornments we wear come from customs that are probably older than recorded history.
Here are some types of body decorations that have been traditionally linked specifically to belly dance or to cultural, religious and ceremonial traditions that have been adopted by modern-day belly dancers:
Probably the world’s first and most famous eyeliner, kohl has been used constantly from ancient times to the present day. Thousands of years ago in Egypt, the luxurious fine black powder rimmed the eyes of women, as well as men and children, and acted not only as a cosmetic, but served to protect the eyes from the glare of the hot desert sun, and was also known for it’s antibacterial properties. Ancient Egyptian art included depictions of both humans and gods alike with heavily rimmed dark eyes.
Desert nomads, as well as city dwellers still use kohl today for these same reasons. For centuries, kohl was made from ground up minerals, such as antimony and galena- or ash- mixed with animal fat and/or some sort of oil. Galena and antimony,which are both lead sulfide products, are toxic and their use can lead to lead poisoning; also, kohl made with any sort of ash or charcoal in it is a carcinogen.
Kohl is still widely used throughout North Africa as well as in the Middle East, where it is sometimes called kajal and in India, Pakistan and other Asian countries where is known as surma.
Nowadays, traditionally-made kohl is widely available in it’s countries of origin, but because the manufacturing of kohl is mostly unregulated, not to mention the potential danger of the ingredients, importing it is illegal in many Western countries.
Commercially packaged kohl is often for sale at bazaars, import or specialty stores, but remember that you will be putting this product on your eyes, and you may not be sure exactly what is in it. You can get the same exotic effect from using any number of commercially manufactured, safe-to-use soft eye pencils or powders.
Since the dawn of history, henna has been used as a cosmetic. In ancient Egypt, Nerfertiti and Cleopatra were known to use henna, and it was also popular in India and throughout the Roman Empire. A shrub that is native to arid climates, henna was cultivated for many uses. The leaves were ground into a paste, sometimes referred to as mehndi, that was coveted for the rich reddish-brown color it produced. Mehndi paste been used for thousands of years to dye hair, skin, fingernails, fabric, and leather, such as saddles and drum heads. The flowers of the henna plant were also used to make perfume. Additionally, henna has medicinal properties, and has been used for hundreds of years as an antifungal agent and insect repellent.
In the ancient Middle East, North Africa and Central Asia, henna was regarded as bringing baraka or blessings to those who wore it. Henna was used in bridal ceremonies on the bride herself often in intricate, traditional designs, as well as on the groom and on the wedding guests. It has also been traditionally used in other celebrations such as circumcisions, the Hebrew festival of Purim, or in Arabic countries for Eid parties or Islamic moulids, or saint’s days. These traditions that have continued for centuries and show no signs of going away.
On these types of occasions, henna is applied to the hands and feet (and sometimes other places on the body) in intricate, traditional designs, which are supposed to ward off evil and bring good luck to the person wearing them. Often, henna paste or mehndi was also applied to the hooves and tails of domestic animals, such as donkies, horses and camels, for the same reason.
Depending on the strength of the paste, and the texture of the person's skin to which it is applied as a tattoo, henna decorations can last anywhere from a few days to a few weeks. After drying, it can appear in any shade ranging from bright orange to dark brown. These traditional designs are applied with a wooden stick, or squeezed from a cone, and done free hand or sometimes with mehndi stencils.
Bridal mehndi has become a booming business in modern India, Pakistan, and many Arab countries, as well as in immigrant communities in North America and Europe. This work uses contemporary as well as traditional designs, and often incorporates glitter, rhinestones or other modern touches.
Henna has also taken off as a trendy body decoration among people who have no idea about its cultural or historical significance. It is often offered as temporary tattoos at Renaissance Faires, street festivals and pirate gatherings or bachelorette parties. Another place henna is commonly seen is at beach resorts, where street vendors offer henna as temporary tattoos.
Often artists offer “black henna”…but word to the wise: in nature, there is no such thing as black henna. The paste used to create the jet-black henna tattoos usually is mixed with a carcinogenic hair dye containing para-phenylenediamin, or PPD. When applied directly to the skin, PPD can cause extremely severe- and in some cases fatal- allergic reactions in certain individuals, including blistering, permanent scarring and long-lasting chemical sensitivity.
Make sure than any henna product that you put on your skin or hair is made of all natural ingredients.
Throughout the Middle East and North Africa, tattooing has been practiced for centuries. The discovery of mummified remains from ancient Egypt seems to indicate that tattooing was fairly common in those days. More recently, Egyptian Coptic Christians had crosses tattooed on their wrists, and occasionally on the forehead, to distinguish them from Muslims.
Within Berber and Arab tribes, many women typically bore facial tattoos, with mystical designs that were meant to accentuate beauty, ward off the Evil Eye, prevent disease and prolong life. Many Berber women had tattooed chins, with a series of lines and dots extending from directly below the lower lip, the purpose of which was to increase fertility. These tattoos were usually applied around the onset of puberty, on nubile women who were ready for marriage. Tattoos on the cheeks and temples were also traditional. Bedouin women were often heavily tattooed as well, usually by the Nawar, a nomadic people who roamed through Egypt, Libya, Iran, Iraq and Syria and other territories until the beginning of the last century. The tattoos were applied by hand, with ink that was composed of a paste of ashes, water, plant sap, and sometimes mother’s milk.
Often, belly dancers performing folkloric dances from North Africa and Middle East will paint on these traditional facial tattoos with eyeliner, to create an authentic look.
During the 1960’s and 1970’s, many Turkish belly dancers sported tattoos of a five-pointed star, usually on the calf or thigh. I am not sure about the origin or tradition of this, but I have seen this on several vintage promotional pictures of Turkish dancers from the time period.
Currently in America and Europe, many belly dancers have beautiful-and quite extensive -tattoos. This was pretty rare in the global belly dance community until fairly recently, because dancers working at Arab clubs and restaurants didn’t want to offend the owners oor clientele, many of whom were Muslim... and tattooing is forbidden in the Muslim faith.
However, tattooing became more accepted and downright trendy among the general public around the same time that Tribal style was making a mark on the belly dance community. Henceforth, there are many dancers around the world sporting a lot of beautiful ink!
A bindi is an adornment worn on the forehead, generally seen in India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and other South Asian countries, where they are sometimes called kum kum. The word “bindi” comes from the Sanskrit word bindu, meaning “dot” or “drop”. Bindis are traditionally placed between the eyebrows, at the sixth chakra , and are sometimes referred to as the “third eye”. Contrary to popular belief, the bindi does not denote wedlock, and is not worn only by Hindu women, nor does it signify age, social status, religious background, ethnicity or sex: bindis can be worn by men, women or children. When worn by men (usually as a sign of devotion) the mark is referred to as tilak.
Traditional bindis were often red, and applied with a moistened powder. They were thought to have many meanings, including aiding the wearer in focus during meditation, and as a sign of beauty.
In modern times, some bindis are still applied the traditional way, but sticker bindis have become hugely popular, with the self-adhesive decorations coming in a wide variety of shapes and sizes. Some are so intricately made, they are tiny works of art, including foil, rhinestones, twisted wires, and colored beads. A modern take on these decorations are "intimate bindis"- jeweled stickers designed to fit around a woman's private parts and nipples!
Even though bindis are not traditional in Arabic cultures, because of their exotic beauty, not to mention their bling-bling factor, in the past decade or so they have been all the rage with belly dancers of all styles, who wear them purely for ornamentation.
Head And Hair Decorations
The beautiful traditional Indian jewelry called maang tikka are hanging ornaments meant to be worn on the forehead or in front of the ears. Popular for centuries with Indian brides (and for quite some time with belly dancers) the tikka or decoration, hangs from the maang- a string or chain that fits across the crown of the head, and ends with a hook that attaches into the hair. Maang tikka are made from any number of precious and semi-precious metals and stones, and are also reproduced as costume jewelry. The forehead tikka is designed to hang at the sixth chakra, whichis an important are according to Ayurvedic beliefs.
Many Orientalist paintings as well as racy antique photo post cards depict odalisques or harem slaves with thick braids in their hair, adorned with strings of pearls, coins and tassels. Documented in photographs from the early Twentieth century, the Algerian Ouled Nail dancers embellished their braided hair with all sorts of beautiful ornaments, from heavy strings of silver coins to jewel-encrusted diadems, or crowns. Crowns and tiaras are also worn as part of traditional costuming for Uzbek and Persian dances, often with trailing veils. From the Ottoman era to the mid-twentieth century, Turkish dancers often wore small pillbox-style hats, frequently decorated with metallic braiding, pearls, jewels or strings of beads.
Belly dancers often wear fresh or faux flowers in their hair, though it is unclear whether or not there was traditional significance in Arabic or Middle Eastern cultures, other than decoration. Across the world, in a kaleidoscope of cultures, women have always worn flowers in their hair. In general, the flowers served a dual purpose for the woman who wore them- they were not only a beautiful decoration, but they gave her a pleasing scent. Flamenco dancers typically bedeck their hair with fresh-cut roses or other flowers. In Tahiti, dancers wear crowns of flowers called hei, as do brides and grooms on their wedding day. In Tahiti and Hawaii, a single gardenia blossom worn behind a woman’s ear also means something: worn on the right side, she is available; worn on the left, she is spoken for. Japanese Geisha typically wear kanzashi, or silk hair ornaments fashioned into plum or cherry blossoms, attached to the hair with combs. Many Indian women wear long, fragrant strings of fresh blossoms in their hair, or attached to the ends of braids.
Today, many Tribal and Fusion style dancers often wear entire “hair gardens” with fanciful flowers decorated with rhinestones, strings of coins, pearls, cowrie shells and feathers. Faux flowers, crowns and tiaras have always been popular with cabaret style dancers, too.
Piercings have been a widespread body modification in various cultures for centuries, with the most common placement being the earlobes and the nose. Historically, many African tribes also pierced the lips and tongue, and nipple and genital piercings have been traced by to Rome and ancient India, respectively.
Pierced ears on both men and women were prevalent in ancient Greece and Persia, and one has only to look at the gold death masks of King Tutankhamen and other Egyptian Pharaohs to see that this practice was popular in ancient Egypt!
Pierced noses have generally more commonly seen on women, from many different countries. In India, many women had the left side of their nose pierced, because Ayurvedic medicine associates this area with the female reproductive system, and it was assumed this would aid in child bearing. Nose piercings in India were considered a sign of physical beauty and also to honor the Hindu goddess Parvati, who is associated with marriage. In Central Asia, many Pahari and Pashtun women have both nostrils pierced with rings, allegedly to pay for their funerals.
More recently, in Western cultures piercing is a popular trend, with no special social significance attached. Earlobes and nostrils often sport multiple piercings, and areas such as the navel, nipples, eyebrows, genitals and lips are fashionable as well as socially accepted piercing locations.
Bracelets have been worn by women of all cultures for many millennia. In ancient Egypt men and women wore scarab bracelets, which symbolized rebirth, and were also affixed to the arms of mummies for the afterlife.
In India, bangle bracelets are common, and in some parts of the country, the number and type of bangles denotes marital status. Bulgarian women traditionally tied red and white string bracelets, or Martenitsa, to their arms in the early spring as an offering to Baba Marta, a mythical old woman whose moods controlled the weather. A similar tradition is found in neighboring Greece, where women weave string bracelets and wear them from the first day of March until the last days of summer.
Gypsies and fortunetellers are often depicted wearing piles of bracelets, perhaps stemming from the Indian-Romany connection. In certain styles of Uzbek dance, performers wear bracelets of small bells to accent their intricate hand and arm movements.
Belly dancers often wear bracelets just because they are pretty, and many Egyptian and Turkish costumes come with accessories in the form of bracelets, arm cuffs, gauntlets and armbands.
Historically, ankle bracelets were worn customarily by women and girls in India as well as across the Middle East and North Africa. Nomadic tribes such as the Rom or Romany, Berber and Bedouin females often sported them, too. Anklets were worn for decoration, but also for cultural or religious reasons as well. In the harems of Turkey, anklets with a chain connecting from leg to leg were worn by female odalisques or slaves, for the purpose of creating a more “feminine” gait.
Anklets were also common in societies that practiced segregation among the sexes, such as in India, where anklets were worn during times of Purdah. Called payaal or jhanjhar in India, the anklets were often made of chains hung with small bells.
In the zambra mora, a style considered by many to be the missing link between Romany dance and Flamenco, barefoot dancers often wear ankle bells to accentuate the stomping and intricate, rhythmic foot patterns that are a part of the dance.
In Egypt, up to the middle of the Twentieth century, women frequently wore -and sometimes still wear- khukal, which are the traditional C-shaped, open-ended ankle bracelets hung with coins or small metal discs. There is even a famous Egyptian musical composition called “Rennat Al Khukhal” or “The Sound Of Ankle Bracelets” which often used as a song to belly dance to.
many of these types of anklets do make beautiful tinkling sounds when worn while walking, but the real purpose of ankle bracelets was probably to let everyone know that a woman was approaching.
Nowadays, ankle bracelets are worn by dancers for both traditional as well as purely decorative purposes.
Vintage photo of an Ouled Nail dancer with headress and facial tattoos
Belly dancer Luna with bindi and Tribal Fusion head decorations , shot by Princess Farhana
hands with traditional mehndi pattern and bangle bracelets
Indian bride wearing maang tikka and many bangle bracelets