Sunday, August 28, 2011


As I write this, Hurricane Irene is still lingering over New England.

Millions are without power, there has been extensive flooding and some eleven reported deaths.

Like many people, my heart is with those who have experienced the worst of the storm.

But right now, a little selfishly, I might add... I am having my own personal hurricane drama.

I have just heard from my partner Yaz Taleb of King Of The Nile in Egypt that my new line of belly dance costumes cannot ship from Cairo today because, due to Hurricane Irene, the airports in New York are closed! We need our costumes for The Las Vegas Belly Dance Intensive, where we are debuting the line and holding three fashion shows, and time is of the essence!

If you would like to see some pictures of what is waiting in Cairo, please visit this page:

Please dancers, cross your fingers not just for the people of the East Coast, but for my costumes, stopped in transit!

Thursday, August 11, 2011



I am so excited to make this announcement! I have a line of original belly dance costumes and class wear which will be available this fall-in just a few weeks, actually…. Princess Farhana For King Of The Nile will be making its world debut at The Las Vegas Belly Dance Intensive, September 8-12, 2011!

My partner Yaz Taleb and I are unbelieveably thrilled to be debuting our line at the LVBDI this year, and I can’t think of a better event for our coming-out party. During the festival, we will be hosting three fashion shows, and we’re also providing a custom-made costume as part of the grand prize for the first-place winner of the “So You Think You Can Belly Dance” competition.

You can find out about how all of this came to be in a few paragraphs, but first let me tell you about the costumes themselves!

Every piece of my costume line is hand made in Egypt, at the King Of The Nile atelier in Giza. King Of The Nile is well-known among belly dancers for their quality and service, and I am so proud to be working directly with the company’s president, Yaz Taleb, who is not only a great partner, but has taught me so much about the process of costume-making. My first collection will include five belly dance costumes, all vintage-inspired, which are based on my own original, self-made costumes. The different designs pull from the costuming of the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s. I took elements and ideas from Edwardian-era Orientalist photo postcards and Turkish cigarette packs, as well as from some of the fabulous film costumes worn by Golden Age Egyptian favorites like Naima Akef, Samia Gamal and Tahiyya Carioca.

For Princess Farhana For King Of The Nile, I tried to blend that elegant retro feeling with some modern elements for a timeless look, something that couldn’t really be pinned down to any one time period or genre of belly dance. A couple of the costume designs would be considered be straight-up cabaret style, but some of them will be suitable for Vintage Orientale or even Dark Fusion- I wanted the collection to be diverse, and wearable for multiple purposes.

Each design I created will be done with a few color options, and made in a variety of sizes. One of the most frequently-heard laments about belly dance costumes which I’ve heard over the years is that it is extremely difficult to find pretty costuming for women who wear larger sizes…and I want women of all builds to be able to wear my costumes and feel lovely in them! The designs also will be available for custom order so perhaps, if you liked a certain style but wanted a different type of skirt, you wouldn’t just have to wish for it, you could have it. Like most belly dance costumes today, mine are primarily made of Lycra and chiffon, but they also feature heavy antique-looking lace, which I picked out myself, in Cairo and in the garment district of Los Angeles. And of course, they’ll all be decorated with large rhinestones and that wonderful hand-done Egyptian beadwork.

The Princess Farhana For King Of The Nile collection also includes chiffon hip scarves edged with crochet and beads or coins, with some really cute original (dare I say hip?) Designs-taken from my own sketches-, which are embroidered on them in metallic thread. Some are tricked out with gorgeous, drool-worthy metallic trim Yaz bought in Saudi Arabia. There are also some stretch velvet class wear sets with midriff tie-tops and matching hip scarves. Both pieces come with unique sequin decorations on them, and the hip scarves will have fringe and/or beads… believe me, though, they are nothing like what you have seen before!

I will be hosting fashion shows for the line at the Las Vegas Belly Dance Intensive, featuring dancers of all shapes and sizes as my models. Here is the show schedule:

Saturday, September 10: 12:28 PM in the Main Room

Sunday, September 11: 12:28 and 3:00pm, in the Main Room

So, maybe you’re wondering exactly how this all came about?

It started in a crazy way… but also in a very natural way. I have known Yaz for years, and used to model his costumes. In 2010, we were in frequently emailing each other, because I was going to Cairo for the Ahlan WA Sahlan Festival. I had promised to bring him some items that are not readily available in Egypt – mundane things like Levi jeans and taco shells, if you must know the truth.

During the course of our correspondence, Yaz asked me where my costumes came from, commenting that he thought many of them were unique. I replied that I got them everywhere…. some were new, some used, I wore Egyptian as well as Turkish stage wear, and of course that I designed and made a lot of my own costumes. Then Yaz requested that if he sent pictures of my costumes, would I please tell him where each one came from? Since we were already good friends, I said yes.

It turned out that the five pictures he sent to me were all my own designs… and so he offered me a partnership as a costume designer!

Over the years, many dancers, from cabaret to tribal to fusion and burlesque, have admired my costumes, and many asked if it would be possible for me to make costumes for them. Because of my hectic schedule, this was always impossible- it takes me weeks if not months to complete a costume for myself, so I had to decline. I have actually had women in line waiting for me to sell used costumes- some gals own three or four of my used self-made costumes and other dancers have requested dibbs on the option to buy one of my costumes the moment I first wore it!

I really would have loved to make costumes for people, but I love dancing too much to be able to devote the time to making stage wear for others. But in the back of my mind, I fantasized about it. I’d always wished I could have what they have in Egypt - a whole staff of people making my designs, and doing stonework and beading them…but of course, I never thought this would ever happen. Because I go to Egypt so frequently, I know all of the major costume designers, and naturally, I am a satisfied return customer. But I never, ever thought to approach any of them with the possibility of making my own costume line, because when you think about it, that would have been as ridiculous as if I approached Gucci or Prada and asking if I could design a line of clothes for them! However, when Yaz took the initiative and approached me, and I didn’t have to think twice about saying yes!

This whole process has been very hard work, but also extremely rewarding. Yaz and I began working on the designs right away, the moment I arrived in Cairo, in June of 2010. With my co-tour leader Zahra Zuhair, I was bringing 17 belly dancers on their first trip to Egypt. We were taking the gals sight-seeing all over Cairo, and I was also taking classes, teaching classes and performing at Ahlan Wa Sahlan… and then running over to Yaz’s atelier to work on the costume proto-types. I swear I didn’t sleep for two weeks! With jet lag thrown into the mix, it was utter insanity- but still, we somehow managed to get work done.

Later in 2010, Yaz came to Los Angeles and we worked on the line again, finalizing my sketches, measuring and photographing my existing costumes. But in LA, we didn’t have his staff to make up any prototypes, so what we could do was limited. Earlier this year, I tried to get to Egypt work with him again, but the Egyptian revolution and Osama Bin Laden’s capture and death got in our way- my family didn’t want me to travel to the Middle East during the unrest, and I didn’t blame them! Zahra and I cancelled our 2011 tour, but in the end, I decided I had to get to Cairo solo, not just to attend Ahlan Wa Sahlan, but because I really, REALLY wanted to finish my costume line! So, once again, during Ahlan WA Sahlan, Yaz and I worked together. Again, we got a lot done, but the learning curve has been steep for both of us!

There were a number of operational barriers Yaz and I both needed to surmount in the launching of this costume line. To begin with, I don’t speak Arabic fluently, and Yaz’s employees don’t speak English… like…at all! Every simple question regarding something minor like the length of a piece of fringe or the placement of a crystal became a grandiose game of charades, a flurry of sketches, or took three times as long to get answered, with Yaz acting as the interpreter.

One morning on our way to buy fabric at Khan Al Khalili, Yaz and I got stuck in a Muslim Brotherhood demonstration in Tahrir Square. Luckily, we were in his car and the demonstration wasn’t violent, but when Yaz requested that I take my scarf and cover my hair with as we slowly drove through the crowd, believe me, I complied immediately!

Another time, Yaz left the atelier to get us all some lunch. I was left alone with one of his beading ladies. Grabbing my camera to get some pictures of the work in progress, I pantomimed to her that I was going to take a picture. She immediately frowned and shook her finger at me as though I was a naughty child. I figured that maybe she was just modest and didn’t want to be in the picture, so I politely let it go.

When Yaz returned, she ran into his office and stayed for a lengthy amount of time. I could hear them having a discussion in Arabic behind the closed door. When they finally emerged from their conference, Yaz came out smiling broadly, took me aside and said in a low voice,

“ You are going laugh so hard at what she just told me… she said ‘ That lady is taking pictures of your designs and she is trying to steal them!’ She doesn’t believe that you are the designer!”

And between our trips to Cairo and Los Angeles, Yaz and I have been working together via the Internet, chatting, emailing, and sending sketches and photos back and forth. Thankfully, modern technology has made this possible, and we have been able to work together remarkably well this way, but this has been a steep learning curve for both of us. We both realized that we don’t know much about each other’s fortes. I know nothing about making costumes for other people- only for myself. The concept of sizing them proportionately, not to mention mass manufacturing them is something I never dreamed has, and had no idea how to go about doing. On Yaz’s part, he had no idea of my creative process-or how I thought up my designs or the way I chose which colors to use. He also didn’t have the advantage of getting input from Western dancers on what they liked- or didn’t like- about Egyptian costumes. We have both learned a lot from each other, and will continue to learn… and I also have to thank his wonderful wife Julie, and daughter Amerah profusely for all their help! Any time Yaz questioned a design choice I made, Julie and Amerah would come in as The Cool Girly Squad and set him straight on what women want!

I am planning on spending a lot more time in Cairo, and am already making designs for next year’s collection, which will include a lot of work in Assuit.

Princess Farhana For King Of The Nile is a dream come true for me, and it’s only fitting that the collection will be debuting at The Las Vegas Belly Dance Intensive, where last year, to the shock and delight of the crowd, I lived out another dream of mine- getting sawed in half onstage last year!

I hope you can make it to Las Vegas this September – LVBDI is a truly amazing festival, and of course, I want to play dress up with you and see you in my new creations!

Our "real" website will be live and operative in a few weeks, but the meantime, please visit my Princess Farhana For King Of The Nile Facebook page here: and hit the “Like” button. I will love you for it!

For more information on The Las Vegas Belly Dance Intensive, please visit:


Top; "Warda" by Princess Farhana For King Of The Nile bra

Middle: "Ghazal" by Princess Farhana For King Of The Nile

Bottom: A close-up of some royal bling-bling from "Malika" by Princess Farhana For King Of The Nile

Thursday, August 4, 2011



Though certain looks are classic for belly dance costumes and never seem to go out of style, like voluminous chiffon skirts worn with a beautiful bedlah, many belly dance costume designs are downright trendy, and appear, peak and vanish just the way trends in street clothes do. Many costume designers have a signature look, and these designs get copied and knocked off just as quickly as Forever 21 churns out affordable designs replicated from the world of high fashion.

Back when the legendary Egyptian designer Madam Abla was alive, I remember seeing her costume collections when I first started dancing, and each year she had a specific look. One season she would feature rhinestone bows on every costume she made, another season it was seashells. Fringed shoulder epaulettes were standard one year, and the next it was skirts cut on the bias with sequin-trimmed shredded hems. It got to the point that I could spot a Madame Abla from a mile away…and also be able to tell which year the specific costume came from!

Below are some of the costuming trends I noticed in Cairo, this past July 2011:

Everything from color-blocked abstract prints to faux animal prints in Lycra as well as a lot of chiffon and silk floral prints were big this year, and used across the board.

Though it’s not entirely clear who originated this trend, I myself think that Crazy Move (known in the USA as “Rising Stars”) can take the credit… if not for starting the trend, then at least for perpetrating it!

This year many designers featured sleek, jewel-toned Lycra costumes with no fringe whatsoever, but loaded down with Chinese rhinestone brooches in the shape of stars, flowers, hearts, and geometric designs. The use of these broaches was everywhere, to the point where there were costumes that were knockoffs of knock-offs!

Like the Chinese broaches, clear vinyl straps were seen on costumes made by…everyone! When they initially appeared a few years ago, many dancers seemed on the fence about this trend, but it’s become a standard and is still growing.

Bras featuring asymmetrical cups- such as one plain, and one scalloped or with cutouts, have been around for a while, and are still very, very popular. Many new costumes shown had one cup done plain, or embellished with rhinestone chain or beads just along the edge, while the other cup was fully covered with work, or draped with fabric. This trend shows no sign of going away; it’s only getting bigger.

Many Cairo designers are embracing a trend towards using burlesque and showgirl influenced elements on their designs, and I even saw some costumes that were seriously lingerie-like. Popular themes included sheer netting with overlays of lace, feathers splashed across bra cups and as hip accents, feather boas on hems and and tiny satin bows that would normally be seen on “intimate apparel”.

In the Ahlan Wa Sahlan Opening Gala, Dina wore a Sahar Okasha that was a bright tomato red, with huge red lace roses overlaid on the bra cups. The top of the skirt was a V-shaped ( panty shaped!) patch of black lace over the red lycra, complete with four garters dangling as though from a vintage garter belt!

But Sahar wasn’t alone in this trend: Hallah Moustapha made a custom costume that looked like a 1950’s merry widow, complete with strategically placed working zippers, and Eman Zaki showed a stunning dress with a lace-up front that looked very saloon-girlish.

These were spotted in 2010 being worn by Soraya Zaed, Egyptian Aziza and Dina, but this year, they are everywhere! Big, over-sized paillette sequin accents are ubiquitous on everything from hip scarves to Saidi dresses and full Oriental costumes. You can see Leila Farid raqqin’ the giant paillettes on the cover of her new CD, “Tarab” (great music, by the way!) or watch her in action here, looking like a gorgeous human disco ball:

A lot of lesser-known Cairo designers were doing knock-offs of Turkish designer Bella. Her signature elements such as princess sleeves, sequin-bordered chiffon leaves trailing down circle skirts and bra cups with racy cut-outs backed by mesh almost-but not quite- are being successfully translated onto Egyptian costumes. While Bella’s designs are light and airy, the Egyptian knock-offs are clunky and not quite there yet- for example, one designer tried to do Bella’s leaves, but instead of constructing them out of chiffon, so they floated, the leaves were made like heavy, dangling appliqués, and just dragged the costume down.

Obviously inspired by Sahar Okasha’s chunky bead draping on her costumes for Dina, I saw a lot of costumes with big dangly geometric plastic beads being used as accents.

Theoretically, this might sound scary, but when you see it in real life, it’s actually very cute. A costume made entirely with chunky plastic beads would probably appear cheap, but when they are used judiciously, combined with higher-end embellishments like rhinestones, lots of beading and sequins, it’s fresh and pretty- see the above picture of Argentine dancer Magda Monti, now living and working in Cairo, wearing a bronze costume with over-sized white plastic bead accents. The beads move well in performance and add a touch of whimsy.

Though many minimalist designs with little or no fringe were still plentiful on off-the-rack costumes, quite a few pro dancers in Cairo were wearing costumes with fringe, in everything from small accents to lush amounts trimming their bedlah. Leila Farid appeared at the Ahlan Wa Sahlan closing gala in a dazzling costume made of material that resembled a Navajo blanket print in shades of vibrant navy and royal blue, white, orange and yellow, with pointed geometric fringe to match! I believe Hallah Moustapha made this, but I’m not 100% sure. It was stunning!


Hannan’s costumes are well constructed, fit beautifully, and covered with intricate bead and sequin work. Her new baby son Ahmed apparently didn’t stop her from bringing out a new collection! This year she unleashed her wild side, showing costumes featuring metallic Lycra in two or more colors mixed with animal print or snakeskin lycra. Always up on worldwide dance community trends, Hannan also offered many tribal-inspired practice skirts, and tiny metallic mini-skirts meant to be worn over class-wear.

Always elegant and cut beautifully, Eman’s 2011 offerings include a line of dreamy romantic costumes done in floral prints made of real silk with Spanish-inspired ruffles around the hem & large fabric faux- flowers as accents on the hip and bust, armbands & wristbands.

Like her sister Eman, Hoda’s costumes are classic and gorgeous. She also showed many floral prints. My favorite of this year’s “crop” was a cute yet soignée handkerchief-hem costumes featuring yellow and black daisies, with jeweled daisies and minimal black fringe decorating the bra and belt-line.

An American designer, my friend Hallah is a former dancer who has been living and working in Cairo for years. She not only makes belly dance costumes, but also has a roaring business in the Middle East doing couture gowns that have been featured on television and in movies.

Hallah’s intricate and beautifully draped dance costumes have been seen on many Bellydance Superstars past and present, including Jillina, Sabah, Sonia, and Cairo-based dancers Leila Farid and Liza La Ziza. She used to only do custom work, but this year, Hallah has expanded into an affordable ready-to-wear line, featuring her trademark use of exotic Sari fabrics and her incredible draping and shaping. See-and order- her new work here:!readymade

The atelier of Madame Raqia Hassan makes bright, affordable costumes that range from extremely pretty to…so quirky and crazy that you’d have to live in Cairo for wearing it to make any sense! This year, her costumes featured a lot of mirrors, metal chains, and the afore-mentioned plastic beads.

One innovation she introduced this year ( which, for once, nobody else was doing! ) was in her accessories, which come with every costume. She featured large, blinged out wrist, arm and leg pieces in terrific geometric shapes, and dotted with crystals, not unlike those worn by Samba dancers. They were truly amazing and very unique.

Aziz is one of the few costumers that still uses a lot of "old-school" beading, which encrusts the bras, belts and skirts of his costumes. This year, he showed a lot of animal print, including some cat-print costumes that had pom-poms of real mink hanging as embellishments. Not PETA friendly, but they were pretty cute!

In my opinion, Mamdouh is hands-down the designer whose work is most original. He always thinks outside the box: his costumes are cute, playful, and very sexy... and even from far away, can be readily identified. He seems to take his cues from pop culture; a lot of his designs incorporate elements that look like American or European rock and roll club-wear, without losing their Oriental essence.

Some of his fashion foreword innovations- that are now being widely copied - are the use of handbag hardware (like metal snap-clasp hooks and D-rings for fasteners) over-sized prints, raw, un-hemmed metallic lace, scatter-work rhinestones, and extensive use of criss-crossed straps. This year, he featured detachable straps that wrapped up and down either or both leg- see photo- or dangling, embellished straps that started at the hip and attached at the ankle, like a glamorous, embellished leash! Aziza of Cairo wore two of his costumes in her Ahlan WA Salan Opening Gala show.

My only complaint about his work is that he uses acrylic rhinestones… which is ok for his smaller scatter-work, but just looks cheap on the bigger stones. My friend Aleya, an American dancer working in Cairo, assured me she’d already mentioned that to him. His costumes are already amazing, but if he used real stones as opposed to plastic, the worldwide dance community would be fighting each other for a chance to wear his stuff!

The Giza-based King Of The Nile has long been known for their intricate bead and sequin work, custom costumes and pretty hip scarves, as well as the fact that they actually ship their orders out on "Western Time"! This year, the King Of The Nile atelier has been hard at work on some new designs...stay tuned to find out more about them!

Dina At Ahlan Wa Sahlan Opening Gala on Nile Maxim, photo by Andre Elbing
Magda Monti of Cairo at The Ahlan Wa Sahlan 2011 Closing Gala, photo by Andre Elbing

An example of Mamdouh's crazy criss-cross leg straps

Aleya of Cairo in one of Mamdouh's fanciful designs, photo courtesy of

Tuesday, August 2, 2011


Key Words are the words or phrases people type into search engines that direct them to various websites. Aside from the obvious ones ( “belly dance”, “costumes”, “Egyptian Style” , etc.) I always get a kick at the random things people search that directs them to my blog!
Here are a few choice recent entries, appearing exactly as they were typed.