Belly Dance General Publications

Dancers in Orientalist Art – A Digital Workshop, Friday July 26

Hello Gang!

I’m pleased to announce that I’ll be presenting a digital workshop on Friday, July 26th hosted by Mahin of Phoenix.

Dancers in Orientalist Art

Friday, July 26, 2019
​5:00 PM PDT /  8:00 PM EDT
Tickets: $15 till July 15
$20 till July25

Registration includes
Live Online
+ 45 Days Streaming Access

“Dancers in Orientalist Art” is a 90-minute slide-show style presentation of the subject of the dancer in Orientalist Art.  During the course of this talk, I’ll be sharing more than 100 images, so if you love looking at beautiful images and learning about art, this is the class for you.

  • What does the term Orientalism mean?
  • Are all Orientalist paintings with dancers harem fantasies?
  • Who is Edward Said and what his book “Orientalism” meant for belly dancers?
  • How can contemporary dancers engage with Orientalist art in this post-colonial world?

The course includes a printable .pdf that includes an overview, timeline of Orientalist Art, and suggested readings.

I’m very excited to have this opportunity to combine my academic work in Art History with my love for belly dance.  Help me spread the word about my lecture by sharing this blog post with your favorite dancers.

I Hope to See you on July 26th for “Dancers in Orientalist Art,”
Dawn Devine ~ Davina
July 6, 2019


Belly Dance General

Women’s History Month & Belly Dance History – Part 2

March is Women’s History Month – Part 2

Hello there!  Today I’m doing something a bit different.  In honor of International Woman’s Day, which falls in Women’s History Month, I’m sharing a bit of belly dance history each day over on my FaceBook page. I’ve decided to put up five posts this month that round up those entries for the week.  This is post #2. If you haven’t read the first post – check it out here.

Facebook, the site we love and hate

As I’ve worked on this project over on Facebook, I ran into a few troubles. One day in March, Facebook and Instagram had a global outage.  While it threw off my timing by a day, it was just a minor inconvenience.  A bigger problem was Facebook removing two posts due to the illusion of nudity.  While it was just an illusion, they are sticking to their guns and disallowing the images. Consequently, I had to change up some of my plans for later posts.  History is broad and deep and there are many, many images and anecdotes to share, so I just had to change things up a bit.

Day 9 – Nai Bonet and Shirley MacLaine

Back in the 1950s and 60s, many popular films featured belly dancers either as important characters or as part of the backdrop for the flow of the story.

Throughout the 1950s, belly dancing scenes appeared most often in quasi-historic “Sword and Sandal” flicks, spy films, or Orientalist Fantasy pictures. By the 1960s, belly dancers began appearing in more humor films.

One of these more humor-focussed films was “John Goldfarb, Please Come Home” of 1965.  In this film, Shirley Maclaine appears in a scene with a group of belly dancers.

To prepare for this film, she took some classes with then Las Vegas-based belly dancer Nai Bonet.  In this photo, you can see Shirley, an accomplished Broadway-style dancer, learning to do a classic belly dance move.

Nai, however, is the star of the belly dance scene.  But if you follow this link and watch this entire clip, you can catch Shirley’s shimmy!

Day 10 – Serena of NYC

During the 1970’s the first wave of belly dance instructional books hit shelves and every major publisher connected with a belly dance teacher to share the mystic art of belly dance with readers.  Belly dance had gone mainstream.

Serena of NYC published her book, “The Serena Technique of Belly Dancing: The Fun Way to a Trim Shape” in 1972.  This book went through several editions appearing in hardback and paperback versions.  My mum had this book when she was dabbling in learning the dance.  I bought my first copy from a Goodwill in San Diego for .25  Today you can pick up a vintage copy for as little as $3 on Amazon.  –

This photo was part of the publicity campaign for the book release. A photographer from Life Magazine went to her New York studio to photograph the celebrity dancer in action.  It appeared as part of a photo essay on the last few pages of the Feb. 4, 1972 edition.  It’s nice to know that “Perfectly Respectable” women were taking up the hobby.

After her passing, her studio, and later the NYC store Belly Dance America hosted an exhibition of her memorabilia.  Mahin of Phoenix  visited the exhibition and documented in this video:  

Day 11 –  Rue du Caire Poster,
The Exposition Universelle du 1900, Paris

Today’s image is a promotional poster from the Exposition Universelle of 1900, a world’s fair to celebrate the artistic and industrial achievements between 1800 and 1900. There was a new arts sensibility sweeping France called Art Nouveau and this poster really captures the essence of the style.

By 1900, the World’s Fair exhibition model was well established and codified. So along with the newest technology, like the telegraphone, the first magnetic audio recorder, and the escalator, there were repeat pieces such as the iconic Tour Eiffel and the imported Ferris Wheel.

During this era of Imperialism, there many cultural exhibitions, many of which were reimaginations of exhibits from the previous Paris exhibition from just 11 years before.

The Rue du Caire was an exhibition for the 1889 Paris Exposition and it was so popular it was reborn for the 1900 exhibition. In this poster, our dancer is in the act of a mighty hip thrust with arms held high. You get a real sense of what her costume looked like, with her transparent chemise and wide-legged striped pantaloons and cropped vest. These pieces are the iconic Turkish costuming elements worn by dancers throughout the lands once or still ruled by the Ottoman empire.

Artemis and Yasmin of put together a great video about the Rue du Caire from the 1889 Exhibition available for view on YouTube.

Day 12 – Özel Turkbas, “Music For Belly Dancing”

In the 1970’s one of the most acclaimed belly dance performers was the lovely Özel. And, very much like today, she worked hard to develop multiple income streams to support her career. In addition to performing and teaching, she also was involved in a series of albums, books, and back in her native Turkey, she starred in several films.

In 1977, Özel published a cookbook entitled “The Turkish Cookbook” and went on a book publicity tour which included several stops on the talk show circuit including the Dinah Shore show. Her appearance on this show includes a short performance, her teaching a few moves to the other guests (including the stuffy actor Ted Knight) and then a demo of how to prepare the Turkish Dish Lamb Papillote.

Her book, The Belly Dancer in You, is still on my bookshelf and I really enjoy pulling it down and thumbing through the pages.

Today I’ve included the front and back of her album “Music For Belly Dancing” so you can enjoy reading the blurb on the other side.

Thank you for sharing the obsession!

I appreciate you joining me for this 31-day series. If you have questions about belly dance history, and I know the answer I’m happy to share.  It’s been a pleasure to put together these posts, and I’ll be back next week with two more posts.

Happy Dance and Costume
Dawn Devine ~ Davina
March 22, 2019

Belly Dance

Women’s History Month & Belly Dance History

March is Women’s History Month

Hello there!  Today I’m doing something a bit different.  In honor of International Woman’s Day, which falls in Women’s History Month, I’m sharing a bit of belly dance history each day over on my FaceBook page. I’ve decided to put up five posts this month that round up those entries for the week.

Day 1 – Palmolive Soap Advertisement, 1920’s

When I was a young girl, this was one of my favorite pictures.  I loved historical advertising, and I thought that I looked a bit like this lovely lady.  When little kids are asked, “What do you want to do when you grow up?” I secretly wanted to grow up to be her.  To my eyes, she looked like she was getting ready to dance.  It didn’t hurt that there was a bit of resemblance between her face and mine.

My mom took belly dance classes in the mid-1970s and though she didn’t stick with the hobby, I certainly was hooked. When I started taking classes myself at 17 and soon started performing in Milwaukee Wi, I knew I was making my dream of being a professional dancer come true.

As a “Triple Threat”  (in my case, dancer, costumer, and historian) I am most happy when I get to share my favorite photos – so let’s embark together on this historical adventure!

Algerian Cafe - Chicago's Columbian Exhibition, 1893 - Costume History Month - Studio DavinaDay 2 – A scene from the Algerian Theater – Columbian Exhibition, Chicago 1893

The Chicago World’s Faire in 1893 is often used as the starting point for tracing the history of belly dance in the United States.

The truth is, there were middle eastern dancers spotted at the Centennial Exhibition in 1876 as well as individual dancers performing in major cities like New York.

And while Sol Bloom made a big deal about “Little Egypt” doing the “Belly Dance” in the Streets of Cairo Exhibit at the Columbian Exhibition of 1893, there were middle eastern dancers performing in various exhibits along the Midway Plaisance.

In this illustration, you can see a dancer performing an Algerian Scarf dance. If you look close, you can see that she is holding a small scarf in each of her hands. Her costume is very Turkish in cut and style, which is to be expected as Algeria was part of the Ottoman empire at this time and urban clothing was influenced by the Turkish style.

Omene - 1880's - One of the first recorded Turkish dancers working in the US - Costume History Month - Studio Davina

Day 3 – Omene – Turkish Dancer – New York 1880’s

One of the earliest recorded middle eastern dancers to perform in the US was the Turkish Dancer Omene.  She appeared in the variety theater circuit of NYC and beyond. Throughout the 1880s, newspaper printing technology improved and illustrated newspapers became much more popular.  As the decade progresses, more line illustrations like the one to the right begin appearing in regular newspapers like the New York Times. 

Omene lived a scandalous life. New York City newspapers documented her outrageous activities. The press was especially fascinated with sharing the melodrama of her tumultuous relationship with her husband Yank-Hoe.

As a testament to her popularity, she appeared in a series of Cigarette Cards in 1890 and there is a very nice article about the collection of the Met Museum in New York City. Read more about Omene and her adventures in this informative article by the New York Metropolitan Museum.

Unknown Egyptian Dancer in Assiut and Dowery Necklace - Costume History Month - Studio DavinaDay 4 – Unknown Egyptian Dancer, 1940s

This is one of my favorite photographs of an Egyptian dancer wearing an assiut robe and a classic dowery necklace. Wedding dresses made of assuit were traditional in Upper Egypt during the last quarter of the 19th century. Wedding attendees – especially married women – would also don assuit shawls.

Dancers would wear assiut to henna night and other wedding celebrations, especially for the zeffa. Although no longer tied to wedding traditions, dancers continue to wear assiut.

Have you checked out my book about assiut? Costume History Month - Studio DavinaHave you read my book about assiut?
Only $24 through the end of March at my Etsy store.

If you are interested in assiut, make your way over to my assiut Facebook group where we share loads of images and discuss the history and use of assiut through the ages.

If you would like to see assiut in action, I’ve got a YouTube playlist that includes vintage and modern performances.

Autochrome Lumiere photo of Unknown Egyptian dancer by George Lekegian 1907-8 - Costume History Month - Studio Davina Day 5 – Autochrome Lumière of an Unknown Dancer – Jules Gervais Courtellemont – published 1926

Autochrome Lumière was the first camera capable of taking color photos. This technique used glass plates that were dyed with red, green and blue potato starch and a layer of emulsion. When the light passed through the glass, a softly colored image was created. Subjects had to pose for quite a length of time to capture the image so they are often slightly fuzzy from holding poses.  Courtellemont was one of the pre-eminent photographers working in the offices of National Geographic and his color photography was inserted into these early magazines as a special and exciting center section.   There is a great article about the process of autochrome lumiere on the National Geographic website.


Gilda Gray from the Movie "Devil Dancer" - Costume History Month - Studio DavinaDay 6 – Gilda Gray dance with the Ziegfeld Follies

Gilda Gray was an early 20th-century dancer who performed on stage with the Ziegfeld Follies. She is often erroneously credited as the originator of “The Shimmy.”  Gilda’s career moved from stage to screen. This promotional photo is from the 1927 movie “The Devil Dancer.”

By the 20’s the show-girl costuming formula of a cropped top or bra, embellished belt worn below the navel, and a full skirt was de rigueur for a belly dancer. In this image of Gilda’s ensemble features all of these costuming elements. Though this style dates from the ’20s, you might see a similar ensemble worn on stage at your next dance event. Moving forward through the 20th century, belly dance ensembles will change and evolve with shifts in tastes and developments in technology. But the three-piece set remains the emblematic uniform for the modern professional belly dancer.

While Gilda didn’t invent the shimmy, she was a master of the art and you can see her bust out a few shimmy moves in this clip from the 1929 movie “Piccadilly.”

Samia Gamal by Loomis Dean for Life Magazine - Costume History Month - Studio DavinaDay 7 – Samia Gamal by Loomis Dean for Life Magazine 1952

Today I’m sharing this beautiful black and white photo of the incomparable Egyptian dancer Samia Gamal by photographer Loomis Dean shot for Life Magazine in 1952. This beautiful composite photo captures the elegant movement of the great dancer through an overlay multi-exposure darkroom process.

In 1952 Samia was performing at the prestigious and very upper-class dinner theater the Latin Quarter in New York City. Headliners of the club included Frank Sinatra and the Andrew Sisters. It ran from 1942 to 1969. (Fun Factoid: The Latin Quarter was founded and run by the father of broadcaster Barbara Walters)

Life Magazine was instrumental in sharing ideas about US culture, not only with Americans but throughout Europe and around the globe. Life not only recorded our culture, but it shared, reinforced, and directed the zeitgeist. This magazine shaped opinion and created celebrity with its gorgeous photography and easy to read articles.

Brief article about Samia in Life Magazine

Lys and Lyn Jamal, 1950's - Costume History Month - Studio DavinaDay 8 – Lys and Lyn Gamal

The Gamal Twins were beautiful sisters, not twins. They created their act and took the name Gamal to make them more appealing and unique to the Egyptian audiences.

Specialty acts like the Gamal twins stand out for their uniqueness are often better documented in the historical archive. They get more attention because they are different and distinct.

Their real names were Helena (Lyn) and Berta (Lys). Berta had kept mementos from her career, like press clippings and magazine articles.  Berta’s step-daughter wanted to share Lys’s story after her passing in 2016 and donated this ephemera collection to the Jerusalem National Library. The collection is now available for dance researchers.

Read more about Lys and Lyn in this article.
Watch a video clip from the 1954 film “Al Anisa Hanafi”

Dawn Devine ~ Davina, photo by Laura Thompson - Studio DavinaThere’s More To Come

I hope that you’ve enjoyed the first 8 Days of my Woman’s History Month series devoted to belly dance costume and history, I hope you will subscribe to my bi-monthly newsletter where I share my latest blog posts, publication updates, and a selection of blog posts, videos, and articles that I’ve been enjoying from around the web.

Happy International Woman’s Day!
Dawn Devine ~ Davina
March 8, 2019

Assiut/Assuit Belly Dance General

Assiut Belly Dance Gig Dress

I often talk to dancers who are looking for that perfect gig dress.  The perfect garment to wear to shows, parties, and events. The Ideal dress has to fit loosely, without any compression at the waist. Ideally, it should be dressy, give a great first impression. Extra points if the dress is easy to get in and out of, resists wrinkles, and is washable.  However, the main goal is to appear glamorous, completely pulled together, and expensive.

Alisha and Shalimar wearing assiut garments to a belly dance show.

Above: Photographer Alisha Westerfeld on left wears an assiut cocoon coat.
Shalimar on right wears a swing dress made of modern assiut.
Photo snapped at the Marrakesh in San Francisco.

Turquoise Assiut Dress on stand | Studio Davina - www.davina.usMaking an Assiut Dress

While we had a great time at the belly dance show that night, the amber-hued lights of the restaurant have impacted the color of the dress. The photo on the left gives a better idea of what the dress looks like in daylight. The key to making an effective assiut dress is to keep the design lines simple and let the imported hand-crafted fabric be the star.

Buying Modern Assiut

Often, the most difficult step in making a dress is finding a nice assiut shawl to work with. Search for all the major keyword variations of assiut, assuit, and tulle bi telli.  There are many dealers to choose from, so pick the best deal for you.  I always recommend using a credit card with buyer protection should something in the transaction goes awry.  As you shop, pay careful attention to the length of your piece. in an ideal world, your shawl would be double your back neck to hem measurement.  For the dress above, the shawl was about 4″ too short.  Consequently, I had to piece the shoulder line in order to get the desired look.

Lining and Notions

In addition to the assiut shawl, I choose to use an aqua-hued swimsuit style material to line the garment. This bouncy, comfortable, and easy to wash fabric offers a stretchy lining that allows the assiut to give and move but unlike the assiut, the lining will snap back to shape.  In addition to the lining, I purchased to finish the garment was a package of single-fold bias tape and a spool of thread.

MacCalls Pattern #M7432

Pick a Pattern

While my design was made from a customized pattern, it’s a very common style that virtually every commercial and indy pattern company offers.  Look for very simple lines that are sized for stretch fabric.  Avoid patterns with complicated features such as collars, darts, and unusual necklines.  If I were going to buy a pattern to make another dress of this style, I would pick up the McCall’s M7432.  However, if you already have a collection of patterns, remember to shop your stash before you go shopping.

Finish the neckline and arm openings with bias tape. Step one: Machine stitch the bias tape.

Cutting and Sewing

I always make a sample dress before I cut the final fabric.  For this turquoise dress, I made the test sample out of the lining fabric and Shalimar tried it on to ensure that the pattern fit. Even when working with a commercial pattern, a sample and test fit will allow you to fine-tune the fit and make design adjustments.  If your assiut shawl is too short to make a dress, this is the time when you will make a plan to extend the garment.  For this dress, I needed to add assiut at the shoulder line in order to make the pattern match on the sides of the dress. Photo Left: Prepping the bias tape for machine stitching.

Finish the neckline and arm openings with bias tape. Step Two: Fold bias tape to the inside. Press and pin, then hand-stitch.

Using your favorite sewing machine and a regular straight stitch, sew the dress together.  I made all my fit adjustments on the lining and then stitched the pieces together at the shoulder.  To keep lining and dress correctly aligned, I stay-stitched around the neck and armhole.  I used bias tape and a warm iron to press a curve into the tape as I pinned it to the outside of the dress.  Next, I machine stitched the bias tape.  I folded it to the inside and hand stitched the bias tape to the lining.  Photo Right:  Bia tape prepped and ready to hand stitch to the garment. 

Black assiut cocktail dress by Dawn Devine | Studio Davina

Above:  This assiut dress has a slight cap sleeve and since
the assiut panel was wider, it has a fuller hem. The front is lined with
bathing suit fabric and the back of the dress is solid black.  

Finishing Tips

Once your dress is lined and the shoulder and neck seam finished all that’s left is the hem.  For the best result, I like to hem the lining slightly shorter than the assiut to reduce the risk of it showing when the wearer is standing still.  In the aqua dress at the top, I elected not to hem the assiut, but rather cut it even and left it to swing free.  On the black dress, I hemmed the assiut at the bottom edge of the triangular border design.  My preference is to hand-hem through assiut designs to minimize the appearance of my sewing.

Final Thoughts

I love making these swing assiut cocktail dresses. If you are looking for inspiration for making an easy and comfortable assiut dress, I recommend checking out my “Assiut Garments” Pinterest board. If you’re contemplating making a dress and have any questions, join the conversation in the Studio Davina – Behind the Scenes Facebook Group.

Best of luck in all your costuming adventures!
Dawn Devine ~ Davina
July 25, 2018

Belly dancer Poppy Maya wears an assiut cocktail dress. | Studio Davina

Assiut/Assuit Belly Dance Costuming DIY General

Mixing Faux and Modern Assiut

Swirl is my informal performance group composed of my proteges and myself.  For our spring performance at HaflAdira in Willow Glen, CA, we put together a set of coordinating costumes using a combination of existing costume pieces, faux assiut, and modern assiut.  Here’s how these costumes came together.

Pulling From the Closet

Before we started costuming, we decided to do individual costume inventories.  Zemira had this gorgeous black “Bessie” skirt from the Fat Chance Bellydance studio. in her collection and this was the perfect opportunity to integrate into our trio.  Vakasha owned a Melodia “Mythica” skirt in the black and silver colorway.  I have a Melodia skirt in the same fabric but in the “Cleopatra” cut.  Since these three skirts coordinated beautifully, we decided to use these as our starting out point saving us time and money!

To make a complete a head to toe costume, we decided to unify the look by using matching body stockings.  Zemira and I already had these in our wardrobe and Vakasha picked up hers from Dahlal International.

Faux Assiut from Melodia Designs

It became clear that we were going to have to craft a trio of bras to out of the glorious Melodia faux assiut fabric.  As a team, we invested in an Infinity Scarf to be our sacrificial garment.  I took this tube and cut it apart.  There was enough fabric to create all three bras with a significant amount of cloth left over.

Zemira also bought an Infinity scarf to wear as a hip treatment over her solid black skirt. Since her scarf didn’t have fringe, I elected to use a similarly shaped piece of modern assiut to echo the shape.  Vakasha used a pair of V-shaped assiut triangles for her hip treatment, and when viewed together, they worked in visual harmony.

Custom Bras to Coordinate

To craft our faux assiut bras, we began with underwire and padded bras either from our wardrobes or new from the store.  I really feel that it’s important to get the bra that really works not only for your size and shape, but also to give you the coverage and support that you are happy with.  No two commercially made bras are the same, and the only way to find one that works for you is to go shopping and try on a lot of bras.

Once the bras were in my workbench, I pieced the faux assiut fabric onto the cups, to create three different styles.  Each bra is laid out symmetrically, from different parts of the assiut pattern.  Before I sew, I pin both cups into place to ensure that they match as closely as possible.  Then I hand sew the fabric into place.

Embellishing with Saroyan Coins

Once the faux assiut was appliqued onto the bra bases, we decided to pull some silver coins from our collections.  Vakasha had some leftover Saroyan silver “Nefertiti” coins left over from a previous project. I had some “Venus” coins and together we pooled our resources and used what we had to embellish all three bras. These coins are currently discontinued, but there’s a small quantity left on the Saroyan website.  If they spark your interest, be sure to head over there soon before they are completely gone.

These costumes are comfortable, stylish, and were actually quite affordable.  I was so happy that we shopped our wardrobes and worked together as a team to create these ensembles that we can wear together or alone.  I feel like I have a new capsule wardrobe that I can use as a base to create a variety of different looks.  I’m excited to experiment with different options in the future.

Do you like these costumes?  Check them out in action below.  And remember, if you go to YouTube, be sure to like it if you like it!

Now, I’ve gotta get back to the studio to make another costume!
Dawn Devine ~ Davina
Monday, June 11, 2018

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