Invention of the First Belly Dance Costume

Hi, Tarik:

Can you elaborate on the notion that Badia el Masabni inventented the 2-piece bedlah out of her inspiration of Hollywood movies?

Thank you.


PS..... There is a movie out there on the life of Badia el Masabni that was made in Egypt some time ago. Nadia Lotfy plays Badiaand Fu'ad el Mohandes plays Naguib el Rihani. Very nice movie but it is not subtitled.

Hi Sausan:

Badia didn't invent the costume, she adopted it. The bedlah is actually a western fantasy invention. I twas actually based on the Indian choli and skirt. In theater productions, it came to represent the image of "the eastern woman". Many Europeans and Americans made no distinctions between Arabs and Indians. They all got lumped together as those easterners. Therefore, after a while any production set in the"east", like Oscar Wild's Salome, portrayed the women in variations of the Indian choli and skirt, especially "the dancing girls". It was pure Orientalist fantasy.

The general public had no way of knowing this image was all made up. They assumed it was real. This is one reason why European tourists in Egypt were often disappointed by the real life dancers they saw, who were not the white skinned wasp waisted chorus girls of the English stages, but swarthy women with real uncorseted bodies who were covered from head to toe. Not what they expected.

Badia was an artist, but above all a very shrewd business woman. Since Egypt and the rest of the Middle East was at that time under the control ofvarious European powers, they were not existing in a vacuum.

People in Egypt, (Badia included), saw pictures ofEuropean actresses in "Oriental" garb in magazines and news papers, but most importantly, they saw European and American movies, including all the "sand and sword" flicks. She would have seen the costumes andof course realized that that was the image that westerners had of them.

Being the business woman that she was, she decided to adopt that image for her dancers. Why? Her clienteleat the time were mostly the British and American military personnel, if a bare midriff and whit skin, (or as close to it as you could get), was what the paying public wanted, that is what she would give them. It had nothing to do with the reality of the culture, it was just good business, supply and demand.

To the native population however the bedlah was and is a scandal. Women never went around exposing their skin in private let alone in a public venue. This is one of the reasons why even today many Middle Easterners have so little regard for dancers. They like to see a good dancer, they like to see a pretty woman, but they have no respect for her. As many guys have put it to me, "She's a bi***, she don't care about herself because she showing her body to anyone and everyone, she don't take care of herself". In other words, the body is something special, if you show it to any stranger, you obviously don't value it.

Personally, I don't really agree with that, but looking at the situation from their perspective, I can understand why they feel the way they do.

Tarik Sultan - Website:, Jersey City, NJ and New York, NY

May 23, 2006 from MED List

Tarik Sultan


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