All About Hip Scarves
Question, how many hip scarves does a bellydancer need?Answer: Just one more!
Nothing says bellydance like a hip scarf, it's the accessory that can turn someone in regular party clothes into THE DANCER. But have you ever felt overwhelmed by all the options when shopping for one? Here's a handy guide (and lots of pretty pictures!) to help you decide what kind of hip scarf will serve you best.
The first thing a lot of beginners ask is how to tie the hip scarf. There is no significance to how it is tied, or which position the knot is in, so it is up to you. The one thing to make sure of is that the scarf should sit LOW on your hips, at the hip bones, not at your waist. I also recommend, at least while you're practicing beginner isolations, to situate it so that it is level across your hips, both from left to right and from front to back when you are standing in neutral pelvis.
Hip scarves are great fun, a way to instantly feel like a bellydancer and to get that fabulous fancy feeling, but they also have a practical purpose: to make your movements more obvious. This is especially helpful for beginner movement practice, when you are trying to learn isolations and safe body mechanics. A hip scarf will give you visual, kinesthetic, and even auditory feedback on what your body is doing while you build familiarity with how the moves should feel.
For example, when doing a hip circle, check that your scarf is staying level in the mirror. When practicing a hip drop you can tie a coin scarf around your chest to be sure you are isolating the movement to the hips: if the coins stay quiet, you're isolating!
And that leads us to the first category of hip scarves, coins and bells:
These can look cheap, or be fancier, and are what most people think of when they think of a bellydance scarf. I hand these out as loaners in my introductory classes. In addition to the feedback mentioned above, they are great for giving you auditory feedback when you are practicing your shimmy!
Sequins and Paillettes are a good way to get the bling without the noise when you get ready to go from introductory class to your first workshop. Classes are USUALLY smaller than workshops, so the extra noise isn't as big of an issue, but in a workshop setting teachers are often already straining to be heard by a big room of people over the music, and adding the sound of lots and lots of people wearing coins (any number of whom may be off beat) and it just becomes unworkable. Many workshops will even specify that participants wear a silent scarf.
Plain/printed/woven Fabric is more durable than strings of sequins, and can be just as ornate. You can tie a simple scarf, like the pashmina center top, around your hips, or opt for a stretchy skirt. The latter option is best if your weight doesn't tend to fluctuate too much, since they are more like a skirt with a fixed range of size (depending on how stretchy they are). They can be easier to use the bathroom when wearing, and simple to put on, and since they don't have heavy decorations they are less likely to work themselves down your legs during long shimmy drills.
Scarves with lots of beading and crochet work are gorgeous but fragile. Some may also have coins, so decide if you're wearing it to an appropriate type of practice, but more importantly be ABSOLUTELY SURE your scarf is not shedding beads! These beads are generally sharp and made of glass, and you do not want them in your feet, nor do you want to be responsible for a classmate getting injured. I do own a few like this, and if the part that gets tied does not have beads on it then they CAN last a long time, but do no sit, especially on any chairs with slits the beads could get caught in, if you want to avoid them wearing out. The lavender example on the right is the type I find the most fragile.
Fringe is a great way to get movement without the fragility of beads or the noise of coins, it can be prone to tangling and catching on things, but can also be great for getting a balance of seeing your legs for technique check ups and hiding them to get an idea of how your moves will look once you're in a skirt.
Certain scarves have specific folkloric connotations. The one on the left with the fuzzy pom poms has a cute beledi feeling, and doubles as a head scarf for maleya and other numbers. I'm wearing a pink pashmina in the next photo, for a simple "I just threw this on" look with my stage style folkloric dress. The next scarf is an example of a Palestinian Kiffeyeh. They come in all sorts of colors but traditionally are white with black or red, and are a symbol of Palestinian identity and resilience. Lastly (for this article, anyway) is a bellydance scarf made of assuit, an iconic fabric from upper Egypt made of mesh with metal threads woven in in geometric designs.
For more of an edgy, fusion feel, torn fabric, shells, tarnished coins, embroidered mirrors, and tassels are popular. Tassels can get a bit tangled and caught if you're not careful, and are traditionally used to decorate animals for festivals. Avoid fabrics with religious associations, and make sure you do your research to know if a traditional fabric comes from a culture that is part of your fusion style.
I have a rack of scarves, and pick different ones depending on on my mood and what I'm planning on doing during practice, but my favorite scarf is actually one I've had the longest. It is a lightweight cotton square that is basically an oversized bandana. I got it from H&M in 2000-something. It is very multifunctional, I used it in Egypt as a head scarf and lent it to a friend for the same thing, use it in workshops as my hip scarf, I've performed in it during informal shows, and it works as a strap to help stretching, too! I can wear it around my neck to keep warm, dry sweat with it, and it is easy to wash, but still decorative enough to feel pretty and get my in the mood to dance. Best, since it is a smooth piece of printed fabric, there is nothing to get caught and tangled or torn, I can sit on it and tie it any which way, I can roll it into a thin band around my hips or fold it into a triangle to cover my pelvis. It is light in my dance bag, and can look like a regular fashion scarf (because it technically is) if I need to wear it to make room in my dance bag for something else.
So, Happy shopping! and whatever style you like, remember to bring your hip scarf to class!
The scarves in these pictures came from: Bellydance.com, dahlal.com, bellydancestore.biz, NYC street vendors, Palestine, various workshops, and H&M