Its 9 pm and I’m getting ready to be interviewed by Mao Murakami over Skype. You might not recognise the name but to a dedicated community of belly dancers, she is a legend. And Mao is going to interview me.
This is up there with the time that Bill Bailey replied to my tweet.
Mao isn’t interviewing me because of what I do but because of what she does. Mao is the founder of Sparklybelly.com: a belly dance costuming resource site. Sparkly Belly is packed-full with free tutorials and premium courses covering every piece of the belly dancers wardrobe and more. Mao is dedicated to helping dancers make fabulous, professional-looking costumes that fit – and on a budget. Part of Mao’s dedication to this process is learning to become even better at delivering online content to her students. And that’s where I come in.
Sparkly Belly was pivotal in my own belly dance costume-making journey. I was struggling with my first dance bra and was looking for some advice on YouTube. That’s when I came across this video voiced by a sweet and enthusiastic person telling me about how to add more coverage to a belly dance bra. For some reason, I don’t really recall I had decided to cover a bra that was two cup-sizes too small for me and was paying the price. It was a great video so full of helpful ideas that it was in two parts. It allowed me to ‘save’ that bra so that I could perform in it a couple of times (I have since indignantly destroyed the offending object). I followed the links at the end of the video and joined the Sparkly Belly Facebook group.
That was October 2014.
Today, Mao is interviewing me so that by understanding her students more, she’ll be able to tailor her courses to better meet their needs.
Since then I started my own modest belly dance costuming business, Bellyoddity. Whilst it was more of a hobby than a business, I showed the same dedication to my customers as Mao does to hers.
When I joined there were about 30 members of the Sparkly Belly Facebook group. Today, there are more than 2,700 members and over 50 tutorials available on sparklybelly.com and Mao’s YouTube channel. You can create amazing performance costumes, class wear, bags and decor! You can even get advice on the business of being a professional belly dancer.
Buying a costume
A lot of belly dancers face the same costume problems. And a good costume can affect how we dance.
Off-the-peg costumes are either not big enough or just too expensive – even for modest costumes for hobby dancers like me. And how do you guarantee that ordering a bespoke costume over the internet will fit? Ordering clothes online can be tricky but combine that with language barriers and dubious returns policies and the outcome can be disastrous. My one (and only attempt) to order a bespoke costume from Cairo resulted in a silver bedlah two cups sizes too small and a belt 30cm too long! And I had ordered it in gold…
When you buy a costume from Egypt or Turkey you are able to take advantage of cheaper labour costs. The hours of hand-beading and embellishment that goes into a belly dance costume means that the equivalent job worked on Western wages would make it unaffordable for most dancers. But the designers are top-class and create amazing and dreamy outfits – so naturally, we get tempted.
Making a costume
The result is that a lot of dancers are also quite handy with a sewing machine. There are still problems we face such as getting our hands on quality fabrics, so this usually means we shop online for our spandex and Lycras. Whilst samples are available from reputable fabric websites, you still need to consider the cost and time factor when planning a new costume. Plus we’re back to the potluck of buying over the internet. I use a handful of fabric websites that I know and trust. But the range of exciting spandex fabrics at reasonable prices still isn’t very extensive.
And sew to Sparkly Belly
So once you’ve finally sourced an exquisite Lycra in an abstract pattern with holographic foil, what do you do with? Well, you pay a visit to sparklybelly.com, of course! Let Mao guide you through making a circle skirt, or Baladi dress, or even construct the classic ‘Dina’ bra from an ordinary lingerie bra.
Thanks, Mao – the belly dance world wouldn’t be the same without you.