ATS World Wide Flash Mob 2013

As last year, we did it in Brighton, and again, Phil Thornton, the author of the music, came to press play and to add some percussion. In our mob, We had a few people that had never done ATS before, and some that had never even done any belly dancing at all, so we had a small ATS 101 session before the mob, and kept the moves to the basics. Part of me wishes we would have gone in full costume and all out, but it was very nice to see people picking it up and able to take part.

We did it in two places, at the Pavillion Gardens and later on at the sea front. We did gather quite a bit of a crowd, and I am very happy with how it worked out. Also happy that I was allowed to take the lead for the first time in public. Although I have to say, while Phil Thornton was a lovely guy, taking the lead with him looking was a bit unnerving! And the bit I found the hardest was to restrict myself to the basics, I think I kept cueing Turkish Shimmies instead of standard shimmy steps both times, just because I am so much more used to it, and I wanted to do something more flashing and eye catching and going into twirls and turns and all sort of other stuff… But overall, I am happy, as I didn’t loose the nerve, not even when my hip shawl decided to fall onto the grass in the middle of the group, and I spent the rest of the song trying to kick it away so that nobody got tangled with it.

Also, as it will become very obvious if you watch both performances, we were improvising fully both times, so all of it was done on the fly, as should be for ATS.

Here are the videos, although I suggest you go to YouTube and watch the HD versions. And when the final compilation -which will probably also include shots from the practice session- comes up, I’ll be linking to it. Enjoy!

Making of the FCBD choli

Cholis are great classwear, and absolutely *vital* for performance if you do ATS. They are relatively easy to find, but mostly what is sold is on the smaller sizes. Some vendors, like Flying Skirts, do bigger sizes, but while these are ok, the arms can be a bit too small around the top. Or maybe, what you’re after is not what is on offer.

I’ve reviewed the Folkwear-FCBD pattern in the past. Make no mistake, my issues with the pattern are still there, although I have found that the pattern works half-decently if using stretch materials, with some caveats. I’ve used the pattern already in the past to do all the cholis I’ve posted in this blog so far, and a couple more. This time, I was using 2-way stretch and 4-way stretch velvet in black and purple to make two cholis.

First things first: the fabric choices. I am testing some fabrics, and went for a cheaper 2-way stretch (at £3.99 a metre) and a more expensive 4 way stretch (at £5.99 a metre). One metre of the 1.5m fabric was enough to make one choli with long sleeves. I found that while the cheaper velvet does give better support, it does feel rather stuffy, very thick and it doesn’t breath well. I would wear it if I’m going to be dancing outside in cold conditions, but it does feel a *touch* restrictive. The more expensive velvet has more stretch, feels a bit less supportive, but moves with you better, and is shinnier and softer to the touch. I also used 2.5cm (1″) black cotton twill tape, enough to go the full length of the underbust band, and for the top back laces.

I worked with the pattern extracted from the original Folkwear. I used Swedish paper to trace the pieces, making sure I also copied all the marks. This allows me to keep the pattern intact, and as the Swedish paper wears out, I can replace it easily.

Choli pattern pieces layout

Choli pattern pieces layout

I started by cutting the pieces. Since stretch velvet is very tricky, and it doesn’t really mark well with chalk, I folded the fabric in half, making sure that the pile of the fabric laid properly (stroking downwards) and that the maximum (or only) stretch happened sidewways. I pinned the pieces onto the fabric, making sure I was pinning both layers of fabric. This saved me the drawing time, and also ensures both sides of the velvet stay put without sliding.

If you look at the pieces, you will notice two things: one are the arrows; these help you figure out how to lay the pieces over the fabric to avoid cutting them on the bias; the other is that one of the pieces seemed modified from the original. I’ve wanted to do cholis that allow me to wear them on their own, with an underwear bra underneath; I know they are supposed to be supportive by themselves but that has never been the case for me, and with my bust, I need a bra. The back piece, if you follow the traditional style, opens in a sort of triangle, so I thought of widening the bottom of the back piece to cover bra straps. That’s what you are seeing there. I made the base of the piece twice the size of the original, to the centre, and tapered it to the top.

Cut pieces

Cut pieces

For the sleeves, I measured the top of my own arm, the length I wanted the sleeves to be (halfway up my forearm), and note these down. I measured the diagonal between dots and marks on the underarm gusset, deducted that from the arm circumference, and used that to trace a rectangle, using the length plus a couple of cm for seam allowances. Very important: don’t do what I did with the black one, and make sure that the sleeves are both cut on the pile, and with the stretch sideways, as this will give you more freedom of movement. For the underbust band, take your twill tape, wrap it around your ribcage and tie it up with a bow; cut the length necessary for this, fold in half, and mark 2 1/2 to 3 times the width of the tape, and the length of this half over the fabric. When cutting, make sure you transfer all the marks and alignments to both sides, you can see how I did this on the image above.

Front parts assembled

Front parts assembled

To assemble, start by joining the two triangles for the front top. Then add the bottom one, use the marks to align it further. I’ve found that I actually need to cut the inner one by about 3cm to get a better fit, but this changes with the fabric I use, so cut as expected. Then join the front with the back pieces; if you’ve modified the back as I did, make sure that the longer part of the trapezoid that is your new piece is at the bottom, and that the slanted part is towards the inside; use the marks on the front piece to remind you which side is which.

Once you’ve done the front, assemble the sleeves. Start by adding the gusset, it’s rather tricky and not quite clear how to do it, so check the photos below. Basically, you are adding two consecutive sides of the square piece to each of the edges, at the TOP (remember to check the pile if you’re using velvet!). Pin the rest of the sleeve; you will have to put it on after that and adapt the shape to your arm so it follows your shape as closely as you want it to. I like mine quite close, as I think it gives a very stylised look. Mark this, open up the sleeve, and finish up the bottom: it will be far easier to do before sewing the sleeve along!. To finish mine, I do a rolled hem with the overlocker, then I fold this rolled hem up up and do a straight stitch with the standard machine. Once you’ve done this, sew the gusset and seam in place.
Gusset location and pinning Gusset location and pinning 1Gusset location and pinning 3

To attach the sleeves to each of the front parts, fold the sleeve in half, and mark the centre top. Attach the bottom side of the torso section with a pin, and mark the centre point (this might or might not coincide with the actual seam). Join both centre points, and pin all along each side. Depending on the size of your arms, you should have the sleeves attached and then a section where front and back pieces join. Sew it all; then finish off the internal edge in a manner similar to the sleeves: do a rolled hem with the overlocker, then fold it and sew, or do a full rolled hem wrapping the raw edge inside; your choice will depend on your fabric and machine. You will end with two mirrored pieces.

For the underbust band: sew the two pieces together along one of the shorter sides; wrap the fabric around the twill tape and fold the raw edge inwards along the top so you have a nice even edge. Pin. The twill tape will add stabilisation to the choli, and will also prevent the fabric from stretching, which would quickly wear out the garment. You will use the centre seam to mark the centre of your choli. Also important, if you are using stretch fabric, make sure you stretch the fabric while wrapping! It will stretch further when sewing, and if you don’t take this into consideration, you might end with the fabric bunching in a nasty manner.

Now add first one, and then the other half pieces to this band, making sure that the raw bottom goes *inside* the opening of this band, like a sort of sandwich. For my body shape, I need to get the inner corner of each front piece about 3cm further than the centre. This makes the pieces overlap in the centre and gives more coverage. Now, starting at the centre point and going outwards, sew along the top of the band, making sure that you’re sewing through both of the fabric layers of the band, the twill tape and the choli body. This will ensure that if the band fabric starts stretching, it will do so outwards, and you will have a good chance to catch it. Also, if you’ve modified the back piece to be wider, you might need to fold the bottom edge on the inner area to compensate for the angle the piece sits at. Again, whether you have to do this, or how much to adjust, will depend a lot on your body shape.

Knot, finish and trim off all the bits of thread hanging out. Pin two pieces of twill tape on the back; I prefer mine around 8cm from the top, but the location might change depending on your body shape. Have a friend tie both laces and verify that everything fits as necessary; you might have to adjust the location of the ties. Once you are happy with the ties, sew them in place and finish off the ends. You might want to gather the inside piece right above the breast to create more of a sweetheart line, or, depending on your bust shape, you might need to soften up the cup shape created by the three pieces. Again, these are modifications that you will only figure out by yourself once you’ve put it together, and will also depend on your choice of material.

Bonus: If you followed the indications above to make the choli that covered your bra straps, you will have a suitable garment, but the bra band will still be visible. There’s a very simple way of solving this. Use leftover fabric from your project, and cut a band a bit longer than the back opening, and about double the width of your bra band plus a bit more. Finish off the short edges, then sew the fabric into a tube. Unhook your bra, slide this tube over your bra band, re-hook, and move the band into place to cover the whole area. Now put your choli on. The underbust band should cover pretty much everything, and the actual bra band will be hidden further by this tube.

Big Girl Costuming Woes: Possible Solutions

So, I sort of lost the plot a bit on the last post. Understandably so too, I think, since it seems to happen quite often. However, since I don’t believe in whining without offering a possible alternative, I’d like to go over what *can* be done when costuming woes strike.

Let’s start with the simplest: find someone willing to cater to your shape and size. Depending on what style you dance, there are vendors out there that do some OUTSTANDING costumes for plus sizes. There are some downsides, though, main ones being price and time. Usually made to measure pieces do take a LONG time to do, and they will be more expensive than something off-the-rack. And if the creator is not there to take your measurements, you will also need to be extremely careful with what measurements you send, because an error there could ruin your whole costume! If in doubt, it’s always a good idea to go to a seamstress or tailor and ask them to take your measurements.

Another possible way: have the outfit made by a seamstress, and finish off the details yourself. This will probably be quite pricey too, and quite laborious to you if what you’ve chosen has rich beading, like the usual cabaret dresses. You can sort of get away with it if you pick pre-made appliques, but even then you will have to stitch these to the finished product. Or you can do this with “normal” items from stores, although I would advice against buying pre-existing bridesmaid dresses, for instance, if you wanted a Fustan Raqs, simply because the kind of fabrics we use for dancing are very different than the kinds used in formal wear. Remember: there’s a reason most dancing clothes are made with certain fabrics and not others. Reinventing the wheel is usually a waste of time.

Another obvious one: make your own. This is part of what this blog is about, and if you’ve got specific questions, I will be happy to try to answer them. Original costumes fuel your creativity and make you look unique, so bonus points for that!

But what happens if you just have to wear that galabaya or you did find a dress that fits you but you have some issues with the fit? Some things you will be able to fit. Some you won’t, some will vary. I know I’ve mentioned in the past that you shouldn’t “settle”, but sometimes you get hand-me-downs or have the chance to purchase items from fellow dancers that are *almost* right. Let’s take a look at possible issues and solutions:

  • Problem: galabaya or dress do fit, but the skirt is too tight and the sides open too much.
    Solution: close the opening at points, creating a “peek-a-boo” effect, then back the full opening including the newly created “cut-outs” with power mesh in a similar colour to the dress, or in a colour used for the embroidery; this will cover you and keep the lines of the outfit; if it’s a galabaya and you don’t want the extra mesh, create the peek-a-boo down to where you’re comfortable showing. Or wear pantaloons underneath.
  • Problem: dress fits great but cups are too big:
    Solution: Chicken fillets are your friends. Get some cleavage booster, even if you are a DD cup. Make sure to cover them with fabric and sew them into the cups, to avoid embarrassing accidents.
  • Problem: Dress is perfect including cups but two sizes too small
    Solution: this solution is most definitely not for the faint of heart: open the side seams and add mesh panels all the way down, (or lycra panels) and continue the embroidery. This will only work if you can find the exact same sequins and beads and fabric, or a contrasting colour that will work a bit as an illusion dress, so it is not something that I would recommend you attempt unless you really, REALLY have no other option.
  • Problem: you found a two-piece set that you like and does fit you well, but you’re not sure about showing your tummy
    Solution: get a body stocking; there’s at least one manufacturer I could heartily recommend, and you could get it in a colour that combines with your 2-piece to make it look like a dress, and even add decorations to it to add to the full-coverage feel. Or get a simple dress, and use the bedlah set to create the illusion of a Fustan Raqs combining both
  • Problem: the dress fits at the bottom but not at the top
    Solution: if the cups fit, you could attempt to remove the zipper, and create something similar to a corset lacing, although you will need to add a modesty panel to cover up the opening. Like the panels solution above, it is rather extreme and not for the faint of heart, I would only attempt it in extreme cases.
  • Problem: the skirt is too short
    Solution: this depends a lot on the style. Cabaret? Leave it; there’s no way to rescue it. Tribal? You could use the skirt hitched up, or add a thick sari trim around the bottom, or add a fitted waist around the top to add extra length
  • Problem: the skirt is too long, but there’s embroidery along the bottom that you don’t want to loose
    Solution: Not much you can do. if it’s a straight line skirt (or the ubiquitous galabaya) you might be able to get away with hitching up the area *just above* the embroidered edge; you might also be able to hitch up the skirt from the top seam if there is a waist seam, for instance, as long as there is no embroidery involved. If the embroidery is more decorative and goes past the actual rolled hem, I would try to minimise the damage and re-create sections killed after the trim, but again, this is not a fix to attempt unless you are pretty damn sure of what you’re doing

Any more possible issues and solutions that you’ve found? Leave it in the comments!

Big Girl Costuming Woes. Or “Why don’t you try a Galabaya?”

Me, wearing a galabaya for a Saidi number

Me, wearing a galabaya for a Saidi number

It is funny that I write this right after Tito’s video, in a way, but the whole simple costume issue does have a darker side. I’ve mentioned this in the past, and a recent conversation kind of brought it back. We are dancers, we are curvy. Or generously proportioned, fluffy, plus sized, big and beautiful… pick your descriptor (or euphemism) of choice, or call us simply fat if you want to get pelted with coin belts. But it’s a fact that we require bigger sizes than what is usually out there, not just on performance clothing but on practice clothing too. Warning, what follows is a rant, and a such, it’s overly emotional, and not exactly reasonable in places. I’ll cover possible solutions/alternatives in a coming piece, so you don’t get the impression that it is all negative.

The other day I was checking a supposed “plus sizes” website for sports gear. Specifically sports bra, because we need to keep the girls in place, right? Wrong! Apparently someone thinks that usage for sports bra stops at 38″ chest. Fine, I can wear a standard bra with moulded cups and underwires that has really not been designed to deal with the massive amounts of sweat I produce while exercising, and which will soak it up and irritate the skin instead of evaporating it. Let’s find pants (trousers). Wait, they are all stopping at size 20 except the ones that have massive amounts of fleece inside and are really lovely to wear in winter and use to curl on the sofa with woollen socks and a book. Or the plastic-feeling fabric that are an abomination that makes me want to throw the whole production into a big bonfire. But nothing that would be realistic to use for, you know, actual exercising. If I want anything I can move and sweat in, I need to look for fashion cotton leggings. Which are comfy, although they do wear off rather quickly. But if we can’t even manage to get decent workout clothes without a struggle, what happens when it comes to performing? The answer, more often than not, is “oh dear”.

Back to the title… if you do Cabaret style, and you are a curvy, generous size, you’ve probably heard this often enough. And the worst is that it’s said in a well meaning, if ultimately misguided, manner. You’ve asked for a fustan raqs, they offer you a galabaya instead, because it’s all they have for your size, which is the equivalent of you asking for an evening gown and being told to have an office suit instead. And the galabaya might not even fit right, it might open at the sides, but instead of giving you options to make it work, they might try to ignore your concerns, or make it look as if that’s the best you can do. But you know what? You deserve better.

Let me tell you a story. I’ve had a vendor -whom I won’t name for obvious reasons- who tried to sell me a two piece costume which was obviously WAY too small for me. The skirt was so tight, the side split was opening like an inverted V. And yet the vendor *insisted* that it was absolutely wonderful and suited me perfectly. Erm, nope. There was a costume that was more in lines of what I wanted. I could afford it. It was offered to my friend instead, who had asked for a Galabaya, of all things. The costume *did* fit me, as I found later, and looks rather good on me. But for some reason, the vendor didn’t even think of offering that one to me. I was fat, fatter than my friend, and the impression I ended having was that I was *not* expected to manage to look good in a costume anyway, so why even try to offer me something suitable? Everything that kept coming out was more and more horrible, and two pieces because “of course” I should wear that regardless, and I got the distinct impression I was being subtly punished for being big. I was even told that I just had no imagination to think of the possibilities of the altered minuscule 2 pieces. The vendor went as far as to call the seamstress to try to force a sale on me. The seamstress was so visibly uncomfortable with the whole process that was just walking away from me constantly, and privately, when the vendor wasn’t around, agreed with me that something skimming my body would be more flattering. Needless to say, I am avoiding the vendor now, and no, I didn’t get the costume that fitted.

Another vendor, another place. Again, I asked for that elusive fustan raqs. All my troupemates had one, or could borrow one. I felt like I was standing out in a weird manner. I already had my galabaya. I wrote to a vendor that worked with a designer I liked, mentioned I had three Galabayas from her already. “Well, we can take your measurements, but custom is always difficult… why don’t you get a Galabaya?”. Because of course, Galabayas, which should be used for specific styles, are the same as the evening gowns, and after saying I already had two, I could do with one more. And again, later on, at yet another place, with yet another person… I was wearing a galabaya at the time, my friend was wearing another one of mine (ironic, really) and this vendor said the magic words again… “why don’t you get a galabaya?” “because I already have 3, my friend is wearing one of mine too, so enough to lend, and I really would like something more in line with the rest of the troupe”. “Well, but a galabaya would be more suitable…”

I wanted to scream “More suitable for WHAT”. I didn’t, because there was no point. This person didn’t know. This person didn’t have to go through several people basically ignoring requests and trying to flog shapeless crap on me because “it’s the only stuff we have”. This person hadn’t been the one wearing the different costume at a parade or performance. This person didn’t have their judgement constantly coming under questioning from vendors, because apparently if you’re big, it also means that you’re clueless about what suits you, including shape and colour, or what your costume wardrobe is missing. This person hadn’t been on the receiving end of a very subtle but persistent notion that the big girl shouldn’t try to get the nicer pieces at all, that we don’t deserve to wear the prettier stuff, that we can only do the drab mass produced, shapeless pieces, or the “student sets”.

Of course, I ended making my own. Not because I truly wanted to, but because I saw no other way out. I still get a few weird looks every now and then from some snobs who apparently think that real Czech crystal embroidered and strung by me in a more subtle manner is no match for plastic beading done in Egypt, but sod it. Still, every time there’s a performance coming, I go into a small panic because I fear there will be a “special request” for something that I will obviously not be able to find off the peg for myself, and there won’t be enough time -or suitable materials- for me to make. I *hate* that I end coming up pushy because I want to ensure that I am looking my best, simply because I believe confidence is a huge part of performing, and I can’t feel confident if my costume is shoddily or hastily done or not fitting properly. But how can you ever convey how this feels to someone that has never had this issue?

The truth is, we all want to feel great dancing, we all want to feel fabulous, and wearing crap is not going to help you get there. Go out, get what you want. And if you can’t find it, make it. You should feel like a goddess, not like a scrapheap, and you should never, ever, let a vendor dictate on how you feel based on their stock. Give yourself permission to look great!
And leave that galabaya for the folk pieces.

Inspiration: Tito and Hala duet

Proof positive that you don’t need an incredibly fancy costume when you’ve got superb technique. Look how lovely Tito’s isolations are showing on his Galabaya… and I saw a similar phenomenon when seeing Khaled dancing with one on at his workshop last year.


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