Teal Belt, part 2: belt

Finished teal belt, showing the medallions for the front, and the decoration for the back

Finished teal belt

Much as I’d like to be verbose, and do a huge post detailing step by step what I was doing, the truth is, I pretty much followed the same steps outlined in my Tribal Belt post, here http://curvy-hips.com/?p=241 With some modifications, which I’ll outline below

  • shape: instead of having a deep V at the front, and the front and back cut equally, I made the front piece go from hipbone to hipbone, to account for the medallions, and be straight; the back piece was made with a slight curve to account for my hips, so it looks a bit like a dipped front. I am still using that first pattern I obtained ages ago, just chopping in different parts to get the shape/effect I want.
  • materials: as I suspect the very first belt I made using denim might be stretching, this time I made the base using a double layer of denim and calico, to provide extra strength and support for all the metal trinkets. I did rolled hems with the serger on each piece to make sure it didn’t fray.
  • eyelets: this time I left plenty of room for them, and laid out the panels to take the lacing area into account; next time I should try to take the eyelets closer to the bones
  • bones: I am still using cable ties
  • bones bling: I decided to use some Preciosa Czech crystals to add some extra bling to the back, and to that effect, I glued them onto small bronze flowers and sewed them over the boning channels; the ones in the front by the medallions are there to carry the motif onto the front panel
  • medallions: I described the process for these in detail here: http://curvy-hips.com/?p=1361
  • beading: same as described in the bra tutorial http://curvy-hips.com/?p=839
  • drapes: the drapes are not shown on the photos, but are similar to the stomach drape covered in the beading progress http://curvy-hips.com/?p=887  and are, of course, detachable; I am toying with the idea of stringing bells on a cord and make those detachable too, in case I want something a bit more ethnic and a bit less fusion/tribaret, although right now, with the amount of bling the belt has, I’m afraid it’s a bit too late for that

So, what’s left to do? A mermaid skirt in teal stretch velvet, although I will be using a different material this time. And hopefully I will also be able to use this set as part of an ATS costume, with purple and teal skirts and the white lace choli that I made back in May and haven’t photographed yet.

Teal Finished set

Teal Finished set

Skirt Tucking

If you dance ATS, or you are familiar with the style, you’ll know we can use really, REALLY big skirts that are often tucked or hitched in different ways. Which one you choose to use will depend on how big your skirt is, and your body shape.

There are a few resources for skirt tucking, a lot of it will also depend on your size and the size of the skirt you’re wearing, but the end result also will have a lot to with how the skirts are constructed (the ratio between layers, shape and fullness around the top, material). Now keep in mind that tucking usually looks better when there are layers of skirts, so if you want to do the more showy ones, be ready to use at least two!

So, which one to use? Personally, I’ve found that the bustle style is what tends to work better for my figure (pear shaped), followed by the single cross and the double cross. And what tucks I use also depend on the skirt material. If you are a pear figure like me, I’d suggest you stay away from single or double eared styles, as they will add a lot of volume to your hips, and if you go for a double cross, be careful of where the tucking falls to avoid this and try to move the tuck to the front and back of your hipbones instead of the sides to add some asymmetry, but if you’re an apple, it might be something you want, to create a visually smaller waist. An asymmetrical tuck (like a single cross or a slanted double cross) should add some length to your body if you need it, while the Saloon might do the opposite. Again, pick your skirts and experiment!

So, how do you do it? A good basic explanation can be found in Tribe Nawaar’s website, here http://www.tribenawaar.com/marketplace/SkirtsTucking.html. Another place showing similar styles, although with slightly different explanations, is Birgiss Bellywear.

And now, Kae Montgomery of Fat Chance Belly Dance has created a video. The explanations are a bit different, the right hip tuck for instance is done with a double starting point, which I find gives a nicer fluff; the panier style is slightly different from the double eared, but the principles are the same, and there’s a tuck for class that I haven’t seen before. So go take a look!

My thoughts on ATS® – part 2

So, after the long intro explaining ATS®… what do I think about it?
I first approached ATS® because I wanted a solid grounding on safe technique and conditioning, which I felt was somehow missing from my Egyptian practice, mostly because they were either “fun” classes and attendees expected to just dance, or because they were practice sessions from the advanced troupe, and therefore were focused on choreography, and you were expected to get the conditioning and technique elsewhere. I had always loved the elegance of the arms that most ATS® dancers have, and wanted to learn how they achieved it. And of course, being me, I also had a soft spot for the costuming, that I thought from day one was amazing, and suited my goth sensibilities far more than the sequins from Cabaret.

To this day, I’ve been attending ATS® classes for about a year. I’ve had my ups and downs, but I’ve stuck with it and now really, really enjoy it! What follows is my own individual experience, necessarily subjective and tinted by my background. The quality of the teaching I receive is, without a doubt, *superb*, and my teacher’s enthusiasm and respect for the form has won me over, even after the initial hard times. I feel physically safe, and during my first months injured I chose to stay with the ATS classes because of this. And I am constantly nurtured and challenged in equal measure, which is, I think, what a good teacher does. On the other hand, I do admit that I am probably a nightmare to teach, as my brain constantly tries to cash cheques that my muscle memory can’t yet deliver, I am verbose and convoluted, I constantly ask questions, I have to dissect everything to pieces, and simply put, sometimes I just fricking talk too much. But you’ve probably already guessed that if you are a regular reader of this blog.

I attended my first ATS® Level 1 class with nearly 2 years of Egyptian style under my belt. During it we learnt the very basic building blocks that are combined and expanded later on during Levels 2 and 3; the steps and technique were not that difficult, but the new stylisation did take quite some getting used to. I found the arm posture in particular nearly torturing, and I *still* struggle with it, even more if I have missed a class or if I’ve been doing some arm work and the muscles are tired. However, I do love how it looks, and doing proper conditioning work goes a LONG way towards helping with it… eventually you do get there!

Now, there was another thing that I found incredibly difficult, and it was the whole principle. I have a very strong sense of musicality, and having to submit mine to someone else’s was, during the first L1 and half of L2, challenging. To be perfectly blunt, I hated it. I found the whole concept limiting, and the group dancing sheer agony, coming as I did from a style where you are expected to embellish everything and pour your soul out with every gesture, and that is, at its core, a soloist style. Even more because my teacher, very wisely, decided to separate me from my friend, with whom I’d been dancing for quite a while, to allow me to develop the eye to to “read” other people, so we only danced together maybe a couple of times while doing Level 1. I clearly remember, during class 5 of 6, thinking during a shimmy step drill, “what am I doing here? I am not enjoying this”. And yet I knew there were things to gain, if only I persevered. So persevere I did.

Halfway through my first Level 2 term, things finally started to gel. It did help that we started expanding our vocabulary, thank goodness. And I finally realised why we were doing some things, and that dancing ATS® was not about *me* as an individual dancer, but *us* as a “tribe”; we are supposed to be individuals, but allowing ourselves to be part of a collective, by choice. We can still allow our individuality to show when we lead, but there’s also a beauty in following, allowing someone else to take charge and guide you within their own vision of how to represent the music. I still have issues, as I am stubborn and can try to “backseat drive”, by second-guessing what the leader might want to do next, or trying to go with a different flow, but I know it happens and I am working on not doing it. I also love the fluidity the conditioning has given to my arms, the strength my core has gained, and, I won’t lie, I still love the pretty costumes.

I would suggest learning ATS®, in no particular order, if you:

  • want to always dance in a group
  • don’t like working to pre-established choreographies
  • don’t want to study a traditional Middle Eastern style
  • are comfortable improvising, or want to develop the skill but want certain parameters to use
  • are comfortable with the idea of leading a group of dancers, or want to develop the skill
  • are comfortable with the idea of following a dance leader, or want to develop the skill
  • want to learn to use zills very early on
  • like the idea of using zills constantly
  • like the music used for it
  • prefer a very structured class, with clear lesson plans and goals expected for each level, and a good attention to conditioning the body to dance better
  • like the streamlined, long lined figure created by the typical ATS® posture
  • like the elegant arm work that is almost a signature of the slow ATS® style
  • are more comfortable within an environment that is primarily focused on drilling proper technique, to later be able to dance
  • like the idea of meeting with people with whom you’ve never danced before, and being able to improvise a dance on the spot, thanks to the common vocabulary
  • view the costume as more modest than typical Cabaret, and would prefer dancing wearing it

I am pretty sure I am missing quite a few reasons, but the above should give you an idea on whether this is something you might want to do.

Would I ever stop learning Cabaret/Egyptian for ATS®? No. They are different styles, they appeal to different sides of me as a dancer. I do enjoy the idea that, if I had the chance, I could go to a festival in Switzerland and once there, find my long-distance friend Natasha and have a dance or two together without preparation, simply because we both speak the same dance language. I also love that my Egyptian technique has improved substantially as my core and arms conditioning kicked in, and my camels now look very undulating, my arms a lot more graceful and controlled, my hips juicier, my posture has improved, and I can deal with props like sticks or veils in a much better manner as my arms are stronger.

Can I see myself stopping ATS®? Not for the foreseeable future. I enjoy the basic premise of group improvisation, and I really like how aesthetically pleasing it can be when done properly.

Would I recommend you do it, even if you didn’t answer yes to any of the points above? Probably. I think there’s a LOT to be said for the methodic approach, and even if you take just one term, it might give you some food for thought, or help you re-think your practice.

My thoughts on ATS® – part 1

If you have little information about ATS, and would like to know more, for once I’m going to suggest you view the video above first, then read what follows, then watch it again with the new information you have. And while you read what I have to say, keep in mind that I am no expert, have only been doing ATS® for a year, and therefore I don’t know everything there is to know about the style, and I might have misunderstood some of what I learnt. And of course, as this is a condensed version, I am probably missing a lot. Now, with the caveats in place, let’s get on with it.

What is it?
ATS® stands for American Tribal Style, and it is a fusion dance style that started in the 80’s in the West Coast of the US, developed by Carolena Nericcio with Fat Chance Belly Dance. It takes inspiration and moves from traditional belly dance, and other dances from the Mediterranean, North Africa, Middle East and even India, and combines them with modern knowledge of anatomy and even with some artistic ideas to create steps that display the dancer in the best possible way, in a physically safe manner. The most obvious influence that people tend to pick, aside from traditional Belly Dance, is Flamenco, in the overall arms and hands posture, and “floreos” (hand flourishes).

So it is not traditional belly dancing?
No. As I said above, it is a fusion style, and while most Middle Eastern people would be able to recognise individual moves, they wouldn’t recognise it as typical Middle Eastern dancing. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with being a fusion style!

How does it work?
It consists of group improvisation to a certain agreed vocabulary (you might think of these as “steps”). The vocabulary includes slow and fast moves, done within established formations; moves are “cued” to other dancers using particular non-verbal signs, so they know what’s coming next. The dancer leading the group improvises, using the steps in the ATS vocabulary, and the other dancers pick these up and follow the leader; the idea is to make it so seamless and synchronised as to be confused with a choreography.

The formations are nearly always of 2 to 4 people; if there’s more than 2 people dancing in the group, some of them can stand aside in what is called a “chorus”, to either do simpler, complimentary steps to what the soloist central group is doing, or to play the zills. The soloists will change and rotate during a performance, and within each group, there will also be leader changes, so each individual dancer’s musicality will direct the dance. Therefore, no two performances will ever be alike even when having the same dancers and the same music.

What music does it use?
The fast vocabulary uses zills and is almost always done to a 4/4 rhythm, as the steps always have a count of 4. You can use nearly anything with a strong 4/4 beat, I’ve personally used artists as diverse as Rob Zombie, Depeche Mode and George Michael for drilling or practice at home, but that’s because I am weird, you wouldn’t find these used for a typical performance or class! What you will probably find instead is more what feels like traditional folk Middle Eastern music as long as it has a strong beat; Helm is a favourite band. Other popular options is Balkan Brass bands, and of course there’s the music with a more modern flair written specifically for ATS® like Phil Thornton’s Nexus Tribal.

What do they wear? any reason why?
The traditional ATS costume uses a choli (short top with an open back), pantaloons, one or more skirts, usually made of very light cotton fabric… These skirts nowadays have a bottom diameter of 25 yards (roughly 22 metres) and are tucked and wrapped in a lot of different ways, but at the start they were much smaller. These basics can have different extra adornments: a coin bra, a belt, a hip scarf, a tassel belt, fringe belt… The head can have a turban, a headdress, or more commonly nowadays silk flowers. Traditional Middle Easter jewellery is seen often, not just for the neck, hands and arms, but also for the head. Facial markings simulating tribal tattoos used to be popular, bindis and facial jewellery are almost always found too.

Sometimes the cholis have a front “apron” that covers the stomach; I’ve always worn body stockings when wearing my Tribal costumes, and I’ve even seen people wearing very tight camis under their cholis, so the costume itself can be very modest and offer a surprising degree of coverage.

Each element of the costume has been added for some specific functionality. For instance the open back on the choli makes it easier for the followers to view the movements of the back/shoulders clearly and pick up the cues better. The skirts can be hitched up in different ways to “bounce”, spiral and fly, and accentuate the movements when viewed from a distance. The pantaloons keep the legs covered and modest when doing turns and spins. The tassel belts accentuate the sharper hip moves like shimmies, and the fringe belts accentuate the full body moves like undulations and slower turns.

Now with the new information you have, try to view the Fat Chance Belly Dance video again, trying to figure out how the dancers communicate, the formations, and leader changes. Knowing it is all improvised gives it a whole new angle, doesn’t it?

Coming up: what I think about it.

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.

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