Belly dancing has an ancient and deep history and is still being practiced around the world. If you are new to belly dance, have just fallen in love with it, or if you’re on the fence about giving it a try, you’re probably interested in the details of what you need to really get started. Belly dance is known for being really accessible, but there are definitely some parts of the attire that can help you along your way. One of the best known being the belly dance hip scarf. This accessory not only looks gorgeous, but it also has an important purpose. Read on for our belly dance hip scarf guide.
Quick jump to:
- Benefits of belly dancing
- What to wear to belly dance class
- Best belly dance hip scarves
- How to tie a belly dance hip scarf
History of belly dance
The true history of belly dance is somewhat lost to the mists of time. The belly dance that we know of today is just one form of the ancient types of belly dancing that originated in the Middle East and Northern Africa. Some say that the origins of the dance began as a female fertility ritual around 6,000 years ago, but this is disputed. What we do know is that it was definitely being practiced in both Turkey and Egypt by the 1400s.
When you see belly dance performed, it becomes quite apparent that it is an amalgamation of different global dance styles, and this is played out in the fact that it tended to be traveler groups that performed the dance. They likely picked up different dance techniques during their travels. One popular theory is that the traveler tribes were from India originally where they traveled through Afghanistan and Iran before splitting – some going north and some going south.
You can see this north-south divide in the differences between the Turkish-style belly dance and the Egyptian style. Most modern belly dancing is an amalgamation of different styles. In Turkey, belly dancing was always a form of public entertainment, and was often performed by women and exclusively for women. In Egypt, originally both men and women performed belly dance, but over time it became more commercialized and started to be performed only by women.
When belly dance was introduced to the western world in the 1700s and 1800s, it was known for being scandalous. The outfits and the hip movements were at odds with the west’s morality at the time and the dance as a whole became sexualized. Later, in the 1970s-1980s, with the first wave of feminism, belly dancing was reclaimed as a dance that emphasized femininity and female empowerment. And this movement is still going today.
What does belly dancing look like?
The key challenge of belly dancing is isolation. This is where you isolate movements to specific parts of the body without moving any other parts. In belly dancing, the isolation is normally in the belly and the hips, although other parts of the body are also moved in isolation as well. When you see a really skilled belly dancer in action you can see just how much control they have over each individual muscle.
According to Shemiran Ibrahim, there are seven core belly dancing moves:
- Lifts and drops
- Figure 8s
Importantly, these movements can be isolated to different parts of the body, such as the hips, chest, shoulders, and even the head. Learning how the move works means that you can recreate it in every part of the body. In principle. Of course, it will take a lot of practice to be able to really nail it!
Once you have mastered the seven core belly dancing moves, then you can start adding in elements like belly pops and pelvic tilts, but it is important to really be able to get to grips with the core moves before you start adding in any extra difficulty.
Improvisation is also an important element of belly dancing. When you are at a point where you can start putting the different moves together, learning to improvise to music will take your belly dancing to the next level. And it is so freeing and fun to be able to just let your body move the way it wants to!
What are the benefits of belly dancing?
There are so many benefits of belly dancing! And the benefits are both physical and mental. Here are just a few:
- Weight loss – belly dance is fast and energetic, so you can expect to burn around 300 calories per 30 minutes. This means that it can really help you to boost your weight loss journey (if that’s your goal!).
- Muscle tone – the muscles that belly dancing tones are those that are traditionally associated with femininity – the belly, buttocks, and thighs. So if you’ve ever been to a “legs, bums, and tums” class then you could be belly dancing instead for the same effects!
- Confidence and self-esteem – one of the most powerful effects of belly dancing is the wonders it can do for your confidence and self-esteem. It is so accessible to people of any size and shape and it can make you feel completely in tune with your body, and to see it in a different light.
- Lower back – the moves performed in belly dancing gently lubricate the joints in the lower back and hips, protecting you against lower back pain. It is also performed with your spine in a completely neutral position (pelvis tilted forward) which is also protective for your lower back.
- PMS and childbirth – the moves that you perform in belly dancing are in tune with the way the female body naturally moves. And many of these movements, such as pelvic rocking, can help to ease PMS and also prepare your body for childbirth.
- Low impact – belly dancing is low impact, so if you do have issues with your joints it is a great form of exercise that won’t put any extra strain on them. Because it is weight-bearing, it can also help to improve your bone density at the same time.
- Socializing – belly dancing is a great way to meet new people and because it is so empowering, you can really bond and go on a journey together. Many people have made lifelong friendships from belly dance classes!
- Performing – with many belly dancing troupes, you will get an opportunity to perform, which is exhilarating! If you really want to get out of your comfort zone and boost your confidence sky-high, belly dancing in front of an audience will take you there.
What to wear to belly dance class
So, you’ve been sold on the benefits of belly dance and you’ve signed yourself up for a class. But what on earth do you wear? Don’t worry. Unless you’re going to be in a performance, you don’t need an elaborate costume to attend a belly dancing class. But there are some tips and tricks to make your life a little easier.
- Yoga pants, dance shorts, or a form-fitting skirt.
- Sports bra, tank top, or a form-fitting tee.
- Dance footies, socks with grips on the sole, or no shoes at all. You can also wear ballroom shoes if you like, especially if preparing for a performance.
- Anything baggy. Your instructor needs to see the way your torso moves down to the tiniest detail to be able to direct you properly and they can’t do that if it’s hidden behind baggy clothes.
- Street shoes. They can mark the floor of the dance studio and you won’t be able to dance properly in them anyway.
What about a hip scarf?
You might think at first glance that the hip scarf is one of the pieces of attire that would be reserved for performances but, actually, it is often a really good idea for you to wear one to your everyday class, especially in the beginning.
A belly dance hip scarf, also known as a coin belt, serves two purposes. First, they are usually colorful and intricately decorated and when they move and sway with the hips, this can accentuate the moves for the audience. Second, they can help the dancer perform the moves correctly. The extra weight of the coins and beads on the scarf can help you to feel the moves that you are making more easily, and this can help you to correct them as needed. The coins also make a noise when you move and this can help you know that you are making the right moves at the right time. In essence, the belly dance hip scarf is a way of helping you to get even more in tune with your body as you increase your awareness of how it moves.
And this is why hip scarves are particularly useful for a beginner belly dancer. When you are learning to belly dance, you will be using muscles and making movements that you might never have done before. So it is really helpful to have some extra feedback from your hip scarf to help you learn how to make the movements that you need to make.
Why do belly dancers wear coins on their hip scarves?
Before we go into what to look for in a belly dance hip scarf, let’s take a quick detour to have a look at why hip scarves might be adorned with coins. As with the history of belly dance itself, there is some debate over where the coins on the hip scarf/coin belt originated. Nowadays, of course, they are part of the beauty of the hip scarf, but many people believe that there used to also be a practical reason for them.
The theory that is most romantic, but may not be entirely accurate, is that belly dancing was performed by young unmarried women. The audience would give them coins that they would then sew into their scarves and the money would be used as a dowry. So if their family weren’t able to afford to put a dowry together (and it’s unlikely that anyone from an upper-class family would be belly dancing at that time) then they could save the money themselves. The problem with this theory is that the custom in the Middle East at that time wasn’t for the bride’s family to provide a dowry at all. The custom was for the groom to prove that they could afford to take on the bride, so they would be giving money to the bride’s family, not the other way around.
Another theory is that it was simply a way for belly dancers to safely store their money. Belly dancers were street performers so would have been at risk of having their hard-earned money stolen. By physically sewing the money into their clothing they could be sure that they wouldn’t be at risk of theft. And, as is the case with street performers today, having some previously donated money on display might just make it more likely for the next audience to give some as well.
What to look for in a belly dance hip scarf
The really great thing about belly dance hip scarves, and belly dance in general, is how accessible they are. You really, really don’t need to go out and spend a huge amount of money on a hip scarf. A more inexpensive scarf will work just as well for its purposes as an expensive one. As Jennifer Sobel explains in this video, the only real differences between an expensive hip scarf and a cheaper one are:
- number of coins
- amount of beading and how elaborate it is
- color and design
None of these elements really affect the functionality of the hip scarf as a way of improving your belly dance technique so there’s no reason at all why you shouldn’t get an entry-level hip scarf when you first start out with belly dancing, or even after you’ve been doing it for a long time!
You also aren’t limited to just the coin belt style hip scarves, if they don’t take your fancy. At its most basic, all you often need a hip scarf to do is to accentuate your waist and your hips. The coins are a great addition for a performance and to help you learn, but there are lots of hip scarf styles that don’t incorporate them if you don’t want to make any noise. You can also get hip scarves made of a variety of materials and in different lengths. You can get a belly dance hip scarf that really suits your personality. They really aren’t one size fits all (in any sense of the term)!
Best belly dance hip scarves
You can buy a belly dance hip scarf from any specialty belly dance store. They will carry all kinds of hip scarves as well as any other belly dancing accessories or outfits that you might need. But if you don’t have time to visit a store, read on for our handy list of belly dance hip scarves we’ll mention in our articled today.
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This belly dance hip scarf is super affordable. Honestly. And for the price, the reviews aren’t bad at all. The coins make a loud sound, which is just what you need when you’re belly dancing, and it looks beautiful. Better yet, it comes in a huge variety of colors! It may not be as hard-wearing as some of the more expensive hip scarves but, really, for that price, it’s definitely worth a try!
The highest-rated belly dance hip scarf on Amazon right now is this one and it’s not even twice the price of the cheapest! People are raving about the quality. It has overlapping coins, making the sound that much more satisfying, and it is constructed to a really high quality. If you want a hip scarf that will last you a little longer, and that looks amazing, this is a great option for you.
This chiffon hip scarf boasts that two days of workmanship have gone into it and it shows. It has intricately woven strings of coins with extra detailing using Turkish evil eye blue beads. If you want to show off your impeccable taste, this is the way to go!
Best for plus size
Belly dancing is truly accessible, whatever your size. But some plus-sized women feel put off by hip scarves because they are often too short to tie around their hips. This gorgeous hip scarf specifically designed for plus-sized women has amazing reviews, and it’s easy to see why. The detailing and multicolored sequins that the coins hang on are beautiful and, by all accounts, it is truly plus size with a great fit up to US size 20.
Best silent hip scarf
Not everyone wants to jingle jangle when they belly dance, for whatever reason. Maybe you want to practice at home without disturbing the rest of the family or maybe you just don’t feel like you need the coins. This hip scarf has all of the sparkle and the visuals to make your belly dancing look amazing, but it will be completely silent. It’s also plus-size friendly and comes in a variety of colors.
Best mesh hip scarf
This is another silent hip scarf but it is a longer design and is crocheted and with added tassels. This will look amazing with any belly dance outfit because you can layer it on top of what you’re wearing underneath and still be able to see the rest of the outfit. This hip scarf will help you stand out from the crowd, without making any noise at all.
Best antique look
A lot of hip scarfs are bright and bold, featuring neon or pastel colors. But if you’re looking for a belly dance hip scarf that looks more antique then this is a great option. It has gorgeous detailing, including a fringe and tassels, and the sound that the coins make is more subtle and less tinny than other styles.
Best sparkly hip scarf
Of course, not everyone wants subtlety and an antique look. Some people just want to sparkle! And if that’s you, then this hip scarf is perfect. When it says it sparkles, it really does sparkle. It is nothing but silver shiny sequins from top to bottom (no coins) so you will shimmer, shine, and catch the light wherever you are.
Best longer hip scarf
Most hip scarves sit on, well, your hips and they don’t go much lower than that. This one is a little different. It is more of a long sash that reaches down to your knees but the bottom two-thirds-ish is caught up in these very distinctive tassels. This will look beautiful when you dance and move and is very flattering. It also has strings of coins near the top so you have the best of all the worlds.
Best simple hip scarf
If you don’t want all the beads, and tassels, and coins but you still want a scarf wrap that will accentuate your movements when you belly dance, you really can’t go wrong with this hip scarf. It is a simple piece of fabric with some lovely fringing and a stunning peacock design (it comes in a variety of colors). It is both simple and beautiful, and will be comfortable to wear whenever and wherever you practice.
Best from the UK
If you’re in the UK and are having trouble finding these hip scarves, don’t worry. We’ve got you! This is the highest-rated belly dance hip scarf on UK Amazon and it has everything you could possibly want in one package. Loads of coins that, according to the reviews, don’t sound tinny and don’t fall off. It comes in lots of different colors and you can order it in a smaller size or a plus-size, both of which will fit well. The material is stretchy and comfortable and it looks amazing!
How to tie a belly dance hip scarf
Remember that a hip scarf is not a tailored piece of clothing so you are going to have to learn how to tie it yourself and, as with many similar situations, there are multiple ways that you can do that. The technique you choose will depend on what you think looks nicer but also what areas of your body you want to accentuate.
This is the classic way of tying a hip scarf that you will see in more of the product photos. It’s very flattering because it almost creates a little thigh slit, but it is also perfect for showing off your hip movements. The gap in your hip will mean that the hip movements you make will be more obvious to the audience so will look that much better!
Tying your hip scarf at the front of your hips achieves two things. First, it really shows off your belly moves, which you will be proud of if you can do them well! Second, it accentuates the movements in your buttocks. The coins, tassels, fringe, etc will be mainly resting at the top of the back part of your hips and your buttocks, and all the movements that you make there will make noise and will shimmy the detailing on the hip scarf.
If you really, really want to accentuate your buttocks, you could go for the hip drape. Here, you tuck the hip scarf into your skirt on each side and leave it to drape over the backs of your legs, leaving your buttocks exposed. This only works with the longer-style hip scarves and not the shorter coin belt style. You can also create a similar drape at the front to accentuate your belly even more.
If you’re worried about your hip scarf coming undone when you are dancing, and this will probably happen to everyone at some point, you can make it more secure by using a pin. You can even make the pin part of your outfit by choosing one that’s elaborate and that fits in with the rest of what you’re wearing.
Depending on the style of hip scarf that you own, you don’t even have to wear it around your hips. You could wear it as a headscarf, a shrug, or even a top.
And, actually, you don’t even necessarily have to buy a hip scarf at all. If you’re the crafty type, you can set about making your own. All you need is some fabric, some fringe, and some ribbon and you can make your very own belly dance hip scarf. Check out this handy tutorial that will take you through each step!
The bottom line
The belly dance hip scarf is such an iconic piece of dance attire. Whenever most people think of belly dance outfits, the hip scarf will make an appearance somewhere. And, as we’ve discovered, they do serve a practical as well as aesthetic purpose. But this isn’t one of those situations where you will need to shell out loads of money at the beginning of your dance journey. You can buy a belly dance hip scarf at any price range. And, if you carry on with belly dancing, you will probably find that you will end up acquiring many, many more!