How to make a child's belly dancer costume

When your little girl wants to dress up like a belly dancer, her costume can be simple or ornate. But even the fanciest costume can be assembled in an afternoon.

The most important part of a belly dancing costume is–of course–an exposed belly. However, if you’re not comfortable with that kind of exposure, you can create the same effects by starting with a pink or skin-colored leotard. But, if you’re using a leotard, be certain to put a small plastic jewel or some sequins to indicate her navel.

Traditional belly dancers wear a skirt or layers of skirts, over a pair of harem pants. Some or all of these layers can be sheer. They should also be in different colors. Children usually want at least one purple or lilac layer, and one that’s bright neon pink.

Harem pants are simple to sew. They’re two oversized tubes of fabric with a center seam at the crotch. Put elastic at the top and at the ankles, and you’re all set. If you’d prefer to use a pattern, look in the costume section of any pattern book at the fabric store. This is a very simple project, even if you’ve never sewn before.

The skirts can be sewn with elastic at the waist, or simply wrapped and tied around the child. It’s smart to use an opaque fabric for the bottom layer, for decency.

For the most inexpensive skirts, look for remnants of sheer and gauze materials at the fabric store; they’re usually half-price or less.

Or, especially if you’re going to wrap and tie them, you can make skirts from household sheer curtains. If these sheer fabrics are white, you can dye them with unsweetened powdered soft drinks, or unsweetened gelatin powders. This can be a fun family project.

Remember to save a piece of sheer fabric to use as a veil across your child’s lower face. Kids often think that this gives them an air of mystery. You’ll use a strip of elastic, from the notions aisle of the fabric store, to hold the veil in place. If you choose “no-roll” elastic, it’s less likely to tug on your daughter’s hair.

If you have extra fabric, finish the edges so that they don’t fray, and give your daughter a few veils to wave as she dances. You can sew a narrow hem along the edges of each veil, or you can run a narrow stripe of a fray-checking liquid along each edge. The fabric store sells this in squeeze bottles in the notions aisle.

But–even easier–you can also let your daughter use a few of your own scarves to wave as veils as she dances.

The top or bodice of her costume can be more complex, but it’s very important. Generally, belly dancers wear tops that glitter, sparkle, and make tinkling, clinking noises.

The easiest approach is to use the top of a two-pieced swimsuit and cover it with sparkly fabric or sequins. You can often find what you need in remnants, or in the sale aisle at the fabric store. If you don’t see a suitable fabric there, look in the bridal and formal section of the store.

If all else fails, you can simply edge the swimsuit top with rows of sequined trim. If you’re going to do this, add a row of fringe at the bottom edge, too. Ball fringe can be charming for this.

The tinkling or clinking sounds are optional, but some fabric stores carry lightweight metallic trim that works well for this. You may need to ask for it at the cutting desk.

Remember that almost any trim can be secured with hot glue instead of sewing, if you prefer a fast, no-sew approach.

If you don’t see the right trim in the rest of the store, check the upholstery and home decorating section. While you’re there, see if they have any tassels that would be cute at the side seams of the costume top, or at each hip. If the tassels are made with large loops at the top–designed as tiebacks for draperies–your daughter can wear one over each ear as very exotic earrings.

Buy extra sparkly trim to make a belt for the costume. It can be sewn or basted to one of the skirts, or loosely tied in place.

If you’re using harem pants as well, add a strip of sparkly trim or fringe to each leg, near the bottom.

When you assemble the costume, remember each of these parts: The sparkly bodice or top, a jewel or some sequins at her navel, layers of filmy skirts, and perhaps some harem pants.

For accessories, she may want a veil for her face or scarf-type veils to wave as she dances. She’ll probably want to wear a lot of costume jewelry; if you don’t have enough, the party favors aisle of your local discount store probably has what you’d like. While you’re there, a plastic tiara isn’t authentic but your child may like one anyway, especially if she hopes to look like Princess Jasmine from the Aladdin stories.

Belly dancers can be barefoot indoors; outdoors, ballet slippers are ideal, but any footwear is fine. If she’s wearing sneakers, you may want to add glittery lacings for a fun effect.

On a chilly day, she may want to wear a simple vest over her costume. It’s easy to cut one from a single piece of felt–usually vivid pink or purple–and sew it at the shoulder seams. No front closure is necessary. Aladdin-style costume patterns are usually easiest, but if you bought a pattern for child’s harem pants, it probably includes a simple vest.

Most little girls want to wear eyeliner when they’re pretending to be belly dancers. Dark brown liquid eyeliner is usually best; paint a broad 60s-style “winged” line for a dramatic effect. Be certain to use a liner that isn’t waterproof, so it washes off easily when playtime is over.

For additional inspiration, look at children’s books and movies with Aladdin themes.

Would your little girl like music to dance to? Music for belly dancing can be higher priced at the store. Instead, look for instrumental music from Greece or Morocco, in the International section. Or, your public library may have suitable recordings.

A belly dancer costume can be worn over and over again, alternating the order of the skirt layers for different effects. If you’ve made the costume with elastic or stretchy fabrics, it will fit your daughter for several years. And, you can replace tired trim with fresh sequins as necessary.

Happy play as a pretend belly dancer may instill a love of music, dance, and exercise in your daughter. It’s always fun to dress up in costumes, and your child’s belly dancing costume can be easy, fun, and a smart choice, too.

Happy play

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