Fanoos Magazine sat down with internationally-known and loved Costume historian, author and Bellydancer Dawn Devine. 1 - How long have you been doing costume research?
It’s a bit of a cliché to say I’ve been doing it “all my life” but my passion for costumes began when I was a kid watching old movies on TV. My mom was a professional seamstress who made all of our clothes. That exposure to sewing and that love of old movies really set the stage for my future career.
2 - You’ve presented on so many topics; how did you find information and reputable sources?
For me, I always dig deep into the archive to find primary resources. We have this common knowledge surrounding our dance that is now generations old with little separation between theory and fact. As an archival researcher, I’m always looking for documentation that either supports or refutes the history of dance that we talk about on social media and teach our students.
3 - What’s your favorite subject?
My favorite subject is belly dance! I’m a trained art historian, so I’m focused on digging out the visual documentation about our dance art in America between 1875 - 1925. As I dig deeper, I find myself asking questions about the imagery that leads to more focused projects. My book “Cloth of Egypt” started out with the question “When did dancers start wearing assiut cloth?”
4 - Have you ever struggled to find enough information on a topic?
During my history talks, I always use the analogy that history is shaped like a funnel. The further back in history you go, the less material there is to find. With each paradigm shift in communication, there is more information to find. Think about today, we have access to endless information via the internet. Think of how much more information there is to find after say, the invention of printed books, photography, movies, etc. So there are times when I hit those moments beyond which there simply is no information to find.
5 - What drives you to present so much history?
History is my passion and my job! I am not an “info dragon” who is just sitting on a pile of facts hoarding them for “someday.” My goal is to share what I know in the form of my books, my blog, and on social media. I have found so much interesting information that I find sharing is easy.
6 - Have you ever found information that surprised you?
It happens all the time! I have to be open-minded and prepared to change directions as I find odd things archive of human history. I’ve become a bit of a myth buster, as I find documentation that challenges the belly dance common knowledge. Readers of “The Cloth of Egypt” are often surprised to find out that assiut cloth (no matter how you spell it) was invented in Europe and brought to Egypt as part of the Ottoman cultural hegemony. The fabric doesn’t go back to ancient Egypt and all the technology dates to discoveries made during the industrial revolution.
7 - Have you noticed any prominent trends throughout history?
In researching the history of belly dance costumes, what I love is finding the moments when styles change due to technology. The invention of polyester chiffon in 1958 made it possible for every dancer to have a chiffon skirt. Prior to that, they were made with extraordinary expensive silk chiffon. After 1958, a dancer could afford more than one! Chiffon circle skirts were the dominant style in the belly dance costume worldwide throughout the last half of the 20th century.
8 - Your books are staples for costume makers. What words of advice do you have?
When developing any skill, the key is practice. From design to construction, your costumes will look more professional if you practice and master your cutting, sewing, and finishing techniques. My books are about design, so invest in a good sewing reference book. I use the “Reader’s Digest Guide to Showing” as a textbook for my sewing students.
9 - What is your favorite part of making a costume?
The BEST moment is when my clients step onto the stage and perform. I love seeing them looking confident and beautiful knowing they are wearing something that looks fabulous and fits like a dream! It’s the best moment!
10 - Why is it important for dancers to do costume research?
I like to organize the variety of dance styles and costumes that fall within the umbrella of the term “Belly Dance” into three major categories, glam, ethnographic, and fusion. It’s important to understand that clothing is a language that communicates more than just your taste level.
Your costume tells your audience loads of information about your skill, your budget, and your knowledge, point of view, and understanding of the dance. I really feel it’s worth it to do the extra work to put together a cohesive presentation, where your music choice, movement vocabulary, and costume selection all fit together to tell the audience the same story. Understanding the basics of belly dance history is especially important for dancers choosing to perform ethnographic dances that are specific to a culture, a nation, a style, or even a point in history.
Every performer is also an ambassador for our dance art. So understanding every component, knowing “the why” of what you are doing gives you talking points for communicating with your audience before or after performances. The more you understand your choices, the easier it is to tell your audience of fans and followers.
Dawn Devine (Devina) is a historian, author, costumer, Bellydancer and instructor and a part of the Swirl Troupe along with Vakasha and Zemira who are included in this issue's cover. From her website: Author – Dawn is the internationally acclaimed author of Costuming from the Hip, a guide to designing and making belly dance costumes. She owns and runs her own independent publishing company, Ibexa Press, a growing firm with a backlist of eight titles and more on the way. In 2002 the company shipped over 2,400 pieces worldwide. Her most recent book, Embellished Bras, is a step-by-step guide to building costume bras for dance performance. A few of her other titles include From Turban to Toe Ring (2000), Bedlah, Baubles and Beads (2001) and Style File (2002).
Costumer – Dawn has been sewing professionally since 1985. After receiving an A.A. in Fashion Design and a B.A. in Art History from the University of California at San Diego, she went on to work for four seasons at the La Jolla Playhouse in the costume shop. In 1995, she moved to Northern California for graduate school at UC Davis, where she completed her coursework in Art History and spent a year in the design M.F.A. program. Along with her professional career, she has enjoyed making costumes for fun, participating in hundreds of costume shows at conventions throughout California. She continues to design and sew wearable art, dance costumes and historical pieces for herself and clients.
Dancer – With a lifelong love of dance and expressive movement, Dawn discovered belly dance as a teenager and hasn’t looked back. Under the professional dance name Davina, Dawn has been performing since the mid 80s and teaching since the early 90s. She has performed in numerous restaurants throughout California in San Diego, Los Angeles, Sacramento, San Jose and Reno and at dance festivals such as Rakkasah and Desert Dance Festival. She teaches dance classes and performance workshops in her own contemporary fusion style that integrates the stylistic features of Egyptian, Lebanese and Turkish technique and builds on her classical dance training. With over eighteen years of performance experience, she is an in-demand judge for belly dance contests such as Wiggles of the West in Reno, Nevada, and Double Crown in Portland, Oregon.
Historian – With a B.A. in Art History, Dawn has combined her love of art and costume history to produce her M.A. thesis. She worked as a lecturer, presenting such topics as Fashion and Impressionism, Safavid Splendor – Persian Motifs in Textiles and Miniature Art and her own original M.A. thesis work From High Art to High Fashion: Aesthetic Movement and Queen Magazine. She has worked on several costume exhibits including From Bustles to Bikinis at the San Diego Historical Society Museum. In addition, she has worked as a research assistant to other authors and was pleased to contribute to the book California Couture, by Maureen Reilly. She has lectured extensively on Victorian costuming through the Old Sacramento Living History Center and has presented her work at the Costume Society of America Symposium. Her current publications focus on research into the history of Middle Eastern costume.
Facebook: Davina - Dawn Devine (facebook.com)
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Etsy: Belly Dance Books Costumes Jewelry and Supplies by DavinaDevine (etsy.com)