June 30, 2010

Artist of [Undetermined Timeframe] #8: Ethnic Costume Designer Michelle MacDougall-Kaplan

Blog, as you know, I am all about the cool ethnic music and dance. What, you didn’t know? C’mon, flamenco guitar, “The Lion King,” Bollywood! Okay, so I’m not an expert, but I know what I like, and I like belly dancing. That’s why today’s Artist of [Undetermined Timeframe] is my Facebook friend Michelle, who not only dances but makes her own awesome ethnic costumes.

Michelle lives in Sherwood Park, Albert, Canada (which qualifies this post also as a Timbit of Tribute). She shared photos and videos of her dancing on Facebook and I had to learn more about this hobby of hers. And I was just as intrigued about the process of her creating costumes for herself for her recitals. So here’s what Michelle has to tell us about it:

I started my interest in belly dance back in 2005 after meeting some girls who'd just recently joined up and loved it. After seeing them perform I knew I had to give it a try. I’ve been taking actual classes now for about a year and a half and I’ve felt a strong calling to Tribal Fusion, a branch off of the traditional style which is usually danced to strong electro-industrial beats such as Beats Antique and Djinn.

The costume is quite different as well which is what drew me to making my own. While there are many sources to buy tribal fusion costumes, I’ve always wants to make one and this is where we are now. After about nine months of piece-choosing and hand-sewing (with some small help from my sewing machine) my Tribal Fusion costume was born.

I didn’t know when I started this project that this costume would be perfect for the choreography I recently performed, which was to Maduro's Qanundrum and the theme of “Evolution.” With the dark reds, greens and browns it captured the look I was going for, so I am very happy I decided to create my own from scratch.

As for my next project? Who knows.... Only time will tell, but I look forward to the challenge.

So let’s look at what Michelle did to create her beautiful costume, Blog.

For the bra, she incorporated ethnic coins, cowrie shells, chain, and a “kuchi” pendant—quite a project in and of itself. She made a tribal belt to match, and from the leftover fabric and more cowrie shells, fashioned arm cuffs. Her arm-warmers were made from the dollar store. Says Michell, “Yes, being frugal can be creative.” Her fringe belt was also homemade. The “top level tribal belt” sits on top. Understandably, affixing all those shells made her slightly crazy: “I’m going to have nightmares about stitching these little guys on everything!”

Michelle used a number of elements to make her hair clip. It took only ten minutes and she says, “Thank goodness for hot glue!” The ensemble is completed by hair veils, harem pants and skirt.

The final effect is pretty impressive even when she’s standing still. I only wish I could have been in Alberta for the “Cairo Cabaret” in which Michelle performed! At any rate, as cool as it is to get to wear an outfit so gorgeous, it’s even more fun when you made it yourself.

Thanks so much for sharing your unique and ethnically awesome hobbies with us, Michelle!


  1. Beautiful and unique costume pieces, Michelle!

    My best friend in college took belly dancing classes through the Campus Rec program. I wasn't into it but I went to her recitals and it was fun to watch.

  2. I really like your recognized Artists.

    Also, Happy Canada Day!

  3. I always enjoy Canada Day, Alanna...thanks for the greetings and Go Canada! Sam, that would be fun. I don't believe I've ever seen belly dancing in person, but I sure enjoyed watching Michelle's class on video.