How does ATS and fusion belly dance troupes look the same all while looking different?

on Sun, 20 Nov, 2022

In the 26 years I have been dancing, I have studied many styles and performed with troupes in different styles. When you are performing with a troupe, your costume is like a uniform. It shows you are professional and are dancing a certain style with others in the group. But each style has subdivisions within that style. I will go over three basics here: cabaret, ATS (American transcultural style--what used to be called tribal), and fusion.

I have been told that gold is the standard first color a cabaret dancer should own, followed by silver. Typically when a cabaret troupe performs, everyone is wearing matching, glittery costumes. Often these are bright, covered in rhinestones and sequins, and it is the nightclub style. There are exceptions to this, and some dancers performing a more folkloric version of Raks Sharqi will be wearing a long tunic from neck to ankle with a coin belt over it.

The most extravagent costumes might be $300-1000. If a troupe is wearing a  costume that don't include a beaded belt and bra, it might be less expensive. I have purchased used costumes that I have embellished and adjusted for under a hundred dollars. But that is an option for me because I sew.

Purchasing everything new for a troupe is expensive. One of my former students told me her high school dance troupe had a different costume for every show, and it was quite expensive!

I don't want students to be driven away by not being able to afford a costume. In ATS and fusion, we collect pieces slowly and make many costume pieces. Or shop sales. 

Fusion dancers often wear a lot of metal jewelry. It might be tarnished brass or silver. There might be flowers, decorative headbands, or metal jewelry in the hair. ATS style often has our hair gardens, bright scarves in the hair, or a turban. Although many of the all-metal coinbelts or coin bras that are seen in ATS might be used interchangebly with fusion, not all elements are interchangeble. ATS favors cowrie shells, shisha mirrors, and elements from Africa, India, the Middle East, and sometimes Eastern European countries, fusion sometimes has a more modern look. The fusion color palette tends to be limited. I see some troupes focus on earth tones, or only cream or only black. 

Cholis (half shirts) that might be worn with or without a coin bra are more commonly seen in ATS. Some of these cholis have sort sleeves, while others are longer and flare out. I have seen some with a peasant style top and a Turkish vest over it. When a troupe decides that everyone is going to wear cholis, headscarves and a fringe belt, they also limit the color palette and suggest everyone stick to colors X and Y.

Some fusion dancers don't wear skirts, they stick to pants. Or they wear short skirts. But in order to look cohesive, dancers have to communicate in a troupe so they look like they are the same style.

Fusion and ATS often use black as a standard base color for their bras or cholis because it is easy to match, it is a simple way to create unity, AND the audience will not see sweat soaking the fabric and armpit stains on black as easily as they could on a light or bright color. Of course, there are many troupes that choose bright cholis or skirts under their black fabric based coin bra and a metal belt that doesn't have any fabric attached. But these are things that take time and money to collect. 

Just like gold is the gold standard of cabaret for soloists and troupes starting out, black is fairly traditional in ATS and fusion because we can match it with other costumes and colors easily. ATS usually starts with a teired 25 yard skirt. Most troupes wear coin bras or cholis, so they aren't wearing tank tops--except when a troupe might be starting out and need to built toward the comfort level of wearing a coin bra or choli. But those coin bras are expensive or time consuming to make. Not everyone has them or feels comfortable wearing them yet. The easiest, simplest, and least expensive option is to wear a tank top in the beginning. 

In the beginning, Fusion Fascination wore black tank tops because it is professional, inexpensive, and we looked cohesive. We all wore black skirts and a matching color of coin belt, though everyone's belt was different. We all had our hair gardens and headbands but they were all different. ATS and fusion really is about self expression while still looking like we are part of the community of dancers we are dancing with.

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