BEDLAHS AND JEWELS
THE HISTORY OF COINED BEDLAHS AND JEWELRY
Coined bras and girdles were a mainstay for American Cabaret (AMCAB) dancers throughout the early days of the dance in the U.S. We also used beaded costumes, but, most dancers preferred the coined ones. However, coined bedlahs were not used in Egypt nor in Turkey. They were considered crass and low-class. Egyptian dancers wanted extravagance and luxury. Why? Because, class and wealth were tantamount to personal value in the Middle East, as it is/was in all third-world countries, since poverty prevails in these parts. In fact, the owner of the famous club IBIS in NYC, forbade coined bedlahs. To our Eastern sisters, only street dancers, gypsies and other low class dancers like the
Ghawazee wore coins on their vests and costumes. But why did we want this lowly costuming?
For the average young belly dancers of the U.S. at that time, the exotic nature of belly dance was enhanced by the coin bra and girdle, and the beads and frou-frou costuming represented the upper class, strippers (whom we were constantly being compared to) and Hollywood. Globalism was just coming around the corner and peaking it’s worldly head into our lives and we 1970’s dancers- being of the Hippie era - loved everything worldly, earthy and funky. The closer to the cultural aesthetic of North Africa, Egypt and Turkey the better.
So, why were there coined bras and girdles, anyway? Because coins were sewn onto clothing in the Middle East, and coined bedlahs were a take on this. Dancers of North Africa and the Middle East did not have banks to deposit their money (coins) in. So, they sewed the coins onto their vests and other items of clothing. This represented their wealth – it was not just to secure it on their person but it was to show off their success. And, they jewelry was also coins, as well as their weaponry.
The spiked cuffs were used to fight off thieves. Imagine sleeping in your wagon and someone walks in to steal from you – wham! You hit them in the face with sharp spikes, and go back to sleep (or not). And, if you were a slave, your ankle and armbands bore the insignia of your owner – and they were soldered onto your appendages, never to be taken off. Kind of like a cow-tag. Metal jewelry is the 19th and early 20th century norm in the east. However to the Bedouins, silver was the preferred metal of choice. Gold was the metal of Jinn (devils).
Many of us 1970’s belly dancers were so enamored of the culture of the Middle East that our lives became intrinsically woven with everything Middle Eastern. We cooked Middle Eastern food, dressed in Middle Eastern clothing, wore metal jewelry and decorated our homes with Eastern décor and furniture. Back when I had a home, people were always struck by the my choice of design, clothing and jewelry. Still to this day I am a Middle Eastern addict and much prefer the funky, 19th century costuming over the glamorous modern glitzy costumes.
Nowadays, most women are drawn to belly dance for the glitz, glamour and sensual femininity it allows and could care less about having a pierced metal lamp in their home, bangle bracelets on their wrists or a pair of harem pants on. The art has, indeed, grown up and become a world class style attracting every type of woman and culture. As the song says: Secretaries do it, Nurses do it, Bank clerks do it – hell! Gay women do it- ya! Get, stand up, and reach your heights!