Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Tribal Belly Dance Jewelry Essentials - Part I

Costuming for tribal belly dance has always been a delight to the eye, with a plethora of different colors and textures combining to make a detailed and interesting whole.  Part of that delight is of course big chunky fabulous tribal jewelry!  If you are new to the dance, or are building your tribal jewelry dowry, this series of blogs will give you some ideas of what might work as 'essential' pieces.  There are a few types of jewelry that tribal dancers seem to keep coming back to, over and over again.  Pieces that have a defining tribal look, are most often used in tribal dance costuming, are affordable for new dancers or are versatile enough to use for years make these the Essentials.

Number one on the list is the Kuchi Choker.  These large pieces originated with the Kuchi nomads of  the Afghanistan/Pakistan border areas and can be told by the articulated choker band that either ties or buttons around the neck and dangles along the bottom edge.  They also will have colorful glass (now sometimes plastic) jewels either on the band, the dangles or both.  Band and dangles are made of metal and can be adorned with chains, bells, coins or other small bits.

There are three 'grades' as I call them, of Kuchi choker.  First are the old, authentic, tribally used pieces.  These are the old, worn, dirty, heavy pieces that actually have been worn in their originating country and have somehow, through sale or trade, ended up with a vendor of tribal goods.  Older pieces tend to be much more colorful than newer pieces with lots of glass jewels and beading.  These will usually have dirty fabric backers, bits of string tied to them, beadwork that is coming apart, and missing bits or jewels.

Old colorful Kuchi choker

These pieces can be made of high grade silver, mixed metals, or any combination.  Some of the older pieces are not the most convenient pieces to wear!  They can be so large and heavy as to be cumbersome and the dangles can sometimes form a bib that covers the entire chest.  Authentic old pieces are super (and by super, I mean extremely!) hard to find these days.  If you do find one, and can afford it, grab it while you can because like most other cultural arts, these beautiful pieces are disappearing very quickly.

Tribally used Kuchi choker
The second grade of Kuchi choker comes in two varieties.  These are the newer pieces, made in the traditional style, by traditional jewelry makers, in the originating country or by displaced refugees.  These are not hard to find but the quality varies by quite a lot.  Most tribal jewelry dealers will have these in stock at any given time.  Some can be as hefty and well-made as the old pieces and these are still good substantial chokers even though they are newer.  Traditional jewelry makers still earn their living by creating these pieces, and many are actually used by tribal women today.  That's why you will find slightly newer pieces that show dirt and wear.  As with the older pieces, they have been traded or sold and have then found their way to us. These are authentic pieces and will be future treasures.  They are usually made of mixed metals.  These pieces can be a bit expensive.

New Kuchi choker
Some new pieces are very lightweight, but don't dismiss these out of hand.  These chokers can be pretty and can still serve a purpose because there are many dancers who cannot wear a very heavy necklace or don't like to have a large heavy piece of jewelry around their throat.  These may very well be just the thing to add that tribal look without a lot of poundage weighing you down.  Most tribal vendors will have some of these in stock.  When purchasing, look for good quality construction.   These lightweight pieces tend to shed dangles at an alarming rate, so make sure that they are all secure.  Sometimes the S hooks just need to be adjusted.  The price for these pieces can sometimes rival that of a heavier new piece but should NOT be the same price as that charged for an older piece.

The third grade of choker is not really a Kuchi choker at all.  It is a cheap reproduction, often made in both a silver and a gold color, is lightweight, of inferior cast metal and has either plastic or enameled jewels instead of the more traditional glass.  These usually have a cheap chain and hook closure at the back of the band and have very lightweight dangles.  A lot of vendors who usually specialize in cabaret costuming and jewelry often carry these chokers.  Very few vendors who specialize in tribal jewelry will stock this type of choker.  These pieces do have the appearance of a Kuchi choker (from far away!) but are much less detailed and break easily.  These pieces are usually made in India.  Yes, they are less expensive than a genuine Kuchi choker, but as they say, you get what you pay for.

It was my intention to break this 'Essentials' series into four posts, but I can see right away from the amount of information that I have amassed on the subject of Kuchi chokers alone that four posts will not even begin to cover what I consider the essential pieces of tribal jewelry for dance costuming.  So I will just stop here on this subject and break the remaining information into as many or few posts as will cover it without making any one post too long.  (I also realize that I am kind of long winded, so I will try to contain myself!)

For further information on jewelry for tribal belly dance, see this video by FCBD, or check out the Tribal Bible or From Turban to Toe Ring which both have sections on tribal jewelry.

Here is a link to my own page detailing the rich history of Kuchi jewelry.

For a selection of Kuchi chokers for sale, please see The Red Camel's Kuchi chokers page.

If you'd like a quick overview of tribal costuming, so you have at least a minimum understanding of the basic costume pieces used in tribal dance, please see this article by Sharon Moore or do an internet search for tribal belly dance costuming.

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