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by Anna Maria Cancelli

Photos: Amy Danielson © A. Danielson,
others = Konstanze Winkler
graphics and layout: Konstanze Winkler
The neo-Victorian characters of these Steampunk sagas are ingenious, industrious, curious, celebrity-caliber and no doubt dapper and exciting because myriad dancers have adopted the Steampunk aesthetic and festoon themselves in Steampunk’s imaginative haberdasheries and inventive fineries.  Intrinsic to the Steampunk aesthetic is mechanics, particularly mechanisms powered by steam. A young lady conducting an interview in the Youtube clip “What is Steampunk?” reminds us that “steam is an ethereal energy,” an antiquated means of propulsion, and it is that otherworldly feel, that air of industrial antiquity that the Steampunk aesthetic strives to capture.

Primarily Victorian and Edwardian, the Steampunk aesthetic can also include Vaudevillian elements, can borrow from the Gothic aesthetic and Art Nouveau, and even the Oriental “Salome” style seen on early American stages.

What is Steampunk? (YouTube Video)
Steampunk - What is it and a request (YouTube Video)
Belly dancer and costumer Robyn Russell (Rabiah Banu) offers a wealth of ideas on how belly dancers can create a Steampunk look and provides a plethora of visual inspiration in her posting “What Does a Steampunk Bellydancer Wear?” on her blog Clothesmonaut: A Blog About the Psychology of Clothing and Costume. When designing a Steampunk inspired costume, Robyn suggests that the designer imagine being a part of an “alternate reality” having no knowledge of what a belly dance costume looks like then consider that hip and
shoulder movements should be accentuated. The designer should then think about constructing an outfit that highlights those body parts. Furthermore, consider using materials such as metal items, washers, gears, leather, and perhaps even bottle caps that have been flattened. 
Professional belly dancer and costumer Amy Danielson states that a Steampunk costume should have a few items from the following categories: 

Classic Victorian such as vintage lace buttons, top hats, feathered hair ornaments, footwear such as spats or “granny” boots;

Military with items like aviator goggles, military style clothing or footwear, or ray guns;

Inventor using leather items such as metalworker’s smock, clockwork pieces for hair ornaments, monocles, or other “tools of the trade”;

Belly dance!

But of course! When it comes to her own Steampunk aesthetic, Amy is a “firm believer in the vintage button,” and since use of Turkoman buttons is prevalent, use of old shank buttons is equally as interesting. Amy also has an affinity for vintage lace, antique keys, cameos, and filigree, as well as “jewels of the sea such as abalone buttons and pearls.
Amy Danielson wearing one of her creations
Tempest, whose name is synonymous with Gothic and Steampunk belly dance, pulls from her formal education and background in visual arts, to create a distinct style both aesthetically and kinesthetically.  Distinctly theatrical, her performances are inherently innovative and full of expression and reach forward to define the future of dance.  Tempest has been integrating her vision of the Steampunk and the NeoVictorian aesthetic for six years and has witnessed its emergence in the realm of belly dance for the past few years. She points out that when it comes to creating Steampunk costumes, keep in mind the “DIY” and “taking something old and making it new” aspects. 

Well known for her Art Nouveau and Gothic costume designs and particularly her corset belt and “skorset”, Tempest instructs those interesting in creating a Steampunk look to ask, why Steampunk?  This begs the question, “Is it the look, or are you really interested in telling a story and tapping into the Steampunk persona? Essential to creating a Steampunk persona is devising a character. According to Tempest, “all of the elements should add up cohesively for the character.” She suggests asking questions such as “Who are you? What’s your story? If you’re wearing goggles and a top hat, why? Does your persona require that?”  The always inventive belly dancer and designer emphasizes imagination and suggests, “If you are an Airship Pirate, then consider what would make sense for an Airship Pirate to wear!”
Tempest, here as a Steampunk Air Ship Pirate, with
goggles and Granny boots
One need look no further than to find a vast array of Steampunk inspired items, both ready to wear and for use in costume construction. Amy Danielson’s Etsy shop “The Gypsy Kiss" (, is a treasure trove of handmade belly dance ornaments. Amy, who performed on the Durga Tour in Minneapolis with her troupe Tribal Spirits of the Sun from the St. Croix Valley area of Wisconsin, supplies exceptional ruffled, cuffed, buckled, bejeweled, and plumed items for the hair and body. Everything from filigree and cameo bindis, top hats, and hair combs “peppered with the flavors of Vaudeville, Art Nouveau, and Steampunk” are available at “The Gypsy Kiss” , which is on a mission to provide quality items that “help women cross that threshold between daily life and the world of fantasy.” 
Tempest "Metropolis"
Dancer Mariam Ala Rashi in her Steampunk-Fusion costume
Voilà, another typical Steampunk Accessoire: A huge lock with a sticking key as a Bra-Connector.
On this Picture: Mariam Ala Rashi and Tempest
Amy has been aware of the Steampunk aesthetic in belly dance for several years. She believes the trend was spawned by the appearance of belly dancing in performances by Abney Park, America’s quintessential Steampunk musical group, who have been recording and performing since the late 1990s.  Amy also believes that Steampunk is not confined to the realm of aesthetics but is visible stylistically in “clockwork-like movements” referred to as “ticking” or “tic-toc”, which is similar in nature to hip hop styles of dance.

“Ticking” or mechanical moves and Victorian costuming are merely components of a Steampunk style piece, and Tempest will be the first to note that “throwing on a bustle, some old keys, and bunch of lace doesn’t make it Steampunk unless you’ve got a story, a character, and somewhere to go with it.” There is an entire mis en scene that needs to be created in order for the true essence of Steampunk to come alive.
Asharah, who is a master at “ticking” and creating stellar performances by incorporating pop and lock movements, clarifies that her “tics” and “pops” are inspired by contemporary popping and locking, breakdancing, and experimental electronica and are not intended to evoke Steampunk style mechanical movements.  en eigenen Steampunk-Stil zu schaffen.

When choreographing a Steampunk piece, Amy recommends maintaining a minimum of 70% belly dance moves and to “create a character with a back story.”  Tempest reminds us that Steampunk is fusion, and “fusion should honor both of its parents, and speak clearly.” Furthermore, Amy notes that Steampunk is a sub-culture rooted in literature and points to Tempest as an example of a dancer who “does a fabulous job creating a character that clearly comes across to an audience through music, costume, choreography, and stage presence.” 

Belly dancer Di-Ahna Restry’s rendition of Steampunk incorporates moves she feels are indicative of the Steampunk style such as Zafira inspired fountain arms and components of historical dances such as the waltz, the quadrille[1], and the mazurka.[2] Di’Ahna is a belly dance instructor and member of Moirae (, a central Massachusetts tribal fusion troupe, and her objective in a Steampunk style performance is to “convey the feeling of a moving sepia photograph, a little snapshot of a romanticized by-gone era.” 

[1] 18th century dance for couples performed to 6/8 or 2/4 time.

[2] Polish peasant and court dance originating in the 16th century. Spread to Russian and Germany, and by the 1800s was a popular ballroom dance in England and France.

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