Before we talk about costuming, you will first need to understand a little bit about the Alexandrian woman and the “why” behind what she wore at the time to fully understand why we wear what we do in eskanderani pieces.
After Napoleon landed in Alexandria, he decided that due to where it was positioned and the natural resources it offered that he would turn this small fishing village into a huge commercial seaport.
This venture proved successful and due to the natural gas pipeline and nearby Suez Canal, Alexandria is now the 2nd largest city in Egypt and home to the largest seaport, which oversees 80% of Egypts imports and exports. Pretty impressive right?
So why does this matter? Basically this tells you about what the character you portray is like. Since Alexandria is a prominent port city, the two characters you can choose from are the fisherman and the women who are wanting to get the fishermans attention (they with flirt with the men).
The melaya was an outer modesty garment for women popular with the urabn baladi social class of people at the time (intention was to cover up the body when going out).
When famous belly dancers such as Hekmet Fahmy and Samia gamal for example decided to use this garment in their movies of the 1950’s, they found ways to manipulate it so that it would showcase more of their curves in hopes of their characters attracting the opposite sex.
This is why the tightening of the melaya is in just about every melaya piece I see now a days. It is all about the flirtatious character we are portraying and what she would do.
Back to the 1950’s, when Hekmet and Samia decided to use the melaya for dancing they wore what was fashionable during that time under it. This is where the knee length dress comes in. It was typical for the urban baladi of Alexandria and Cairo to wear a dress in that era that was a spin-off shorter version of a beledi dress/ It had shorter sleeves, a little frill and detail in the garment and while not as loose as a galabeya, was not as skin tight as what we see today. The dress should simply have hugged slightly over the body. The fabrics chosen for them were typically ones that had a sheen (like a satin-like fabric), or fresher fabric like cotton (will find out more on this when I go to Alexandria next week).
It is not required to wear a face veil if you dance a piece depicting the era of the character Samia and Hekmet were portraying. It is also not required to wear a head scarf if doing a piece for this time period.
Once Mahmoud Reda decided to portray the Alexandrian woman and do a dance with his troupe some years later, that is where a few things were changed to fit his vision. When Reda did his pieces it was between 1950’s and 1960’s so the fashion of the time was a bit different than the earlier fashion Samia and Hekmet drew from. For Reda’s troupe costumes, the women’s dresses had flower print designs and you can also see an assortment of “groover patterns” being used. You can see the headbands with flowers being worn more frequently as well in their performances.
Today the fabrics and style have changed a little more considering how much time has passed. Now there are more lycra fabrics being used for comfort dancing on stage, and many more flashier/sparklier and shorter variations. It has become even sexier with the costuming, and at times even sequin dresses are being used!
It is hard to know how far to stretch what is acceptable and still deemed a dress appropriate for a Melaya dance as the characters were invented, but that is definitely something I will look into very soon.