When I first laid eyes on Dusty Paik’s custom belly dance outfits, I immediately recognized it as some mighty fine work. I knew that she made them herself, so I was even more impressed by how striking her work is. It is unique, timeless and evocative of the depth and variety of culture that has informed Belly Dancing throughout the ages.
I’m a big fan of my friends who, in my opinion, are damn good artists and so I would like to offer you a glimpse into the world of Dusty’s work with the following interview.
When did you start designing & making costumes? Was it always belly dancing outfits and accoutrements?
I’ve always made STUFF and cut apart my old things to make them fit better, or make them into different things. I’ve done wardrobe on movies and videos and stuff in the past, I used to style photoshoots back in Los Angeles. I started really going for it with the belly dance costumes in the last year and a half or so since I’ve been living in the bay area. My friend Kevin Cloud, an amazingly versatile musician and master woodworker- invited me to come belly dance at the northern renaissance faire. As close as I can pinpoint it, after pictures went up online of me dancing in the stuff I’d made, the requests for custom costuming started coming in, mostly off of Facebook.
Do you do all of the work yourself? Is it completely from scratch or do you find or have components made for you?
I do all the work myself. I get help when I get stuck on how to make something because I’m completely untrained as a seamstress. I’ve learned some from taking things apart and from refitting my own clothes, but I’ll watch my friend Medina Maitreya or Kathleen Crowley make something and it’s so FAST. I’m always hypnotized watching those two work.
To make a bra, I’ll either cut and sew one from scratch, or I’ll take a pre-made bra as a base and cover it. Belts are usually completely from scratch. I find the stuff all over the place…Hardware stores, junk shops, online, etc. My browser bookmark list is insanely long, and my watch list on ebay is obscene. Someday, I’d love to have some custom components made for me, but I don’t have the means financially as of yet.
So you salvage and basically recycle parts?
Yes, salvage is a big part of how I work. I’ve broken apart necklaces, afghani belts, shoes, altar cloths and vestments, antique silver jewelry etc, to find the right studs or coins, fabric, or trims. I like old stuff. It’s better and prettier than new stuff as a general rule. The way I figure, that gorgeous antique ribbon woven out of real metal can either languish, unappreciated on a rotting piece of silk vestment, or be pulled off and accentuate the hip movements of a beautiful dancer. I prefer the latter.
I’ve been performing in one format or another for years, and assembling my costumes and headdresses outta pre-made things from far flung places, but when I started tribal style belly dance, I really wanted my costuming to reflect the things I liked looking at and I also like everything I make to look like it has a long and sordid past. My friend Rachel Brice paraphrased something Fellini said about liking his films to look like they take place on Planet Rome instead of IN ancient Rome and so she adopted this personal aesthetic for her costuming being from PLANET India. I like that. I’ve also been taking a lot of inspiration from old arabic music lately and golden era egyptian bellydance. Asmahan, Farid El Atrache, Samia Gamal, Taheyya Carioca
It really comes through. Your costumes are so rich, that makes sense, they DO seem like they are from Planet India, and even other planets!
Yeah, As a performer, when I come offstage feeling like I’m coming back from somewhere, coming out of some sort of weird trance, it’s priceless to me. The costuming is an important tool for me to be able to get out of my head and into my body, into the character and mood I feel from the music.
Tell me more about the materials you frequently use?
I use a lot of velvet, upholstery fabric, antique metallic lace, a lot of metallic bullion trim, millinery flowers, old sequined dresses, antique clothing, coins, bones, horns, beetle wings, keys, Rajasthani silver jewelry, Turkoman buttons, patches, studs, leather, fur….Lots of old rhinestone buckles and shoe clips, rusty things, and a lot of Afghani beaded things. I’ve been into beaded Egyptian fringe lately too, because it moves and sparkles so nicely on stage.
Are there any recent new materials that you’ve been using or experimenting with? A new style or process?
Metallic leather. I got a wild hair up my ass about making a pair of metallic red leather spats with antique jet glass buttons and dyed black stripes. I wanted to make them to fit this pair of really witchy boots I have…That’s been my project for the last coupla days. This is the first time I’ve made buttonholes for anything, and my sewing machine HATES it and I can’t see past the shitty buttonholes yet.
What do you enjoy most about what you do?
The best part of it for me is when all the elements for epiphany finally present themselves, and then I suddenly “know” what I’m gonna do with this pile of bells and whistles I’ve been collecting for six months. I basically put together stuff I like, and then stare at it until it makes itself. That’s what I love the most…When time is passing really fast because I’m so absorbed in making whatever thing I’m all clucked out on. It’s always been that way for me…Whether I’m painting, dancing, drawing, singing….When I’m really inspired by something, my mind is the quietest I can get it, so I really treasure those times.
Thank you for your time Dusty!
If you want to peer further into the mind of Dusty Paik, check out her blog: The Kill Room.