Anemone Ruder’s house sticks out from the rest of the street. Her front door is not the same brown and blue that all the other houses are adorned with. Rather, her house has a bright green door with purple trim. The inside of her house is no less impressive. Her watercolour paintings hang in the kitchen; her woven tapestry hangs on the staircase; and her closets are stuffed with hand-sewn belly-dancing costumes.
Belly-dancing in her own costumes
Ruder has been creating belly-dancing costumes since 1978 — the year she started dancing. After four years of practicing, Ruder started dancing professionally. The more she practiced and danced, the more she made costumes.
“Having been a dancer, I knew what was required for a dancer’s body,” said Ruder. “They have to move, they have to be comfortable, you have to be able to get in and out of them fairly quickly.” Changing costumes fast is imperative for performances, where different dances require different costuming.
‘I knew what was required for a dancer’s body’ — Anemone Ruder,
Ruder started teaching lessons at odd hours on odd days — the classes were dependent on when she could rent out someone else’s studio. But she found that she grew tired of this very quickly. “By the mid-late ‘90s I got fed up with the running around and sort of having to accommodate my time slots to whatever the dance schools had left over,” said Ruder. “I thought ‘I need more control over this.’”
‘I need more control over this’ — Anemone Ruder, Belly-dancer and costume artist
In 1998, she opened Isis Dance Productions, named after the Egyptian Goddess. The studio, located in Edmonton, Alta., had an area for costume sales; Many of the costumes were imported from Egypt, India, and Turkey.
Though she still made several of the costumes for her students, there were too many students that needed costumes and not enough time. To lighten her workload, Ruder trained some of her employees to do minor sewing jobs, so that they could stitch while the classes were in session. A student that loved doing beadwork would help do some of the beading for the costumes as well.
The costumes can range from $200 to more than $1,000. Much of the cost depends on the beadwork. Ruder has sold her costumes to many of her students, but she has also sold them to international buyers from countries like Denmark and Finland. Since she only started using Facebook to seek her clothes last year, most of her sales have been made through word-of-mouth.
Making outfits for belly-dancers today
Two tiny, feathered, sparkly bras hang on the wall of Ruder’s workshop. They both have a matching, tiny belt. Ruder says that these costumes are made for the “fusion” belly-dancers.
“It becomes almost burlesque-y,” said Ruder. “It’s going towards the burlesque rather than its classical sort of dance form.” Though she doesn’t appreciate the change in style, she makes the costumes anyways. They go for about $150-175. These costumes are cheaper because they require less beadwork, and they are significantly smaller.
The traditional belly-dancing music was what initially drew Ruder to love the dance, but lately the trend has been to incorporate other musical cultures. “And the sad thing, and I’m actually glad I’m out of it now, is that a lot of dancers are not using Middle Eastern music anymore,” said Ruder. “It’s the opposite of what belly-dancing is.”
The addition of other dances into belly-dancing doesn’t perturb Ruder the same way that the change of the music does. “I’m not opposed to a dance form evolving; I just don’t want it to lose its nature.” Influences from hip-hop and other genres result in the dance losing the fluidity that is vital to belly-dancing.
‘I’m actually glad I’m out of it now… A lot of dancers are not using Middle Eastern music anymore’ — Anemone Ruder
Ruder sold her dance studio in 2002. It’s now called Raq Stars, and owned by a former student. Though she sold her studio, Ruder continues to make costumes in her home.
Ruder’s hobby of making costumes is ironic because of her upbringing. Her mother was a trained couturier seamstress. “As a youngster, I would watch her, you know, sew up wedding dresses and God knows what, and say ‘I’m never doing that,’” said Ruder. Now she spends some of her nights watching TV and hand-sewing beads onto skirts, bras, and gauntlets. But the more beads, the heavier the costume. Some of the costumes weigh more than nine pounds.
Ruder’s stylish belly-dancing costumes
If you show Ruder any type of beadwork and the same beads, she can re-create the work, but she would rather not. She likes creating the designs and being given creative freedom over the costume. Even while she was demonstrating how she makes the bras, she was debating the placement of appliqués and beads. Her customers give an idea of what they would like, but Ruder takes on most of the design.
Her handmade belt patterns assure that the centre piece of the belt will always be on display.
She makes her belts so that they are easy to alter, because many of the costumes get sold and resold by the owner. Her handmade belt patterns assure that the centre piece of the belt will always be on display. Typically, her belts are made with a front piece and a back piece. The pieces hook together on the sides, so that any alterations won’t affect the front or back designs of the belt.
Ruder continued to dance professionally into her 50s, but she decided that her costume needed a change. So she put a thick body stocking over the mid-section so that she could have more coverage.
One of her most prized creations is a massive set of hand-dyed, silk wings. They are two junior fishing poles covered with silk that she dyed in her home. The dancer grips each fishing pole and covers their body with the silk. The result is a very large and dramatic performance. She can only perform with the costume in venues with very large stages, and most places can’t accommodate the sheer size of the costume.
‘I never made a lot of money… It’s a hobby, basically’ — Anemone Ruder
Performances were very taxing because the wings would become very heavy. “I’d lash my hands onto the poles,” said Ruder. She also had to make the carrier for the wings, because there was no case that could handle their size or shape.
Ruder may make some money from making the costumes, but that’s not why she does it. “I love it. I never made a lot of money doing weaving or watercolours either,” said Ruder. “Right now I’m almost 70, it’s a hobby, basically.”