Dancer Dolls

by Athena

These Oriental Dancer Dolls came about in response to a thread on an e-mail list devoted to Middle Eastern dance regarding appropriate weights and body shapes for the public performer of Middle Eastern dance. Someone made a comment on "belly dance Barbies", and inspiration was born!

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Ouled Nail

Photograph Of Ouled Nail Doll

It occurred to me that what was needed was a doll decked out in full Mideastern regalia. Naturally, nobody had one, and the obvious answer was that if I wanted one, I'd have to make it myself. Once that decision was made, the next one was "What do I want to model?" I flipped through some of my dance books and inspiration struck again--I would do an Ouled Nail dancer! I really wanted to model all that wonderful jewelry!!

About this time, I found at our library a copy of the January, 1904 copy of the National Geographic, which carried a pictorial of the Ouled Nail--in black & white, unfortunately, but it would do…

I bought a Mattel Kira doll, and, true to my magpie nature, started trying to do the headdress first. I got nowhere with this, and was about to give up when I spotted something called a "Twirling Ballerina Barbie" (my hubby collects action figures, so we spend a fair amount of time at toy stores…!). This thing came with a plastic crown attached permanently to the top of its head, so that you could hold it by this handle and spin it around - this was the answer!! Besides, the doll had articulated joints, so you could sit her down or pose her.

I bought it, and within two hours of her arrival home, the doll's purple plastic crown had been painted silver with turquoise and coral accents, and her equally purple ballet slippers were now black.

I started looking for doll patterns in our local fabric store, and found that Simplicity pattern 9334 had a nightgown and robe pattern that would do nicely for the robe. I actually cut 2 back pieces so it would have a high neckline; I took a material sample I'd had from a defunct mail order dance catalog, and used that for the front panel. I used some matching rickrack to hide the places where it was sewn on.

Please note that any trim used should be added before the robe goes together, unless you want to add it by hand!

Her shalwar underneath were made the same way you'd make them for yourself--I measured her waist to ankle and allowed enough extra for a casing to run elastic around waist and legs.

The veil was simply gathered around the base of the crown and sewed to either side of the crescent charm. All of the little charms and bits of chain were found at a) bead stores b) craft stores or c) my jewelry box…! The bracelets were small tubular metal beads that had open side seams--I simply opened them a little wider so I could slip them over the doll's wrists.

I couldn't find tiny gold coins in the quantity I needed, so I used a couple that I got from a friend who collects dolls and molded my own from gold-colored Sculpey. Once it was baked, I drilled holes and strung them using small jump rings and gold thread. I didn't like the finish, so I painted them with Humbrol gold modeling enamel and then tied them around the doll's neck.

I hope you enjoy this doll as much as I did making it!

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Oriental Dancer

Having finished one doll, I was now ready for another. By this time, I was armed with a book called Fashion Doll Makeovers, by Jim Faraone. Now I was ready to tackle something more advanced, like switching doll heads; this gave me that glitzy Kira head on an articulated body (no fun in making dancer dolls if you can't pose them afterwards!)

Actually, this one was much easier--I used McCall's pattern 9115; this has a mermaid outfit, which is where the top came from, and a gown with an overskirt that made the dance skirt. These were not modified, except that I used a decorative button and the lengths of beads rather than the bow shown on the skirt. The really neat thing here is that even if you don't have an extra 1/4 to 1/3 yard costume fabric left from your own costumes, you can use truly elegant fabrics for doll costumes and spend very modest amounts of money. If you're a dancer, you probably have a bead box with all kinds of fun stuff in it anyway…!

Photograph Of Oriental Dancer Doll

The one thing to consider is scale - you need to use tiny prints for dolls, particularly if you're using standard 11 ½ inch fashion dolls as I did. Sometimes quilting fabrics do well, particularly for folkloric outfits. Remember, if you use these standard dolls, you're more likely to find patterns for them!

Where to get all these dolls? Check your local flea market - often you can find secondhand dolls there that are in decent shape. And if they're not perfect, remember - you can always hide them in harem pants, skirts and veils!!

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About Athena, The Doll Costumier

Photograph of Athena, The Doll Costumier

I've been involved in Mideastern dance for over twenty years, mostly as a devout student, occasionally as performer. I took my first course purely out of curiosity, and was so amazed that I could actually do this thing that I stayed on. By that time, the music had me hooked, and I've been a happy dance junkie ever since!

I performed with local dance troupes Koritisa Apta Glendia ("Life of the Party" in Greek, or so we were told by our teacher), and the Seventh Veil Dance Troupe, both from Gainesville, Florida, U.S.A.

I also wrote occasionally for Southern Dancer, which evolved into Mideastern Dancer, until that magazine ceased publication.

These days I'm more interested in folkloric and tribal styles of dance. My specialty is saber. At this time I'm in school, so am not currently performing.

NOTE FROM SHIRA: Were you as delighted by Athena's dancer dolls as I was? Send her an e-mail message telling her so! Her e-mail address is

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