Costume Tips From a Veteran Dancer
By Nizana El Rassan Many belly dancers make their own costumes, others use their sewing skills to adjust and repair costumes, and some don’t sew at all. Some dancers have their costumes made for them, such as when I was directing and or dancing with troupes. Others buy them from vendors locally and from around the world or have a mix of ways to get their costume fix. Some dancers keep their costumes forever, while others may sell and rotate out costumes to refresh their closet and be able to afford new items. There are performance costumes of all types to accommodate all of the many styles under the belly dance umbrella, and costumes are part of the fun!
What is important is that the costume should be congruent with the type of dance you are performing. It would not be appropriate to perform Moroccan Shikkhat in a cabaret costume. Granted, you rarely see that style performed any more, but it is a solid example of why you should ensure you are not wearing something that is confusing to the audience eye (especially by those of the cultures you may be portraying) or even offensive. If you perform a skirt dance, you need a big enough skirt to ensure the moves can be done correctly. Dancing “belly dance” is representative of people’s cultures and should be respected accordingly. Of course, you can get creative, and individualize your look, but stay within the styles of the genres you are dancing to.
Always do a test run in your costume; check things out in advance of a performance to prevent issues. Does the jewelry you planned to wear with it catch? Is there something you need to do to adjust it to fit better? Do you need to wear a certain type of underwear with it? Does it have “gaposis,” shift around or make you feel uncomfortable when you move a certain way or in general? Does it have a stain or need repair? Is it flattering? Trying it on and actually dancing in it are two different things. If considering buying, think of things like how does it look from afar? Does it have any oddities like strange applique placement? Is it a complimentary color on you? Look at yourself in it from different angles in the mirror, make adjustments as needed, and boost your confidence.
Price ranges are all over the board from making your own costumes to designer costumers charging up to $1000 or more for costumes. There are trade/swap and thrift store sites, used costume racks when vendors are able to vend in person, and some dancers post their items to sell as they decide to sell them. There are sites that help you choose legitimate, fair and well-made costumes should you choose to buy costumes. Some will not work with you on exchanges or refunds even if it’s their mistake, so do your research.
Coverups? Yes please. Almost always. Why? To “save the magic” for when you are on stage! To not distract from who else might be performing on stage. Because when you are in costume, you should be remaining “in character,” like any other performer should. Coverups keeps the chill off of you, and keeps your costume clean and safe from things like when someone gets too close with their accessories (or when we could, hugs you) and it snags your material. They might also protect your costume from smells or scents around you, or even the elements if outdoors.
A couple of other tips from this long-time dancer…if you’re able, always take along a back up costume for performances. You may have a change of music or a change of heart. What was good during the test run malfunctions and is unwearable. Someone spills their wine or something on it…you never know. It’s good to have handy, even if it’s out in the car (or at the ready in the other room for online…) Air them out after you perform in them, handle wrinkles, keep them clean and store them properly to mitigate things like materials that will lengthen when hung over time, etc (a whole other article.) Costumes are part of your presentation, and simple or elaborate and be very effective. Take care of them and they will take care of you!
Nizana has long been involved in Middle Eastern Dance as a performer, instructor, student, troupe director, choreographer, event producer, and competition judge. Nizana's articles and reviews have been published in seven Belly Dance magazines and newsletters including Fanoos! Having studied with a wide variety of instructors, in addition to performing Egyptian flavored American Style Belly Dance, Nizana dabbles in folkloric and fusion styles. She is known for her expressiveness and connection to the audience. Nizana is available for instruction and has workshops scheduled in Florida and Washington State.