As a troupe director, I know that its impossible to please everyone when it comes to costuming. Each member has an opinion about colors, shapes, styles and coverage that works for their body. Sending a dancer out on to stage in an ill fitting, or ugly costume, or one that just doesn't suit them, sets them up for insecurities and failure. A well thought out costume, that makes them look and feel beautiful, both as part of a team and as an individual helps them perform to the best of their abilities and take home happy memories.
Here are a few things to consider when planning your troupes costume:
- Budget. Get a good idea of what they are prepared to spend on a new costume. Remember to include all the little extras, like hair flowers, jewelry and belts. Does their budget need to be split between multiple costumes or just one per year? As the troupe director you will need to hear everyone's thoughts and then set an achievable budget.
- Versatility. Will the costume be suitable to wear at different venues and for different styles of dance. Costumes for community events need to be more conservative than those for belly dance events. Tribal Fusion costumes are very different from Kaleggi. Can the costume you choose be re-styled with "off the rack" pieces, a home made skirt, different hair styling or jewelry?
- Fit for purpose. Does the costume allow the dancer enough flexibility to dance?! Can she travel, move and dance without the costume causing drama? Does the costume show off the movements or hide the subtly from the audience? Will the costume work on the stage? A black dress with beautiful black lace will be lost against a black backdrop.
- Size range. We all know that its easier to get cheap costumes in a dress size six or under, but unless you are going to pick your troupe based on size rather than dancer ability, you need something that fits your full range. Sizing can also be misleading, so be sure that your smallest and largest dancer can look good and get the support and coverage that they need. One size never fits all !
- Color (or color range). We all have favorite colors that suit our skin tone, and others that make us look washed out or ill. There are a few "Neutral" colors that are said to suit a high percentage of the population. These are often chosen for corporate uniforms, but are not inspiring for belly dancers : Navy, Cream, Black, Grey and Beige. However you may find a more exciting color or pattern that suits most of your dancers and can be used as a "Neutral" : Gold, Silver, Assuit, Animal print or "Pick and Mix" (where a variety of colored beads are mixed onto a costume). You may prefer to find a costume that comes in a variety of colors and ask your dancers to each pick one from the range. Be sure to keep on top of their choices. If six dancers like the red, and one picks the teal, she will look like the soloist.
How do you get a "put together look" with a large group of dancers? Here are my suggestions:
- Keep each dancer within a budget. Its not going to help your team dynamics if you have some dancers in $40 costumes and others in $400 bedlah, even if the colors match.
- If your group is large enough, suggest two or three tops and two or three skirts/trousers, so each dancer can find a style that suits her body type and personal preferences. Limit their fabric choices.
- Uniform looks can be achieved in two ways: either with a variety of shapes and cuts of costumes in a clearly defined shade of one color, or with exactly the same cut of costume in a range of colors. Mixing costume styles and colors can look chaotic.
- Pick a key, dramatic fabric, allow your dancers to express themselves with costume peices, and mix in other pieces that compliment..
- Build a mix and match wardrobe for your dancers, so they can add personality while still fitting in to the over all look.
- Mix basics in neutrals (Yoga pants, wrap tops, circle skirts, coin belts) that can be used over again, with stand out pieces that make a signature look.
- Allow each dancers personality to shine in their use of jewelry, trim or hip belts.
- Set expectations for hair and make up, so everyone pulls their look together and looks like a belly dancer.
- Encourage your dancers to adjust their costumes to get a perfect fit. Very few costumes arrive ready to wear.
- Ask for input, but then make a clear decision and stick to it. Your troupe look to you for direction and leadership.
For the photo above each dancer was given the same instructions. The wrap top was the key fabric and comes from www.Bellydance.com. We found that the matching pants were a little short for our taller dancers, so we added in a black pant in the same cut, but an interesting fabric. Our second fabric is black and silver Assuit as we were dancing at Assuit Fest that year. The dancers added Assuit to their bras and belts as they wished. Trimming a bra with Assuit is fairly cheap if dancers can split up a piece of fabric between them. Other dancers enjoyed the opportunity to include larger or vintage Assuit pieces. Skirlets and belly drapes were options. Each dancer was asked to find jewelry that suited her personality and a large flower in a stand out color.
In the stair case photo below our troupe chose to use a "Pick and Mix" bra and belt set as our neutral. On this occasion we paired it with matching yoga pants in a fabric we knew would stand out at the venue and a large flower in the same shade. Each dancer added wrist or arm bands to compliment her shape and jewelry that matched her personality. On other occasions we paired it with a purple skirt and wrap top. The purple set also mixed and matched with harem pants and a tube top to give a more modest look for outside events as you can also see below. We also all owned a circle skirt and veil in a candy color, which you can see in the third picture. From this one, expensive set, we had three very different looks, using cheaper, off the peg, pieces.
Sara Shrapnell is a belly dance teacher, performer and writer. Her first book "Teaching Belly Dance" is available on Amazon. She is currently writing "Becoming a Belly Dancer" with Dawn Devine, Alisha Westerfeld and Poppy Maya.