So what is packed in my bag? I start out by dividing it into two shoe boxes. The first one will hold whatever costume I am planning to wear, and the second holds my "kits". I use small purses, draw-string bags and even zip lock plastic bags to hold my kits - I have a small sewing kit, a "touch up" make up kit, a cords and chargers kit, a back up jewelry kit, a hair care kit and a toiletries kit. By storing them all in a shoe box I can find them quickly, but also throw the odd item into the box as I am packing up and know I will be able to find it again later.
Where possible I try to put together my kits with spares and sample sizes. My make up kit is really only for last minute touch ups, as I prefer to put on full stage make up at home. As I run short of a product in my "at home" make up kit, I purchase a new one, move the almost empty one into my performance kit bag, and bin its predecessor, which is probably ready to expire. I keep jewelry that matches my costume in the box with that costume, but I also keep a back up set in my suitcase. My back up jewelry kits are light weight, cheap and a mix of gold and silver. Sometimes the jewelry that matches my costumes looks a little sparse, or a clasp might go as I am walking onto the stage. This back up jewelry kit is there to fill in the gaps.
In addition I always have a neutral veil - that is, one that goes with all of my costumes. In the world of belly dance we can count rainbows and animal prints as neutrals in addition to white,black, gold and silver. I also pack a cover up, shoes and a second costume. My second costume is usually a dress in a fabulous fabric - I want something that will pack up small and goes with my dance style, just in case someone else arrives with a similar costume to my favorite, I spill food down myself or bust a seam.
I use the front pocket of my suitcase to store business cards, flyers, copies of my bio and spare CDs. Those are all things that organizers ask for as you walk in the door, and I don't want to have to open up my suitcase in the lobby to find them !
After an event I remove my costume from the suitcase to air and refresh in the sunshine. I might replace it with a different costume, or pack it back into the suitcase at the end of the day. I open up my kit box, make sure everything is put away, and make a list to replace or repair. Finally I label the music CDs so that I know what is on them, should I want to use them for an impromptu performance in the future. While "Rakkasah 2016" might make sense to me now, in the future "Raks Musri, veil, opening 2.30 - Tabla solo, long shimmy, 3.30 - Sunshine, upbeat fun to join in, 3.30 - total 9.30 burnt as one track" is a gift to the future me, who is rushing to find a fun set under ten minutes.
Finally, one golden rule for me is that my suitcase should always be light enough for me to carry. At my age, I can't afford to hurt myself taking my suitcase in and out of a venue.
I recently applied to perform at an all day event, but I missed out on getting a performances slot. As I left the house to go and see the show I put my kit bag in the trunk "just in case". Mid morning one of the performers rang the hostess to say she couldn't make it, and suddenly I had a performance slot ! I sat in the car and topped up my make up from my make up kit bag, added my "back up" jewelry, selected a CD from the pocket and got my chance to shine on stage. Last minute performances like that have the added bonus of no pre-gig nerves!
So next time you are unpacking your bags after a gig, ask yourself, could you be using the opportunity to set up your bag for your next performance?
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My current favorite back up costume is this crazy pink and orange animal print costume by Poppy Maya. The fabric is really forgiving of live in a suitcase, it packs up small and goes with every dance style !
Sara Shrapnell is a belly dance writer, teacher and performer.
She has taught more than 4,000 belly dance classes, both in the UK and US. She now teaches in Pleasanton, Dublin and Livermore in the SF bay area, as well as workshops world wide and on-line via the Belly Dance Business Academy. Her classes are known for their humor, detailed breakdowns and cultural context. Students who have studied with Sara have gone on to teach and perform in all styles of belly dance and many have made their living through performance or teaching.
Sara’s first book “Teaching Belly Dance” is available on Amazon. Her second "Becoming a Belly Dancer: From Student to Stage", co- written with Dawn Devine, Alisha Westerfeld and Poppy Maya, is available in 2016 .