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A Guide to Student Costuming, for Belly Dancers

ZAGHAREET! "For Beginners" series (Sep/Oct 2005)
by Anthea Kawakib Poole

A Look at... Student Costuming

Gone are the days of tedious bead-stringing, try-and-try-again bra-fitting, and hemming those endless circle skirts! Getting a great-looking, well-fitting costume is easier than ever. Our blossoming belly dance market attracts new vendors constantly and now we even have direct access to costumers via the internet.

A dance student's first purchase is often a hip scarf or veil to use in class or practice with at home. (Be warned: this may be the start of a whole new section in your closet...) By the third or fourth costume-related purchase, you need to starting planning. Even if you're not planning to go pro, or even perform very often, you need something to wear when you do get onstage - we don't want to see your practice outfits onstage! Practice gear like sport bras, generic harem pants, and the old worn-out hip scarf from your dance class bag looks like what it is: "practice gear". So let's get to the fun stuff - real costumes!

How Do You Decide What Kind of Costume To Get?

There are so many styles, colors, fabrics, accessories... how can you figure out which purchases will be good investments and not boo-boos that end up staying in the closet? First, look at your performance goal and work backwards from that.

Your stage appearances will fall into one of these categories:

In the Oriental Solo (“cabaret”) subcategory, the most important aspects of your particular costume are color and style. Unless you just like shopping or spending money, you definitely should NOT pick up random costume pieces here and there whenever you happen to see a vendor. Absolutely decide on your color scheme first - your favorite, most flattering color.

It's worth getting professional advice if you don't know which colors look best on you. When I started my own “adventures in costuming”, I loved purple so almost all my early costumes were in various shades of purple. Too bad "cool" colors make me look like death! Now my purples are limited to accents in a warm color scheme, if they're there at all.

Personally, I think costumes with only one predominant color look best, with - at most - one or two accent colors (not counting gold and/or silver). For a more sophisticated look, stick to complete ensembles and avoid the “mix & match” idea - we’ve all seen the old gold (or silver) bra and belt matched with various skirt and veil sets. Do use gold and/or silver are to accent your main color.

After your know your color scheme, keep your finished ensemble in mind. If you have to purchase “piece by piece” so to speak, Miramar of Winchester VA suggests starting with your skirt and building the costume from there.

The cut and style of your costume can make a tremendous difference in your overall look as well. I'm sure you've seen magazine articles relating hairstyle to facial proportions, and noticed what a big difference even a little change - in bangs, where the hair is parted, length and shape, etc. - can make. Our bodies are all different as well, and very few are perfectly proportioned by nature.


   Give some thought to your own body's proportions: do you have long or short legs, sloping or wide shoulders, thick waist, narrow or wide hips? These can all be brought into balance with the right costume design - or accentuated with seemingly logical but proportionately-wrong choices.

For instance, here are some common mistakes:

You can see how a professional, objective eye can really be worthwhile before investing in a costume. If possible, take a workshop with a costume designer who understands how the cut and line of a costume can visually re-shape body proportions to give a more balanced appearance. Especially if you (like most of us!) have any body issues. There are many ways to “fool the eye” into seeing you as a total knockout.

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