A Guide to Student Costuming, for Belly
ZAGHAREET! "For Beginners" series (Sep/Oct
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 -
How Do You Decide What Kind of Costume To
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:
- As Part of a Student Group:
Ask your teacher (not another student!) exactly what items you
need - color, fabric, and style may all be predetermined. Are
there any loaner items available? Loaner costumes may not fit
quite right and need adjusting to your height and figure - but
ask about making adjustments before using pins or (good
heavens!) needle and thread. Also, be ready to accept that
fact that the predetermined group costume may not flatter you
in color or style - the overall group appearance is what's
- As a Student (non-professional)
Soloist: Again, ask your teacher for advice. There are
many belly dance genres and subgenres, and often the dance,
music, and costuming work together to form a complete
presentation. In folkloric styles there may be little leeway
regarding costume color, style and even jewelry. In fact I
think many students are often driven more by what costume they
want to wear than which dance style they want to perform. For
students, there's nothing wrong with that.
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.
FOOLING THE EYE OF THE BEHOLDER
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
For instance, here are some common
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.
- extra scarves tucked into the hip belt
at each side don’t really make your hips look bigger, but
instead actually make the hips look narrower and the waist
look bigger, by visually chopping off each edge of the hip
- the current trend in skirts that
incorporate bead and sequin flatwork designs at the hip (with
little or no fringe) instead of separate belts does the same
thing, creating a slim hip line that (to the audience's eye)
blends into a thick waist. I don't think that's the look we're
trying to get, is it?
- another design mistake is trying to
cover up wide shoulders or a large bust with sequin or beaded
material - it only adds bulk - as do shiny or metallic fabrics
- making the area stand out and look even BIGGER!
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