Looking good on stage – tips for new performers

Here’s an old one to get things going…

I originally wrote these tips for performers at the OMEDS Spring Hafla in 2011. They are intended to help performers to avoid some common costume pitfalls, and to give some useful hints and tips for looking polished, professional and classy onstage whether you are a first-time performer or an advanced dancer. Feel free to pass these on to your students, or link to them from your own site.

1. Remember to wear plenty of makeup

What looks nice day to day under normal lighting will completely disappear under stage lights. In order for people at the back of the theatre to be able to see your face, you will need to wear a lot more makeup than you ever would normally – eyes, lips, blusher, the lot. If it doesn’t look like far too much when you look in the mirror, then it isn’t enough.

If you aren’t used to applying makeup, you can find many great tutorials on youtube, and this article may also be helpful – decide beforehand what makeup you will wear, and practise putting it on. It’s also a good idea to do something a bit special with your hair – whether it’s a sparkly headband, flowers, or just a pretty clip, this will help your costume to look glamorous and finished.

2. Make sure that you are wearing full-coverage underpants…

…so you are safe in the event of any costume malfunctions – if your costume is made of chiffon or has a high slit, it is also a very good idea to match your underwear to the colour of your costume, or wear dance briefs. If you are wearing a chiffon skirt, especially if it is a pale colour, do bear in mind that chiffon that looks opaque in normal lighing can look quite transparent under stage lights, and dark or white pants will tend to show through (I have discovered this the hard way – so you don’t have to!).

There is a great deal of advice on exactly what pants to wear in this article, if you are interested. Similarly, if you are wearing a bra under your costume, make sure the straps don’t show, that it is a similar colour to your top, and that it is suitably supportive.

3. Check that your costume fits you well, and rehearse your dance in it

It’s better to learn that your skirt tends to slide down as you dance in a practise session than on stage in front of an audience. If you are wearing a costume bra, make sure that the straps are correctly adjusted so it provides plenty of support, and that it is padded so that there are no gaps between the edge of the cup and your chest (here’s a handy guide to padding a costume bra ) – a gapping bra will leave the audience wondering whether your nipple is going to pop out rather than watching your dance.

If any part of your costume could move around while you’re dancing or doesn’t quite fit, keep it in place with safety pins, fashion tape or a few stitches as required. It is always useful to have a supply of safety pins with you in the dressing room to sort out any last-minute problems (but be careful not to have visible pins when on stage). No matter how simple or fancy your costume, it will look more polished, professional and generally nice if you take the time to adjust it well and pin everything in place.

4. If your costume top has been made from a lingerie bra…

…please make sure it no longer looks like lingerie. Ideally, a bra should be completely covered in fabric and the lingerie straps replaced with more sturdy ones. At a minimum, the lingerie fastenings and fittings should be removed or covered, and the straps and back of the bra should be embellished as well as the cups (or a turkish vest etc can be worn to hide the straps). Something like this is just about OK, but I think you will agree that this is not a classy look. If in doubt, ask yourself, can you tell by looking at it that the bra started life as underwear? If the answer is yes, it needs more work before it is suitable for performance.

5. When not on stage, wear a cover-up of some sort over your costume…

…and don’t spend longer in costume than you need to. This makes your performance look more special, and preserves the drama of seeing people on stage in lovely costumes. You can use many things as a cover-up – a wrapped veil, a kaftan, a loose dress of some sort… It can be as glamorous as you like, just as long as it isn’t your stage costume. See this article for a more in-depth explanation of why cover-ups are a good idea.

6. Miscellaneous tips…

  • Skirts should be long enough to touch the tops of your feet, but not so long you fall over them – if they aren’t it’s not a terrible thing, but that’s the length to aim for.
  • Jewellery and accessories can help complete a costume. As with makeup, jewelry needs to be far bigger and shinier than you’d usually wear to be seen when you’re on stage.
  • If your hip scarf tends to ride up at the back and come down at the front, pin it to your skirt all around. When they go like this, it looks messy and can also make your bottom look larger than it really is.
  • Beware – Some things are sold as ‘bellydance costumes’ (especially on ebay) that are not suitable for performance without major alterations. This includes the lace-up ‘butterfly’ design tops that often come with matching hip scarfs – these are not very supportive and quite flimsy – and the chiffon handkerchief tops with coins that sometimes come with a skirt with coins, and have an odd kind of inbuilt bra cup. These types of costume are OK for practise, but I do not recommend them for performances. On the other hand, there are many inexpensive crop tops or cholis available that can be worn over a real bra, and these are perfectly good for a student performance.
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