This list is a summary of dance costuming problems I’ve noticed. Some of these were seen on the big name superstars! And some of them may have happened to me….
Nearly Naked No matter how beautiful your body is, there needs to be enough costume so you don’t look naked. It’s distracting to see too much flesh; it changes the tone of the performance. Remember that traditionally, middle eastern women wore non-clingy full length dresses and used a scarf tied around their hips to allow their moves to show; this was plenty to show off their bodies and movements.
Be careful of cut-outs and nude mesh; the audience can get distracted trying to figure out what’s really showing, or going to show, and lose focus on the performance.
Make sure your skirts aren’t overly translucent; use an underskirt, a longer hip wrap, or panel skirt to prevent showing too much upper thigh.
Do try to find gauntlets, arm bands, or anklets that match your outfit. Middle eastern dancers use the bands to break the expanse of bare limb, the draped fringe from the bra breaks the bareness of the belly. Just a little bit of cloth or decoration makes you look clothed, not naked.
Unflattering Outfit Just because it’s beautiful and fits doesn’t mean it belongs on you. You want the color to complement your complexion. You want the style to flatter your body; accentuate your best features and compensate for your weaknesses. The same guidelines for street clothes can be used for costuming; watch how the lines cut your body, watch how the patterns create illusions. Consider the effects from a distance as well as up-close; sometimes losing the details leaves the viewer with a strange view.
Bad Fit You can have a perfectly beautiful costume that’s right for your body type and coloring, but just doesn’t fit. Too small outfits leads to costume disasters such as splits or popping out or open. The most perfect figure will look flawed when stuffed into something that’s a size too small. Too large and the costume can fall off or need to be yanked back into place. Pulling up a spandex skirt is NOT a dance move!
Overpowering Who’s the star, the dancer or the costume? You shouldn’t be on stage just to show the costume off. The costume should support your dancing, not compensate for it. It also should be appropriate to your level of dancing and not set expectations that out pace your abilities; you don’t want to look like a ‘wanna be’ with too much money and not enough skill.
Inappropriate to Performance Just as its wrong to wear a ball gown to a picnic or a bowling shirt to a dinner party, you want the costume to be appropriate to your performance. If you’re a beginning dancer, the audience will be understanding and not expecting a professional outfit, of course. If you’re on stage for several numbers in a row, of course you can’t change for the next song. But you should honor the origin of the music you’re using and the style you’re dancing and choose a complementary outfit. For example, dancing tribal style in a cabaret bedleh would look weird, dancing Saidi in a gypsy outfit is just wrong. Also consider the venue and dress appropriately for your surroundings.
Not a Dance Outfit Unless you’re doing a humorous number, you want to be dressed in an outfit appropriate for belly dancing. Overly creative use of non-clothing materials looks strange and can cause trouble when moving. For example, don’t use an ethnic bedspread as a sarong, don’t use a scarf as a tube top. Be careful with embellishments- don’t just sew shiny things onto your clothes and call it a costume.
Failure-prone Outfits Sometimes the costume is just fine in appearance, but its condition will cause problems. Remove flapping tags or glue/sew them down so they don’t appear when dancing. Check hooks and eyes, add more for security. Sew down facings or linings. Check that the decorations are sturdily attached and won’t fly off on stage. Make sure any shaping or filler pieces are not going to slip or fall out. And of course, choose your undergarments so they don’t show under the costume (outlines, colors, peek-a-boo slippage).