Creating a Cohesive Performance: Costume Consistency

I started thinking about the “telling a story” concept that I explored back in this post, and I thought that sometimes we as dancers aren’t telling a literal story, but we should presenting a series of emotions or themes that hold together as a whole.

For me, one of key elements that holds together my performances is my costume.  This, of course, doesn’t mean that I need to spend thousands or dollars on a beautiful, fancy schmancy costume, but it does have to be tasteful and appropriate for the music, themes, mood, and venue of the performance itself.  A costume doesn’t need to be expensive or very ornate; it does, however, need to add to and complete–but not distract from–the whole performance.

Tribal fusion dancers are met with a unique dilemma in that because we’re not performing a traditional folk dance, there isn’t necessarily a “proper” costume to wear that is appropriate for the music that we use.  Whereas oriental and folkloric bellydancers can look back at the Middle East and see what dancers wear when performing to a particular piece or style of music froma particular historical period.  A long Saaidi dress for an Upper Egyptian cane dance, a bedlah for a full orchestrated Egyptian solo, a Khaleeji dress for a Saudi Arabian gulf dance, and so on and so forth.

Even American Tribal Style (ATS) dancers have a set style of costume to wear, created and refined by Carolena Nericcio and her troupe FatChanceBellyDance:  Wide pantaloons, 10-year (or more) tiered skirt, tassel belt, choli, coin bra, and a turban (or head wrap or headdress).  ATS dancers can always refer back to FatChance for costuming ideas and standards.

That said, there is a sort of “basic” tribal fusion costume, which pulls from the standard ATS costume: Coin bra, belt made from an ethnic (often Afghani or Rajasthani) textile base with tassels or yarn strands, pantaloons or Melodia pants, and the hair is usually up and accented with flowers.  Personally, I think this works pretty well for most tribal fusion presentations.  There is a lot of artistic freedom a dancer can take within those costuming elements.  These costume pieces also work quite well for most of the music that is commonly associated with tribal fusion, which often fuses ethnic Middle Eastern and South Asian instruments with electronica beats and accents (sometimes called World Beat or World Fusion music).

What I mean by having my costume be an element that holds together my performances is that I aim for my costume to reflect the mood and style of the music to which I’m dancing and the overall impression of the performance itself.  I’m not going to wear in a gypsy-style skirt and a Turkish vest if I’m performing to gritty, crunchy electronic music.  The two just don’t go together.  The gypsy-style skirt and the Turkish vest work much better with traditional Turkish or Eastern European music.  The crunchy electronic music, in my head, paints images of silver, metallics, industrial accents, and dark colors, so I would choose a costume that has those elements.

Personally, I like to have costuming pieces that are versatile and modular.  I make my costume bras so that they go with several of my belts, and I buy costume pieces that go with other costuming that I already own.  If you are a dancer who’s just beginning to build her costuming collection, the “basic” tribal fusion costume that I described above should be adequate… but as you begin to find your voice and try dancing to different pieces of music, you will have to put more time and thought into your costuming.

It’s very easy to look at what other dancers are wearing, particularly the “big names” whose photos are all over the internet, but what they’re wearing might not work for what you’re planning to perform.  It’s important to remember that your performance is a complete package…

Next up: Creating a Cohesive Performance – Music


Comments: 5

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Good post. Jaz and I have struggled with costumes a lot; it helps that we both sew. One of our performances in particular, to Faun’s “Sirena,” we really had to do some thinking outside the tribal fusion box. Same thing happened when I did the Rasputina piece at Spring Caravan this past year. I really wanted to evoke the “mad Victorian maiden/slut” theme; trying to create a look that didn’t involve corsets was a struggle. But it was worth it!




you are so right about all of this. i personally struggle a lot with costuming. i know for sure that it wouldn’t make sense for me to copy what other “big name” dancers are wearing because i don’t dance like them. it’s an ongoing journey for me. but yeah, i agree, what you wear should reflect or at least mesh with what your trying to say in your dance.




I wish more tribal fusion girls wore skirts. They don’t have to be big fluffy monstronsities or anything. It’s just that sometimes, when a dancer does a move, the skirt might cover up some awkward leg movements that have to support the whole thing. Also, pants to me look rather informal for a performance, though I understand they might be easier to move in or fit with the mood. But I just feel like I’m watching the same costume come into play over and over again.

I will say though, I’m jealous of that one dark red with black stripes bra you have (saw in a picture). My favorite colors on a favorite dancer…gotta love it. :)




Your site displays incorrectly in Opera, but content excellent! Thanks for your wise words.




    I’ll look into why the site isn’t displaying correctly in Opera. Thanks for the heads up! I should put up a note saying that it’s best viewed in Firefox. :)



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