I just loved her costume…
Imagine this: A budding violinist with a lot of potential but not a lot of training decides that she really, really wants a Stradavarius. So, she goes and purchases one for herself (remember, this is a hypothetical situation). But, no matter how lovely or exquisite that instrument is, it’s not going to make her a better player. It won’t improve her sight-reading or her bow-work. Only years of training and practicing and studying will make her a better player. An instrument of that caliber in the hands of an expert will sound magnificent, but in the hands of a novice… it will still sound like a novice is playing.
So, if this is the case, why do we see similar things happening in belly dance so often?
Let’s replace the hypothetical situation above with a dancer and a top-of-the-line costume. Just as the instrument does not make the musician, the costume does not make the dancer. No matter how well a dancer costumes herself, a costume will not make up for a lack of training, strength, conditioning, flexibility, emotional expression, choreography, or technique. A costume can not hide the absence of these essentials, and without these elements, the dance can easily become a fashion show.
Of course, a dancer’s costume must match her performance in theme and style. It must fit her well and be made of good quality materials; it must allow her to move and express herself without restraining or distracting her. As dancers we must look good on stage. Dance is a visual art, and the costume is an essential part of the performance, whether it’s a classic beaded bedlah for oriental style, or coin bra and tassel belt for American Tribal Style, or a unique creation sewn by the dancer herself. The costume is part of the experience, especially for theatrical performances.
But… if we spend more time worrying about costuming ourselves than we do actually in the studio or our dance rooms training, we hold back our beloved art. No matter how good we look on stage, if we don’t have the movement to back it up, then the performance will fall short. The costume is only one part of a complete performance. There’s a reason that if someone says, “Well, she had a great costume”, it’s often because her performance was lackluster and her costume was the only thing that stood out. A dancer’s costume shouldn’t upstage the dancer herself, and we should be spending more time and money on our training and the development of our choreographies than we do on our costuming.
Another way of putting this is: You can buy the best paint brushes, the finest oils, and the top-of-the-line canvas, but unless you practice your brushstrokes and actually learn how to use your materials, you won’t become a better painter.
If you take away your costume, can your choreography speak for itself, or are you relying on your costume to speak for you instead?