Costuming the dance
In a previous post, I commented on how a dancer should spend more time on her dance training than her costuming, but I didn’t address how the costume itself is an integral part of a performance. It should match the choreography’s theme, emotional intent, and should allow the dancer to move freely (or not) in a manner appropriate to the overall sentiment of the piece.
Of course, I like to compare things like this to my past life in figure skating. A skater wears a specific costume for a specific program. The costume for the short program is different than the costume for the long program. Sometimes skaters take the “match the costume to the music” thing to the extreme. You know that the competitor wearing the black and red costume with the ruffly skirt and a rose in her hair is going to be skating to Bizet’s Carmen or Lecuona’s Malagueña. And the skater wearing a fire-colored costume, complete with a flame-like skirt? Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite. It (almost) never fails. And of course, the skater wearing the purple (sometimes blue) outfit with the illusion mesh midriff? Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherezade, or something Middle Eastern-ish like Samson and Delilah or even Peter Gabriel’s “The Feeling Begins”, which is actually based around an Armenian folksong (See Oksana Baiul’s costume) Even when it’s trite or stereotypical (or even an inaccurate interpretation like Baiul’s), the skater makes an effort to match the costume to the performance in some way, because if it didn’t, a judge can actually reduce the competitor’s artistic mark. The costume is part of the presentation, and while it might not count for as many points as if the skater landed a triple Lutz, it still matters. Thankfully, in recent years, figure skating costumes have become less matchy-matchy, however the costume is still a reflection of the sentiment or feeling of the piece.
In belly dance, we don’t seem to match the costume to the performance as much as we could be, or (I think) should be. And, of course, I have worn costumes that don’t really reflect the sentiment of the piece I’m performing… and I look back and ask myself, why did I do that? A performance is a complete package, and the costume is part of that package.
I’ve seen many performances by dancers in all styles who have worn absolutely gorgeous costumes… but these costumes had very little to do with the music to which the dancers were performing or the sentiment of the piece. Some outfits even seemed to inhibit the dancers’ movements: the skirt was too tight, or the bra was too embellished, or the belt was too heavy. It seemed that the dancers chose the costumes before they chose their music.
However, there are some dancers, such as Heather Stants and Urban Tribal Dance Company, have truly fused everything: the music, the movements, and the costuming are all minimal, modern, and sleek, as shown in their performance to Murcof’s “Memoria” (one of my favorites). The costumes seamlessly allow the dancers to move and breathe with the music. Zoe Jakes and Kami Liddle’s duet to a remix of “Makaan” by Natasha Atlas also exhibits a costume that matches the music and the movements. All three elements are elegant, feminine, contemporary, ethnic, yet still pulling from Arabic roots. It is obvious that these dancers have considered the complete package of their performances.
Sometimes it’s not financially or temporally feasible to create a new costume for each piece we perform, but we should remember that the costume is part of the package. Ideally, I would have a different costume for each piece, but I do have several costumes that fit a number of different songs and performance pieces: there’s the 40s-inspired gold assuit bedlah I made for my more cabaret performances, the rich burgudy velvet bra and belt made for my more Andalusian and Medieval-inspired pieces, and the sporty and flashy rhinestone and coin set I created for my pieces to more hard rock-inspired music. The first thing our audience sees when we take the stage is what we are wearing, and that is the first message they receive about the nature of our performance. It is integral to the performance and should reflect our personal connection to our movements and our music.