Crafting a Set Coda: Makeup and Hair

Close up of eye makeup, in red and gold colours

Just as I was finishing the Costuming section, I realised I had forgotten about the make up and hair. I’m of the school that believes that unless you have a severe allergy or skin condition, you should always wear makeup for performances. It has nothing to do with liking to wear makeup, or whether you wear make upduring “normal” life or not. I don’t, except for dates or parties; most of the time I don’t even wear a tinted moisturiser.

Remember, when you are performing, you are not wearing makeup for yourself. You are wearing makeup primarily to accentuate your features and make them visible at a distance by your audience, and to reduce glare from lights if you are on stage or have bright lights on you. As drag queens say, you are painting for the back row. This is not about “glamour” or “vanity”, it’s about *functionality*. You can bypass all the pretty eyeshadow colours if you don’t want to use them, although they are my favourite part. But you want your eyes to be enhanced by some form of lining and preferably have depth in some part of the socket (the eyeshadows do this), your eyebrows darkened, your mouth outlined or noticeable, and the planes on your face somehow enhanced. And I mean “enhanced” not as “made to look better”, but “made more noticeable”. You can see an extreme version of this in Anton Corbijn’s famous photo of Luciano Pavarotti: he doesn’t need the mouth lined or coloured because the beard frames it, but the eyebrows are very darkened, there’s a very strong nose contouring, some more darkening of the sides to shape the cheekbones, and the eyes are thickly lined. This makes his facial features stand out, and from a distance, instead of being a shape with some flesh bag on top, his face can be seen clearly.

In the video below, you can see makeup aimed at a Ballet dancer, with great explanations on choosing colours and how to create a much milder version of this enhancing effect. You can see that the eyeliner actually goes way below the waterline, and the eye socket is much darker. This makes the eyes appear bigger.

We don’t normally dance in big opera houses. Our smaller venues might not need to go *this* big, but I think it’s educational to see it done and hear the reasons behind the choices. Again, this is an issue of functionality. You wouldn’t do a performance wearing your practice leggings, no matter how comfortable they are, so think of the make up as another layer of your costume. If you don’t want any obvious artifice like glittery shadows, you can just use a basic form of contouring, along with tightlining and natural lashes for your eyes and a matte lip colour, so your face appears to have no make up at all, but still has the stronger light and shadow enhancing your features, bigger eyes, and a darker mouth. But whichever way you choose to go, make sure that it matches your costume in intensity and style.

Once we’re past the basic canvas of your face, you could also add extra decorations like crystals or markings. I would be *extremely* careful when choosing facial markings, as a lot of them have meaning as rites of passage, religious beliefs, or achievements within some of the groups our dances originate in, and they are not ours to take onto ourselves without having earned them, or without practicing the religion they derive from.

Side chignon with white and red roses, shot from behind
A hair garden

Hair-wise, some styles have rules about leaving the back clear (like ATS®); others like Melaya Leiff will have a scarf or the like. The hair garden (left) is popular in ATS® because it balances out the richness, and more importantly the volume of the costume. The layers of skirts and shawls give a bulky lower body half, you need something visually appealing and with some volume to draw the viewer’s eyes to the top, so your face is brought out and your head balances out the heavy bottom. The “tribal” headdresses can give you a great rich look if you prefer that, same with turbans.

If you are dancing fusion styles, there are some wonderful crowns and headdresses inspired by anything from Thai dancers to Art Nouveau and Art Deco images. Go with something that links in style with your costume, music and dance steps.

I’m leaving a final video here, from Fat Chance Belly Dance. It covers make up and costume considerations. The quality is not the best as it is quite a few years old now, but it will give you a good insight on the reasons behind the make up and costume choices for ATS®, and if you don’t do ATS®, it might give you some ideas to follow.

What are your favourite makeup and hair styles to use for dancing? Leave a comment below!

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