Costuming for Plus Sizes

With the Summer performance season almost over, I am always rather surprised at the amount of items I had to make; it seems that no matter how much costuming I’ve got, I always end short of *something*, but based on my own experiences, and listening to what other plus size dancers tell me, I think the costumes are often a source of stress.

Why? Simple. Sizing is difficult. A lot of the cheaper costuming options (e.g. China) don’t really offer plus sizes or if they do, they are wildly inaccurate. Even for some US manufacturers, sizing can be inconsistent or confusing, citing US sizes like L-XL without measurements or with different measurements for the same pieces in different colours, or even ignoring easing. For those of us outside the US, these mistakes are EXPENSIVE. Custom sizes, if offered, can take months to get to the front of the queue. Ill-fitting clothing can also be very unflattering, knocking down confidence.

If you are a plus size, you are probably very aware of everything I have said so far, and probably all I say below. When you are planning your own costuming it’s not that bad, but when someone else is, either for troupes or group dances, these issues and more can come to the fore. You might have felt anxious, shamed or dejected as a result. You might wonder if it’s just you. No, it’s not you; sometimes even people with the best intentions can’t avoid these pitfalls, because they don’t live with a plus size body. And if you are not a plus size and you landed here because you have one or more fluffy people in your group and you’re not sure what to do in terms of costume planning, I do get it: as a teacher or director, you’ve got a “Vision”. You want things to look a certain way. As I was reminded not that long ago, putting a plus size on stage is an act of defiance and rebellion, but for that rebellion to have its full impact and meaning, it needs to look the part. You trust your plus size student or troupe member to be on stage, and they trust your experience and guidance. So maybe, if you are not a plus size yourself and you arrived to this page looking for ideas, you should trust their experience living in their body, to know what might or might not work for them.

A few suggestions then, which you can take or leave; these are written mostly for non-plus-sized readers, and the language will reflect that.

  • Timing: Decide on your costumes early; very little is available off the peg for anything above a UK size 20, so while it is possible to have an extra cool outfit, you should consider the extra time it will take for that custom order or for making their own, unless you are doing a group order for everybody; for those of us making our own pieces, we will need to develop a pattern if necessary, find the correct fabric, and make it; that’s not a small or fast endeavour, and neither is modifying existing kit to fit
  • Support: It is not a truth universally acknowledged that any plus size is in need of good support, but statistically, it’s often the case; cute yoga tops, simple triangular tribal bras, bandeau tops, or cholis without bras might work perfectly fine for C cups and below, but remember that a C cup on a 38 bra band is the volume equivalent of an F cup on a 32 bra band. Keep this difference in mind when looking at coverage, something that looks cute on that 32C cup might look beyond bountiful on a 38C cup. You want all your dancers to feel beautiful and confident, you don’t want your dancers worrying whether they will have a costume malfunction because that cute little number on the top cannot handle their bust!
  • Cost: This should go without saying, but custom or plus size is usually much more expensive than off the peg (we can discuss the reasoning behind this some other time); if you all just have to have that particular piece, try to make the purchase worthwhile and not a one-off
  • Pre-loved: Suggesting items that you think are common in charity shops is, in theory, a great way of reducing cost and consumerism. Except that most charity shops rarely stock anything above a size 18, and when it comes to belts, what comes as standard might not fit anyone above that size anyway, so would be useless. Plus sizes would either need to find the right size, or look for two identical pieces that can be joined together, which is even rarer.
  • Tribal sizing: A lot of the Tribal pieces are small: tribal belts rarely go above 42″ hips, which is a size 16; banjara type skirts are equally small; you really don’t want your plus size to have a huge gap at the front or wear an overskirt which looks like an ass-cape because it’s too small; there are solutions to this often involving some creative work- so accept that some items will need extra effort and some mild cultural vandalism to make them work
  • Silhouette: believe it or not, quite often plus sizes will really rock stylised looks that elongate the body proportions; tents make everybody look shapeless, and capri pants look awful on everybody unless they are Audrey Hepburn, as they cut the lines of the legs and make them look shorter. Boxy or bulky silhouettes will do no one any favours, and big drapes -whether on chest or legs- will highlight the bulk instead of covering it up. Don’t be afraid to suggest mermaid skirts, if available! (hint: there’s a tutorial on this site). Same goes for arms or tummies: long sleeves elongate the lines far more than cap sleeves, covered tummies often can elongate short or boxy torsos.
  • Stigmatising: what I mean by this is, avoid temptation to single out your plus size. I can’t count how many times, while I was dancing Cabaret, I was told by costume sellers -and even some teachers at workshops- that I should just “get a galabaya“, regardless of what style I was dancing, or how the rest of my dance mates looked; being the only one dancing in a particular type of costume singles you out rather badly, and the same can be said of using cheap fabrics for a quick knock off, or something three sizes too small. Also, goes without saying, if you hear other dancers making nasty comments about the plus size dancer’s costumes, you should speak out; don’t penalise your fluffy dancers

So, how best to deal with the above:

  • be flexible: and be prepared to allow for variation to compensate for the issues you find. What do I mean by this? if you really have to have those triangular bras because of the V neckline with the halter, check if you can make the band taller instead to add support and coverage, for instance. And always ask, maybe some of the non-plus sizes would also feel more comfortable with a bit more coverage or side support
  • introduce variations: unless you are going for a perfect army-look, having slight variations on a theme will add visual richness and avoid singling out *one* dancer: have a variety of options for pant legs and tops, including at least one sleeve option, so you get a unified, but not uniform look
  • use colour, accessories and other less size-dependant cues to tie the group’s look together: hoods/snoods, shrugs, hip scarves, gloves or gauntlets and even jewellery can help with this
  • be aware of which manufacturers do affordable, consistent bigger sizes and support them; avoid the manufacturers who will send you three items marked the same size but sized all over the place, and will charge you an arm and a leg for the privilege; if possible, tell them this, as inconsistent sizing is a problem that can be mortifying when trying on pieces
  • avoid the fashionable item which only comes in sizes mini, tiny and small; if you are a teacher/director who have them, save those for when you are dancing on your own; if you aren’t within the size range, and you really want one, enquire about custom order, or look for alternatives; more often than not, there are some out there
  • don’t assume that your plus size dancer will only have or want to wear drab costume pieces; ask what we’ve got available and if enough of the other dancers have it -or if there’s enough to go around- use it! Keep a list of who has what available, so you know where your group stands at any point, and can build from there.
  • don’t put the burden of costuming on your plus size dancer all the time: it’s unfair if they are the only ones that always need to modify, adapt, and make things; if they have a suitable item but another non-plus size dancer doesn’t (e.g. tribal bras) and that dancer can get a loaner, maybe make that dancer use the loaned item instead of dictating everybody uses sports bras with thin straps (see support above); this also applies for skirts, trousers, etc
  • encourage costuming sessions: these allow for bonding time among dancers, are fun, remove the isolation factor, put everybody on a level playing field, create staples like decorated bras, and you never know, maybe that lady is actually quite good with a needle or has an eye for design, and everybody benefits
  • find key staple pieces: wide bottom trousers, mermaid skirt, cholis, single colour pantaloons and 25-yard skirts; encourage making or purchasing of other staples like bras and belts. These allow for a lot of repeated use and are pieces worth investing on; use them and abuse them
  • find local seamstress if no member of the group offers to do it, and give them your custom: they might not be big names, but they are probably going to be able to produce those staples I mentioned above; stimulate the local economy!
  • manage costume from the beginning: related to the previous five points, see if you can put together a list of basics from the start, and if appropriate, have a set colour palette too e.g. for ATS® black short sleeved choli, tribal belt, flat colour skirt, flat colour pantaloons, velvet burnout hip scarf, eventually adding a tribal bra; once you have these, USE THEM. This means everybody knows where they stand and what they need to have as staples, avoids people wasting money on pretties that won’t be used, and gives a level playing field that can be built upon as time goes on.
  • finally, don’t leave costume decisions to the last minute assuming that inter-group lending will sort it all out, because most often than not, plus sizes are left out of this; allow PLENTY of time for ordering, making or modifying

Or, to put it more simply: use your empathy to see where people are coming from. If you are not and have never been a plus sized, don’t debate or negate their experiences. If you were ever a plus size but aren’t now, remember what it used to feel like to be embarrassed and afraid of not fitting into the clothes you requested. If you are a plus size, cut yourself some slack: you deserve to look your best, and even if you can’t buy the brand name off the peg, learning to make your own well fitting clothes will fill you with confidence and make you look fantastic.

Review: Revolution Haunted Collection, Liquid Highlighters

Last week Facebook showed me an advert for Revolution’s upcoming Haunted collection, and the highlighters caught my eye. Now, I’m not that big on highlighters, at least not liquid highlighters, but these came in a tiny skull, and who doesn’t love tiny skulls? But I didn’t order, I wanted to see if I could catch them in store.

Today, I passed by Superdrug and saw they had them available, at a 3×2 (SCORE!), which is even better for inexpensive brands like Revolution. I have only tried them on my hand, but I think I can give my verdict so far:

  •  the skull bottles are CUTE. Like seriously cute, the photos on the website are not really showing the level of detail that went into them; and they are GLASS (hello reusable materials!)
  • lady at Superdrug said they were all lip safe (yay! but maybe I should wait to hear from Revolution themselves)
  • they all feel just a smidge tacky after application even a while later
  • paranormal looks like you put on a thin patina of light gold over the area; this should be brilliant for dancers to add to collar bones/chest maybe stomach, or maybe even mixing with foundation for a bit of a golden glow, but I can see it quickly messing up careful faces done using powder, at least on me
  • lovers wrath is less in your face and more subtle with pink and lavender glitter, but that only seems to react to light at certain angles; this should be less noticeable and maybe easier to use but still might be a bit too much for every day face, but perfect for body highlight
  • blood of my enemies… *sigh* I had such high hopes, but alas, it was not to be. The glitter is gold, not red, despite what it shows on the website’s photo, and there’s hardly any of it that actually shows once you use it; it also STAINS. Like BADLY stains, so unless you want to look like you’ve fed on the diluted glittery blood from Edward Cullen dripping out of your mouth, I don’t see much use for this (thank goodness it was free) except maybe to give some pop onto a matte lip. Annoyingly, it’s the least tacky of the lot.
  • I skipped Envy as I don’t use greens that much.

All of these have *really* emphasised the texture on my hand’s skin, I expect they’ll have similar effect elsewhere, so use with care.

I also tried the lipsticks; the packaging with the skulls and the flowers is lovely. Vampire’s Kiss is very similar to Illamasqua’s Vampette, a red based matte dark plum; Captivating Curse was sort of super-dark grey matte. Formula seemed nice and the swatches on my hand had quite some staying power so should be really good for stage or performance.

Dupes and comparisons:

  • Paranormal: it’s a little bit cooler and chunkier than Illamasqua’s OMG
  • Lover’s Wrath: is cooler than KvD’s Pink Opal or Nyx’ Snow Rose; much more pink than Nyx’ Twilight Tint or Ultra Violet, both of which are much more blue; I suspect Envy might be more similar to Twilight Tint actually.
  • Blood of my Enemies: the only one I’ve got vaguely similar to this is the gel glitter that came with Illamasqua’s Demise palette, but that one is dark pink over a neutral gel.

Out of my favourite Indie company, Aromaleigh Cosmetics, Selenia is way too muted, Dryocampa is a bit warmer/orangey, Diaphora too white, but Conspiracy of Silence is almost a perfect match in colour for Paranormal, although a touch warmer and more shimmery than glittery

Revolution Skull Highlighters

New Revolution Haunted Collection

Overall, great new colours for the collection, and you can bet the bottles will find use after I’m done with the liquids in them.
Revolution’s Haunted Collection is available online and at Superdrug.

Online Resources

As a dancer, nothing beats practicing. However, sometimes having extra information, or something to read or to help you practice can be a great aid, introduce you to new music, help you clarify some concepts, or merely discuss issues that are bouncing around your head as part of your dance life.

If you do Cabaret, or want general tips and technique, you could do worse than following Mahin’s Bellydance Quickies. There are technique videos, combo videos, some discussion, and a few performances. Great way of finding out new dancers to follow, or getting acquainted with new styles.

If you dance, ATS, there are several options:

  • Fat Chance Belly Dance® has a YouTube channel where they post drill videos regularly
  • The ATS Friday Challenge group on Facebook offers a safe space for dancers to upload videos and, if they want to, get feedback. There’s a new step to practice each week and should be a great resource if you work better with a prompt
  • Carolena Nericcio-Bohlman’s Blog hasn’t been updated in a while but still has plenty of useful information

If you are a Fusion dancer, the Tribal Fusion UK Facebook Group is great for some general discussion on technique and style.

Software and apps:

  • The Amazing Slowdowner has versions for iOS, Android, PC an OSX, and will allow you to slow down music, and create loops , which is brilliant for practicing choreographies.
  • Slow Down Music Player works a bit like a cut-down version of the Amazing Slowdowner, and last time I checked, it was free, and also played in older versions of iOS
  • VLC Player allows you to do the same, but with videos: this is perfect if you want to slow down videos on the fly, and has versions of iOS, Android and even Kindle Fire
  • the Dance Moves List will give you a list of ATS® moves and links to videos approved by Fat Chance Belly Dance® showcasing them; just select the move you want to watch and it will come up. There’s also an Android app here

Finally, a site I strongly recommend everybody reads, regardless of style, and *particularly* if you are already teaching, or thinking of doing so, is Monika Volkmar’s Dance Stronger blog. All of it. Yes, she’s not updating it. However, all of the information in this blog is *pure gold*, and has up-to-date science-backed information aimed specifically at dancers. Sadly she isn’t running her Dance Stronger program anymore, which is a shame, but a lot of the info will be very useful.

So there you go, a bit for your brain and a bit for your body. Now go dance!

ATS® Teacher Training

In a previous post I’ve written about ATS® General Skills, which is a pre-requisite to take Teacher Training. Usually they suggest you do General Skills first, go back home, take some time to get the moves into your muscle memory, then come back. This is adviced even if you’ve been dancing ATS® for a while, simply because it *is* entirely possible that you’ve learnt a move in a way that is slightly different from the “official cannon”, and it’s a good idea to get those kinks ironed out of your dancing before Teacher Training. Even if your technique is solid, it is very likely that you will pick up new nuances in the moves and combos, and again, it’s a good idea to incorporate these before Teacher Training. But not everybody can do this separation. Personally, I am glad I did; my initial plan was to do GS in the UK and attend the Teacher Training that would take place in Budapest in March 2018. Megha’s visit to Europe this year has been suspended, so I’m glad I went out of my comfort zone and did the training last year.

The format is more or less established. You will get a booklet with extra training before the event. You will be expected to be familiar enough with the contents of this booklet. There will be suggestions of bibliography in it, but basically, you are expected to have:

  • some basic idea of anatomy as related to dance; there’s no prescribed book for this, but if you look in the FCBD®’s website, there are a few listed.
  • Some familiarity with movement theory: Carolena prefers Delsarte, I’m more of a Laban person as one of my teachers uses Laban’s Choreology principles in her teaching; but basically, the idea of this is to give you further tools to describe movement to your students
  • knowledge of every single movement from ATS® Classic and Modern; the note I got before GS said “verbatim”; and although you are not expected to repeat word by word what’s on the DVDs or PowWow lessons, it helps to be familiar with the descriptions used in those so you don’t add your own “flavour” to the steps

Something not required, but a good idea to have regardless, is some basic training into voice projection, and some practice on your diction, so your voice travels well and you are clearly understood when you are evaluated. It is also a good idea to do these two days wearing as close to prescribed class attire as possible: choli (or choli dresses), skirts lifted in ostrich tuck to enhance your hip movements and show your legs and feet, and hair up to leave your neck and back clearly visible. You will not get penalised if you are not presenting yourself in this manner, but it’s likely that you will hear something during feedback, and considering you have limited time to get feedback from the teachers, it’s better to spend that time with information that will improve your performance, and not being told that your skirt was obscuring your legs.

Teacher Training takes place over two days. You will get a lecture during the first morning, then the evaluations will start. You will be divided into several “virtual classrooms” with fellow trainees. You will be assigned a step, either randomly or by choice from a small stack of cards. When it’s your turn, you will teach your step from scratch to your fellow trainees. You will have to assume they have as little previous instruction as possible, but if you’re asked to teach a level 2 move, you can assume the students know all the level 1 moves. You will have about 8 minutes in all to demonstrate, explain, drill, correct, and answer questions.

During your teaching period, the teachers evaluating (Carolena, Megha, Philippa, Jesse, etc) will be walking around the virtual classrooms, listening to you, and taking notes not just on your delivery, but your tone of voice, command of the classroom, engagement of your fellow students, and yes, your technique too. After your time is up, you will have a period with your group to get feedback from them, to see what work and what didn’t, what they wished they saw more, or what you would have said, and sometimes if they saw something they didn’t quite like or understood. After this, you will all sit, and group by group, you will listen to the feedback they gave the “teacher”, and then the actual teachers will give you their feedback. It is a *very* good idea to listen to the feedback people get before you, and plan to adjust your delivery; if you’re especially lucky, you will hear someone else getting the critique for the same step you will be teaching, which is invaluable.

You won’t get a mark, just told whether you passed or not, but it is a very good idea to take into account ALL you’ve heard during your training and before you start class. One more thing that I would strongly recommend is, if you haven’t got the information through other channels, either to take a good course on safe delivery of dance classes, or at least invest in a few books and read them before attending Teacher Training. You will not be expected to pronounce “sternocleidomastoid” or “gastrocnemius”, and you might even be disuaded from using muscle names if you are clearly not familiar with them, but having a good idea of where movements originate, how they work in general, and how to structure a dance class safely is invaluable, particularly if you will be working with hobbyist dancers who might lack proper dance conditioning or awareness. A book I thoroughly recommend is Safe Dance Practice, by Edel Quin. I am currently reading it, and will write about it once I’ve finished it.

Overall, just don’t expect to do Teacher Training and come out knowing it all; this is not how these things work. Instead, expect GS and TT to be the first steps towards deepening your understanding of the format.

Upcoming Costuming Workshops at Gothla UK

On July 22nd, I will be teaching two costuming workshops at Gothla. Tickets are on sale now, you can find more details at https://gothla.uk/workshops/ and book your space at https://gothla.uk/tickets/

Grouped under an “Appetite for Construction” theme, these are not the typical “how to decorate your outfit” workshops. We’ll focus instead of how to create costume pieces that have the structural integrity to withstand years of use and plenty of decoration. We will work on tailoring the fit to your own body and not some generic shape, and which tools to use to make things easier. Finally, we’ll cover types of decorations, how to handle the most common decorations, out of the ordinary details, and other extras that can make life easier for you as a dancer.
You don’t need to have previous sewing experience, but it would be advantageous.

Strap it up! Belts 101 Sunday July 22nd 10am-12pm
A sturdy, well designed, well fitted belt can cover up a multitude of sins. Skirt too big? Belt will hold it in place. Waistband too small giving you muffin top? Belt will smooth it out. Boring pants? A nice belt will make up for it.
In this workshop we’ll make patterns for our own belt bases, adapted to our individual bodies, then create the bases from scratch, sturdy enough to support the weight of our choice of decoration.
As we progress, we can have a Q&A about working with difficult fabrics like brocade or assiut; and decoration and beading basics, both from a design and a craft point of view.

Boobie Trapping 101 Sunday July 22nd 12:30-am-2:30pm
Bras are one of the focal points for our dancing costumes, and need to be supportive and sturdy while leaving us room to move comfortably.
In this workshop we’ll focus on creating a bra (almost) from scratch, reinforcing it to take the heavy decorations we use in Tribal Fusion and ATS. We will discuss how to give more coverage to the cups if necessary, how to create sturdy straps that won’t sag or stretch, and how to replace bra bands.
As we progress, we can have a Q&A about working with fabrics like assiut or brocades; and decoration and beading basics, both from a design and a craft point of view.

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