Inspiration: Philippa at Caravanseray Vienna 2016

Philippa is an amazing ATS® teachers, one of the few with Advanced Teacher Status in the UK, and with excellent tips. I’ve never attended a workshop of hers where I didn’t come out with new information.

And despite ATS® by definition not being a solo endeavor, she does amazing ATS® inspired solos. Enjoy a Throwback Thursday!

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!

Inspiration: Tessera Dance at ATS® Reunion 2020

Tessera Dance is always fantastic for innovative dialect that remains true to the aesthetics of FCBD® Style. Or, in other words, I really enjoyed watching this set, the formation changes for the trio were brilliant, and the costume was inspired for a modern take that still showcases the moves.

The skirts are Bessies (tulip skirts with high waist, link opens in new tab) and the tops are Careless Whispers from Matadore Designs (link opens in new tab). I’m going to try making something for myself akin to the Matadore top, but toned down to use in class, so I’ll report on results when that happens.


Crafting a Set 4: my Costume Selection Process

Ana at Gothla 2019's Main Show, wearing a dark shiny costume over a dark background, holding a white fan
Talking of unfortunate costume choices…

I have talked about how I approach a gig, select my music, create my dance, consider my moves. Hopefully by now you have an idea of what parts of my process resonate with you -or not-, and how you’d tackle your own if you were following my steps.

With all of the above in mind, we can move onto costuming considerations.

First of all, take a look at all the previous steps, and see how they limit your options. For me, it is pretty much a process of elimination. Music style will give me the general ballpark for the costume, location and weather will add the first major restrictions, and I’ll aim for cohension. If possible, I try to avoid sending what I call “mixed messages”: extreme examples would be doing a cane dance to an R&B track wearing a galabaya, or having a very electronic track and wearing an old school ethnic costume. Sometimes I can’t help it, as there’s little or no changing time, or no changing facilities, sometimes there might be a reason behind those choices, but for the most part I try to focus on creating a performance where everything works in unison.

What follows is a weeding out process, where I pluck away the options that I have available, until I reach a handful of clothing items or ideas that would work. And this process of elimination follows the same path as the set creation. You could view it like a Choose Your Own Adventure type of decision tree.

I start with the style I’m dancing. If I’m doing ATS®, I will start with the basic ATS® costume and variations: 25 yard skirt, loons or Bessie, choli or choli dress, belt, maybe a bra, maybe a hip scarf or sash. Fusion? belt and bra, either a fishtail skirt, wide leg trousers or nice loons, and a hip scarf or sash. Maybe a shrug if I want to cover my arms, or a foiled or decorated choli if I feel the piece can do with a bit of toning down.

So I pick the first tier, and proceed from there. Next comes the music style and what it suggests. For example: at the end of 2019 I performed a few times an ATS® inspired solo, to a Bollywood track. I went with an ATS® costume, but with shisha mirrors, sari trims, and a block print skirt to reflect the music’s origin. I am now preparing for another piece using old school music inspired by Middle Eastern folklore. I’m bringing out the assuit/tel-kirma, and all the Old School stylisation, and I’d do the same for anything with a heavy Turkish influence, maybe add an Entari or Ghawazee style coat; these choices are a pull back to the Old School Tribal costuming that started it all. Flamenco inspiration? Perfect time for a Bessie skirt or similar, with the higher waist line and an elongated, simpler figure; maybe add a Spanish shawl at the hips; these are not that different from what a lot of contemporary Flamenco dancers wear. What about 20’s and 30’s jazz? Art Deco and Egyptian Revival, both art movements popular at those times and represented in the costume by long clean lines with ethnic touches and more assuit for that vintage feel! Modern music? If using cholis, time for a modern print or foiled fabric, and costume choices in line with contemporary dancing and fashion, and maybe keeping touches of the more traditional bedlah costume. The possibilities are vast, but I always try to keep a cohesive vision, and use the music’s point of origin, time and feel to inform my choice of costume.

Then follows the dancing itself. If I was doing floorwork, a tulip skirt would restrict leg movement, so it would be out, and I’d probably go with pantaloons or wide leg trousers. If I’m dancing with a Silk Flutter or Spanish Fan, I keep the heavy metal bras in the trunk, because the amulets can catch on the fan’s silk or lace. I’d also keep away from any big sleeves or heavy wrist jewellery as they would interfere with the fan’s floreos. Sword? Maybe skip wide netting shawls or anything that can catch the hand guards or point. Lots of intricate abdominal and torso moves? avoid big drapes around the area that will obscure the movements, like big cowl necks reaching to your waist. Am I dancing in a mixed gender group? Maybe some form of trousers instead of skirts will be better for visual unity. I follow a similar process when choosing my accessories.

At this point, I should have a rough idea of what I’d like to wear, but there are still too many options. So next comes the location. If dancing outdoors, I’ll probably look at my options for more coverage in case it’s colder, like a Ghawazee coat or a shrug. This is also a reason to look at possible footwear. If dancing at a theatre, one of my first questions is always “what is the background”, as I will need something that contrasts. If the stage is black, I will leave my goth card at home and go for intense colours. I didn’t follow this rule for Gothla 2019, thinking that the fabric pattern and holo foil in my costume when combined with the lighting would be enough to lift me from the background. It was *just* (not quite, really), and you can see the results in the photo above. If it’s a Hafla with dancing afterwards, I might prefer to go for lighter fabrics and a less formal costume so I can keep dancing afterwards.

Finally, I can match what my *ideal* costume would be, with what I have in my wardrobe. From there, I can see whether I’d need to make anything to finish my vision. There are plenty of possibilities that will match costume to the rest of the performance, without falling into a formulaic or boring look. But remember, no amount of good costuming will make up for lack of practice in the studio. So choose where you spend your efforts wisely, and allow for at least one dress rehearsal so you can see whether everything is behaving the way it should, skirts or pants are not too long, and costume pieces will not malfunction.

And that is it. It might sound like a *lot* to keep in mind, and you would be tempted to think it doesn’t matter. Non-dancing audience might not care too much, but adjusting your costume to the music and steps will help give a cohesive presentation, and you never know when you have someone in the audience who *does* know the difference. Never loose an opportunity to make a good impression by demonstrating you are knowledgeable and care about your art, even in the smallest details!

Do you have to follow all my suggestions? Of course not! I am not claiming this is the *right* way of doing things, nor the *only* way. I prefer to reason and justify my choices, because it helps me visualise the pieces as a whole. As I wrote at the beginning, I do come from a design background where analysis is the key. But whatever your process, I would urge you to make your choices at every point meaningful and deliberate. As Middle Eastern and Fusion dancers we are often accused of cultural appropriation, cultural insensitivity, and worse, and the way we present ourselves and our art can go a long way to overturn this. You only have one chance to make a good impression.

Or, to sum it up: tailor each set as a single coherent unit, to the best of your ability, and make yourself memorable for the right reasons.

What is your experience putting together sets? Do you love it? hate it? Leave a comment below, and don’t forget to subscribe and visit my YouTube channel!

Inspiration: FCBD Alumni at Reunion 2020

This is a wonderful clip featuring Kathy Stahlman, Wendy Allen, Sandi Ball, Jessie Loring and Colette Todorov. Lovely Old School ATS® with old school costuming.

Which was your favourite set from Reunion? Let me know below!

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