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Costuming A Belly Dance Troupe

by Shira


Once you've decided to form a troupe, you'll need to figure out whether you want to have official troupe costumes. Some troupes have them, others don't. You'll have to decide for yourself whether it makes sense for your group to have one.



Why Have Troupe Costumes?

  • Having a consistent look can pull the act together. It makes the troupe look like a cohesive team instead of a bunch of individuals who all coincidentally memorized the same choreography and showed up in the same place at the same time to perform it.
  • Troupe costumes can create a group identity. It gives the members a feeling of belonging.
  • Different costume items move differently. For example, a spin looks very different in a circle skirt versus a straight skirt versus pantaloons. Standardizing the costume ensures that everyone will look as though they are indeed doing the same dance.



What Is The Argument Against It?

  • Some people dislike the mere notion of being expected to conform to anything.
  • No matter how great the costume design is, at least a third of the troupe members will probably think it looks horrible and complain about the color or the style.
  • There's always the question of who will make the costumes. Many people don't sew -- who will make theirs?
  • Some people might not be able to afford a costume.



How Do You Achieve the Group Look?

Many troupes opt for the uniform look of dressing everyone in the same garments made of the same fabric, in the same colors.

However, that is not the only way to achieve a unified group appearance. It's possible to have consistency while still allowing room for individuality. Here are some ideas on other ways to pull together a troupe look:

  • Same Garments, Different Colors. Everybody wears the same articles of clothing, made from the same fabric, but each dancer wears whatever color s/he prefers.
  • Color Theme. The troupe director selects two or three colors and distributes swatches to the troupe members. Everyone can make whatever style of garment is desired out of any fabric, but must adhere to the colors in the swatches. This can be particularly effective for a holiday show, such as orange, gold, and black for Halloween or red, green, and gold for Christmas.
  • Fabric Theme. The troupe director designates a specific type of fabric, such as mirrored fabric from India, glitter dot, or tissue lamé. Everyone can then make whatever garments they wish, in any color, as long as the designated fabric is the primary fabric used in the garment.

Of course, some of the ideas above can have additional structure added to the definition. For example, a troupe director who decides to go with a color theme might further designate that the costumes must have bare midriffs or full skirts.



Where Do You Start?

Let's say you've decided you want everyone to wear the same garments, made from the same fabric, for a uniform appearance. How do you come up with a specific design?

  • Budget And Effort. Determine the boundaries for the price range and level of work. How much money will people be willing to pay? How much time and effort are they willing to put into making the costumes? These may set constraints on what you can do. For example, it looks great if everyone in the troupe has matching beaded bra and belt sets, but will everyone in your troupe make the commitment to acquiring them?
  • Set A Mood. Decide whether you want the overall tone of the costumes to be ethnic / folkloric, tribal, glittery nightclub, Gypsy fantasy, Pharaonic, or some other mood.
  • Identify Basics. Based on the mood you select, start by deciding the basics: Bare midriff or not? Full-length dress or separates? Full skirt, straight skirt, or pantaloons? What kind of hip accent: shawl, rectangular scarf, beaded belt, tassel belt, or something else? What kind of chest covering: costume bra, midriff blouse, leotard, tunic?
  • Refine The Design. Determine the details of cut and style for the basic items. For example, if full-length dresses will be used, what kind of neckline and sleeve style will they have?
  • Plan Accessories. Choose accessories to enhance the basic look. These could include hip scarves, overskirts, stomach drapes, detached sleeves, armbands, ankle bands, gauntlets, hair accessories, headdresses, turbans, etc.

Whatever you decide to do, it's best to keep the design simple. Complicated designs are more difficult to execute consistently.

Use readily-available fabrics and trims. Or, purchase enough to make a few extra costumes at the time you buy them. That way, when new members come along in a year or two, you'll still be able to obtain or provide the necessary materials to accommodate the additional people. In the past, a troupe I was in chose a specialty fabric to make overskirts and sleeves. However, the fabric was discontinued and members who joined the troupe later were unable to obtain it. That forced us to change to a new costume design using a newer fabric that everyone could find.



Who Should Own the Costumes?

In some troupes, the director makes or purchases a supply of costumes in a variety of sizes, and loans them to troupe members for shows.

In other troupes, each troupe member makes or buys her own costume, and owns it. If the member leaves, then she gets to keep her costume.

Either approach has its pros and cons. You'll need to decide which approach is best for yours.



Do's & Don'ts For Choosing Troupe Costumes

Here are some do's and don'ts to consider when choosing a new troupe costume:

  • Do ask the troupe as a whole whether any individuals would like to propose a design to the group. Allow all suggestions to be heard and discussed.
  • Don't expect to get 100% consensus — it rarely happens. There'll always be someone who complains because the design is not flattering to her figure or the color is wrong for her skin tone.
  • Do set the expectation that the troupe director gets to make the final decision after hearing everyone's input.
  • Don't pick a costume design that you know will look horrible on several troupe members. Be sensitive to people's figure types and coloring.
  • Do select a fabric that is likely to be available for several years, so that future members will be able to create troupe costumes of their own.
  • Don't pick something that will be difficult to make unless you have access to someone who is willing to sew for people who can't make their own.



Over Time

It's a good idea to move to new costumes periodically, so that your troupe doesn't get into a rut. Plan on rotating to new costumes every 2-3 years, or more often if you think you can talk troupe members into it. I used to belong to a troupe that wore various accessories with the same tissue lamé skirts for so many years that other people started to refer to us as "the tissue lamé troupe". That was our signal to make a change!

Some troupes have a policy requiring that the costume components, particularly those made of hard-to-find materials, are troupe property rather than individual property. That way, if someone leaves the group they must leave the costume behind to be re-used by someone new.



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