Costuming A Belly Dance Troupe
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
- 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
- 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.
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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