Photo of Shira



PHOTO CREDIT: Above photo by John Rickman Photography, San Jose, California.

The Undercover Story:
What About Underwear?


Table of Contents





As the photo to the right shows, you need to give thought to what you wear under your skirt. The costume that looks perfectly innocent when you're standing still will fly away from your body when you spin. If you happen to be dancing on a raised stage, or if the audience happens to be sitting on cushions down near the floor, your undercarriage will almost certainly be seen. So make sure that what you wear under your costume is tasteful and appropriate.

The dancer in the photo at the right was a performer at the Gar Gazinosu nightclub in Istanbul, Turkey. (Photo by Shira.)

Many dancers don't realize that undergarments are an important part of their dance costumes - just as important as their skirts, jewelry, bra / belt sets, hair accessories, and other costume pieces. But just as cheerleaders, ballroom dancers, contemporary dancers, and those in other dance forms need to wear appropriate undergarments, so do belly dancers.

Turkish Dancer

One secret to choosing your undergarments: different costume styles require different underwear. This page offers a guide to which types of undergarment will work best with varying costume styles.



Why Are Proper Undergarments So Important?

Bloopers can happen. Appropriate undergarments can help avoid some of them, and can minimize the embarrassment for others. Here are some true stories about dancers who made poor choices with respect to underwear:

  • Creeping Fabric.
    • A student who wore a thong under her full skirt of charmeuse (soft, drapey satin) was very embarrassed and distracted when the skirt crept into her butt crack while she was dancing.
    • Another dancer was performing in a seminar show, wearing a straight skirt with a slit up the center back. The audience watched in horrified fascination as the black skirt slowly crept higher and higher, exposing her vivid white underwear.
  • Wandering Tampons. A professional dancer did a vigorous shimmy during her restaurant performance and her very soiled tampon fell on the floor. How very appetizing for the restaurant guests...
  • Wandering Cutouts. A dancer wearing a dress with a cutout over one hip didn't expect her dress to twist itself around her body while she danced. The cutout's sequin outline neatly showcased her private parts, like a picture frame.
  • Flying Skirts. A dancer in a restaurant went into a rapid spin, and her skirts flew up around her. An audience member complained to the restaurant owner that she was wearing tacky day-of-the-week panties.
  • Windy Weather. A dancer performing on an outdoor stage went into a spin, and when the wind caught her skirt it took on a life of its own, showing everything underneath.
  • Sweat Stains. A dancer was performing in a clingy lycra skirt that hugged her curves. At first it was oh-so-sexy, but soon it was oh-so-sweaty as a vertical sweat stain from her butt crack oozed into view. (Note: sweat stains can be notoriously difficult to launder away.)
  • Monthly Stains. A restaurant dancer was sitting in her dressing room, waiting until it was time to perform, blissfully unaware that her tampon was leaking and staining her skirt. She didn't find out until after her performance, which means the audience knew about it before she did.
  • Male Movement. A male dancer failed to wear properly supportive undergarments, and the audience saw a lot more than just his hips moving when he shimmied.
  • Costume Malfunctions. When a dancer was performing in a restaurant, the hook broke on her belt, and the belt fell to the floor, taking her skirt with it. (The skirt had been pinned to the belt.) Fortunately, the dancer was wearing panties, but they were obviously lingerie rather than an extension of her costume.

When a dancer performs on a raised stage, the audience looks up at her, and can see farther up her skirt than she might realize. This can also happen if she is dancing in a restaurant that seats customers on low-level cushions on the floor.

There's also the psychological benefit of feeling fully put together, down to the tiniest detail. It can give you that added small boost of confidence.



Matching the Style to the Costume

Different costume styles require different styles of underwear. When deciding what to wear under a given costume, it is important to consider the fabric and cut, then choose accordingly.


Under Full Skirts and Panel Skirts

Full skirts may flare out and expose what is underneath, and panel skirts that are slit all the way up to the belt may expose more than just the leg. These underwear options will ensure that the exposure remains tasteful:

  • Cheerleader Trunks. If they come all the way up to the waist, they can be rolled down and pinned into position. Alternatively, you could cut off the top edge to make them hiphuggers and re-construct the elastic casing.
  • Ballroom Dance Trunks. Again, if they come up above the belt line, they may need to be modified to ride lower on the hip or rolled down and pinned.
  • A Bikini Bottom From a Swimsuit. Excellent option - sturdy fabric, available in variety of colors.
  • Short shorts. The best ones fit snug to the body. These are sometimes called boy shorts or booty shorts. One benefit of wearing these is that they reduce or eliminate chafing that may occur when the dancer's inner thighs rub together.
Boy Shorts
  • Pants. The blousey harem pants shown in the diagram are particularly well-suited to the American Classic or American Tribal Style of belly dance. They can be made from the same fabric as your skirt, or from something that contrasts. They can be either full or narrow. If you would like to show more skin, you can put slits down the center front or sides. These are the best solution if you're dancing in a family-oriented setting attended by the general public such as an outdoor community festival where small children are likely to be present.
Harem Pants
  • Bicycle shorts. These come just above knee length, and they'll ensure that your performance remains tasteful. As a bonus, they prevent the inner thighs from rubbing together, which in turn prevents painful chafing.
  • Leggings. These appeal to dancers who don't care for the puffy look of harem pants but want to cover the full leg. They're an excellent choice for outdoor performances. If you choose a color close to your skin tone, add some decoration to the leggings to make it obvious that the audience is not seeing bare skin.

It's a good idea to wear normal panties under any of the above items to protect your costume from perspiration and other sources of potential stains. This way, you can launder your costume undergarment less often. Also, if you have dyed the costume undergarment to match the rest of your costume color, it's important to wear normal underwear underneath to protect your skin from potentially toxic effects of the dye.

If the above items are worn under a pastel or sheer skirt, the best color option would be one that is close to your skin tone. If the skirt is made of a fabric that is not see-through, then choose bottoms that match the skirt color. If wearing multiple skirts, as an American Classic style of dancer might do, match the undergarment to the skirt that is being worn closest to the body.

If you can't find the color you're looking for, buy white ones and dye them to match.

Best of all would be briefs made of the exact same fabric as your underskirt - for a pattern, check the section of the pattern company's catalog that features cheerleading uniforms or two-piece swimsuits. If the pattern comes all the way up to the waist, cut it off at hip level.

The photo to the right shows a dancer performing at a nightclub in Kusadasi, Turkey. (Photo by Shira.) It illustrates the point that dancers who perform on a raised stage must consider that audiences looking up at her will probably see what lies under the skirt - especially if the dancer employs spins in her dance style.

Dancer in Kusadasi, Turkey


Under Clingy Skirts and Pants

Avoid visible panty lines when wearing a clingy straight or mermaid-style skirt such as the one I'm wearing in the photo below. (Photo by Andre Elbing, Bärbroich, Germany, at one of my performances in Egypt.) Consider these undergarment options:

  • A catsuit (body stocking) the same color as your skin tone.
  • A seamless foundation garment, such as those sold under the Spanx brand name.
  • Leggings in a color similar to your skin tone, provided they don't have a center seam that bulges under the dress.
  • Microfiber briefs that are designed specifically to avoid a visible panty line.
  • Pantyhose or opaque tights, provided there is no center front & back seam. If wearing pantyhose that contain a cotton crotch, I advise against sitting down while wearing them. The reason cotton crotches exist is to allow the groin to "breathe", meaning to allow the steamy perspiration and secretions to escape from the body - and onto your costume. Imagine how embarrassing it would be to find a football-shaped outline neatly steam-pressed into the back of your costume after sitting around in it.... It has happened. To prevent "wandering cutouts", sew a couple of snaps in the front of the waistband, and a couple more in the back, with the matching part of the snap inside the costume.
A Clingy Dress


Under Cutouts

If your dress has cutouts in the hip area, you'll need to consider how to achieve the benefits of underwear without exposing it for all to see in the cutout area. Here are some suggestions:

  • Bikini Briefs which have been modified as described in "Built-In Bottoms" below. This technique is often used in ballroom dance costumes.
  • Lining of Mesh Fabric the same color as your skin tone. This way, the audience will see the mesh lining, not your actual skin, and you can wear normal "no panty line" underwear.
  • Modified Briefs with Clear Elastic Straps. Buy a pair of washable briefs, cut off the parts that would be exposed by the cutout, and hem the raw edges. Buy some clear elastic. Sew two strips of it to connect the front and back of the briefs. (Why two? In case one breaks while you're dancing...) Sew one at the top edge, and one at the bottom edge.
  • Thong with clear straps on each side. However, before choosing this option please see "Pitfalls of Thongs" below.

(Photo by Lina Jang.)

Shira Wearing Dress with Crazy Cutouts


For Male Dancers

To prevent the package from taking on a life of its own:

  • Wear an undergarment that prevents your male body parts from moving around. Please. Do it.




The ideal undergarment for a belly dancer should meet these criteria:

  • It should fully cover the buttocks. Some people will disagree with me on this, but please keep an open mind and read "Pitfalls of Thongs" below.
  • It should contain enough fabric to hold a mini-pad in place as a safeguard against accidents. Secretions can occur any time of the month.
  • It should be planned and chosen explicitly to be part of the costume, with careful thought to what the rest of the costume is like. This should influence color choice, fabric, style, etc.
  • It should be washable.

(The dancer in the photo to the right is a Turkish dancer who performed at a show in Kusadasi in July 2000. Photo by Shira.)

Dancer at Kusadasi in Turkey



Pitfalls of Thongs

Many belly dancers are drawn to wearing a thong or a G-string because they like the idea of a garment that won't show even if a skirt flies up while dancing and exposes part of a buttock. Although this is an understandable point of view, I'd like to offer another opinion, and I invite you to consider it with an open mind. No Thong
  • Audience members who see your naked butt cheeks will believe you're not wearing any underwear at all. This is even more likely to be the case if your thong is a dark color, because the dark-colored back of the thong will be interpreted by witnesses as your rear cleavage, and the front will be interpreted as your, uh, "bird's nest".
    • When audience members believe you are not wearing underwear, they quit paying attention to your dance artistry and focus on watching your groin with horrified fascination, just waiting to see their suspicions confirmed.
    • You will be remembered as the dancer who made audience members wonder whether you were flashing them, not as the dancer who amazed them with your sinuous moves and inspired musical interpretation.
  • Thongs and G-strings don't protect your skirt or pants against perspiration. Groin sweat, like armpit sweat, is produced by a special type of gland that is not found elsewhere on the body. This is called the apocrine gland, and the sweat that it secretes is oilier than that produced elsewhere.
    • You risk staining your precious costume. Sweat stains are extremely difficult to remove.
    • Your costume may begin to reek of perspiration odor. The type of sweat produced by apocrine glands is more likely than that produced on other parts of the body to attract odor-causing bacteria. If it gets onto your costume skirt or pants, it can make them smell like armpits.
  • Thongs and G-strings don't provide much protection for your skirt or pants from secretions.
    • The female body can produce secretions of differing types throughout the month.
    • Some people have weak pelvic floors, and may find themselves unable to adequately control their bodily functions. People who "leak" when they cough, sneeze, or laugh are particularly at risk of staining their costumes.


Cultural Considerations

I don't understand why many belly dancers think it's better to let audiences see naked buttocks rather than the fabric of dance briefs. The way I see it, if audiences see a glimpse of bare bum, they will begin to wonder whether the dancer is wearing underwear at all. So why not let them see fabric covering this area, proving that she is covered everywhere that matters, and allow the audience to return their attention to appreciation for the fabulous dancing?

  • Ballroom dancers don't wear thongs. They wear briefs that cover their butt cheeks.
  • Cheerleaders don't wear thongs. They wear trunks or shorts that cover the curve of their bottoms.
  • Ice skaters don't wear thongs. They wear briefs that match their costumes and cover their bums.
  • Ballerinas don't wear thongs. They wear leotards or briefs that cover their cheeks.
  • Performers of contemporary dance don't wear thongs. They wear briefs or short shorts that cover the curve of their bottoms.
  • The dancers in the popular Hollywood musicals of the 1940's didn't wear thongs. They wore briefs that covered their rear assets, and costumes were often designed with the intention of letting the briefs show. This fashion was also seen in Egyptian movies of the same era, such as the costume worn by Samia Gamal in the scene to the right from the 1949 movie Afrita Hanem. Click on the image to see it in more detail.
Samia Gamal in Afrita Hanem

I find it fascinating that many belly dancers are afraid someone might see their (gasp) underwear, when bottom-covering garments are considered perfectly normal in most other dance forms. Underwear that is properly chosen to look like part of the costume is much less scandalous in the eyes of an audience member than the suspicion that no underwear is being worn.

I don't know whether this is accurate, but I heard once that Nagwa Fouad was quite accepting of the idea that audiences might catch a glimpse of her full-coverage briefs because in doing so she demonstrated she was a "good girl" who covers what she ought to cover.



How to Make Built-In Bottoms

Some dancers attach underwear to their dresses and skirts, with the underwear cut away in the area exposed by the cutout.

To do this:

  • Buy an inexpensive pair of briefs. Cotton is recommended for hygiene reasons, but other fabrics could be used.
  • Put on the briefs.
  • Put on the dress or skirt over them.
  • Mark where the briefs are visible through the cutouts.
  • Take off the briefs.
  • Cut off the portion that was visible through the cutouts.
  • Hem the raw edges.
  • Put the remainder of the briefs back on under the dress.
  • Use safety pins to pin the briefs to the dress, both front and back. Make sure the side edges of the briefs are not exposed in the cutouts.
  • Use a hand basting stitch to attach the tops and side edges of the briefs to the dress. By using a basting stitch, you will be able to remove the briefs to launder them, then reinsert them. This should be done after every wearing to prevent buildup of body odors. The perspiration produced in the groin is the same type as produced in the armpits - the type that is likely to produce odor.
Briefs - Where to Cut

Alternatively, instead of basting the briefs into the dress or skirt, you could attach a row of snaps across the top edge of the briefs, and place the corresponding snaps across the dress. Then you can use the snaps to remove the briefs easily from the dress, and put them back after laundering.

If you use the costume frequently, you could prepare multiple pairs of briefs so that you have extra pairs to wear in the event the first pair is waiting to be laundered.



Things to Avoid

  • Going "commando" (without underwear).
  • Under a full skirt, avoid anything that looks like everyday underwear.
  • Avoid obvious prints, unless they match the print of the costume skirt.
  • Anything likely to cause visible panty lines.
  • Under a full skirt, avoid wearing a black thong, because it looks like you're not wearing any underwear at all.
  • Panties in a see-through fabric such as lace or sheer chiffon.



Important Hygiene Reminders

  • Wear normal underwear under your dance trunks to protect the dance trunks from being soiled by perspiration and bodily fluids. This will make them last longer.
  • Remember that groin perspiration generates the same kind of body odor as armpit perspiration. Wash any undergarment that lies next to your skin after every wearing. This includes tights, leggings, foundation garments, panties, boy shorts, thongs, and nylon stockings.
  • Don't use dry-cleaning to clean your undergarments, because it fails to remove perspiration odor. Washing in water is more effective. If the undergarment is delicate, hand-wash in water using a mild laundry detergent, squeeze gently, and lay it flat to dry it.
  • If you dye a pair of underwear to match your costume, wear normal underwear beneath it to protect your skin from direct contact with the dye. Most of the dyes sold in craft stores for consumer use can be absorbed into the body through the skin when moistened by perspiration. They are toxic and can cause liver cancer.
  • During your "moon time", wear not only a tampon or cup but also some kind of mini-pad to protect against accidents, even if you don't think you'll need it. Use safety pins to anchor the pad in place so that it doesn't slip out and fall to the ground while you are dancing.
  • All month long, use a mini-pad to protect your costume against unexpected secretions of bodily fluids.



Tips & Tricks from Readers


From Sulisha Kanouni in Salt Lake City, Utah

Sulisha lives in Salt Lake City, Utah and has been doing Middle Eastern dance for over 25 years. She has performed throughout the United States and Canada, mainly in the Middle Eastern or Greek nightclubs dancing with live bands. Here are some tips she offers:

Best Underwear. The best underwear to buy are actual dance trunks. They are sturdy, and the white ones can be dyed to match any color. The best thing about them is they can be rolled down (twice to be exact) from the waist to the hips, which creates a very sturdy band to pin your skirt to. It is a good idea to pin your skirt to the underwear. Why? 1) To keep the skirt from pulling down in case it's stepped on or if it gets caught; and 2) When you receive tips, the tips go into the underwear and not between the skirt and underwear to end up on the floor and possibly lost.

For White or Pastel Costumes. Purchase beige or brown underwear to match your skin color to wear under a white costume because white underwear shows through. If you wear a beige bra under a sheer white top, the bra is less visible than a white one. However, if the skirt is opaque and skimpy enough for the underwear to show sometimes, white may be preferable because beige may make it seem as though you are wearing nothing at all.

Spare Pair. Keep a spare pair of underwear (beige or black) in your performance bag ALWAYS! One time I forgot my underwear for a performance and ended up having to cut the legs out of my panyhose to serve as underwear. One experience like that will teach you!



In Conclusion

You get only one chance to make a first impression when you step out on the dance floor to perform. Your costume will play a major role in the impression you make. Different costume styles require different types of undergarments to create a polished, put-together look. The wrong choice will distract your audience, cause them to study your groin instead of your fabulous artistry, and possibly even alienate them. The right choice will place their focus right where it needs to be - on your sparkling personality and your amazing dance performance.



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