Belly Dance Costume Tips for Mature Dancers
It may be un-PC to say it, but I do think older belly dancers need to modify their costume, hair and make-up to suit their age when performing in public. To illustrate what I mean, I want to share a story.
I was at a festival, enjoying a performance by a belly dance troupe made up entirely of older dancers. I was thinking how great it was to see a slick troupe of dancers my age - and made that comment to my (non-bellydancer) friend, who's 30.
"They're not your age! They look like a bunch of geriatrics."
I tried to look at them with her young eyes - and saw the sagging abs, and the make-up settling into the wrinkles. Suddenly the fake blonde ringlets looked slightly ridiculous against the lined faces, and the long tresses emphasised the saggy jowls.
I shook off the impression - after all, this was a belly dance festival, and most belly dancers wouldn't look at those things. Anyway, they were enjoying themselves, what did it matter?
Then a few weeks later, I bumped into Jackie, one of the troupe members, and asked if she enjoyed the festival.
"I did until I saw the photos," she said. "I looked bloody awful."
And there's my point. Within the belly dance community, we gladly accept our flaws. We celebrate the opportunity to dress outrageously and let it all hang out. But when the excitement of the event is over, we're left with the videos and photos - and in the cold light of day, we sometimes don't look as good as we think we did!
There's no point saying, “but the audience shouldn't be judgmental!!” It's not just the audience we have to think about - it's our own feelings. As Jackie discovered, the warm glow of belly dance approval can make us feel our flaws don't matter – but when we see ourselves in the photos, we bitterly regret having been so blind!
Those photos spoiled the memory of the festival for Jackie, and really dented her confidence. It would've been a real shame if Jackie had given up belly dance, because she's a lovely dancer. Luckily she didn't - it took a few months for her to get up the courage to perform in public again, after adjusting her costume, hair, make-up, and choreography to highlight her assets instead of emphasizing her age.
There are plenty of things you can do to avoid looking like mutton dressed as lamb. It partly depends on how kind (or otherwise) life has been to your various bits!
If you've had children, the legacy will show in the tummy area. And even childless women can find themselves laying down fat on the abdomen after menopause.
Many dancers try to hide a less-than-perfect stomach with long fringing or a narrow piece of material connecting the bra with the skirt. If you think one of these disguises work for you, check how they look when you're actually dancing, especially from the side view - you may be in for an unpleasant surprise!
A good, firm body stocking is a sensible solution for the midriff. You can get flesh-coloured body stockings - but if you're dancing really close to the audience, even the best ones don't fool anyone!
A fishnet version looks as though you're adding interest rather than trying to cover up your flaws, and for that reason I feel they're often a better choice. Look for the words "power mesh" in the description.
Tribal dancers often cut up fishnet tights to make a combined body stocking/arm covering. The dancer above doesn't need camouflage - but if you need to hide scars or cellulite, it's a clever and low-cost solution.
The other solution is to go for a beledi dress. If you choose a figure-hugging one and you're generous with the cut-outs (in places you're not ashamed of!), it can still look sexy and revealing, without revealing anything you'd rather not show.
Mature women often have good legs, even if they're overweight. If that applies to you, show them off with a split skirt. The new fashion is for a high split with shorts underneath (very handy for hiding thigh cellulite).
If the shape is good but the varicose veins ain't, add a chiffon insert in the split.
Many older women have a bountiful cleavage (even if it needs industrial strength support to counter the sag!). Draw attention to it with a low-cut neckline and lots of embellishment - a beaded bra is an obvious choice, but check for back overflow! If that's an issue, a tie-front midriff top is a good choice. You can always wear a beaded bra underneath - just tuck the ties under the bra at the sides, instead of crossing them in front, so the beading is visible.
You can also find choli tops designed to sit under the bust, specifically to show off a jewelled or coin bra.
Tip - if you're buying a tie-front top not made for belly dancing, just make sure you can lift your arms above your head without pulling the front up over your boobs! High street tops often don't have enough stretch.
Perhaps the biggest source of angst for mature dancers is their upper arms - what Australians call tuckshop arms and the Americans call bingo wings or bat wings.
If your arms still look all right but jiggle when you move, a narrow band of stretch sequins may be all you need to arrest the wobble. But if your bat wings are really starting to flap, a narrow armband will draw unwanted attention to the droop. In that case, the best camouflage is a sleeved top, or a shrug.
However, there are times when you may have no option - for instance, when you're dancing in a troupe and have to wear what they're wearing. In that case, larger armbands may be the solution.
Chances are at least some of the troupe will be wearing armbands anyway, on the forearms or over the elbow. Never wear arm bands in that position - it will only emphasise jello upper arms. But it won't look too out of place if you wear similar armbands higher up.
Don't make the mistake of making them small - they need to reach from elbow to armpit, or your bingo wings will just sneak out above or below. You could even make them cover the whole arm (which looks good in lace). Use a lycra material with the stretch width-wise - it will hug your arms so you don't need elastic to hold them up (which would cut in and cause more bulges). Always test-drive your arm bands before performing in them: you don't want them falling down mid-performance. Some Hollywood tape is good insurance!
If you're dancing solo, then an underbust top can give excellent camouflage without hiding your costume - more details here.