Hair and Make-Up for Mature Dancers
Stage or Natural?
Theatrical make-up is exaggerated. Traditionally, dancers wear colourful eye-shadow, thick eyeliner, tons of mascara and bright lipstick, so their features can be seen from the audience. Unfortunately this kind of make-up can look tarty on a mature woman, and can also add years to her face because powder or heavy foundation can settle into wrinkles and make them more obvious.
Before deciding on your make-up, consider how far away the spectators will be. If you're up on a stage, then by all means "go for broke". But often, belly dancers perform quite close to their audience. If that's the case, then stick closer to what you'd wear for a special night out, or you'll risk looking like a drag queen (see right!).
Even under bright stage lights, there are things you should do, to avoid looking like a clown.
Older eyes tend to be more hooded than young ones. Your eyebrows have dropped, so there's less space between the eyebrow and the eye. You may have dark circles around the eyes, too.
That makes belly dance eye make-up problematic, because the traditional bellydance eye is generously eyeshadowed and heavily outlined in dark smokey liner, as demonstrated in this video.
Unfortunately, the makeup that looks so exotic in this clip can overwhelm older eyes, because all the dark lines close up the eye slightly - and if your eyes are already not as wide as they used to be, you can look decidedly piggy-eyed.
I don't advise using dark eyeliner under your eye for performance make-up, especially not inside the lower lid. Although it looks good on TV or in photos, it doesn't work well on stage, even on young dancers. It makes eyes look smaller, not bigger. Instead, use a white highlighter pencil inside the lower lash line, and on the outer corner of the eye. The white highlighter has a brightening, widening effect.
Use an angled brush and add a line of your eyeshadow color under the lower lashes, on the outer half of the eye only.
On the subject of eyeshadow color - did you know that dark blue and dark purple turn black under stage lights?
I always remember seeing Maina Geilgud dance with the Royal Festival Ballet, many years ago. I can barely remember a step - I was so fascinated by her enormous false eyelashes, which were so big I couldn't see her eyes! It looked like she had two big fat caterpillars crawling towards her nose (and Maina would be the first to admit, she doesn't need anything to draw attention to her nose...).
False eyelashes can have the same effect on mature eyes - if you're dancing under stage lights, big false lashes will cast a shadow over your eyes and make you look all lash and no peepers!
If you want to wear falsies, go for Elise half lashes. Because you only put them on the outer corner of your eye, they help to give you that exotic cat's eye look, too - or help lift the outer corners if your eyes are starting to droop.
We all think of bright red lipstick as the only thing to wear on stage - but as we age, our lips get thinner and we may have lines which lipstick "bleeds" into. Bright red lipstick can emphasise those negative features and can make us look clownish.
Stop thinking of lips as having to be "bright" and think instead of making them "strong". Perhaps a mulberry or warm brown tone would work for you better than red?
Always use a lip pencil before applying your lipstick - and apply it all over your lips as well as outlining. It will make your lippie last much longer.
Practice - and double check!
Have at least one practice session before the event. Don't just put your face on and clean it straight off again - leave your make-up on and check it again in half an hour. That way, you'll discover whether anything is going to settle into the creases!
Finally, always check your make-up with a magnifying mirror, in good light, once it's done. Everyone's eye for close work starts to fail after the mid-forties - some more than others. You may not notice how much detail you can't see these days. Brightly coloured eyeshadow looks dreadful if it's not evenly applied, and even worse if you have specks of it scattered over your cheeks!
Belly dance troupes generally want dancers to wear their hair long - but not everyone suits long hair. Personally, I know I look awful with long hair hanging round my face - it emphasizes my saggy jawline. That's the reason so many hairdressers advise mature women not to wear their hair long - the droopy strands around the face emphasize the effect of gravity.
So, I'm faced with a dilemma that I'm sure faces many other older belly dancers. If I wear my hair long for dancing, I have to put up with a haircut that's unflattering in my daily life. If I crop it short in a style that flatters my face, it will be far too short for performance.
I could wear it long and wear it up all the time - but I have very thick, heavy hair and that become a lot of work!
Tribal dancers are lucky, because they can disguise their lack of hair easily with turbans and hair wraps. The rest of us have to reach for hairpieces and wigs. But remember - if long hair doesn't suit you in real life, it won't magically look good when you're belly dancing!
If you can, get yourself to a wig shop or good hairdresser which sells hair switches. Try on a few options and see what suits you. I don't recommend hair extensions - they're very expensive, and you probably need to put your hair up (at least partially) anyway, so what's the point? You may as well go straight for a fake ponytail or half wig.
If you have mid-length hair, a ponytail or half wig means you can pull your hair back more softly and still get a secure finish. The video below shows how you would normally attach a drawstring switch - but for dancing, don't rely on the drawstring alone! Use plenty of pins, too, and always test it by wearing it for practice or rehearsal.
TIP: One of my hairdressing friends makes two ponytails side by side and pins them together - she feels it makes a stronger base for the hairpiece. Worth a try to see if it works for you - and it can mean you don't have to pull your hair back so tightly, so it can help with softness, too.