Student Troupe Belly Dance Costumes

When your belly dance school is ready to form its first dance troupe, it's important to give careful thought to how you'll tackle the question of what to wear. You may have visions of a slick, professional ensemble – but for amateurs, it's not realistic to insist they have a wardrobe of expensive Dina-esque outfits.

Firstly, you don't know your students' financial situation.  It's one thing for a professional belly dancer to spend hundreds of dollars on a costume, because she will wear it several times. How often will your troupe perform? Will you be happy for them to appear in the same thing at every single performance for the next few years, to justify the cost?   Secondly, your class will be all shapes and sizes.  Even if you feel women shouldn't worry about displaying their body in this day and age, you can't force your students to feel the same.

Students may not object if you tell them they must buy a costume.  Instead, they will quietly drop out rather than perform in a skintight costume which isn't kind to their saggy bits, or face the embarrassment of admitting they can't afford it. And you don't want to lose students!

On the other hand, if you go for the budget, "non-threatening" option, nothing screams "amateur" quite so much as camisoles, hip scarves and gypsy skirts. So what's the answer?

Celebrate The Differences

We're used to the idea of everyone wearing the same because that's how professional dance productions work.  But a professional chorus line is auditioned and selected so they are matched not just on talent but also on height and shape.  Your students are of different heights, weights and dance ability -- no matter how perfectly matched their costumes are, they will never all look the same.  In fact, dressing them exactly the same serves to emphasise their differences, because the costume will look great on some dancers and highlight the flaws on others.

That doesn't mean you should let every student do their own thing.   A total free-for-all where everyone wears what they like is too distracting – the audience is more likely to focus on the best outfit, rather than the best dancer.  So you need to define a structure.

Same Colour, Different Designs

A simple answer is to specify a colour, but allow each person to choose a design to flatter their shape.   Don't be too general about the colour you want, otherwise the outcome will be a hotch-potch.   For instance, green can range from a delicate mint, through fluoro lime to a dark bottle, and they will not look good together!  Go to the hardware store and get some colour swatch cards showing the range of shades you have in mind.  You don't want someone wearing  a 32 yard skirt while others are in Eman Zaki either, so set some parameters around style too.

Our school used to go a step further and specify the fabric as well as the colour, then we all sewed our own costumes, or had them made by the school's preferred dressmaker, an ex-bellydancer who sewed as a hobby and charged very reasonable prices.  Obviously this option works only for simple shapes with minimal embellishment, otherwise it can work out more expensive than buying off-the-peg.

This option can also get expensive if you don't repeat colours.  I had a teacher who seemed to choose a different colour for every performance (and we did a lot of community performances)!   Luckily we danced mainly Turkish style, so most of us bought a bedlah in a neutral colour (by which I mean gold, silver, white or black), so then all we had to do was make or buy a skirt and arm bands in whatever colour she picked.  My bra and belt were in white sequins with gold trim - here it's worn with a purple skirt, purple chiffon arm covers and a purple/blue veil.

That may not seem like an option for Egyptian or Amcab schools where belts have gone out of style - but if you buy a gold or silver sequinned belly dance bra and remove the shoulder straps, then you can create different outfits by adding a skirt, armbands and shoulder straps in any colour you like. Make the shoulder straps broad and gathered rather than shoestring so the colour stands out. If you find straps difficult to make, a halter neck strap is child's play to make and can even be pinned, not sewn, on to the cups.

 

Note:  Before you make any decisions, don't be afraid to ask your class how they feel about buying something for the show – they may not want to invest hundreds of dollars, but you may be surprised to find they're excited by the idea of looking like a "real belly dancer", and are willing to make a reasonable investment to achieve it. Take their feedback into account when deciding how much you'll ask them to spend.

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