Can a costume make–or break–a performance?

There are many reasons that we choose to wear a certain costume for a performance. Maybe its color matches the theme of the event, your audience expects a certain kind of costume, your dance style requires it, or it just makes you feel good that day. But can your choice of a costume make–or break–your performance?

I started thinking about that this Sunday evening after hearing these five words: “You should have worn that.” They came from my boyfriend, who having seen more of my performances than anyone else, is a very keen observer and purveyor of dance advice. He had just watched the video for a performance where I wore a tribaret style costume with multi-panel skirt and short coined fringe on the bra and belt. He commented on the way that the costumed moved and flowed with my movements, and accented them so that you could see every shimmy despite the performance being on a large stage. He’d seen the same choreography performed a few weeks earlier at an important event, but in a couture-style slim Egyptian lycra costume, which, while heavily beaded, is anything but swishy.

While he noted that I’d performed with essentially the same amount of energy and finesse as at the previous show, the performance in the tribaret costume seemed much more alive and dynamic simply because the costume complimented and amplified my movements. Now I’m wondering, did my minimalist, slimline costume “break” my last performance? This has gotten me really curious, and now I’m ready to take a critical eye to my costume wardrobe.

Which costume (or costume styles) “make” your performances?

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Belly Dance “Prop-tacular” at Figment – Cane (Assaya)

Thanks for coming to Belly Dance “Prop-tacular” at the 2011 FIGMENT festival in NYC!

Cane (Assaya)

Najla Belly Dance NYC Raqs Assaya CaneRaqs al Assaya is Arabic for “cane dance.” This folkloric dance originated among women in the Said, more commonly known as Upper Egypt (which is actually in the south!). Legend says that women invented the Assaya dance to playfully mimic Tahtib, a men’s stick dance that evolved from fighting techniques.  Dancers usually wear a beledi dress or saidi dress (see photo) to perform Raqs al Assaya, but in shows where the dancer is performing to multiple songs,  a bedlah (two-piece costume) can be worn.

For more information on Najla’s performances and classes, visit her website.

For more information on FIGMENT, visit their website.

Belly Dance Prop-tacular at FIGMENT NYC 2011 - Najla Belly Dance NYC - Logo(For those of you who aren’t coming to this page from the festival, this blog entry is part of a series of posts on the different belly dance props being showcased during Najla’s festival performances at the Colonels Stage on Governors Island at 1:30 pm on June 10 and at 12:00 pm on June 12, 2011. Audience members will be able to scan a QR code next to a picture of each prop in order to learn more about it.  )

Belly Dance “Prop-tacular” at Figment – Isis Wings

Thanks for coming to Belly Dance “Prop-tacular” at the 2011 FIGMENT festival in NYC!

Isis Wings

Najla Belly Dance NYC Isis Wings

Najla dancing with Isis Wings. Photograph by Bryce Prevatte.

Isis wings are not a traditional Egyptian belly dance prop, but were invented to evoke Isis, the Ancient Egyptian goddess of nature, motherhood and magic. Made of carefully pleated materials like lamé or organza, they shimmer, swirl and swoop to create some of the most dramatic and flashy belly dance performances around.

The origins of Isis wings are highly debated, with some saying they evolved from the performances of Loie Fuller in the 1920s, others saying they were adapted from Las Vegas showgirl props, and still others attributing their origin to various American dancers in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s.

For more information on Najla’s performances and classes, visit her website.

For more information on FIGMENT, visit their website.

Belly Dance Prop-tacular at FIGMENT NYC 2011 - Najla Belly Dance NYC - Logo(For those of you who aren’t coming to this page from the festival, this blog entry is part of a series of posts on the different belly dance props being showcased during Najla’s festival performances at the Colonels Stage on Governors Island at 1:30 pm on June 10 and at 12:00 pm on June 12, 2011. Audience members will be able to scan a QR code next to a picture of each prop in order to learn more about it.  )

Belly Dance “Prop-tacular” at Figment – Zils

Thanks for coming to Belly Dance “Prop-tacular” at the 2011 FIGMENT festival in NYC!

Zils

Najla Belly Dance NYC zils

Najla plays the zils. Photograph by Bryce Prevatte.

Zils (= cymbals in Turkish, also called sagat in Arabic) are not really props per se, but percussion instruments made of brass, bronze or other metals. Dancers play zils to compliment their music and to accent certain beats or movements. Worn on the thumb and first or middle finger of each hand, they are struck in alternating patterns to play different Middle Eastern rhythms. Like bells, different materials and sizes affect the tone a pair of zils makes.

Ready to try out a zil pattern? I’m right-handed, so I “lead” my zils with the right hand. If you’re left-handed, you may find it easier to use the numbered notation.

Maqsoum (sometimes called beledi):
RLR R RLR R RLR
121 1 121 1 121

For more information on Najla’s performances and classes, visit her website.

For more information on FIGMENT, visit their website.

Belly Dance Prop-tacular at FIGMENT NYC 2011 - Najla Belly Dance NYC - Logo(For those of you who aren’t coming to this page from the festival, this blog entry is part of a series of posts on the different belly dance props being showcased during Najla’s festival performances at the Colonels Stage on Governors Island at 1:30 pm on June 10 and at 12:00 pm on June 12, 2011. Audience members will be able to scan a QR code next to a picture of each prop in order to learn more about it.  )

Belly Dance “Prop-tacular” at Figment NYC 2011

Belly Dance Prop-tacular at FIGMENT NYC 2011

I will be performing for the second year in a row at the fabulous Figment Festival on June 10 & 12 on Governors Island.

Part of what makes Figment so great is that it’s about audience interaction. In addition to getting people up and dancing, I’ve added a new twist to this year’s show. Next to the stage I’ll have a display board with a QR code for each of the props I’ll be demonstrating during the show. When audience members scan the code with their smartphone, they’ll be taken to a blog entry about each prop. I’ll be adding the entries over the course of May and early June. Need a QR scanner? Check out your mobile phone’s app store for options…I like Qrafter for the iPhone.

20110510-095000.jpg

Najla's "Belly Dance on the Island" show at FIGMENT 2010. Photograph by Erica Lauren Jackson Photography.

About the show:
Shows are at the Colonels Stage on 1:30 pm on Friday, June 10 and at 12:00 pm on Sunday, June 12.

At last year’s FIGMENT, Najla took audience members on a tour of Egypt with her show and lesson “Belly Dance on the Island.” This year she pumps up the drama with a Belly Dance “Prop-tacular,” where audience members will be delighted and mesmerized by dances with wings, veils, swords, canes and candles. Audience members will be invited on stage during the show to participate, and will learn dance moves after the stage show.

About Figment:
Visit the Figment website

New York City Gig Bag

Najla waiting for the subwayIn honor of International Belly Dance Day, here’s a post that will help you get a feel for how the sparkly half lives. Like most New Yorkers, I rely on the subway, buses and my own two feet to get around. Without the luxury of a car (and the spacious trunk and backseat it provides) or the budget for cabs all the time, I’ve learned to be an expert gig packer. Here are some of my favorite tips and tricks for packing light and keeping your belly dance identity under cover while you pound the pavement.

  • Wheelie suitcase: The cases that fit airline carry-on requirements are the best because they usually fit under the subway turnstile. It’s worth investing in a pricier model, since they often have superlight construction, interior organization pockets, locks and are easily maneuverable.
  • Covert props: Clearly, it’s NOT a good idea to walk onto public transit with a brandished sword. Get a prop bag (or make one from a pants leg, yoga mat bag, etc) that doesn’t show the shape of your bag’s contents to avoid having to explain yourself to the NYPD. On the other hand, holding a sequined cane on the 6 train can be a great conversation starter.
  • Compartmentalize: Since you don’t have space to spread out all your costume pieces, make sure you know where everything is. I love the plastic bags that sheet sets come in. You can usually fit a bra, belt, headband and armbands in them, and the little pocket where the cardboard label goes is a great place to store your matching jewelry. Make sure to air out your costume afterwards! Sweaty costumes + plastics are not a good long-term match.
  • Make an “Instant Belly Dancer” bag: All the essentials you need are here, from business cards to costume repair supplies. Check out this blog entry for more IBD ideas.
  • Hiking Backpack: Yeah, it’s lame, unglamorous and looks a little silly to carry when you’re in full makeup and hair, but this can be a lifesaver. A good hiking backpack is ergonomically designed, which means you’ll get to your gig without being in major pain. As an added bonus, many are set up like suitcases inside, which will help you keep organized. Extra points for locks, or zipper lock options! Alternately, find a hard-sided shoulder bag to stash your gig supplies in.

Do you have any tips for packing light? Leave’em in the comments section.