Belly Dance Backstage Etiquette: Dos and Don’ts for Sharing the Dressing Room

January 3, 2014 17 Comments
Dream dressing room

The dressing room of our dreams…

Last week there was  a pretty lively belly dance discussion on Saqra Raybuck’s Facebook page  regarding how to be a considerate dressing room companion.  As bellydancers, we rarely have spacious, luxurious, star-quality dressing spaces. The reality is usually a crowded room with  suitcases on the floor, a few mirrors and a table – if you’re lucky – and poor lighting. Most of the contributors to the discussion were experienced professionals – and among us, we had a good many backstage tales to tell.  A lot of good points came up, so I thought I’d share some of them with you here.

Have a small footprint. Put your gig bag down and keep your stuff close to it. Costume suitcases do have a way of “exploding” once you start getting dressed, but fold your things up and keep it all contained. Packing up will be that much easier for it later.

No photos, please! What? People really do that? Yes, I’m sad to say they really do.  I’ve seen it with my own eyes. If you really must do a pre-show selfie for Instagram, do it in the hall. 4 feet behind you people are getting naked. Think before you shoot.

Share the mirrors. If there are only a few mirrors for lots of dancers to share, be courteous. Get in, get glittered and get out. Don’t park yourself with your full makeup bag to do your whole face. If you aren’t going to arrive with most of your stage face on, bring a mirror of your own to use so you can take your time. When you’re done, offer to share and make a friend!

If it’s not yours, don’t touch it.  Treat other people’s things as you’d want yours to be treated. Don’t borrow someone’s mirror to brush you hair and leave the hairball from your brush as a present. Yes, that really happened too. Gross, huh? Sadly, some dancers have even had things stolen – from cash to whole costumes. We’re in this together backstage, let’s act like it.

Careful with the costumes! A crowded dressing room is not the place for food or drinks,  other than water in a closed container.  Can you imagine if someone’s yogurt spilled on your precious Bella? Costumes and food don’t mix. Step outside the room to snack.

Step out before you spray. Your hairspray or perfume doesn’t just land on you. Also, some people have fragrance allergies.

Put your phone on vibrate. If you need to take more than a very short call, step out of the room.

BE NICE 🙂  A pleasant attitude does wonders for backstage energy. Contribute to the good vibe. Or a least don’t contribute to a bad one. Complaints, bragging and “one-upping” don’t leave a good impression.

DO warm up, and please be compact about it.  Ideally, you should leave the dressing area to do your warm up ( you DO warm up before a show, don’t you?). For times when that is impossible, learn to do an effective warm up in your own space. Shoulder circles, standing cat/cow, knee lifts – it is possible.

If you have something “not nice” to say…. wait. If you have concerns about the show procedures, backstage isn’t the place to vent. Close your lips and put your lipstick on. Save your thoughts and share them in a polite way with the person they actually concern – in private, by email or by phone later. Let’s keep that vibe positive backstage!

Forgot something? Just ask! We’ve talked about a lot of bad dressing room behavior, but the vast majority of dancers in my experience are happy help out with bobby pins, eyelash glue or any other little thing that got left behind at home. It’s good dressing room karma. I got to share my glitter lotion with one of my bellydance heroines once…. it felt grrrreat! 🙂

Keep your music to yourself. If you like to listen to your show music over and over before a performance, do it with headphones. You are the only one that needs to hear it. Also, I would say this was the second biggest complaint- right behind our next one…..

It’s a DRESSING room – not a studio.  The dressing area is not the place to run through your choreography. There is rarely if ever space and even if there were, it’s just not polite. As a matter of fact, it can make you look as if you’re  cramming in a last-minute rehearsal and not prepared. If you must do a run through, find another area of the building or even go outside, weather permitting.

Leave it clean. Check your space after you pack up. Throw away your water bottle, tissues and other trash. Wipe up any glittery messes. Imagine how pleased the host would be if everyone did that. Now image if no one did….

It really comes down to having  “Golden Rule” behavior backstage. The dressing room can be a wonderful place full of anticipation, excitement and sisterly good times. That is part of the fun of a show night – for me, anyway – and dancing should be fun, on stage and backstage. We’re in it together, let’s act like it.

Do you have other dressing room “Do’s and Don’t s ” to add? Share them in the comments below


Mahin (121 Posts)

Professional instructor and performer of Middle Eastern belly dance, ACSM Certified Personal Trainer and author or the “Daily Bellydance Quickies”. Belly Dance Artrepreneur, Workshop instructor, performer, event producer, and bellydance writer.

  1. Amira
    January 3, 2014 at 10:48 am

    Yes! Please think before you blast music in the dressing room. Not everyone may share your tastes, and unfamiliar/unpleasant music can really ruin the vibe. Even if the music is familiar bellydance music or music for the performance, that’s a lot of noise to add to an already crowded and noisy environment.

    1. Mahin
      January 4, 2014 at 7:42 pm

      It certainly can be noisy! That doesn’t usually help the nervous newbies stay calm before a show.

  2. Eileen Keyes
    January 3, 2014 at 11:00 am

    Good post! I have a story for you, Mahin. Last year, here in New Mexico, I was getting ready to perform in a very crowded, two-part dressing area. The smaller part had a nice wall of lighted mirrors, with about five swivel chairs. A group of beautiful young Hispanic girls had homesteaded them, but when done (with ALL their makeup AND hair) they stayed sitting and visiting there with no thought of anyone else.

    I complained quietly to two of my young troupe members, saying that someone ought to say something, (passing the buck…) One of them, a Native American, passed it right back to me… saying that I was the ‘elder’ and that I should take care of it. I had to laugh, and reluctantly agreed. (I was 63, now 64.)

    Now… lest you think differently, let me tell you… I love Hispanic culture. Having lived very close to the border for most of my life in Southern California, I had many such friends on both sides of the ‘frontera.’ The school-bus run I drove went right to the border. I’m well acquainted with the language and customs.

    So… I took the stance that any Mexican mama would… Hands on hips, I asked them firmly “Por que no les permiten las otras usar los espejos? To my amazement, they startled and fairly jumped out of the seats, got all their stuff, and themselves, out of the way. I think that since I’m anglo, it shocked the heck out of them. I had a good private laugh afterward.

    My group was done at that point (We always bring mirrors.) but others had resigned themselves to not having access, so I announced that the seats were available! My point is that if one is careful and culturally sensitive, we can sometimes solve the problems in situ. It will be interesting to see how it goes at next year’s even there!

    1. Mahin
      January 4, 2014 at 7:39 pm

      I’m glad that worked out for you! Sounds like it could have been a dicey one…

  3. Sophia Ravenna
    January 3, 2014 at 12:26 pm

    I think a couple of other “DO”s would be:

    DO watch out for your fellow dancers! If someone has a tag sticking out or something else, let them know so they can correct it before they go on stage!

    And DO be willing to help out! Sometimes someone needs a hand safety pinning something or getting their bra fastened or for someone to look at the back of their head and make sure their flowers look good. If you have time, lend a hand.

    I hope a lot of people see this post and take it to heart 🙂

    1. Mahin
      January 4, 2014 at 7:36 pm

      Oh, yes! That’s good backstage karma too! You’d want someone to tell you if your undies tag was peeking out your skirt!

    2. Lara Adrienne
      April 14, 2014 at 11:42 pm

      Yes! I wish someone had caught me BEFORE I went on stage this night. . .

  4. Mary C
    January 4, 2014 at 7:52 pm

    I love this list! My two favorites are wear headphones and keep your hair spray/perfume to yourself! Gah! Choking fumes…can’t breathe…asthma is killing me….ahhh…argh…..gurgle….wheeze…. *melodramatic clutching at throat*!!!

  5. Zorba
    January 4, 2014 at 8:46 pm

    Be prepared, time permitting, to calm the nerves of nervous beginners – coach the “Deep and slow there, Big Girl” breathing exercise. I have done this countless times, and have been thanked very sincerely for it!

    1. Mahin
      January 4, 2014 at 9:08 pm

      YES, definitely a DO! It’s almost a rite of passage. I fondly remember the dancer that “talked me off the ledge” at my first really big performance! <3

  6. Lynn aka "Nisima"
    January 6, 2014 at 1:08 pm

    Be as self-sufficient as possible with your costuming in dressing room; but if you do need to ask for help, be considerate and do not expect another dancer obviously in the “throes” of getting into costume to stop and help you with your costume immediately! Another point of ettiquette is if you have bad “stage fright” – do NOT broadcast your nervousness to other dancers as this sends a really negative blast of energy to anyone around you. Instead, learn some breathing techniques or stretching to alleviate it, and if someone does offer their help with your stage jitters – thank them profusely and some day pay it forward to another nervous dancer. It is all about being considerate of others and not treating other dancers in dressing room as if they were “support staff” to you, the “diva”.

  7. Aleksie
    January 8, 2014 at 11:37 am

    If you must move someone’s things, be careful. I’ve had my things moved and lost items because the person who moved them allowed things to spill out and didn’t clean up.

    If you are borrowing something that has a finite amount, make sure you don’t use it all and don’t loan out without asking. I had string once that was supposed to tie up my hair. I loaned some of it to someone before I used it, and she used the entire thing on herself and others.

    DO be careful in opening the door to the dressing room. Sometimes, audience members are lurking around outside.

    Don’t bring extra people along if you can help it. Dressing rooms crowd if everyone has a helper.

    Do inform others at what point you are in the show. Even if there’s a stage manager, it’s nice to know if you’re up next or have a few acts to go.

  8. Yeril
    January 13, 2014 at 11:38 pm

    I always remind the Dancers that the Dressing room area are for Dancers Only. No friends or family members allowed. We need to respect every ones privacy

  9. Kahina
    January 23, 2014 at 4:35 pm

    Worse time ever in a dressing room was with a fellow dancer that was continuously belching, farting and had the most foul language that should never come out of a ladies mouth. So please be courteous with both language and bodily functions in those crowed dressing rooms.

  10. Lara Adrienne
    April 14, 2014 at 11:45 pm

    Yes to all of this. Also, don’t bring outside friends. Last summer in Alanya, I shared a dressing room with a male belly dancer (zenne) and another female belly dancer. The zenne would occasionally bring a friend with him to work, one of whom would sit on the makeup counter and do her own makeup. Wth?


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