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Belly Dance Costume Inventory: Why & How To Do It

This is Week #1 of Your Sparkly Wardrobe, a collaboration with Sparkly Belly. To sign up for the full series, delivered on alternate weeks (July 15 – September 2, 2016)  here and on Sparkly Belly, please visit here.

How many costumes does a bellydancer need?
Just one more, right?

We’d all like a limitless wardrobe of sparkly things, but whether it is our budget or our closest space that constrains us, most of us will never achieve that beautiful dream. We can, however, make the most of what we can afford and store. In fact, if you’re like me, you may not be making the most of what you have already! That’s the mission of the Your Sparkly Wardrobe project – to help you make the most of the costume pieces you already own by taking stock, re-evaluating your performance needs and creating a plan to up your costume game without any major purchases.

Why do you need to inventory your bellydance wardrobe?

There are many excellent reasons to create an inventory of your costumes.  For starters, if you would like to include your costumes in the coverage of your renter’s or home owner’s policy – which I highly recommend you do – you would need an inventory, ideally with photos and receipts,  to make a claim in the event any were stolen or damaged in a fire, flood or other disaster. If you are a professional with a closet full of high-end bedlahs, this is absolutely essential!

On a more positive note, creating an inventory of your costumes will…

  • make you fully aware of what you already have so you don’t buy duplicates or near-duplicates
  • give you the opportunity to assess the condition and fit of your costume pieces so they are ready for the stage
  • help you spot gaps in your wardrobe that could open multiple options if filled
  • turn up items that you no longer need or want and can get rid of
  • give you an opportunity to discover new pairings of your existing wardrobe pieces

Are you convinced yet?  Let’s do this!

How To Inventory Your Belly Dance Wardrobe

Step 1: Get it together

Gather up all your costume items. This includes full sets, all manner of skirts and pants, sashes, veils and accessories. Put them on a large table, bed or on a clean sheet spread on the floor. Check all your closets, gig bags and any place you may have stashed things. Take a minute to think if you have loaned any items out to other dancers – make arrangements to get them back.

Step 2: Sort it out

Make separate piles for each category of items. Depending on your particular performance style, the kind of pieces in your wardrobe will differ. For example you may have many chiffon skirts, but no flare bottom Melodia style pants or short overskirts – or vice versa –  or maybe you have both! Here are some category suggestions:

  • Full sets with built-in belts on skirts (Egyptian style)
  • Full dresses (for example beladi, Saidi or folkloric costumes)
  • Bra and belt sets
  • Skirts that can be worn on their own (without being too revealing)
  • Overskirts or toppers (that can’t be worn alone)
  • Harem pants or flare bottom pants
  • Veils
  • Cholis and vests
  • Sleeves
  • Belly covers or body stockings\
  • Headdresses

At this point you will proceed with one category at a time through the rest of the steps.

Step 3: Should it stay or go?

We all find ourselves with items hanging around our closet that no longer fit our performance style or taste even if they do fit our figures. Go through your pile and decide one piece at a time if it is something you still use and enjoy wearing. If not,  put it in a bag out of the way. You will decide later whether to toss it, give it away or prepare it for sale. No need to make that call right now.

Do you like the item but just aren’t excited about wearing it any more? Maybe it just needs an update or small addition. Hang on to it for now – next week’s Your Sparkly Wardrobe post may be just what it needs to make it a keeper.

Step 4: Set up your record

For this you can use a small notebook, index cards, a spreadsheet or a wardrobe organizing app (yes, these exist) depending on your preference for paper or digital. If you are using a notebook or index cards, use one sheet or card per costume item. If you are using a spreadsheet, create one row for each costume item. You may want to make one tab for each category of items if your costume wardrobe is large. Wardrobe apps vary widely and may take time figure out, so maybe start out with index cards or a notebook and digitize your record later.

Step 5: Check the fit

Try on every item in the category you are working on. Make a note on the item page, card or spreadsheet row (make a column for Fit)  if the item is too small or too big anywhere. Note if a bra or belt has gaps. Check if the straps are ideally positioned for your comfort and stability. Some people prefer halters, some prefer over-the-shoulder style and some like cris-cross backs. Changing the strap arrangement can be a game changer when you have an uncomfortable bra! Check skirts and pants for length. If you’ve been rolling that waistband up to keep from tripping over the skirt hem – fess up now and make a note in your record.

Step 6: Time for a close inspection

So far, we’ve only been looking at the fit of the item. Take it off and give it  a close inspection in good light. Check the beading, both flat beading and fringe. Look for any areas where beads are missing or rhinestones are coming loose. Are there missing bead strands in your fringe? Is the finish on your beads wearing off the fringe?  Check the prongs on large stones. Inspect the condition of your sequins, coins or other ornaments. For any items that are lined, how is the lining holding up?  Make notes on anything that needs repair. (If you are using a spreadsheet make a column for Repairs)

Next, a very important task! Check all the closures. Is the stitching holding up? Look for rust and hooks that are weakening and starting to bend open. If you have velcro, consider replacing it. Do you have enough closures? Personally, I like to have two closures on my neck straps and two or three on the back of my bras – usually two large snaps and one flat hook at the end. If one gives way, the costume is still secure – now that’s peace of mind!

Now the gross part. How clean are your pieces? This could be scary. Give it a “sniff test”, especially in all the potentially stinky places like underarms and crotches – sorry, it has to be done. You shouldn’t have to depend on heavy doses of perfume to cover the stench of your unwashed costume. Be nice to your audience! We’ll discuss maintenance in a later part of the project, for now we just need to assess the odor situation.

How does the lining of your straps, cups and belts look? Are there any makeup stains or dirty spots? Light colored skirt and pants are notorious for getting dirty at the hems. Check veils for lipstick or other stains. Make notes as you go.

Step 7: Time to play!

Now that you’ve done the work, you get to do the fun part! It’s time to look at your bellydance costume wardrobe with fresh eyes for new possibilities. Depending on the kind of items you have, your combinations will vary, but here are some ideas to get you started. When I did this, I was surprised by how may combinations that never occurred to me before! I paired the same bras and belts with the same few skirts over and over because they looked good and it worked. Doing this, I found several new combinations that made fresh looks – and I didn’t spend a penny!

Make notes on your item page, card or spreadsheet entry for what goes with what – especially if it’s a new discovery. Even better, snap a quick picture of the items laid out together as you’d wear them. A picture is worth a thousand words as they say.

Ideas to try:

  • Lay out a bra and belt set on your bed or table. One at a time, put each skirt and pair of pants next to it. Does it coordinate or not? If it’s not a great match, consider if an additional item like a veil, sleeves, choli, overskirt or extra layer of hip scarf could tie the colors together. You could wind up with a new and vibrant outfit with a small addition.
  • Try each skirt or pair of pants with each veil. As before, would the addition of another color or metallic bring them together?
  • Try each pair of pants or skirt with all your overskirts, toppers or similar items. You may find a new favorite!

 

Step 8: Make a plan

Once you’ve gone through steps 3 through 7 with each category of costume items, it’s time to make a task list. Review each page, card or spreadsheet line and list any repairs, alterations or cleaning. I like to divide my “to do” lists so I can quickly select what I have time for.

  • Small tasks that I can complete in one sitting with supplies I have on hand, like replacing a closure, mending a tear or washing.
  • Medium sized jobs that may be 2 or 3 sittings or that I will need to hunt down supplies like matching bead and sequins.
  • Major projects, like re-beading fringe, that may take me weeks to finish.
  • Hired out jobs. These are things I don’t feel confident doing or have the equipment for, like sergeing a veil edge.

Also make a list of items that would fill a gap. For example, maybe in your mix-and-match playing, you’ve discovered that a veil with 2 specific colors would coordinate with several outfits to give you new options. A strategically selected overskirt could be the key to making a tribal bra work with more pants or skirts.  Be sure to keep your shopping list handy when you go browsing online or at the next hafla or bellydance convention to make you next purchase a truly useful one.

Week #2 of Your Sparkly Wardrobe will be on Sparkly Belly….”3 Ways to Spice Up Your Costumes”

 

 

 

July 14, 2016 1 Comment

6 Tips To Close The Deal On a Bellydance Gig

close the deal

Last week, I taught a private lesson that was very different than usual. My student, who has been taking both weekly and private lessons consistently for over 3 1/2 years now, is on the cusp of performing professionally.  An opportunity popped up, so the week’s lesson became how to handle a call from a client looking to book a performance rather than technique and improvisation. When you are seriously invested in the comprehensive training of a bellydance student that is looking to “go pro”, there is so much more than moves to learn!

I thought I’d share a few of the tips I went over with her in hopes that they will be useful for my blog readers here and on the “Bellydance Quickies”.

  1. Open it up. Start the conversation about booking by asking a simple, open-ended question like “Tell me about the party you are planning.” The key to making a good booking at a good price is getting good information. You don’t want every gig you get an inquiry for – trust me. Bachelor party? No, thank you.  This is where you initially screen the booking to see if it’s a good fit for you.
  2. Now shut up. Listen more than you talk. Your client will most likely tell you more than you thought to ask about the nature of the occasion if you get them started and give them a chance. Clarify specifics briefly as needed, but let them tell you all about their big plans. It is just as important to understand the size and formality of an event and the vibe they want to create as it is to know how long the show will be and at what time.
  3. Take notes. Take notes while you are listening to the client describe their vision for the party, wedding or corporate event they are planning. You will, of course, need to get more specifics like the exact address later to write up the contract, but you can gather much of what you need from being a good listener and asking a few well chosen questions. I keep a small notebook in my purse just for this in case I get a call while I’m out and about. I use the same notebook for calls I take at home, that way I can keep all potential client information in one place. I  put the date I received the call on the page too, so if I haven’t heard back from a client in a week, I call to see if they are still looking to book. You’d be surprise how many say, “I’ve been meaning to call you this week – thanks for checking back!”.
  4. Don’t jump the gun!  Clients are sometimes (often) in a hurry to get a price out of you. Make sure you have all, and I mean ALL the information you need before you give a price. Usually the first time I get a “premature ask” I deftly redirect with a question about other specifics I need to set an accurate price. What is the address? If I’m at my computer, I run it on Google Maps while I have them on the phone. There may be a travel fee. For example, here in the Phoenix area, if someone is in north Chandler, it’s a 20 minute drive from my house. If it’s south Chandler it could be over 45 minutes. During rush hour it could be 90 minutes!  Is this a wedding? Toasts, speeches, receiving lines… wedding receptions almost always run behind schedule. Figure extra time into the cost. And those are just two examples of the many things that could affect your quote.
  5. Paint the picture. Even if your potential client isn’t pushing you for a price, it is in your best interest to delay pitching your price. The more you can help the client build a mental picture of the lovely and exciting show you will plan for them, discuss the logistics of music hookup and how to get in and keep it a surprise for the guest of honor, the closer you are to sealing the deal.
  6. Keep your mystique. This is one paradox of   the bellydance biz . Remember that what the client is seeking is exciting, glamorous entertainment for their event. They saw your gorgeous, elegant photo on your webpage and thought, “I want HER to dance for our wedding!”  Yes, you need to be thorough and professional in your business dealing, but if you are “all business” and too cold in discussing the details, you can blow the magic your photo created. It may not work in your favor for getting booked. It takes lots of practice to finesse the client call with just the right balance of business and charm so they stay excited to have YOU grace their event.

Keeping all this in mind as you guide the client through a booking call takes practice, just like your choreography! The more you do it, the more situations you have to navigate and different types of events you have to organize, the better you’ll get at it. Honesty, I didn’t fully realize how much I’d learned over 16 years of taking bookings until I spontaneously had to give a “booking call lesson” last week and it all came spilling out!

If you are also starting to book professional work and would like more comprehensive coaching on how to handle client calls, I do offer lessons on Skype or Google Hangouts. I can take you step-by-step through an initial client call, booking and follow-up, including role-playing exercises (where I can play the indecisive client, the “price shopper”,  and a total pain!)  so you can learn to close the deal like a pro! Email me for more information.

January 13, 2016 3 Comments

What’s New in 2016 for “Mahin’s Bellydance Quickies” & Other Sparkly Plans

Hello to all my BDQ subscribers and blog readers! I hope you are all having a lovely holiday season! This time of year is so full with both celebrations and work, with trying to be “in the moment” for this short and special season and at the same time looking forward into next year to decide how to focus our time and energy.  This season of reassessment is very important to me – the momentum that keeps me working comes from not only the personal satisfaction and enjoyment of what I do, but even more so, knowing that it is meaningful and useful to others that share my enthusiasm and love for Middle Eastern dance.

Here's to a Sparkly 2016

Looking back, 2015 has been a tremendous year! I have done more travelling and workshop teaching than in any year to date – a trend that I am excited to see growing! With the help and support of many wonderful people, I am 2 days away from shooting my very first full-length instructional bellydance DVD, “Full On with 3/4 Shimmies!”  And a little project I started in 2010  is about to enter it’s sixth year.

Looking forward into 2016, I gaze through that lens of personal satisfaction and true usefulness to others to decide how I want to spend my time and energy – because just like money, you only get to spend it once. This coming year, I will be refining the scope of my work for more personal artistic fulfillment for me and more usefulness for you, my BDQ subscribers, blog readers and students.

More and more, we are living in a world of well… MORE!  More options, more decisions, more expectations, more emails…. everything draws onr attention. This overwhelm is definitely a stress I feel, and I suspect you can relate to it too. For me, the only “more” I want in my life is more of what really deeply matters to me and to my work.  When something really and truly hits my personal target of fulfilling for me and useful for others, no amount of work feels like “too much”.

So what DO I want MORE of in 2016?

  • I want to engage more personally with students by teaching more workshops and doing more one-on-one coaching.
  • I want more space in my life to devote to my own continued studies in dance – because we are always and forever students of this art!
  • I want to do more event production, which I have almost entirely gotten away from over the past few years.
  • I want to dive more deeply into the bellydance content I teach.

That’s my personal bellydance wish list. How will that play out in the work I plan to do for and with all of you in 2016?

I am opening more time in my schedule for private students – both in person and online.

I plan to host 4 seasonal bellydance events here in Phoenix which will include some curated performances by dancers across all levels and bellydance styles to recorded music, some semi-pro and professional performances with live music and an open floor party with a band for all to enjoy.  If all goes well, I may even revive my annual “Fully Fusion” show series… I left off at “Fully Fusion 5” a few years ago.

Realigning the “Bellydance Quickies”.  This is a bigee! The BDQ is so very near and dear to my heart – and from the feedback I get, near and dear to many of you too.  I also know that keeping up with and truly making use of the BDQ on a daily basis is difficult for most dancers’  schedules. Going into it’s sixth year, the BDQ will transition to a 3-days a week schedule as follows:

  1. The Wednesday Watcher: (Wednesdays) This will include both the fun, unique and surprising finds and the wonderfully inspiring videos I have featured on Sundays.
  2. The Grab-Bag: (Fridays) Music, history, costuming, culture, stage makeup… you will find these here to keep you a well-rounded and informed bellydancer.
  3. Sunday in the Studio: (Sundays)  This is where and when you will find the short tutorial videos. Topics will be a mix of combos, drills and prop material (definitely guided by your input, requests and feedback!) I hope that the timing will give you a better opportunity to use and keep up with what I put the time and energy into creating for you. I have heard from so many of you that you “hoard” your BDQs on your computers – which is very flattering, but I really want you to use them!  Do you see a theme here?

If you are not on the “Bellydance Quickies” list yet and would like to be, you can sign up here – it’s free.

 

Special Topic Programs & Intensives.  As I mentioned, I’d like to present some deeper, longer content in special topic areas. This year I will experiment with 4-week segments, some in collaboration with other bellydancers, focusing on things like health, costuming, dance skill intensives, business building and more. I will announce these in advance in the BDQ, the BellyGram and on my social media in general so you can get on board for whatever interests you and supports your development as a dancer.

Speaking of The BellyGram… I have been so busy this year, I have not put out many of these! I plan to return to a monthly newsletter that includes both event info and special content exclusive to the BellyGram. This is where you will find upcoming editions of the “Raks Me A Question” series! If you want to receive the The BellyGram you can sign up here.

Whew!! That’s a lot of plans for 2016 but I’m excited!  I’m looking forward to all of it and hope that you’ll dance along on this journey with me. As I write this, it is December 26th and I’m deep into the final preparations for the “Full On with 3/4 Shimmies!” DVD shoot on the 29th. The “Bellydance Quickies” will be taking a short holiday break, returning in it’s new 3-day format on Friday, January 1st.

I want to take this opportunity to THANK YOU for all your support of the BDQ, my workshops and for your friendship – online and in person! I wish you and yours the merriest of days, filled with love, good times, good food, and some time to recharge for a fabulous shimmy-filled 2016!  – Mahin

Your thoughts, comments, requests and feedback are welcome …. please share in the comments below!

 

December 26, 2015 2 Comments

Must-Know Bellydance Song: “Misirlou”

Who, What and When?

“Misirlou” is one of the most recognizable Arabic melodies there is, thanks to modern covers by Dick Dale and more recently, sampling by the Black Eyed Peas.  The earliest recorded version is from Egypt in 1919, with credit for the composition given to Sayyed Darwish, a prominent composer in Cairo at the turn of the century.  Darwish worked with many Greek and Turkish session musicians there and it is likely that is how the tune spread so widely through the Mediterranean.

Greeks and Turks have been known to claim “Misirlou” for their own, though the earliest documented source appears to be Darwish’s Egyptian recording. Early Greek versions from the late 1920’s are often classified as “rebetiko” music, which was urban and political by nature. One of my Greek musician friends described “rebetiko” as “anarchist music” and told me it was banned in Greece from 1938 till around 1950 due to it’s lyric content.

Versions of “Misirlou” abound – from very soft and flowing to upbeat and energetic. Aside from the instrumental variations, there are versions sung in Greek, Turkish, Arabic and probably more out there.

What is “Misirlou” about?

“Misirlou” means “Egyptian Girl”, and the 1919 recording was, in fact, titled “Bint Masr” which means the same in Arabic. It is an ode to an exotic beauty.

My Misirlou, your sweet eyes
Have lit a flame in my heart
Ah ya habibi, ah ya leleli, ah
Honey drips from your lips

Ah Misirlou, your magical exotic beauty
Will drive me crazy, I can’t stand it anymore
Ah I will steal you from Arabia

My black-eyed crazy Misirlou
My life changes with a kiss
Ah ya habibi, with a little kiss, ah
From the little mouth of yours, oh!

Source: Greek Songs – Greek Music . Interesting note – this site credits the lyrics and music to Nick Roubanis, a Greek immigrant who first registered the copyright for it in the United States in 1934.

Because this song is widely known, it is a solid choice for most any audience. Although  some would say it’s a bit cliche, it does have a beautiful melody which is probably why it has traveled so far and wide.

Here’s the earliest known Greek recording from 1927

 

How about you… do you like to perform to “Miserlou”? Do you prefer the faster or slower versions?

 

October 4, 2015 6 Comments
Rukshana

Quick Change Tips for Bellydance Costumes

I love getting questions from DBQ subscribers – especially great ones like this!

Recently I was in a bellydance show and performed 2 numbers close together and was a lot slower than some of the other dancers changing. I was wondering if you could offer some tips in a Friday DBQ on quick costume changes.

Been there – done that. It’s stressful – and stress is the last thing you need when you want to take the stage with calm, cool and collected confidence.  A dancer can use all the help she can get, so for this very critical question, I asked an expert – Rukshana, lovingly known to the DBQ community as “The Costume Fairy”. Not only is Rukshana a genius bellydance costume designer and seamstress, she has had a long career in professional theater costuming. In short, she knows all the backstage secrets and she’s sharing them with us here!

The Costume Fairy says….

Fast changes can be done super fast if you take the time to prepare a proper set up.  It’s even faster if you have a helper. Here are some tips to prepare for a smooth quick change.

  •  “Rig” your jewelry.  Use magnets or Velcro closures on necklaces. If you aren’t fast with pierced earrings, find clip-ons or convert the pierced earrings to clips.  Check the jewelry findings area in your local craft store or shop on line.  If you add a piece of double stick toupee or Hollywood tape to the clips they have added security.
  • Preset your costume on a chair in the reverse order you would put it on.  For example– bra on the bottom, then belt, skirt.  Put any shoes under the chair. Jewelry can go under the bra or next to your shoes, depending on the space and size of the accessories. I like to have a clean sheet under the chair so I can drop the costume I’m wearing without worrying about it getting dirty.
  • Rig closures for speed where applicable. You are not going to Velcro a bra or belt, but you can use a skirt with elastic or use a zipper instead of a row of hook and bar closures. Big hooks and bars on a bra or belt are better that multiple small ones as a closure. Size matters!
  • If you can attach the skirt and belt this also may increase speed.
  • If you are wearing a belly cover have your bra attached at the front to it so you have fewer attachment points to secure it to the bra or use clear elastic straps to hold it up.
  •  It’s faster to have a designated belly cover for each costume than to change them.  Sometimes you can even rig your skirt to the cover and bra with some stitching or snaps.
  • Practice the change!  Do a couple dry runs where you figure out what placement works best for you.  Then run it for speed.  You need to know how much time you have between songs. A minute is a long time if you have everything prepped and ready.
  • See if you can arrange to have a dresser back stage. Their job is to facilitate the change.  This person needs to be calm and cool under pressure.  You don’t need someone high strung rushing you.  A good dresser will help as needed and keep you moving and out of panic mode if something is not going as planned.
  • Set up your change as close to the stage as possible. Garment racks with sheets thrown over them can form a small quick change booth in a pinch.  Walled pop up tents work great too.
As a professional costumer I can tell you nudity is an occupational hazard I face daily. We have all seen it so when speed is important modesty goes out the window. As a dancer I will try to be sensitive to my surroundings but I will make my change.  I have mastered the art of changing costumes with out excess nudity (dance panties cover as much as a bikini if not more and if you practice it’s amazing how you can undo the neck strap on bra 1 and slip bra 2 over the top before releasing the back band to drop bra 1 and then position and secure bra 2.
Remember the clock is ticking!

Have another quick-change trick you’ve used? Share it in the comments below…

September 17, 2015 5 Comments
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