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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

How To Tame Your Backstage Nerves and Find Your Inner Bellydancing Superhero

3 more dancers and you’re on. Your stomach is churning and sweat is running down the inside of your arms before you have even started dancing.

Not feeling like thisTamin?

WonderWoman

Backstage nerves are no fun and I’m pretty sure every dancer has experienced them at some time. Even if you are an experienced dancer and are used to being calm, cool and collected in front your audience, if you find yourself in a new situation where the stakes are higher or it is a “tougher room” (we all know an audience full of bellydancers is the toughest) you may still develop a case of newbie-nerves all over again.

The most straight-forward way to prevent a case of the backstage jitters is to be prepared. If you know that you are well-rehearsed and come to the gig rested and fueled in a healthful way (skip the Monster drinks) you have set yourself up for success. But that’s not always enough.

Your body and your mind are both in on the scheme, linked by your hormonal chemistry. There has been some very interesting research done recently that has turned up some really useful information for dancers waiting for their turn backstage.

You can read the whole study here, but this is the short and practical version…

First, let’s consider the connection between our brain and our chemistry. The hormone testosterone has the effect of boosting confidence. Levels of the hormone cortisol rise with stress and anxiety. Now the relationship between our body and our mind – we read confidence in body language when people stand up straight and look “open”. When we see someone slumping or crossing their arms protectively, we read shyness, fear, hesitation and the like.

In the study by Amy Cuddy at Harvard University, they found that assuming a powerful, open posture for 2 minutes positively and significantly impacts the body’s chemistry for more confidence and less anxiety. Wow. Quick, free and all natural too!

So what does this mean for you backstage?

Try standing in the “superwoman stance” as you wait, feet wide, hands on your hips and chest and head up. Maybe add some deep breathing to boost the calming effect – it certainly can’t hurt.

Now channel your bellydancing superhero self and go raq their world!

What techniques do you use to mentally prepare before you take the stage? Tell us in the comments below…

January 22, 2015 3 Comments

Making the Most of Your Belly Dance Music

Around this time of year, I get the urge to clean out things and get rid of what I no longer have use for. I literally spent 8 straight hours ripping my bedroom apart this week.  I even vacuumed under that bed – take that dust bunnies!  Not only did I clear my room of useless clutter that just got in the way, I found things I had long forgotten I owned or that I had thought were lost – like my favorite tweezers!  The big payoff for me is waking up in my refreshed and organized space in the morning. My first sight is a pleasant accomplishment that sets the tone for a good day.

One thing I never get rid of however, is music, especially since these days it’s digital and takes up no space. But I DO take some time to go through it once or twice a year – the payoff is just as real!

These tips are based on using iTunes, but most music library programs have similar characteristics.

An example of ratings and comments from my iTunes library.

An example of ratings and comments from my iTunes library.

Categorize your music by how you USE it.

Do you have all your belly dance music in one category? I used to years ago. 80% of my catalog was one category! That didn’t help to narrow things down at all. Now I categorize my music by how I use it. I have categories for entrance and exit music for shows, drum solos, Saidi, Khaleegy, drill music for teaching, etc.  This makes finding what I need a snap.

Use the “last played” sorting option.

I truly believe the 80/20 rule applies to belly dance music. Without intervention, I would use 20% of my music collection 80% of the time simply because they are my favorites for performance or are really effective for class drills. While that gets the job done, it doesn’t keep things fresh.

Try sorting your collection by play history with the most recently played at the bottom of the list. When you are reading email,  cleaning or otherwise putzing about the house, play it from the top. You’ll unearth songs you didn’t even know you had – and may be perfect for a show, class or your next choreography!

Use the music rating system.

When I’m listening to my least played music, I give it a rating. The rating system helps me find those standbys I love very quickly, but also reminds me of the good stuff I’ve turned up when I go looking for new combo music for DBQ video segments or the next student piece I’m writing.

Be a Comment Queen!

If your program has a comments or notes entry like iTunes does, use it to your advantage. I add info like the predominant rhythm, the “feel” of the music or even the general idea of the song lyrics so I don’t use a song about heartbreak at a wedding reception! For example, if I’m doing Chiftitelli zill drills in class, I look in my Drill Music category, then scan the comments for Chiftitelli – there it is! Another example – I have a TON of Saidi music. Some of it is very modern and some is very heavy and folksy, I keep notes on the “feel” of the music so I can find what I need quickly and easily.

Use playlists creatively.

Of course I keep playlists of party shows, holiday-themed shows, shows that include props and all the workshop topics I teach. Sometimes I use them as is, sometimes I swap out a song or two to keep things fresh. They are in a constant state of musical evolution.  I also use playlists as reminders and personal study guides. I have a playlist of interesting songs I’ve found and want to get to know better.

I usually turn these up during my “excavation” of the least played items or when I buy a new CD and a track  piques my interest.  Another handy playlist is the “I’d like to choreograph this someday” list. Sometimes I find a song I think I’d like to write choreography to – for myself or my belly dance students – but I don’t have an upcoming project at the time. One the list it goes. When the time comes, I have some pre-screened ideas ready to check out.

 

What tips and tricks do you use to organize your digital music collection? Share them in the comments below…

December 29, 2014 3 Comments

Let’s Get Specific: The Training Principle of Specificity and Belly Dance

As serious dancers, we should always be looking to grow, expand and improve on our skills. Sometimes this means taking on new physical challenges in strength, balance, flexibility and maybe even endurance.  The key to success in training for these kinds of belly dance achievements is to define a clear path of how to get there. In situations like this, some thought to the specificity of your approach will make your efforts more effective and less frustrating.

What is specificity in training?

Specificity is the relevance and appropriateness of training to a particular activity or skill. Usually, in academic publications this is discussed in terms of sports, but as dancers, we know that belly dance can be a seriously athletic endeavor! By relevant we mean it prepares the body for all the various demands of the activity. By appropriate, we mean that the volume and intensity of the training is sufficient to prompt the body to respond with gains in strength, flexibility or whatever effect we are after.

How does specificity in training apply to belly dance?

When you decide to tackle a new belly dance skill that will tax your body more than it is accustomed to, it is smart to start preparing yourself before even diving into the actual practice. Let’s take floorwork for example – this is one of the most physically demanding aspects of Middle Eastern dance. Floorwork requires core strength, shoulder strength, and for some moves, significant spinal flexibility.

Before beginning the learning and practice phase of taking on floorwork it would be very helpful to work on strength in the quadriceps muscles, shoulders and core especially. You would want to incorporate flexibility work for the spine, hip flexors and ankles (those kneeling crawls are tough!) Different skills require other attributes – that is exactly why specificity in training is so important. By preparing yourself to take on the task, you will make the learning process and your practice more comfortable and successful – and most importantly, reduce your chance of injury.

Specificity is also important in your pre-practice warm up once you have begun to dive into your new skill. Let’s look at the example of fan veils this time. Your warm up should include mobilizing the hands and wrists in all directions to lubricate the many small joints there. It should also include a full warm up of the upper body and shoulders to prepare for the large movements it takes to maneuver the fans.

Your pre-practice warm up can also be followed by more strengthening exercises to maintain and continue your progress in getting stronger, but they shouldn’t be so intense that you will fatigue the muscles you need to practice effectively. That just leads to sloppy form, a poor quality practice and potential injury.  Keep the more intense strengthening routines separate from your practice, or perhaps following it if that’s the only way it fits in your schedule.

Of course, warm ups aren’t only for class and practice! It is imperative that you warm up thoroughly before your show as well, both for performance quality and for your safety. This can be tricky, as your space may be limited and you will almost certainly be in your costume. Think ahead and figure out a warm up sequence that will serve your purposes while being able to be done in a small space without getting on the floor.

Step up to the challenge!

Does this sound like a lot of work and preparation? Well, it is. But if all skills were easy to achieve, they wouldn’t be so amazing to watch! Putting in the time to analyze the skill you are after and figure out your best and safest route there will give you the most satisfying results in the end. And once achieved, your gains in strength, balance and flexibility will make the next skill that much more accessible.

If you are unsure of how to break down the physical needs of a new skill or select the exercises to prepare yourself, consider getting some qualified help from a certified trainer or fitness instructor that has experience working with dancers. This is a teaching service I offer both in person and through online lessons too.

 

Here’s to your dance progress!

What new skill did you find physically challenging to learn? What’s on your wish list to step up your belly dance in the coming year? Tell us in the comments below….

November 29, 2014 1 Comment

CD Review: Hossam Ramzy’s “Rock The Tabla”

I recently received a copy of  Hossam Ramzy’s “Rock the Tabla” CD for review. It arrived in the mail as I was headed out to teach so I popped it in the car CD player for a first listen. From the title (and the artist) I expected a CD of hot drum solos but this CD was quite the surprise!  If I had read the notes first, I’d have know that this is a collaboration CD.  Ramzy has been a guest percussionist for many other artists and in this CD  “Egypt’s Ambassador of Rhythm” invited his favorite artists from other genres to swing on his playground.

“Rock the Tabla” has 11 tracks that run between 3:00 and 6:00 minutes each. The guest artists include A.R. Rahman, Billy Cobham, Manu Katche, Omar Faruk Tekbilek, Jimmy Waldo, Chaz Kkashi, Phil Thornton and John Themis.

The opening track, “Arabatana” (5:07) set me straight with a Spanish guitar and a very “Santana-esque” electric lead guitar. The opening guitar melodies give way to a drum break and then back to the guitars. I think this could make a very interesting skirt fusion piece.

“Cairo to India” (5:51)  is the second track. This selection has a modern Middle Eastern feel with a kind of “India -meets-Jazz” vocal melody in parts.  This song has a good, steady pace and would make a better drill or combo practice song than performance piece, in my opinion.

Next up is “6 Teens” (4:31). This piece is lively and has great energy, drum breaks and accents.  It also has varying time signatures, primarily 7/8 and 9/8. This is a really interesting piece and I am drawn to listening (and dancing in my office) to  it over and over – I love unusual rhythms!

Track 4, “Ancient Love Affairs”  feels like cool water poured all over me on a hot day. It is soothing and relaxing, but won’t put you to sleep thanks to a light layer of interesting percussion. Now, I’m not a tribal gal, but I imagine this would be a perfect slow combo song for ATS – listen to it and tell me if that’s right.

Yes, there is a drum solo – “Shukran Arigato” (3:52) combines Egyptian tabla and Japanese taiko drums. The two drummers use a “call and response” format with  Karatchi and Malfouf rhythms as a backdrop. This doesn’t sound decidedly Japanese and could be a fun drum solo. This will definitely make it onto my “Shimmy Drill” playlist for class.

“Blusey Flusey” (5:05) is  another 7/8 track. The rhythm feels right up front with a melancholy violin in the back. That’s all cool with me, but when the mizmar jumped in I found the song much more appealing. For me, this is a piece to just enjoy listening to and dancing freestyle just for fun.

Yet another rhythmically adventurous track, “Billy Dancing” (4:32) (no, that’s not a typo) switches between a 9/8 and Saidi rhythms. For that reason, it doesn’t make a good drill song, but might make for a fun choreography if you dig accordion.

According to the liner notes, “Sawagy” (4:04) is a blend of rock, Latino and Egyptian Fellahi styles. This track has full vocals and I’d say it feels mostly modern Egyptian at the beginning till the rock guitar comes about two minutes in and dominates by the end.

“Dom and Doumbia” (3:03) is another drum duet, this time between Ramzy on Egyptian tabla joined by a Malian djembe player.  Personally, I like more distinct riffs and accents for my performance drum solos but the overall steady nature of this track makes it another good one for a “Shimmy Drill” class playlist.

The title track “Rock the Tabla” (5:33) features Omar Faruk Tekbilek on mizmar – but don’t be scared away if you’re not a mizmar-lover. It’s not the dominant instrument. This track has vocals and a lot of electric guitar. The liner notes say Ramzy was inspired by his work with Led Zepplin in creating this track and you can hear that in the last minute or so.  If you’re inclined to use fusion music in your class, this would be a good song for teaching or drilling combos.

I love the playful title of the closing track , “This Could Lead to Dancing”. This final track seems to be  a reprise of “Cairo to India” and it makes a fine send off to a varied and interesting CD.

What do you think of this CD? Tell us in the comments below…

December 12, 2011 0 Comments
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