Back to Home Page 
Home >> Professional Dancer >> Costume Tips

Costume Tips

by Schadia and Saleema , © 2004

The Belt Gripper

Add some muscle to your belt with elastic. You’ll need a strip of 3-inch wide elastic about the same length as your belt. I recommend black elastic regardless of the color of your costume because white gets grubby looking very quickly. Sew one edge of the elastic around the inside upper edge of your belt, leaving the bottom free. Stretch the elastic as you sew to give it a better grip. Finish with a velcro closure to make a complete circle.

The inner belt serves several functions. First, your skirt and underwear can tuck neatly between the elastic and the belt. This is especially helpful with a Turkish belt if your skirt tends to peek out from the Vs in the front and back of the belt. Second, the elastic grips tips and allows you to discretely “funnel” them down into your underwear instead of having them fall through your skirt onto the floor. Which leads us to…..
==Back to top==

Safety Pins

These gadgets are useful for much more than the occasional costume emergency. They can substitute for eye closures, either temporarily or permanently. Before you sew or adjust an eye hook on your new costume, try hooking with a safety pin first. Use the large, sturdy ones available at a fabric store, not the little flimsy ones that come from the dry cleaner. Assuming you already have the hook where you want it, put the pin part of the safety pin through the fabric of the back of your costume where you want to hook to catch. The head and back of the safety pin are on the reverse plain cloth side of your costume. Put the safety pin through the plain side of your belt or bra, so that all that is visible on the front/fancy side is the small section that you stuck through the sequins & brought back to hook at the top of the safety pin. When you do this, you can see that you have created an instant "eye hook."

You can try out the costume and adjust the pin(s) as needed. Once you get the right fit, you can sew on the eye where the safety pin was. Moving a safety pin is much easier than removing and re-sewing an eye. If you’re particularly devoted to safety pins and use them instead of eyes, I recommend keeping a small pair of pliers around to pinch in the head of the pin to make sure it doesn’t come apart. If you do need to remove the pin, use the pliers to pop the head off the pin.

On general saftey pin note, remember that "safety pins are a dancer's best friend." ALWAYS keep a box of pins in your dance bag. It is best if the box is filled with different sizes of pins. You made need to make a last minute repair & if you don't have safety pins you are in big trouble.
==Back to top==


Speaking of elastic AND safety pins, it is a good idea to pin the elastic in your skirt rather than sew it together. It is so much easier to adjust the elastic if it starts to stretch out a little or if you loose weight. Definitely check the tightness of the elastic in your skirt before you perform in it, especially if you haven't had it on in a while. Your skirts need to be tight around your hips, because many of them are HEAVY & if you accidentally step on your skirt during a performance & the elastic is not tight enough to snap the skirt back up into place, it will slide down a bit, making you step on it more, which causes the skirt to slip down even more. This is an ugly little cycle and definitely not a good experience. You don't want to have to worry, "oh goddess, has it slipped past my belt, oh no!" You want to concentrate on your performance, so keep the elastic on your skirt tight & recheck it often.
==Back to top==

Bra Padding

A- and B-cup dancers have it easy in one respect: they can wear just about any size costume bra, with a little help. Almost everyone has heard about our friend the shoulder pad. But how, exactly, do you use them?

You want to take a seam ripper (you can get on at the fabric store, if you don't have one already) & take out the thread around the bottom of the inside of your bra cup. That fabric is hand sewn onto the bra by the costume-maker, so it is easy to remove. After ripping out the thread, open up the pocket you just created & fill the bottom of the cup & around the side, nearest where your underarm would be. You want to leave room at the top and the side nearest your other breast for your own assets to fit in securely front and center. You can do this by angling the curved end of one or more shoulder pads to the bottom and outside edges. You may have to trim the pads a little to leave enough room for “you.” When you have the shoulder pad(s) where you want them, take a needle and thread and secure the pads in place by & then sew the cloth fabric back in place. I don't recommend sewing the shoulder pads on the outside of the cloth fabric because they are usually white and may peak out, which you don't want. Putting them under the fabric gives the bra a nice finished look. PLEASE do not simply stuff the shoulder pads in, w/o securing them, and hope they won't wonder. Many times they DO wonder. I have seen them wiggle their way out on more than one occasion & that is embarassing for the dancer to say the least.

If you are adverse to just that tiny bit of hand sewing, don't use shoulder pads. Go to one of the big chain department stores, like Dillard's or Macy's & buy the silicon cup fillers. The ones at the Department store are cheaper then at Victoria's Secret and I like the style of the ones I've seen at the department store better too. I advise getting the kind with the little indentions on them. Those indentions act as sucsion cups & hold the silicon enhancer in place even when you sweat, move alot or wear them for a long time.
- Of course the shoulder pads are ALOT cheaper & you can choose how many you want to use & contour them to fit your body exactly.

If you have a mental block to padding your bra, you should get over it. Believe me, if a dancer isn't a big C cup, D cup or larger, she is most likely padding her bra & for good reason. It not only LOOKS a lot better, it feels better when you do. Many costumes are not specifically made for you. Giving your bra some padding is a way to customize the costume and make it fit more securely & better. So, if you haven't already, get used to the fact that padding your belly dance costume bra is not only O.K., but many times advantageous.
==Back to top==

Cleavage Enhancer

Many bras come w/ the cups separated & held together w/ a strip of sequined fabric, which sometimes has fringe hanging from it. You can detach that piece of fringe & then take out the strip of fabric, essentially separating your bra into two pieces. Then angle the cups of your bra so that the top inner "points" meet & sew them together. Reattach the fringe from behind, where you just sewed the two cups together & you are done! Besides increasing your cleavage it also makes the bra feel more secure than having the cups separated.
==Back to top==


The right underwear is especially important for restaurant work. Even if you don’t have a belt gripper, you need underwear with sturdy elastic around the legs to hold tips. As soon as possible after getting a tip, you can discretely poke it down into your underwear. This leaves room for more tips and you won’t have to worry about bills falling out of your belt as you dance. That’s where the good elastic around the legs comes in: it will keep the money from falling through the bottom.
==Back to top==


Wearing a caftan ALL the time you are in costume but not dancing is very important.
To use a silly analysis, I think a belly dance costume is like the engine of a drag racing car -- the driver only runs the engine for the short period of time it takes to race down the track. S/he doesn't use the engine to drive around the pit area or on the streets. It is too precious and too expensive. I think a dancer's costume is the same way. She should show her costume only while she is dancing & then she should immediately exit and put on a caftan. Otherwise she completely takes away from her mystique & persona as a belly dancer. If costumers/clients want to talk to a dancer after she has performed, she should tell them she will be right back, go toss on her caftan, come back and then she can comfortably and professionally interact with them.
One can buy beautiful caftans very cheap from muslim clothing stores/websites & from Indian clothing stores/websites. Many of mine were around $25.00 and are beautiful. If a dancer wants to be a professional, she can surely shuck out $25.00 to make herself look like one, right?
==Back to top==


I love to dance barefoot as much as most belly dancers, BUT it is too dangerous in some situations. When you do a bellygram, you usually do not have the opportunity to investigate your dance space in detail. You therefore don't want to risk dancing in someone's house, on someone's deck or in someone's backyard in your barefeet. It just isn't safe. And, restaurant floors are usually DISGUSTING and they could have broken glass, slippery ucky food, forks, knives etc etc. on them.
Those little feet of yours are VERY important, not only for dancing but for living your life. You have to be careful with them.
Plus, there is actually quite a long history of belly dancers wearing shoes when dancing professionally, so native Middle Easterners expect you to wear shoes & not only shoes, but heels. That is just the way it is done in the Middle Eastern and what is expected when dancing at a Middle Eastern party or Middle Eastern restaurant. Here is a great little article about the history of wearing shoes when belly dancing, just in case you are interested:
I know many dancers pay the major $$ to buy character shoes, flamanco shoes etc. Personally, I buy cheaper shoes -- usually found in the bargain "on sale" section of the shoe store. There are usually fabulous colored shoes there, that you might not where "in public" but would go perfect with that fushia or lime green costume you have. I always make sure the soles are bendable, not platform or thick soled shoes. Your shoes need to be flexible to do a lot of moves -- camels & backbends just to name two. The shoes also should have heels that are thick enough to be stable. If you feel "woobly" when you walk in them, the heel is probably not thick enough. I have not had any problems dancing in any of my bargain shoes & even use some of them to go out dancing at clubs. Once you get used to dancing in heels, you will probably find it is actually easy & comfortable.
==Back to top==

Dance Bags

You should keep a dance bag packed and ready to go. Even if you are a student and don't dance professionally, it is very important to keep a bag that is filled with your dance essentials, so that you don't have to frantically run around at the last minute trying to remember everything you need for class or for a gig. I use a big waterproof canvas bag that has room not only for all my dance essentials but also for an extra costume, accessories & a pair of shoes for when I change costumes at the restaurant gigs. And, since it is waterproof, I don't have to worry about my precious costume, if I have to run to my car in the rain. I got my bag at a boat supply store, but I have seen the same bags in the L.L. Bean catalog too.

Things that a dancer should keep in her dance bag:

  • A pair of zills
  • A veil
  • Dance Shoes
  • A hand towel
  • Any needed medications (including things like aspirins, alieve, midol, antacids etc.)
  • Make-up & jewelry bag (keep it in your dance bag & just fill it w/ the things you need that evening)
  • Hair brush
  • Box of Safety pin
  • A bottle of water or two
  • Some sort of packaged snack -- like a granola bar
  • A fold-out hand fan -- to cool yourself off "in a lady-like" fashion after you perform, especially if you have to meet and greet people afterwards :)
  • Deordorant and Perfume -- yep, keep them in there all the time, just in case
  • A spare performance tape or C.D. for emergencies
  • A dollar bill (if you accept tips; shows customers where to put tips). Sometimes you don't have one in your wallet, so it is good to keep a spare one.

==Back to top==

Costume Storage

Most dancers know to store beaded costumes flat to prevent stress on the beading. The most common method of storage seems to be Tupperware or other large, airtight containers. This is great for the beading, but can be disastrous for the threads and fabric if there is any moisture present: remember the container is airtight, so moisture has nowhere to go and can cause fibers to mildew and deteriorate. But there is a cheap and easy solution. Start saving those silica gel packets that come in just about everything. You know, the ones that say, “do not eat,” as if you’d think someone put a tasty snack in with your new shoes. Manufactures put them there for a reason: to absorb moisture and prevent damage to their product. Toss them in the boxes with your costumes and they’ll do the job there too.

==Back to top==

Would you like to add a Costuming Tip to this page? I would appreciate your help! Please e-mail me

More Costuming Tips & Tricks from Shira:

=> Back to Top of Page