Although this article is primarily intended for the male Belly Dance student who wants to try his hand at dancing in a skirt; it may also be of use for male Contra Dancers (where male skirts are an accepted part of "the scene"), certain male Goths (where male skirts are also accepted), so-called "Cross Dressers", or even you're just an ordinary guy in a skirt (like I am when I'm not dancing). Perhaps you're a male Belly Dance teacher who wouldn't be caught dead in one, but want some familiarity to teach your students.
I'm not intending this to be an article on skirtwork (the art of using a skirt as a dance prop), or actual dancing in a skirt - that's for your dance teacher. Its not a "should I or shouldn't I?" type article either - that is up to the student and teacher to decide. This is simply to help a man who knows nothing about skirts to gain some familiarity with them and not have to learn absolutely everything the hard way. Nor is this brief article intended to cover every kind of skirt in existence: for instance if you're wearing a mini-skirt, you're not Belly Dancing and said situation is beyond the scope of this article.
Even a few women may find parts of this article of use as most grow up with skirts, but may rarely if ever wear them except when they start Belly Dancing - and may not be familiar with how to handle the yards and yards of fabric comprising many Belly Dance skirts.
I learned most of this stuff the hard way; although I often asked my dance sisters, dance instructors, and/or my wife for guidance when needed - if it wasn't already "too late".
The Obligatory "Men's Lib" Moment
Once again, just to be clear, I consider the skirt a unisex garment (see my infamous Gender Rant), and dis-believe in "Cross Dressing" unless it involves a bra (or a jockstrap). Women can't "Cross Dress", what's up with this label for men? I can wear a skirt with the best of the women, and be a man doing it! Flashback fifty years or so to the ladies who first wore pants, and "do the math". We now return you to your regularly scheduled programming...
Length and similar considerations
Skirt length is often determined by the troupe leader. For the fuller, "Spanish" or "Gypsy" style (which is mostly what I dance in), just brushing the tops of the instep is a frequently used guideline. Other skirts may be a bit shorter, particularly "modern Egyptian" and similar. Oftentimes, Tribal dancers will wear short, above the knee skirts in combination with pants of one sort or another. "Cake Tower" styled pants or the "Melodia" brand pants - and similar - are often employed for this purpose.
If the skirt is too long, oftentimes it can be rolled up at the waistband. If the size adjustment is to be made permanent, its "usually" easier to remove, or add, fabric at the waist rather than at the hem. This depends largely on the type of skirt involved and the look desired. For instance, I have a large, full, "twirling" skirt that was - believe it or not - too long on my six foot frame. It had been passed around the local Belly Dance sisterhood until it came to me. Goddess only knows who originally owned it - maybe Jamaica. So I shortened it by removing fabric from the waist. This worked well - too well. My sewing inexperience had me cut a bit too much off. In this case, I re-lengthened it by adding a secondary flounce to the hem. Having now 2 flounces in contrasting colors really adds to the dramatic effect and got me out of a sewing disaster that I'd gotten myself into! Adding a flounce has become a favorite technique of mine to lengthen skirts when I only need 2 or 3 inches added.
Not all skirts fasten in the same way, especially ones with zippers. Many zip at the side, or even in back. It all depends on how the skirt fits - my self-made necktie skirt (for Mundania) was going to have a front zip. That's what us guys are used to. However, when finished, it just worked/fit better to zip it at the hip - so that's how I wear it. Big "Spanish/Gypsy" skirts with elastic or drawstring waistbands aren't usually so critical, but something as illustrated below can matter a great deal as it is unequal length between front and back:
Side zip "Mermaid" skirt - not necessarily for Belly Dance!
Walking in a Large Skirt
Never lose sight of the fact you're moving about with all that extra fabric that you're not used to dealing with. If you're not careful, you can step on your hem in countless ways. Stepping on your hem is not only considered poor form, it can also result in ripping your skirt, pulling it down or even off, tripping you up and causing a face plant, or just plain getting it dirty.
The biggest thing for me to get used to was the added width. You often need to go through the center of doorways, watch your skirts when closing doors, drawers, etc. Poles and things that stick out will catch your skirt. Its amazing what will catch onto a large skirt as you walk past various things; you swiftly learn what to avoid and how to take care. Wearing a beautiful skirt and looking beautiful and graceful in one has its price. Thank Goddess most stages are sparse of skirt hazards; but like dancing with a veil, watch out in restaurant and similar venues! I once had my skirt get caught in an audience member's folding chair at a performance where we entered through the audience. Thankfully, said audience member just happened to be Lana's husband, so he didn't panic and was able to extricate my skirt hem from his chair in time for me to make it onstage on time!
Sitting in a Skirt
You've seen women do it countless times - smooth and/or spread the skirt as you sit down. This keeps you from sitting on excess fabric, preventing discomfort and helping to prevent wrinkles.
However, there is another way that many times works just as well. It is, however, hard to describe. You do a sway, or rock, forward with the hips just before sitting down - this moves the skirt such that it accomplishes the same thing as manual smoothing. It takes a bit of practice to master; and as you'd expect, the technique varies according to the skirt(s) being worn. I've actually had women compliment me on this technique because they'd never seen it!
Another situation I learned about the hard way: Sitting in an office chair or similar and having the chair roll over my hem. Not fun. Solution: Grasp the skirt at the sides, and fold the fabric into your lap as you sit down. Less full skirts may only require doing this on one side (or not at all).
Taking Care of Business
Those often in a hurry, pre-performance trips to the men's room have their own set of challenges if you're skirted; especially if its a large, long, full skirt; or set of skirts. I always try to improve my advice articles by asking my dance sisters to review them for accuracy and content. Some of them were amazed that this kind of thing actually took thinking about if someone hadn't been raised to it! One of them did such a wonderful job writing the following, that I present it here unaltered:
"One issue that comes up a lot for women is what to do with the fullness of a skirt when you have to go to the bathroom. We start learning these things by trial and error from the time we're little girls, but if you've never thought about this before, then, yeah, maybe it's worth mentioning that it's wise to prepare for the possibility that a public restroom could have an icky, wet floor before going in (pick up the hem), and that skirts need to be secured around the perimeter before sitting on a toilet. I assume comparable planning is applicable at a urinal."
Many times, I can take care of business at the urinal by standing there and (VERY carefully!) pulling things up and pulling things down. But you don't want to make a mistake!
When it comes to the "sitting job"; the approach I prefer, time and circumstance permitting, is to remove the skirt(s) altogether. This isn't always possible (usually out of the question in a dress, see Dresses below), and I have used the fabric gathering technique on several occasions - it isn't easy! It might be easier under some circumstances to remove an underskirt or two, but then you have to get them back on - remember that yucky floor! I've also had some women report that its easier to actually sit facing the tank, but I haven't tried this (yet). In the interest of full disclosure, be very careful how you handle the post job "paperwork".
Getting in and out of a car isn't difficult once you have the knack of it, but does require advance planning and technique. Never step into a car. Sit down first, then swivel your legs in. Lastly, pull your skirt(s) in and out of the way of the door. Watch out for water filled gutters and other ickinesses! Getting out is the reverse. Open the door, swivel your legs out, then stand up. This doesn't just apply to big Belly Dance skirts - if you wear Utilikilts or other "ordinary" skirts in your daily life, the above technique still applies!
You've seen it in the movies. Grab a sizable hank of the front (or side) of your skirt, hoist it up and up the stairs you go. If you've studied skirtwork in Belly Dance class, you've learned how to do an upward knee kick and grab (with downpointed toes) - this can work very well as a stair approach aid if you're accomplished with this technique.
An alternate way is to SLOWLY walk up the stairs, one careful step at a time - giving the skirt a sharp KICK! forward with each step. This will cause the skirt to fly upward and forward just enough - MOST of the time - to enable a careful, feeling for the hem step on the next riser. A useful technique if you have your hands full, but be careful. A variation I've also used is as above - the sharp upward knee KICK! but without the subsequent grab - with each step upward.
Getting up and down
You'll learn this if you learn floorwork, but it applies to larger skirts even if you're sitting in a chair. Feel along the floor until your foot comes out from under the hem before standing up! Make sure your other foot isn't on the back hem either. How? Why, feel for said hem with said foot! With experience, you can figure out if your standing on a hem or not with minimal feeling around.
Want to sit on the floor? Twirl around then drop gracefully straight down, you'll end up sitting pretty in the middle of a perfect circle of fabric! If you're careful, you can come straight back up without worrying about your hem.
When outside, avoiding the "Marilyn Monroe" look is important. Wind usually, with emphasis on the word "usually", won't bother your skirt when you're on the flat. But watch out for stairs, stage edges, or other places where the wind can get diverted up! Watch street (and sidewalk) gratings as well: for instance, the ones just down the street from the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Athens, Greece have a HUGE updraft (ask me how I know this... ). Fail to circumnavigate at your peril!
Skirts and Heels
I have very limited (and painful!) experience with heels, so I can't say much. I wear heels with a non-dance costume on occasion ("Brolita" for those who are curious.). Heels are also unisex as far as I'm concerned. However as a barefoot dancer, I dislike shoes of any kind when dancing. Lebanese style Belly Dancing uses them - but I haven't found myself in a Lebanese class as yet. With all this said, I've found that its actually easier to dance in heels than it is to walk in them!
Dressing room scuttlebutt has it that its very easy to put a heel through a hem. Anyone with experience in this area is welcome to contribute...
Making your skirt hang better
Oftentimes, the gauzy, diaphanous fabrics our skirts are made of don't hang as well as we'd like. The solution? Underskirts. Wear another skirt, or even two, under the skirt you want the world to see. Adds visual flair in turns and spins as well. But remember to account for ALL your skirts, such as when you're grabbing them to go up stairs or pulling them into the car. Hoisting a handful of your outer skirt and neglecting your inner skirt(s) will cause you to step on a hem and take an ungraceful header on the stairs. NOT pretty...
Getting into multiple skirts
The technique I use is simple: The first (innermost) one is pulled on from the bottom, all others go on over the head. I've found that this works best when donning multiple, large Belly Dance skirts. One of my dance sisters keeps her skirts pinned together in the proper order - which works well for her, but personally I find that to be a nuisance. YMMV.
Do be aware that not all skirts can be put on over the head, especially by us guys with wide shoulders. The above illustrated mermaid skirt come to mind...
Slips aren't used in a Belly Dance context, but as I know someone will ask eventually, here's the lowdown:
A slip is simply a special kind of underskirt - actually, what I'm referring to is commonly called a "half slip", and is worn at the waist or hips along with your skirt. A "full slip" hangs from the shoulders and is worn with a dress or under a skirt/top combination. Regardless, its primary purpose is to prevent the legs from being silhouetted when the wearer is backlit and wearing a semi-diaphanous skirt. Belly dancers either wear enough skirts (underskirts) to prevent this, avoid being backlit (dancers are usually front lit on stage), or don't care as its an artistic choice.
I only have one skirt I wear in mundania that is diaphanous enough to require one, although a secondary purpose for a slip is to make the skirt warmer, and I wear a slip under my longer, everyday skirts in the winter for that purpose. Slips can also help certain skirts hang and/or move better. Slips can usually be put on last by pulling them up under your main skirt as they are usually considerably smaller than what they go under - thusly not necessarily requiring the above mentioned over the head technique.
An Inside-Out Skirt
An ordinary "every day" skirt isn't a big deal to turn right side out when needed. I've found however, that large Belly Dance skirts can be a real pain to correct, and they always seem to be getting turned inside out. You start hauling fabric through the waistband and, about 1/3 to 2/3s of the way, you don't know which way you were going and you end up with either a tangled mess, or a skirt that is still inside out!
I finally stumbled upon this very simple and quick way to fix the problem. Rather than a laborious, lengthy description, my wife was kind enough to take a few pictures to help illustrate:
Hold inside-out skirt in front of you...
Bend over the skirt, and stick your head inside waistband...
Flip the front fabric over your head to the back...
Reaching outside, pull the skirt straight up.
I haven't mentioned much about dresses - although most of these tips certainly apply to dresses that are large, full, and or long. Most dresses are indeed only for women - guys look ridiculous in them because they're not cut for us. They don't fit our our chest/waist/hip ratio, nor our wide shoulders; and hang stupidly over our flat chests. In the classic measurement system, I would be 44/39/45. Dresses aren't normally cut that way!
With that said, a properly tailored dress made for the male physique both looks magnificent and is the most comfortable thing you'll ever wear - even more so than a skirt (no waistband!). For many years, I only had one dress for this reason (it wasn't cheap, being custom made for me), but I love it and and the look - I blend in well with my troupe sisters. Shown here with 2 underskirts under, as well as a rather large tassel belt over the outside:
Zorba's "Majita Dress", with vest.
Years later, Dunia made this Balady dress for me.
Slit is absolutely essential to be able to move in this thing.
I also now have a couple of other costumes that are technically dresses, but are so baggy that they didn't have to be configured specifically for me, this "Saudi Dress" is one such:
Posing outside of class in practice garb, both Dunia and Siwa had a hand
in making this traditional Saudi dress, intended for the traditional Zar dance.
Yes, it really is supposed to be this long, although it may or may not be cinched.
Lastly, regarding dresses - they usually are a pain in the neck to get into - and even worse to get out of - the above Saudi dress notwithstanding. I try to have help when dealing with dresses, although with enough time and cussing, I can deal with one without assistance. You have to be careful not to rip the darn thing, and when you're getting out of a dress post performance, sweat makes the job even more difficult. Real Divas have costume assistants, where's mine?
You don't see these much anymore:
"Old Skool" Turkish skirt.
I've had this self-made outfit for years and I only performed in it once when I first made it - with gold tone bell bottoms. I wasn't brave enough to wear it bare legged because of the way it was traditionally worn "back in the day" according to Valeria: They wore these without underwear!
Nowadays, its possible to get underwear - or at least a G-string - that will work with this type of skirt, and I highly recommend the use of same if at all possible - and especially if you're a male! And underwear or not, you better know what you're doing if you're going to wear something like this bare legged. Depending on your "equipment configuration" so to speak, you could "print" through the skirt even if nothing else untoward were to occur. I've seen this (with harem pants), and it ain't pretty!
Yes, I wore this without any underwear whatsoever - for the simple reason that I could not locate the underwear I actually own that would have worked! Which will scandalize just about any/all current day reputable dance authorities and with good reason! I got away with it because I knew what I was doing, my "equipment configuration" wasn't an issue (fortunately), and most importantly: it was a recorded performance that I could re-do!
With all that said, I'll say it was a liberating and empowering experience. Not because of the no underwear, but because of the bare legs! Males are conditioned to not display our legs like this (although its nothing more than you'd see at the beach or pool), so it was an interesting experience indeed for me...
Jenn tells me that she's seen these skirts on Lebanese and Egyptian dancers as well, but I was first taught that it was Turkish, so "Turkish" it is to me.