Props, Performing and Costuming
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Yes, I know she's female! Artwork like this of male dancers is non-existent.
Besides, she has good form and is pretty! Learn from her!
"What do Male Belly Dancers Wear?"
The short answer: Read through this article, take a look at my Galleries to see what I do, take a look at "Male Belly Dancers, Are We Feminine?" for some philosophy, but MOST importantly take a look at my Links page! I have links to EVERY Male Belly Dancer's website on the planet (that I know of - additions are ALWAYS gratefully welcomed!), take a look at what they're doing, find something you like and emulate!
"Where Can I Buy a Male Belly Dance Costume?"
This question is asked on the various Belly Dance boards - and is the subject of countless web searches. Asked by frustrated male "Baby Bellies" looking for something to wear.
The short answer: You can't. There have been one or two costuming suppliers who have tried to have male costumes available. They all gave up after a time - there just aren't enough male Belly Dancers to justify stocking "off the rack" costuming. The ones I saw were somewhat half hearted attempts, they weren't particularly pretty and the choices were non-existent.
The slightly longer answer: Everything from the neck up, and the hips down (or even the midriff down) is the same for men and women. You can buy all that stuff at COUNTLESS vendors, both online and IRL (In Real Life). The problem is, of course, Belly Dance tops for men. You pretty much have to make your own, or have someone make it for you. It is sometimes possible to convert a "drummer's vest" for Belly Dance use - they're too long by far for my taste, but some of them can be cut down. In fact, one of my tops is an ex-drummer's vest that was cut down to make both a dancing vest and a dance belt!
A Couple Of Performance Tips.
There are tons of performance tips on the 'net, I won't try to duplicate them here. However, I have two that I'll pass on involving music.
The first tip, if using CDs, is to burn a CD with your performance music on it and leave the original at home. That way you won't lose that precious Mohammed's Music of the Forbidden Hareem CD if someone swipes it, it gets stomped on by the Flamenco dancer, the stereo spontaneously combusts, or you just plain forget it! I've also noticed that performance CDs tend to get scratched up - all the better reason to leave the original at home!
The second tip involves a story, and what I learned from it. A dance sister had a 3 part routine, with 3 successive tracks on a CD. Someone had left the CD player on "track repeat". So the dancer does the first part of her routine, gets ready for the second part, and the music for the first part comes back on again! Lots of hand-waving, cut off music and confusion ensued. Then it happened again when the second part was over and she was waiting for her third!
This kind of confusion can be avoided by using a sound editor to glue together all the tracks for your routine into ONE big track. Then burn it onto the CD. CD-Rs are cheap, use a different one for each of your routines and keep 'em labeled. Sound people REALLY like it when you hand them a CD that they don't have to remember what track, or worse, what sequence of tracks to play. Having only one track avoids problems like my dance sister had that nite and guarantees that the right music will be played in the right order - assuming of course that your CD ends up in the player when you go onstage!
You don't have to get this fancy, but your CD label should include
all this information: Your name, routine name, & total length.
Stating "single track CD" when it is, helps harried sound people.
Although some venues are still tape-only, I detest tape, always have detested tape, and always will detest tape! Sometimes tapes are unavoidable, but whenever possible, use CDs. As tapes get used less and less, tape players aren't being maintained - your tape may be eaten if everyone else is using CDs. Yes, I've seen this...
And for heaven's sake, please don't hand the sound person both a CD and a tape, and tell them that the first part of your routine is on tape, and the second is on CD! Yes, I've seen this one too...
Although there are still some venues that still use CDs, most use .MP3 files now. Either emailed to the event organizer in advance, or brought in on a "Geek Stick" (USB Flash Drive). This mostly works better than CDs, but just like the advice for CDs, use "Audacity" or other sound editor to glue the songs together into one file. Many/most MP3 players don't know how to follow any given order of multiple .MP3 files - they just pull the files in raw order as they encounter them. Having exactly ONE file on prevents any mixups.
I won't tell you how to play 'em, lots of sources for that (See my links page for various resources). If you don't already know about the "2 slot" type vs. the "single hole" type, the "2 slot" type are easier to control than the more traditional "single hole" type. That said, some very good dancers do use the single hole type - including the incomparable John Compton.
But when starting out, most dancers will recommend the "2 slot" type, and most will recommend Saroyan Zills. Harry Saroyan is a wonderful man, and I can join in recommending his zills highly.
There's a lot of information on zills out there, but I'll offer two tips.
Not emphasized enough:If your fingers aren't blue, the zills will fly off of you! We guys probably have it even worse than the gals, our power can send a zill flying into the audience or fellow dancer - not exactly good form! Not only can it hurt someone, but you're out a zill in the middle of your dance.
They gotta be tight, use fishing line, dental floss, or industrial strength thread to sew the elastics together. Sew a colored bead or a simple dot on the elastics of the thumb zills so you can find 'em in a hurry.
Zill elastics stretch out of shape fairly quickly and need periodic replacement. If you're in a hurry, you can "choke up" the old elastics by sewing them tighter - but beware! They'll only be good for 3 or 4 wearings before they stretch out again. "Choking up" the elastics should only be done in an emergency, it takes almost as much time as replacing the elastics in the first place, and doesn't last very long.
Never heard anywhere else: If you want to keep your brass zills bright, you are always polishing them, but you can reduce the polishing needed if you carefully wipe down your zills EVERY time you're finished playing them. Handle them only by the elastics or with the polishing cloth after you've wiped them down. I played French horn for 20 years - wiping down a brass instrument is second nature.
Also, don't keep your zills in an open weave zill bag - they'll tarnish rapidly! The little bags Saroyan sells are pretty airtight and will help keep your zills shiny.
I currently play two differing sets of Saroyan zills. The first, Saroyan Tutankhamuns, are largish, medium weight, & fairly loud zills. Most guys have large, powerful hands, and can handle larger zills. I also own a set of Saroyan Grecians, which are actually slightly larger than the Tutankhamuns, but due to their thinner construction (and larger size) they are both lower in tone, thus easier on the ear, and quieter.
The Grecians work better in small performance venues (like the old Kalisa's), home practice, and in class. The "King Tuts" are better for outdoors or larger performance venues.
I also am the proud owner of a set of Zildjian Zills (Or Zils as some prefer to spell it). They are rather large, very heavy, quite LOUD, and as they are rough castings, they are not shiny, have no pretty designs on them, and in general are not at all impressive to look at. But Oh! My! Goddess! The tone, the tone! You probably wouldn't want to play them for all occasions, but once you hear Zildjians, nothing else comes close. They are my choice for large halls and outdoors most of the time, even better than the Tuts. If you buy a set, be sure you get the "Dancer's Zils", which are a quad with double slots - NOT the "Drummer's Zils", which are a pair with a single hole!
They're not pretty like the Saroyans...
Then I have a set of single hole zills...
What to do with single hole Zills.
There are plenty of dancers who won't touch single hole zills with a 10 foot pole! Then there are those who don't mind them. I obtained a beautiful quad of single hole zills in Greece for cheap. They are cast brass, like so many cheapies are, yet they were completely machined and really looked neat.
Ok, so like all single hole zills, they had those darned round elastics that stretched out of shape about the second time I wore them, so I needed to replace the elastics. I had heard of dancers putting flat elastics into single hole zills. I tried. No go. The 1/8" hole was way too small. So I carefully machined it out to 1/4". Being in the center, it didn't appear to have any effect on the tone, and I was able to install flat elastics after that.
I wouldn't suggest doing this to an expensive quad unless you confident in what you're doing - it may, or may not affect the tone, and if it does the change may or may not be detrimental. In theory, changes to the center should have minimal effect on the tone, but your mileage may vary!
DO NOT install the flat elastic and then knot it - this basically doesn't work. Instead, double it over 2 or 3 times on the bottom side, and sew it. This will mean some trial and error to get the size right for your fingers and thumbs.
The stability is almost, but not quite as good as "real" double slot zills. In my case, its plenty good enough, BUT the zills in question are quite small, not much larger than Saroyan's Tinkerzills. I'd suspect that larger zills would be less stable.
Of course it goes without saying, the tighter the elastic, the more stable the zills!
I also had a sister dancer suggest actually machining double slots in them - an idea that may be worth exploring if the zills are larger. You very likely would have more effect on the tone, however.
I am passionate about veils (Which is why I'm called "The Veiled Male"), so don't let any perceived femininity put you off from doing veilwork. As the old saying goes, this is as much fun as you can have with your clothes on!
A veil will enhance your gracefulness and make you feel divine! Like everything else, practice with your veil. Understand the different types and fabrics of the various veils, and the pluses and minuses of each. Silk is probably the most popular, as it is very floaty and easy to handle, but other fabrics have their advantages as well (See my article Choosing a Belly Dance Veil for more about fabric choices).
Learning to dance well with a veil takes technique, knowing what to do when things go wrong (and they WILL) and, most importantly, lots of PRACTICE! See my article So You Want to be a Veil Dancer, Huh? for lots more info on this rather involved subject.
Veils and the "bra strap conundrum".
Being that Belly Dance is dominated by the fairer sex, many veil wraps have been created specifying that part of the veil be tucked under a bra strap.
Us guys don't have bras and the straps that accompany same! How in tarnation can we use these veil wraps, many of which have been very well thought out and debugged by experienced (female) dancers over a long period of time?
There are several ways to work around this problem, depending upon the wrap involved and your costuming. Most involve adding a bit of elastic "somewhere"...
Add an elastic loop to the shoulder, inside or out, of your costume. Stuff the veil into that.
Wear an elastic necklace - or elastic under your necklace. Stuff the veil under that.
Wear an elastic armband, or elastic under an armband - or elastic up a sleeve. Stuff the veil down from the neck and under that.
Something I haven't tried, but "might" work - a faux "bra" consisting of elastic passing under the chest area, with straps running over the shoulders. Getting the tightness balanced might be a challenge - and this WON'T work on most vest based costumes because the torso elastic would show.
Torso elastic above the chest, running under each arm (omitting the "straps" and tucking the veil directly) might work if the costume would cover it. None of mine will...
In absence of elastic add-ons, I've had "some" success in stuffing a veil into the shoulder area of my vests - just stuffing PLENTY in and being careful...
I currently wear VERY tight practice tops to class, which turn out are plenty tight enough to hold ANY bra-strap based veil wrap - but that doesn't do me much good at performance time.
There are also plenty of wraps around that don't involve bra straps at all - Cory Zamora has a couple she advertises as a "no man-bra needed, all gender veil tie" ("tie" being her terminology for what I call a "wrap".).
Until very recently, I've usually dealt with the problem by simply using non bra strap wraps, as there are plenty of them; and as a soloist, I can do it however I want. But now that I'm in a troupe that does things a specific way, this is changing. "Tucking and hoping" has worked not as well as I wanted, but as I have a troupe costume, why it was a simple matter to add color coordinated elastic in the right place to hold onto that pesky veil!
I am becoming known for my double veil routines. When I first started, it was the culmination of nine months of on-and-off again practice and frustration. Double veil is NOT easy, and I'm still learning!
Don't even think about double veil until you're comfortable with single veil. If "veil" is Arabic for "disaster", then double veil isn't disaster times 2, its disaster squared!
Things like belts with long tassels and other catchy costume things do not work well with double veil! Ask me how I know this...
Double veil is virtually always done with half circle veils, not rectangular ones (my "intolerable" SHOW OFF instructor demonstrated how she could do D.V. with a pair of FOUR YARD rectangular veils!!!). I named one pair "Tweedledee & Tweedledum" - as TweedleDUM was always causing me problems!
Tissue Lamé seems to be the fabric of choice for double veil work. Organza is said to work as well (I have yet to try it). Tissue Lamé takes some getting used to, it handles differently from other veil fabrics.
I've been cautioned that Tissue Lamé will melt if exposed to heat of any sort. That means no dancing around candles, no clothes dryers (not even air dry - Lamé snags easily), and certainly no dancing in Greek Restaurants around Saganaki Flambé!
It is an apparent debate, and definitely a personal choice as to whether or not the outer edge should be weighted with trim, sequins, etc. I've tried both and so far I prefer NOT to have any extra weight - gives it the more floaty ethereal look that I prefer for veilwork. If you want to do "power veil", then weighting the outer edge (curved edge) may make some sense. Also, a nice rolled hem on the straight edge makes finding the edges a lot easier. Lots of half circle veils come without the straight edges hemmed - I recommend it.
The ever-hard "rejoining" was very hard for me to learn - so here's my hard-earned tip: If you're spinning, and trying for a rejoin and the edges just AREN'T there or cooperating - spin faster! If that doesn't work, spin faster still! The edges will pull out with enough speed in your spin. This was hard for me to grok as I'm an ethereal veil dancer, I don't like putting a lot of power into my veil dancing, but sometimes in this case you have to!
I subsequently purchased a pair of silk half circle veils. Wow are they wonderful, but even harder to dance with than the Tissue Lamé veils I first learned with.
Veils and the "Diva Rule".
When performing with veils, check to see if your venue has the "Diva Rule". Many veil teachers and performers consider it beneath them to pick up a dropped veil at the end of their show and expect someone else (usually the MC) to retrieve it after they have exited the stage. The dancer as royalty and all that - it can be part of the mystique. Besides, its fun to be a Diva once in a while!
Larger venues and shows usually will accommodate the Diva Rule, smaller ones often do not. No-one's going to shoot you if you pick up your own veil in a Diva Rule venue - or vice versa, but its a nice thing to know the protocol. One of my teachers picks up her veil regardless - she says "I want *my* veil!"
Veils and Zills simultaneously.
Yes, it is possible, I do this occasionally from time to time. You can wear zills while doing veilwork, and even play them at the same time (this latter I've only done in practice). This was routine technique in the "good old days", and some dancers, such as Cory Zamora, still teach and perform this.
This is NOT easy, and is fraught with peril. I once saw a dancer at the Desert Dance Festival who was doing all kinds of neat veilwork. I suddenly realized that she had been wearing her zills the entire time!
Way above my league; I'm lucky to do simple veilwork while wearing zills - and if I were to lose control of the veil, I'd have to just dump it. This gal obviously had more options! Yes, I was very impressed!
The only tips I'll offer if you're crazy enough to try this is to be very aware of how you're holding your veil at all times, make sure your zills are tight, and think about using your smallest set (of zills).
Wings of Isis
If you like veil and double veil, you MUST look into Isis Wings! The Wings of Isis are heartbreakingly beautiful! When I started dancing, wings were NOT commonly done and the wings themselves were rare and expensive. Now that they've become far more popular, they've also become easier to purchase and more affordable too.
I now have my own set of wings, they're very different from veil and take a lot of practice on my part. Any posture problems show up badly with Wings. I can recommend Ayshe's Video on the subject.
"Zorba, do you fear the sword?!?" I was asked jokingly by a sister dancer in class. "Yes", I replied, "I fear what happens when it falls off my head and lands on my foot!".
Seriously, I have since come to realize that I just don't care that much for the sword - every Belly Dancer and her sister does a sword routine. So I have pretty much decided that, at least for now, I'll only do sword dancing as part of a troupe dance or in class - not as a solo. Besides, as a male I'm "expected" to do something like the sword, why do what's expected?
There are plenty of places you can save money on props and costuming. A sword isn't one of them. It pays to buy a good one. The $140/$240 price of a Saroyan or similar quality sword will more than pay for itself over the frustration of a $60 cheapie. Make sure your sword is notched at the balance point. Chromed swords are pretty, but they're also very slippery and have an annoying tendency to slide off your head - the choice is yours!
I had my name engraved on the blade of my Saroyan - prevents confusion at a crowded performance venue. Unless you have a very unique sword, mark it somehow so there are no questions!
I love Raks Assaya or cane dance. To my mind, the cane is far more versatile than the sword, is more authentic, is safer (Janette told me about a gal who had her sword go through her foot! ) and more fun.
A couple of tips:
If you have hair long enough to fall onto your shoulders, make sure it is out of the way if you decide to do the "balance the cane on your shoulder whilst spinning thing". If you set the cane on top of your hair, all hope of it staying there are promptly lost and so is your cane!
The cheap $5 (or less!) bamboo canes found "everywhere" need to have their crooks well taped with electrical tape or similar to keep them from splitting from repeated whacks on the floor. Tape yourself a handhold 2 or 3 inches from the other end while you're at it. Properly taped bamboo canes are quite adequate performance props and can be decorated to your heart's content.
Choose the lightest cane you can find. The bamboo ones are quite light, but a balsa wood one is even lighter. Unfortunately, balsa wood canes are "impossible" to find anymore. Light weight, and a relatively small diameter (about 5/8 of an inch) will minimize hand and wrist fatigue and enable you to twirl like the wind! Larger diameter and/or heavier canes will wear you down quickly, and can result in a thrown cane.
Unlike virtually all other areas of Belly Dance, there actually are differing "masculine/feminine" forms of cane dancing. This is because the women started cane dancing in mimicry of the folkloric men's dance, the Tahtib, which is generally danced with larger, heavier straight sticks resembling staffs rather than the familiar crooked cane the women usually use. The Tahtib is more martial with more emphasis on the cane/stick itself than the dancing as the women's version is. I've done both forms, but prefer the women's version as it is more in line with my personal vision of (the rest of) Belly Dancing.
Whatever version of cane dance you choose, the most important thing is to NOT hold onto the cane with a death grip! Like you really, REALLY want to when you're twirling the thing at warp speed. This only comes with practice, sometimes it seems like I'm barely even touching it. Control is an illusion: The harder you grip, the more it slips away! But this ability didn't come in one day, or even ten, practice, practice, practice - taking out your instructor, troupemates, or audience members is considered VERY bad form. Practice so you KNOW how to handle your cane/stick and you WON'T have it flying off and sailing across the room!
My instructor tells the story of a double cane performance (something I haven't tried and probably won't!) where the dancer lost control of one of her canes, and it flew over the heads of the audience (thank Goddess!) and smacked noisily on the back wall of the room...
...The very next dancer was doing a double sword routine, and came out twirling the swords (Why? Swords usually aren't twirled for obvious reasons). The hall emptied instantly! After the near miss with the cane, no-one in the audience wanted anything to do with twirling double swords!
Traditional Egyptian bridal processional dance, led by one or more (women) dancers balancing lit candelabra on their heads! Also known as Raks Al Shemadan. I've also seen it spelled Shamadan, Shamaadan, Shamadaan, and even Shamedan. The usual confusion when translating a non-latin alphabet to a latin one - I see it with Greek all the time. Anyway...
Definitely, you'll want to visit Sakti's page on the subject.
Adam Basma and Khaled Mahmoud do the Shemadan dance, but they are the only males I know of who do. Horacio has an excellent video teaching Shemadan dancing; but when performing it, he uses a candle tray instead (same skill set). This is due, no doubt, to the apparent feminine background of this dance - scares most males off from it. I figure that, since males actually have a tradition of doing the ultra-feminine Shikhatt (according to one article I've encountered), what's the big deal with dancing with a lit candelabrum? Besides, Wiggle Woman, who lived and performed in Egypt in years past, once told me that she saw men dancing with Shemadans, although what the context was I'm not sure. More recently, I encountered a picture on the Internet of an entire room full of male dancers, all with lit Shemadans on their heads!
Thanx to the generosity of my family, I now have a Shemadan of my very own. Most of them come from, not surprisingly, Egypt. They also have workmanship of a level that makes even a British car look good (As I told an Anglophile car nut friend of mine! ).
Be prepared to do quite a bit of work on an Egyptian Shemadan just to get it aligned halfway decently. Then there's nice things like the ugly "FrankenBolt" (So called by a dance sister when we compared notes) sticking out the side of the headpiece! It was intended to make the headpiece adjustable, I got rid of it altogether by soldering the headpiece into the proper size for my head. My dance sister retained her's, although she's putting a shorter one in and will disguise it one way or another. She needs the adjustability due to hair style issues changing the overall size of her head.
I did a LOT of decorating, added crystal chandelier drops, glued festive looking ribbon on the various parts of the headpiece, and have replaced the cheap and tacky headpiece padding with "Mole-Foam", a Dr. Scholl's product which combines "Moleskin" with a heavy duty foam backing.
Bear in mind that all this "stuff" adds weight, the crystals alone added two pounds to mine! Then I added candles (The "Household Emergency Candle" from Discount Candle Shop), which seemed to make it weight twice as much as it did before.
It really isn't all that hard to balance, the headband will keep it on your head if you're just off slightly, BUT as the whole affair is rather top heavy, it will tumble off if you're off more than a tiny amount. The good news is that it "talks" to you and lets you know what's going on up there. This teaches isolation, proper posture, and subtle technique better than anything I can think of! Because of this, I call the Shemadan the dominatrix of Belly Dance props!
When I perform with this thing, I always have a designated safety person (usually my wife) standing by, but ready to grab the 7 pound ABC fire extinguisher that I bring with me. I even bought a really neat looking small wooden chest just the right size to hold the extinguisher, so it can be onstage with me and not look out of place, yet be readily accessible if needed. A former boss of mine was/is a fireman, fire safety rubbed off on me!
If you have a plain, square (non-coin) hip scarf that you fold in half to form a triangle when you wear it, refold it the "other" way (using the "other" two corners) every time you take it off. This will help minimize the effects of stretching and wrinkling, as well as help keep the fringe untangled (if so equipped).
Or fringe belt. Very, very long fringes on a belt that goes around your hips. Gives a skirt-like effect for many things, like turning with veils. Keep them hung up when you're not wearing them so the fringe won't tangle, and don't even think about any kind of floor work, kneeling on the floor, etc. while wearing one.
I also can't recommend cane dancing in a fringe skirt - not so much because you can catch the fringe with the cane, but more because the mincing, cutesy footwork involved with cane dancing is a good way to get your toes tangled in the fringe. Hopping around on the stage on one foot trying to disentangle your toes isn't exactly the pinnacle of beauty and grace. Ask me how I know this...
There are few garments in the western world that carry more baggage than the skirt. Which is ridiculous of course, as more men have worn them throughout history than not ("If it isn't biology, it isn't real", see my Gender Rant.).
I wear one when I'm dancing with the troupe, and we're dancing a dance that requires one. As a soloist, I often do as well. My personal self-perception says that if I'm wearing it, its "masculine", but I can understand why most guys wouldn't want to wear one - and there certainly isn't any rule that says you have to. Making my particular situation even more, uh, unusual, is that unlike most guys who *do* wear one, I'm not in drag - I'm just a guy in a skirt.
But know your audience - Joe Sixpack's brain is likely to be warped. Plan accordingly...
Ok, all that aside, I'd recommend you at least try one in an appropriate situation in a workshop or a class - a Gypsy style workshop is a LOT of fun. Think of it as just another prop. You'll have to learn how to deal with one, the tips that come to mind are that it makes you MUCH wider than you're used to, don't let your feet get tangled in it, and if you kneel down for floorwork or any other reason - make sure you kneel IN it, not ON it.
Even if you never perform in one, learning it is a good idea - not just for the fun you'll have (if you allow yourself); but more importantly, you may be a teacher someday and need to teach skirtwork to your class!
More than you ever wanted to know about wearing and dealing with skirts can be found in my skirt article.
A tip given me by my costume lady and sister dancer: Buy some "Fray Check" or "Fray Block" or similar product at a fabric store. Use it above each coin where the threads meet in a loopy kind of knot. Tedious to do, but will lengthen the life of your coin scarves (and anything else with sewn on coins, beads, etc.).
Coin belts and other multi-strand metal tinkly things that go around your hips are best stored flat on a towel - then fold the towel over the item, and roll it up. No weird tangles! Thanx to the fabulous Imzadi for this tip!
Someone once told me when I started photography that you'd never have enough tripods or camera bags. He was right. No-one warned me about all the "stuff" that Belly Dancers accumulate. There's always another veil, coin belt, hip scarf, pair of earrings, set of zills, pair of harem pants, CD, instruction video, etc. Women are used to this - It's called "shopping", but woe to the unprepared male who dares enter the magical realm of a large festival like Rakkasah! Huge mounds of way cool "stuff" everywhere, don't think you'll escape without bringing some of it home with you. You heard it here first!
Embrace your inner Magpie - the Mighty Siwa says "All Belly Dancers are Magpies.". She's right!
Oh Goddess Mother, now he's going to tell me that I gotta sew!!!
I'm going to tell you no such thing. You don't have to be able to sew, BUT you do need someone who can sew for you. Even if you buy all your costuming ready made, there's always the odd repair, modification, zill elastic, etc.
All this said, its easier if you can do it yourself. I've bought myself a sewing machine. Rule one: Make sure you thread the darn thing properly. Otherwise, tangled threads and frustration ensue (ask me how I know this?). Rule two: Use Güterman, Günther, or similar QUALITY thread, it costs a bit more but is darn well worth it. Otherwise, tangled threads and frustration ensue (ask me how I know this?).
A lot of costume bits are made of metal, and they just will go disintegrating and flying off at the most inconvenient times!
My tip here is to solder closed all those little soft metal rings that keep opening up, dumping parts all over the stage, from the stresses of dancing. Hey, soldering is a guy thing, this is something we can do ourselves in this woman's world! You might even consider making some of your own metal "goodies" - they're expensive to buy, yet oftentimes the little pieces that make them up are dirt cheap.
And I don't mean tattoos and piercings, although you will find a lot of these in the Belly Dance community. I'm referring to the fact that any dance form, and especially this one, will cause your body to change. You will gain flexibility and strength you didn't have before, no surprise there. What may come as a surprise is that you will also see your body change shape. My "weak abs that look like a beer belly (even though I don't drink beer!)", are flattening out with increased strength.
On the other hand, many women report that their previously flat bellies take on a more rounded shape. I can only assume that Belly Dance tends to cause the belly to assume a more natural, neutral shape, neither artificially flat nor artificially large.
The increased flexibility will amaze people who aren't familiar with our dance form. When I started Belly Dance, I couldn't move my ribcage to the left at all, and only slightly to the right. Now non dancers are amazed at how far I can move my rib cage to either side, and I'm starting to get compliments from the dancers as well.
I don't often do nails as seen in the above picture - they're pricey. However, if you want nice looking nails onstage, you don't have to get that fancy. Slather polish of your choice on them. Up close, they don't look that great but from even as little as 5 feet away, they look just fine. A dance sister who is a nail tech cringes when she sees my "stage nails", but the audience can't tell.
Expensive and fragile - but fun!
Us guys are notorious for totally neglecting our nails, and I'm generally not much better than any other guy. As we are guys, we can get away with less than the gals can; we don't have to go the whole "nine yards" with nails if we don't want to.
However, at least make sure they're clean and smoothly trimmed, especially if you're doing veilwork. You don't want to snag that $75 chunk of chiffon, nor do you want to snag your silk harem pants, or catch a nail in one of your dance sisters' costumes! As I have one nail that is always splitting, I got tired of having to deal with the veil snagger before every performance, so I tried clear nail polish to see how well it kept the problem nail from splitting. Works very well as it turns out. So I refined it a bit; now once a week, I strip my nails with nail polish remover, put a coat of very pale pink polish on (gives a natural, healthy look), then overcoat with a clear, "super tough" topcoat. About mid week, I touch up, and/or re-coat with the clear as maintenance. The result are nails that look good without looking culturally feminine. They even have matte finish nail polish now that strengthens without the shine.
So after you change the oil in the car, clean 'em up and file 'em down!
Like Belly Dance, why let the gals have all the fun? I wasn't into Belly Dance very long before I discovered the joys of Henna, temporary "tattoos" made the traditional way from the extract of the Henna plant. They last up to about two weeks, depending on body location, the individual involved, care taken, etc. Almost all Belly Dancers will be "Hennaed" at some point or other. There's something spiritual and sacred about Henna - a connectivity with ancientness. Besides, its a LOT of fun!
The Henna artist and enthusiast's community is trying to get the word out to the general public about the hazards of "Black Henna". Read this article and stay away from anything other than natural, pure Henna!
A while back a dance sister stuck a Bindi on me for a Belly Dance performance. I'm hooked! Bindis are a Hindu tradition. Both men and women wear the Tilak, the red dot (elongated for men) on the forehead. The Bindi is a more elaborate manifestation of the same idea - symbolizing the mystic 'third eye' of spiritual vision. The best I can figure out, the Bindi has been only worn by women in recent centuries. Apparently, men wore them too in antiquity, but as one brother Belly Dancer told me 'As an interpretive dancer, you could wear one too!' One on-line store selling (nothing but) Bindis (in India) says "Everyone" can wear them. I'll consider that permission and go for it!
Most Bindis come pre-gummed on a card. Oftentimes, the card has been sitting around for a long time and the glue is almost useless by the time you get the Bindis. Glue for fake eyelashes is the trick here, works much better - the Bindi won't sweat off! Works for re-using your Bindis too!
The Tikka is sort of like a "Bindi on steroids". It is a "larger than a Bindi" ornament that also is worn on the forehead, but is held there by a small chain that hooks/weaves into the hair to support the extra weight. Then beyond the Tikka are the headpieces made by Eyescream Jewelry and others which involve multiple support chains and large multi-pieced ornaments - like a "Tikka on steroids".
Many male dancers of my acquaintance wear earrings, usually in both ears, as do I. Most earring wearing males, dancers or otherwise, restrict themselves to small hoops or studs. I do not. I have a huge (and growing) earring collection, many studs, even more dangles - some of them quite outrageous.
Do understand that male earrings are NOT AT ALL accepted in most of the Middle East. If you're after an authentic, modern-day Middle Eastern look, you may want to omit wearing earrings, at least for performances.
I bring this up as you may find wearing large dangles of benefit when you practice, regardless of how you feel about wearing them performing or at other times. In general, the more stuff you can hang off your body, the better you can see what you're doing, and how well you're isolating. This goes for ears as well. I purchased a set of huge "Tribal Dangles" for $5.00 from a vendor at Rakkasah that work well as practice earrings.
Not pierced? Consider it, or try clip-ons for practice. Earrings are a lot of fun, and are very well accepted by mundane society on males (in western countries) these days.
If you decide you want to pierce your ears to wear earrings, do your research and understand that you need to wear piercing studs for AT LEAST 6 weeks (I recommend 8), turning them several times daily and cleaning with peroxide 2-3 times a day. Then you can start wearing other STUDS, but I'd stay way from ANY hoops or dangles for at least another month. Then start small, and work your way up. French hooks and other wire based dangles are not as comfortable as "stud-based" dangles that have regular backs on them - and will wreak havoc with tender newly pierced earlobes. Ask me how I know this...
There's only one thing worse than having an earring fall out of your ear. And that would be having an earring fall out of your ear and not know about it. I got really tired of losing French hook style earrings - so I now put backs on them! Stops that problem. Speaking of backs, check yours occasionally - if they're loose either tighten them up or replace them!
In my mundane life, I wear little other jewelry other than my passion, earrings; and a necklace/pendant depicting the Goddess Athena. And my wedding ring, of course. I generally don't even wear a wrist watch, I dislike things on my arms - including shirt cuffs!
This changes when its time to dance! Joining my (usually outrageous) earrings are one of a number of necklaces, bracelets, anklets, and armbands! Some of them tinkle and clink, others do not! I've also recently started acquiring glitzy, glittery necklace/earring sets - very addicting! The mighty Siwa says that all Belly Dancers are Magpies anyway!
All are a lot of fun! However, if wearing jewelry sets you off - don't do it! There are no laws that say Belly Dancers of either gender must, or must not wear it! Certainly, many male Belly Dancers do not.
Do keep in mind that every piece of jewelry adds potential for snagging and/or becoming hooked on your costume, or the costumes of your sister and brother dancers! Be doubly careful about jewelry if you're doing anything involving veils!
It is a well known fact in the performing arts that both sexes look better under stage lighting with makeup of one sort or another. Plus Belly Dancers, with our 'exotic' personas, need to look, well, exotic.
I didn't originally think males needed as much makeup as gals, but I was wrong. Its up to the individual dancer how they want to do their makeup, but guys need makeup on stage just like the gals do - even if a "natural, no makeup look" is what is desired. Otherwise, your face will wash out on stage. A well known saying about Belly Dancer makeup goes thus: "Intimate Cabaret performance (close to audience)? You need 'High class call girl makeup'. A big stage performance (further away from audience)? 'Crack whore makeup'!" Big stage makeup looks scary up close, but looks correct onstage!
I use MAC foundation and powder on the face, bright eyeshadow (MAC again) on the lids. Gives me the desired exotic look. I have long eyelashes but still use mascara. Yep - I also use lipstick. Lip stains can be better than lipstick - no icky waxy feeling and lasts much longer. Always check your lip treatment whatever you use just before going onstage.
Also buy yourself a good makeup mirror. I picked up a nice lighted one on eBay for $8.00!
It pays to use the good stuff when it comes to makeup - and it ain't cheap! Use the primers, oil mattifiers, finishing sprays, etc, and use good brand name makeup such as MAC. Cheap makeup is cheap - your face will "melt off" onstage between your sweat from exercise and hot stage lites!
I always use Kohl, a traditional middle eastern and eastern Indian type of eye liner. Unlike what is generally done with eyeliner in the west, Kohl is applied to the inner eyelids (Between the eyelashes and the eye itself). It really makes your eyes stand out. It also helps with bright sunlite (its original purpose) as well as bright stage lighting.
WARNING: The traditional Kohl, as used "over there" was/is based on a LEAD COMPOUND. This is bad stuff, stay away from this just like you would so-called "Black Henna"! Know what you are buying!
It seems that many women don't like the traditional way of applying Kohl, with a small "stick", preferring to painstakingly line their inner eyelids with an eyeliner pencil, or using their finger to apply Kohl powder to their closed eye hoping enough will squeeze through to do the inner eyelids and accepting some on the outer lids as well.
Nonsense. The traditional way of applying it works the best, at least for me. If I could obtain satisfactory results in about 5 minutes the first time, anyone can!
Someone on the Henna page pointed me to "Sally Hansen Professional Kohl", a "hypoallergenic, irritant free, Ophthalmologist tested, safe for sensitive eyes and contact lens wearers, blah, blah" product. They list their ingredients right on the package, a VERY good thing.
However, Sally Hansen has apparently discontinued this product. After a bunch of panicked casting about, I found "Guerlain loose terracotta Kohl" The old Sally Hansen cost about $8, the Guerlain is 4x that at about $32! The Guerlain is a nicer product, it is finer ground and feels better against the eye, has a nicer applicator and a prettier container. But its not 4x nicer - but its available, its safe, and it goes a VERY long way; thank Goddess.
So I put this stuff on, and was pleased with the way it made my eyes stand out, but its black color also made the dark circles under my eyes stand out. Wife comes to the rescue with some pink eyeshadow. It fixed that problem.
My dance sisters, my wife, and my instructors all liked the Kohl on me. Needless to say, like EVERYTHING ELSE "feminine", there is a long tradition of Kohl use among males too (not that I care...).
Many women dancers have it, even if they wear extensions for performances. With men, some do, some don't. I personally love my long hair, but it's up to you and your personal style. Like earrings, it is another resource you can use - yet another item hanging off your body.
If you want to try wearing hairflowers or other hair ornamentation, do be aware that this stuff can snag veils - do a bunch of practicing! This goes for Tikkas and similar forehead jewelry as well.
Brain vs. body.
One of the most profound things I've learned from Jamaica is the concept of "brain vs. body". This applies to ANY dance form. We so often try so hard to learn a new move, that the brain gets in the way of the body's desire to "just do it".
When a move that you've been trying, and trying, and trying to learn just won't click, try turning off the brain. All the trying has taught the body how to do it, but the brain still thinks it is in control. It isn't!
Assuming you're not going to perform in drag, costume choices are a bit more limited for guys, although not as much as you might think. Costuming choice is a very personal thing. Some males have whole rulebooks about what they will, and will not wear. If that makes you comfortable, go that route.
Do understand that the now traditional two piece cabaret Belly Dance costume, or Bedlah, isn't made the way it is just to look exotic. It is made to accentuate your movements, and to show off your body to its best advantage!
I can only tell you what I have decided for myself, you'll have to form your own opinions for you, and where you personally place that line between "masculinity" and "femininity".
The biggest difference between male and female Belly Dance costumes is obviously the bra, or lack thereof for us males. Unless you're looking for a feminine look (which can work for some androgynous looking males), the only rule I'll suggest is to avoid any appearance of a bra shape if you choose to wear a vest.
Some males won't expose the midriff, others dance topless. Both are personal choices. Wear a shirt, wear a vest, wear nothing on top, its really up to you, your comfort level, and what "works for you". Add earrings, bracelets, anklets, and necklaces; or not; as you desire.
Myself, I think you should look as close as you can to your dance sisters, without crossing the "masculine/feminine line", wherever you personally place it. As stated in my gender rant, I am neither a woman nor seek to look like one; yet at the same time I reserve the right to define my own masculinity according to my internal compass, not what society dictates.
Therefore I wear a two piece costume (Harem pants with vest) with exposed midriff, it blends well with my dance sisters' costumes. To this I add: coin belt or coin scarf, tons of jewelry: earrings, bracelets, necklaces, and anklets are all part of my costume and are a lot of fun!
I pontificate a bit more on costuming philosophy in my article Male Belly Dancers, Are We Feminine?.
Zorba and wife in skirts.
One type of upper torso wear that *can* work for males, as well as the females it is intended for, is the choli. Originally intended to be worn over a woman's chest under a sari, its use has spread beyond this to Belly Dancers among many others. Most of them do not have any kind of darting or fitting for female breasts, and will lie perfectly flat on a male chest. They do however, push the edge of "bra like" appearance - but they're readily available, easy to make, and really give a male dancer a similar look to his dance sisters if they are wearing them too (Gals wear bras under them; if they're too lacy, I'll wear a color coordinated crop top under them). The troupe I'm in as I write this uses them almost exclusively, and one of the members has started making them for us, she calls it the "Flowy-flowy choli" due to its long flowy sleeves.
Most Belly Dance cholis simply wrap around the torso, X-ing across the chest and are tied in the back. This look may be too bra-like for most guys, I certainly didn't come to wear them on day one myself.
Zorba with troupe in cholis.
This lacy choli is worn with a crop top underneath.
Test that costume!
"Oh costume, please don't fly apart!". I heard this comment from a very experienced dancer wearing a brand new costume, just prior to her curtain call. This kind of anxiety can be minimized by pre testing your costume! Fortunately, her costume was in a cooperative mood that nite.
Never, EVER go to a performance wearing a costume or costume piece that you haven't tried out in class or rehearsing at least once, preferably several times. Even if the item in question is "just like my other one". Does that new veil tend to get tangled up in my coin scarf? Does that new necklace have a tendency to fly off of me in turns? Does that new coin scarf have a loose row of coins that is going to fly into the audience at warp speed? Will my veil catch on these earrings and throw one of them into the audience (Ask me how I know this!)? You get the idea.
Test, test, test! Make sure it stays on and doesn't disintegrate or get tangled in something else. And keep an eye on your items you've had for awhile - costumes are delicate and require maintenance.
Watch your body for changes too - I almost lost a Foustanella (male skirt) during a Greek dance performance a couple of years ago. I had lost about 30 pounds, my waistline had shrunk 4 inches but the foustanella hadn't! Now that it has been taken in, life is MUCH better!
Ok guys, remember my warning that Belly Dance demands you get in touch with your body? So listen up, we're going to touch briefly (no pun intended) on the subject of underwear!
Most men's underwear sits too high on the hips for Belly Dancing. As you need to wear the lower part of your costume (Harem pants, hip scarves, coin scarves/belts, tassel belts, fringe belts/skirts, or even real skirts for those so inclined) MUCH lower than your street clothes, you need to do something about your underwear. You may be able to push them down, but that's a bit risky while performing, they may decide to ride back up - tacky (This is NOT Hip-Hop!). Try men's thong underwear or an athletic support ("Jock strap"). They usually sit lower on your hips. Speaking of hips...
Your Male Hips
Having small hips SUCKS in this dance form...
If you're lucky, you'll have at least some hip definition, however small. My tiny hips are just enough to be able to wedge properly sized costume bits against and not have them slip down.
No hips whatsoever? You might try cinching things tight enough so they'll wedge against your hip bone. In any event, that's where you want things anyway: no higher than the top of your hip bone; which may be the only thing you can use to hold stuff there!
Why shouldn't you wear things higher? Because the hip bone is nearest to the pelvic pivot point - your movements will be far more obvious if your hip costuming is really on the hips! Any higher and a lot of that movement you're working on so hard will be hidden.
You can enhance your hips with various costume tricks. A couple of scarves tucked in at the hips and pooched out and hanging down, or a veil draped loosely behind/under your posterior, and tucked in a similar manner. Look at your dance sisters. They do this all the time, you can get good ideas here - and males need as much help as we can get in this area!
Well defined hips show off your moves MUCH better!
Do note that certain stretches sometimes done in class are impossible for most males. Stretches involving spread legs, in one way or another, and leaning forward. Most gals can do this and lean way forward; some, such as my wife, can go all the way down flat. A few gals aren't any better at it than I am. BUT... Do do the stretches anyway, they help build strength and flexibility regardless of our problems here.
And I'm not talking the obvious ones.
Besides the hip differences, males have different musculature patterns and a higher center of gravity. Both can be overcome - indeed both are "two edged swords" as it enables us to do things with ease that frustrate the gals trying to learn. And vice versa!
Performing & Stage Presence.
I've been a performer all my life, first as a classical French Horn player, then as a Greek folk dancer, and now as a Belly Dancer.
The most important thing I can say about performing is your "stage presence" - how you present yourself on stage. Confident and proud. You're the center of the universe - you own this stage. Dance open, tall, proud, and confident, even when you're screwing up! Especially when you're screwing up - I've danced my way through all kinds of screw ups, both mine and others', and the audience usually didn't notice.
As my instructor says "There are no mistakes, only solos!".