|The fringe I'm wearing here is the kind that gives the illusion of lengthening the torso. Photo: Maharet Hughes|
As performers, our job is to create a gorgeous illusion onstage by transporting the audience out of their everyday life and into another world. Aside from dance technique and dramatic skills, you’ll also need to look larger than life. Terrific theatrical costuming and stage make up often involves a lot of playing around with optical illusions. The idea is to trick the audience’s eyes so that you appear as the best possible version of you…or the character you are portraying.
In real life, we have less leeway with creating illusions because people see us “up close and personal”, but on stage there’s a plethora of tweaks we can get away with because we’re much farther away from those discerning eyes.
Here are some smoke and mirror tricks that’ll help you look your best on stage:
We dancers love all the blingy bells and whistles that accent our costumes, and we loooove us some fringe! It sparkles like crazy under the hot lights swishing and swinging, accenting even the smallest of movements. But in order for fringe to really work onstage, the placement has to be pinpointed for optimal effect- or it can do a lot of collateral damage.
Always make sure your fringe is proportionate.
For example, extra long fringe can make a short dancer look way smaller than she actually is; it can even make her appear squatty by literally “eating” her body.
A good rule of thumb is: shorter dancer, shorter fringe.
Heavy fringe all over the cups of a bra can also overwhelm a busty dancer and make her look really a little too top-heavy. For a streamlining, there are a couple of pretty trick-the-eye effects that even out body proportions by lengthening the torso.
The first would be to leave fringe off the cups entirely and just have the fringe as an accent, hanging in the middle, right at the cleavage. Another way would be to use one row of short fringe along the top of the cups, pointing down in a “V” shape, also towards the cleavage, because this will make the cups look smaller and the torso longer and more lithe.
Many belly dance costumes come with fringe hanging straight or in loops all the way around the bra band, and this too can make a dancer (of any body type) look like they have a shorter-and stockier- midriff. I usually remove the fringe from every place along the bra band except for the center; sometimes I let the fringe under the cups remain as well. On most Egyptian and Turkish costumes, the fringe is easy to remove, because it is pre-strung and knotted between the strands, which means it can be cut without losing any of the beading.
To remove fringe, turn the costume wrong side out, and you’ll often see the fringe hand-stitched straight onto the bra band. Sometimes it’s tucked in between the costume base and the lining, open the seam, and you’ll see it.
If you want to be extra careful, before you cut the fringe, take some clear nail polish, dab it at the place you’re going to cut, and let it dry before you slice into it. Cut the fringe all or partially away, and tack the ends down. Sew the lining- if there is one- back up.
A bonus to this fringectomy is that you can always sew it right back on if you don't like it…ad if you do, you’ll have some extra left over fringe in case some of the remaining fringe wears out. Fringe is always the first thing to go on a costume, because it gets so much wear and tear so this, as Martha Stewart would say, is A Good Thing.
Many belly dance and burlesque costumes have a hip belt, and often it’s hung with fringe. The shape of that belt can alter your shape! Belts that are thick or vertically “tall” or those that are cut straight across tend to make your torso look shorter; if they’re hung with long fringe of a uniform length, they can also make your legs look shorter! Belts that are cut with a dip or “V” shape in the front lengthen the torso. To make a flat derriere look bigger and rounder, opt for a belt that’s narrower in the front but graduates into a butt-hugging “U” shape in the back.
If you make your own costumes, keep these ideas in mind when you’re crafting.
Stripes, Animal Prints And Other Patterns
The same rules regarding stripes that apply to every day clothes go double for dance costumes: vertical stripes will make you look taller, horizontal stripes will make you appear wider, diagonal stripes look great on almost anyone, they flatter many body types.
Very thin stripes will not show up well on a larger stage, they’ll sort of melt into each other; a costume with thin black and white stripes can actually look gray to the audience.
Thick stripes can look jarring or comical -and unless that’s the look your after, it’s better to forgo them. For the best and most flattering effect, look for stripes that are about one to two inches wide.
Patterned fabric may or may not work onstage, it all depends on the size of the pattern itself, the colors being used, and the type of material it’s printed on. Florals are always beautiful and feminine, but onstage, unless the audience is extremely close to you, an all-over print of tiny daisies is not going to look nearly as stunning as, say, fabric printed with larger sunflowers. Most brightly colored, medium-to-large sized floral prints look gorgeous and luxurious, and will prettify dancers of all shapes and sizes.
If you’re going with an animal print costume, check that the print is large enough to register onstage. An itty-bitty leopard or cheetah print will appear brown or rusty to the audience instead of wild and safari-like, so look for spots that are about and inch and a half in diameter. It goes for any reptile print -or any kind of mermaid costume. Make sure the squares or “scales” are significantly sized so that it reads reptilian or aquatic!
In real life, we all adore wearing black- it s slimming, expensive-looking and elegant. Soignee and somewhat mysterious, black also has a rock’n’roll or Goth, witchy edge to it. While black is awesome for real life, be careful when you wear black costumes!
Wearing black onstage is not impossible, but it can be difficult.
First of all, you need to know that black can wash almost any performer out, so you’ll need more stage make up than usual… and many of us still don’t wear enough to begin with. Black costumes need strong eyes, lips, and, unless you want to look like Morticia Addams (and some of us do!) tons of bright blush.
This next thing I’m about to tell you are super-important to know about black costumes.
If the background of the performance area is black, a black costume can cause the performer’s skin -which is always lighter than the costume, no matter what your race is- to produce an unpleasant optical illusion. The black costume pieces will appear to recede and the performer’s lighter skin will appear to jump forward, causing the dancer to look oddly heavy. This effect is doubled if the performer has dark hair, which will also recede into the background, effectively making the performer look bald…or like she has a floating face!
If you are going to wear a black costume onstage- and I’m pretty sure 99% of us own a black costume- make sure that it has any or all of the following, and you should be ok:
* Choose fabric that has a black-on-black pattern, a metallic sheen, and/or has sheer or lace panels that will allow your skin to show through
* Look for lots of metal or rhinestone decorations
* A black costume that has bright accents or design elements-even if they’re small- in tones such as red, orange, gold, silver, white or any loud, rich color will still read “black” but won’t look dull and drab
Know Your Venue
Costumes that look terrific on a large stage and costumes appropriate for a smaller venue are totally different animals. These two types of costumes can be extremely different in color, decorations and construction, cause it’s all about the audience’s perception.
If you’re working on a larger stage or on film, you can pretty much wear anything-as long as it’s sparkly- and it will look great! Seriously, you would not believe what some stage or film costumes look like up close. Cheap fabrics, plastic rhinestones, faded sequins, pieces of broken jewelry and chunks of missing fringe… all held together with safety pins. Basically, the costume can be a jumble of trash, and look horrific up close. But under bright lighting, as seen from the audience, these cheap-o thrown-together monstrosities always look spectacular!
Seriously, some of the absolute crap I’ve worn on stage or in videos and movies is so outrageously bad up close it’s almost a joke, but as long as it’s seen from far away and the lighting is strong, it looks amazing. I was just telling a pal the other day that one of my most iconic Mata Hari costumes is awful up close. For real, it was constructed so slap-dash (over night, for a video shoot) that it’s one step away from having bits of macaroni on it- it looks like a summer camp arts and crafts project!
However, if you’re working in a smaller, more intimate venue, you must understand that there are no way you can get away with wearing what I like to call “garbage costumes”. When you’re doing shows where the audience will be very close by, always opt for costumes made of quality materials that are in good repair…the best costume you can afford! And of course, they need to fit well, because needless to say, you will not be using safety pins as closures!
Use Your Illusion
Fishnet hose comes in many colors, but the best for stage use are nude (many shades are available to match different skin tones) and black. Because of the open net pattern, black will create an optical illusion and make your legs look more curvy; nude or flesh tones will make your legs appear longer. Though The Radio City Rockettes and Las Vegas showgirls are already long-stemmed, they almost always wear skin-toned fishnets with neutral high-heeled shoes precisely because this combo makes the legs look like they go on for miles.
When you choose fishnets for the stage, stay away from white, as it will make your legs look chunky. Also, be sure to get a style that has smaller “windows”- some of the fashionable styles have larger squares, and though that may look cute up close at a party, it isn’t at all flattering to a dancer’s legs when she is onstage. Decide what your costuming needs are and which illusion-longer or curvier- you are after.
I’m sure we are all aware of the benefits of strategically placed padding…but some of us aren’t sure about the optimal way to pad a bra! For the most boobaliscious look, open the lining of each cup at the sides- not the bottom- and insert your pads vertically, arranging them so that the bottom of the pad sits under the girls, and the upper portion pushes in from the side to create more cleavage. Shhhh- doesn’t tell anyone- I often use two sets of pads this way for a fuller look. If your bra cups are bigger than your actual breast size, but not by too much- you can use three sets of pads. Lay one pad across the bottom of the cup, and slip two into each side. And a word to the wise: shoulder pads are much less expensive than brassiere pads, and work just as well!
ILLUSIONS FOR THE FACE
If you want to look younger, fresher or just more healthy onstage- no matter whether you’re sick, hung over or “of a certain age”, this one trick will knock your socks off!
Apply blush to the apples of your cheeks only. Find the apples of your cheeks by smiling, then load a domed blush brush up with powder, blow or tap off the excess product and gently brush the product into the center of the apples, then curve it slightly up, in a “C” shape towards your temples. For stage there’s almost no such thing as too much blush, but if you feel like you’ve applied a bit too much color, gently blend the blush with a dry cosmetic sponge or tone it down a little with some translucent loose powder.
|In these photos of Marilyn Monroe, you can clearly see her over-lined lips... and that the top lip is slightly longer while the bottom lip is much more rounded|
If you’re going with a bright red or pink lipstick onstage- and I know most of us do- always make sure it’s got a blue undertone. Blue-red or blue-pink makes anyone’s teeth truly appear pearly white! As we age, our teeth- no matter what our habits- tend to become a bit more yellow… and some people naturally have teeth that are more ivory than white. This optical lip illusion works wonders, creating a super-snow white smile!
Onstage, I am a nut with lip-liner; I go for the full Joan Crawford Effect by over-lining my lips almost a quarter inch outside their natural parameters. From the stage, under hot lights, this is another fabulous (and very anti-aging) optical illusion, because as we get older, our lips lose collagen and become thinner and less plump…or maybe you just have a smaller mouth.
When you line your lips, a rounded Cupid’s Bow always looks much more pillowy and kissable than a pointed one. Also, after I have my “full mouth” on, I always go into the bottom corners of the lip and wipe the color out of them. This makes the top lip appear a little bit wider and the bottom lip look just a tad fuller. I stole this trick from the legendary Hollywood makeup artist Whitey Snyder, who was such a whiz that Marilyn Monroe wouldn’t let anyone except him touch her face! In fact, it was Snyder who created Marilyn’s signature bombshell face. If you look at any of her photos, pay attention to her lips and you’ll see exactly what I mean.
Taking this lip treatment a couple of steps further, before you line them in your regular colored liner, draw the top line on first with a pearly white pencil- it will make your lips stand out and look pleasingly puffy on an Angelina Jolie level. After penciling in the white, then over-draw the shape of your mouth in a bright color that matches your lipstick. And when you’re done with the lipstick, rub a little dot of pearly white eye shadow into the direct center of your bottom lip, an effect that makes it look more luscious, but also gives the illusion of shine.
A super-fab trick for making your eyes look brighter is to use dark blue liner... as opposed to black or brown. Blue liner plays an optical trick, making the whites of your eyes really alabaster-white. For stage, I apply the dark blue powder shadow first, and then go over them with a black gel liner, which adds definition while retaining the softer look of the powder.
Try some or all of these tricks… seriously, they’re like magic!
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