Sunday, May 23, 2010


I love to recycle…but through necessity, I’ve also become a veteran of re-purposing everyday household items to pinch-hit in the event of a “dance emergency”! I can’t even tell you how many items I’ve found just laying around the house that makes preparing for shows, costume trouble-shooting or dealing with last-minute dance disasters much easier. There are so many useful things I’ve found for problem-solving in my “junk drawer”- not to mention under the sink, in the tool kit or even the fridge.
Though I seriously DO NOT recommend using a Sharpie pen for eyeliner the way I once did at a gig when I forgot my make-up bag (it didn’t hurt me at all, but you might not be as lucky!) you might find some of these common household items helpful to keep on hand…. just in case!

Did you over-do it at a rehearsal or performance? Remember R.I.C.E – which stands for Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation. Instead of fussing with ice-cubes sloppily wrapped in a towel, instead, use pre-cut, packaged frozen vegetables as an ice pack. When you’re done icing your injury, pop them in the microwave, and eat them – you’ll need their vitamins to help your body heal!

These are fantastic for storing your dance wardrobe, and they come in many different sizes. The gigantic two-gallon freezer bags are large enough (and strong enough) to hold a full costume. Smaller sizes can be used to hold veils or accessories, and then slipped into the larger bag holding your bra, belt and skirt. I also use recycled plastic grocery bags to store dance shoes, or even to hold sweaty rehearsal or class-wear in my dance bag on the way home from the studio.

The plastic leftover containers and casserole pans come in many different shapes, and with covers, too. They are great for storing wigs and hairpieces, especially because they can be labeled and stacked on shelves to maximize storage space. They not only protect your falls and wigs, they pack flat and will fit into almost any sized gig bag. I also use the smaller and deeper covered round-shaped plastic containers (meant for soups and salads) to store and transport tiaras and hair-ornaments, and line the tiny square or ob-long “one portion” containers with felt and store costume jewelry in them while I’m traveling.

Nothing works better to keep a sword from sliding around on your head than sandpaper- it beats waxes hands-down! Simply cut a thin strip of rough, large-grain sandpaper, and glue it to the balance point of your sword. It doesn’t show at all during performance, and gives you that extra little bit of grip. Remember, when using a sword-safety is primary, so this doesn’t count as cheating! You can also attach a small piece of sand paper to the back of clip-on flower hair ornaments to help them stick to your head a little better.

I learned this trick from an estate jewelry dealer: use any sort of toothpaste as a gentle, non-corrosive, non-abrasive polish for rhinestone jewelry…and it also works for metal coins (real or stamped) or any type of antique or costume jewelry. If you own vintage pieces, it won’t ruin the finish or the nice patina, it will just add a little shine as well as keep the tarnish from wearing off on your sweaty skin during performance.

Strong and sturdy and easier to knot (and stay knotted) than fishing line, dental floss is great for sewing coins or heavy beads on to costumes. In a pinch, I’ve also used waxed dental floss for a temporary repair on Sally Rand Fans.

These are perfect to wind around the bottom of your dancing canes, to prevent the cane from slipping out of your sweaty mitts during performance! Rubber bands are virtually invisible onstage, but colored hair-ties that actually match the colors on your cane are even better!

If you don’t want to spring for an expensive boa for stage use, buy a few cheaper ones, and twist or braid them together, clasping each end with a rubber band or hair-tie. The volume of the feathers with disguise the rubber band, and no one will be the wiser.

You can also sew lengths of larger, thicker rubber bands (the type used for produce at the market) into the back of your heavier dance belts in the same way you would a piece of fabric-covered elastic, because the rubber will grip your skin and prevent the belt from slipping.

Here’s another trick for keeping your canes in top condition: Since the decorative foil sometimes unravels, simply wrap the ends of the cane with clear packing tape to prevent this from happening.

Keep them handy! Pliers, screwdrivers, even-in a pinch- a tweezers will help you keep your fans performance ready- use them to tighten the bolts holding the staves together, so you can control your fans more easily. A tweezers can also be used in lieu of jewelry pliers for re-affixing coins, repairing earrings, or fixing the broken crystal chains on your shamadan.
Metal washers can be used to separate the blades on a fan so it opens and closes more easily, and can also be used creatively for costuming- my friend Tempest pioneered using metal washers as decoration on her corset belts.

Got a jar of pennies you’ve been saving? Here’s an old trick from a pal whose a theatrical costumer- take a few pennies and sew them into the hem of a costume if you need some added weight there. This also works with smaller washers.

Drink your good vodka and save the cheap stuff for cleaning and deodorizing your costumes! I learned this one in the theater too, from a New York wardrobe mistress who worked on Broadway. Make a mixture of 50% water, 50% vodka, put it in a spray bottle and spritz it on your costumes to refresh them and alleviate unwanted odors. It won’t stain or discolor any sequins, coins or stones, and your costume will smell clean and fresh.

We all know that clear nail polish will stop runs on stockings, but did you know that you could also repair beading on costumes? If a row of fringe on a costume or hip-scarf or costume is fraying, stop it immediately by dabbing a bit of clear nail-polish on the end of the threads where it’s coming apart.

When you are cutting Egyptian fringe or even crocheted trim for costuming, you can seal the ends in the same way. And if the pearl or metallic large beading on your costume is chipping or coming off, you can paint the individual beads with nail polish so they look new again. This is a bit time-consuming, but worth the effort.

Another trick for clear nail polish is to paint it over the prongs of the crystals and rhinestones on your costumes, to keep your veils and skirts snag-free. Since the polish dries clear, it doesn’t interfere with the sparkle of the stones, and is completely unnoticeable.

Train a blow dryer on the drip-cups of your shamadan to melt the accumulated wax enough so it can be pried out and removed easily. You can also hang veils in the bathroom while you are showering, and the steam will release any unwanted wrinkles. Go over the veil quickly with a blow dryer to fluff it up, and you’ll be good to go!

Nothing works better than plain old butter knife for scraping the hardened wax- drippings out of the candleholders on your shamadan! Butter knives can also be used as a tool to flatten and secure the prongs on the large crystals decorating your costumes.

If the candles for your shamadan feel wobbly in their holders, wrap the ends in aluminum foil for a snug fit. It’s not only fireproof; it will protect the drip-cups from getting clogged with melted wax.

I believe Morocco may have been the originator of this helpful hint: baby socks or knit booties can double as finger cymbal mufflers if you want to practice your zills in the house, without driving your neighbors to murder! Just pop the cymbals into the ‘foot’ of the sock, and the elastic will hold it in place over your zills. It’s thin enough for you to be able to play freely, and will keep the clanging muffled and neighbor-friendly.

I know I don’t have to tell you that sturdy diaper pins with plastic covers are a dancer’s best friends… but I will anyway! Their uses are myriad: HOARD THEM LIKE GOLD!

The cardboard rolls inside toilet paper and paper towel are great for packing veils and keeping them virtually wrinkle-free. Iron or steam your veil, fold it carefully into an oblong shape, and then wrap it around the tube. When you get to your gig, simply un-wrap the veil, and hang it up before using it.

Though I don’t recommend using this on a regular basis because the adhesive is very strong and can be irritating, I have used double-sided carpet tape as an emergency fix for everything from holding up droopy gauntlets and gloves, to attaching pasties! To add a little traction on the bottom of ballroom shoes or ballet slippers, just stick a piece of carpet tape to the shoe, under the ball of the foot.

There are many uses for plain old household wire, picture-hanging wire, etc. You can use it to shape buckram for headdresses, sew it securely into felt as a backing for a costume piece, or even thread it through the butt ends of fan staves as an emergency holding tactic. Just twist the ends together securely and you’ll be fine, for at least one performance!

Super glue comes in very handy as a quick fix for repairing broken nails, re-attaching stones onto a costume for a last-minute repair, or even dotted on to secure the bolt of a fan that is coming loose. I’ve also used it for last-minute repairs on canes, swords-you name it. Keep a little container in your gig-bag; you never know when you might need it!

My friend Maharet, a belly dancer and professional photographer, taught me these trick- use potatoes for an instant “facelift”! Nothings works as well for reducing eye-puffiness! Just cut a couple of slices of raw potatoes, put them over your eyes, and relax for ten minutes. Rinse it off and you’ll look fresh as a daisy before you put your make-up on for photo shoots or performances.