Thursday, March 10, 2011
DRESSING THE PART
DRESSING THE PART
I put lipstick on before I sit down to type an article, and also before making telephone calls. If it’s an important business call, I dress nicely before getting on the phone. I’m not talking about Skype or video chat either…just regular calls from a landline or a cell phone.
Why am I telling you this, and what does it have to do with dancing?
Admittedly I am quirky, but there’s a method to my madness- it’s because dressing the part helps to put you in the right psychological frame of mind for whatever you are doing.
It goes without saying that as dancers, we all know about the importance of costumes! But have you ever considered what sort of effect your off-stage clothes might have on your dance practice or your career in general?
If you were going to an interview for a corporate job, you would undoubtedly wear appropriate business attire to help you land the position. Showing up well-groomed and nicely dressed for a job interview proves that you are taking the interview seriously, and also reflects the fact that you care about yourself and take pride in your appearance…which sends the subliminal message that you would attend to other business-related tasks in the same careful manner. It also shows that you would be an asset in dealing with the general public.
Conversely, if you were attending a costume party, Victorian event, pirate festival, 1950’s-style vintage car show, Renaissance fair or some other themed event, you would probably want to dress appropriately- it not only makes things much more fun, it actually helps your brain to switch gears, by preparing you mentally for immersing yourself into the event.
If you apply the same ideas to your dance practice, it just might help you to be a better dancer.
This concept was brought home to me years ago, at the very beginning of my dance career. My troupe, Flowers Of The Desert, used to gig a couple of times a week if not more, and we rehearsed two or three times a week- more if we were preparing for a special theatrical show. Our Sunday rehearsal was usually the longest and most grueling. Everyone in the troupe had a hectic schedule: we all had solo dance gigs as well as our troupe work; some members had high-powered day jobs, and others were mothers of young children in addition to everything else!
Our Sunday rehearsals were tough; they were also required for all troupe members. Every Sunday, we would go over notes from the previous weekends shows, and try to correct and polish mistakes, as well as learn new choreographies. But it was typical for all troupe members to roll in for these important Sunday morning practice sessions late, bleary eyed, fresh out of bed, and wearing whatever wrinkled sweats we’d picked up off the floor or fished out of our dance bags. The rehearsal would usually start off slowly, with false starts and yawns, and our collective attention span and energy levels were pretty low. We all knew we needed to do something about this, but we weren’t sure what.
At the same time, though we saw each other constantly, even with this level of interaction and familiarity, we began to realize that at our shows, we sometimes didn’t even recognize our sister troupe members… because everyone was surprised at how well we cleaned up. We were beautiful- and performed accordingly. But in rehearsal, we looked like crap...and...well, you get the idea!
Finally, we had a group vote and decided to try an experiment: we decided that we needed to make an effort to look nice-or at least decent- for rehearsal, the idea being that it would help us to focus on whatever we were working on. And it did!
Try it yourself by taking a little time to “suit up” for your dance classes or even your at-home practice sessions. In years past, the mark of a professional dancer was to be dressed in rags- ratty leg warmers, worn-out ballet slippers, and hole-filled tights. But even in the film "Flashdance", Jennifer Beals looked positively adorable in her torn sweatshirt and conciously mussed-up hair! Nowadays, there is such a variety of cute, inexpensive dance wear options on the market that you don't need to be flitting around it rags- unless of course it's an artistic/fashion choice on your part and makes you feel better about your dancing!
Before you go to class, or get ready to practice at home, put on a touch of make-up, some cute sweats and a pair of pretty earrings. It’s a definite morale booster, and might just even help you to better get in the mood for your dancing.
When you are going to a gig, make sure that the street clothes you show up in are appropriate, not to mention pretty and feminine. Remember that you will be seeing not just your employers, but also the people you will be performing for- so looking good off stage is vital to preserve the illusion of your on stage glamour!
My street wardrobe usually runs the gamut from tank tops, long –sleeved t-shirts and leggings to…tank tops, long-sleeved t-shirts and leggings! But for years, I have always made sure to have a few “gig dresses” in my rotation. These are little dresses that basically look like I made an effort to look nice. They're also appropriate for any occaision, from a private party or wedding to a club gig or dance festival. They are uniformly made of some non-wrinkling fabric (like jersey) that can be stuffed into a gig bag and still come out looking fresh after I finish my show. I also choose garments with a loose construction or shape, so that they don’t leave any marks on my body when I change into my costume. Leggings and a nice drapey long top are also a good option. If you don’t like wearing heels to and from gigs, choose some cute boots or ballet flats to wear.
As for wearing cover-ups during a gig, I never go without one. I believe that stage costumes should be saved for the performance alone, and am actually superstitious about being seen by the audience in my costume before, during and after gigs. That is, unless of course people want to take post-show pictures of me in my costume! For me, a gig cover-up is essential, and I don’t count using my coat or a belly dance veil as a cover-up. Again, I like my cover-up to be portable and loose fitting so that it will not leave marks on my skin. I also like wearing something that be cool in the summer or warm when I'm in a drafty backstage area... but other than that, I have no constraints about the cover-up I choose. There are many beautiful, inexpensive garments that could function as gig cover-ups: ethnic caftans, burnout velvet robes, vintage capes, kimonos…the choice is yours.
So, remember: while you are off-stage, if you dress the part of a professional dancer, you will be treated with respect.
Ok, so if you have read this far, I will tell you a secret. Once, when i had a really important favor to ask ( on the phone, of course) I took off all my clothes before making the call, because I thought it would add the right touch of vulnerability to my voice. Guess what? The favor was granted!
And by the way, in case you are wondering, I am typing this wearing icy pink “Bombshell” lipstick by Mac, with a matching pink pastel rhinestoned flower in my hair. See? I told you I was crazy...