|Charlton Heston in the 1956 version of The Ten Commandments|
1. Dance Is The Lord Your God, The Dressing Room Your Temple
We worship at the altar of dance; we live and breathe for it. Seriously, to a dancer, dance is spiritual; it’s a religion. That means preparing for a show is an act of devotion. The places we usually “worship” in aren’t made of alabaster pillars and draped in brocade, filled with priceless relics. They’re often up or down steep flights of well-worn stairs, the walls covered in graffiti, full of lamps with missing light bulbs. They’re stuffy and musty or too drafty, and no matter how spacious they are, they’re always too small. But just like an ancient temple, what happens inside a dressing room is pure magic.
2. Thou Shalt Not Hog Mirror and Counter Space
It’s always a good idea to get into the dressing room early so you can claim a prime spot for getting ready. But just cause you arrived at the venue on time doesn’t mean that you’re allowed spread out over half the backstage territory. Hang your costumes up if there’s a rack and stow your gig bag- with your street clothes in it -under your make up station or in a corner, not on a couch or chair that someone might want to sit on. Keep your cosmetics contained to an area that’s roughly the width of your shoulders- the room’s going to get crowded soon and mirror space will be at a premium. If you’re done with your stage make up and there’s somewhere else you can go, it’s courteous and professional to offer your mirror space to another performer, especially one who came in from out of town and didn't have the leisure of getting ready at home. If you’ll need your spot back later- like to put on a wig, do a make up change, or costume change, just say so.
3. Thou Shalt Cleanse Thine Dressing Area Continuously
If you’ve blown through five make up wipes and half a package of Q-Tips while getting you’re Stage Face on, if you've just wolfed down a power bar, used a bunch of double-sided tape, opened a new package of hose, unwrapped a gift, or finished a bottle of water, throw that stuff away pronto! There’s limited space in any dressing room- no matter how large it is – and that’s before a bunch of dancers start cramming into it. Quarters are always tight and space is at a premium, so it’s seriously doubtful that other cast members would be super-enthused about preparing for the stage amidst your trash.
4. Thou Shalt Not Run Thine Number Within The Sacred Inner Sanctum Of The Dressing Room
Some dancers pop in their ear buds and quietly listen to their music while they’re getting ready. Others practice in the hallway, on the stage after tech rehearsal is over, or go outside the venue to run their numbers a few last times. However, many soloists, and even troupes somehow think it’s ok to crank up their music and rehearse right there in the dressing room, amidst the suitcases, cosmetic bags, garment racks, and all the other dancers, many of whom are trying valiantly to get dressed while dodging somebody else’s elbow during a quick turn sequence. We’ve all seen this, cause it happens constantly!
Dancing in the dressing room is a really big no-no. It’s extremely discourteous to other cast members, on many levels. Consider the following ideas and you’ll get the picture. Many dancers don’t want to hear your music, they’d rather hear their own…and that’s precisely why they brought their ear buds. Others desire a peaceful environment so they can get in character, or into The Zone for their performance. Several performers of all levels of experience have serious stage fright, and a boisterous rehearsal in a tiny space will work their last nerves. And nobody wants to have his or her costumes knocked off the rack or get a black eye cause you wanted to rehearse!
There’s a reason it’s called a dressing room, not a rehearsal hall or dance studio. Please respect that.
If you truly need to run your number and the only place to do it is inside the dressing room, at least give everyone fair warning before you start, and limit running the number to one time, ok?
5. Thou Shalt Only Use Thine Inside Voice Within Thine Dressing Room
It’s always terrific to have some serious backstage bonding. The dressing room is often the single place many of us get to catch up with close friends we only see a few times a year. We joke, we crack each other up until we’re crying, and we gossip and swap dancer war stories. We compare costumes and trade make up hints, some of us enjoy a glass (or more likely, a plastic cup) of wine together before or after the show. A lively group of dancers who’re stoked to see each other and all amped up on performance adrenalin can make for a really fun ‘n’ rowdy time. Although we dancers know that the “real” show often takes place backstage, it’s important to remember that there’s an actual show going on, and the performers onstage –as well as the audience- really don't need to hear us shrieking about the latest rumors or the adorable pair of boots someone just got on sale.
Also, many backstage areas have notoriously bad cell reception, so please remember not to scream into your phone, and that it needs to be put on vibrate or shut off just before the curtain goes up. Oh yeah, and if there’s a toilet in your dressing room, don't flush it until intermission!
6. Thou Shalt Switch Off Or Unplug All Appliances When Not In Use
Do this for safety’s sake! How many times have you seen a red hot curling iron left plugged in on a dressing room counter top, when the owner is nowhere in sight… and there are highly flammable costumes nearby? Can you count that high? I can’t. Once I was in a green room where some idiot had left a flat iron plugged into a wall socket, sitting in a puddle of water in the sink!
Turn off or better yet unplug everything with a cord after you use it, including but not limited to hot rollers, electric kettles, flat irons, electric shavers, blow dryers and curling irons. And don’t forget the vanity lights on the mirrors when you’re done with your make up- if no one else is using them, they don’t need to be on, because they’re so damn hot they can turn a crowded dressing room into a sauna in no time at all!
7. Thou Shalt Not Leave Food Or Drink In Close Proximity Near Thy Neighbor’s Personal Belongings
Sure, you need that miso soup, latte, burrito or sports drink to keep your energy up before you go on… and there are many dancers who simply can’t live without chocolate or red wine backstage- but please do not leave any of this sustenance sitting out next to someone else’s make up and costumes!
8. Thou Shalt Respect Thy Neighbor’s Costumes, Make Up And Props
While it goes without saying that you’ll probably covet thy neighbor’s costumes (who doesn’t?) please don’t touch anyone else’s stuff without their permission. Period. End of Story. And do not move someone else’s things- no matter what it us-for any reason, unless you ask first. Somebody could need a specific prop, accessory, wig or cosmetic product for a quick change; your dressing roommate might’ve placed it there specifically so they could access it immediately. If you absolutely must move something when the owner isn’t there, let them know about it the second you see them. If you’re about to go onstage and have just moved an item, ask someone else to inform its owner that it’s been moved.
9. Thou Shalt Issue Forth A Spritz Alert Before Spraying Thine Products
Before you douse yourself in hair spray or your favorite fragrance, please announce to everyone that you’re about to use self-tanner, perfume or Aquanet, or whatever, and make sure it’s ok… someone might be severely allergic to the product(s) you’re about to use.
10. Thou Shalt Leave Thine Dressing Room In Better Condition Than Though Hath Found It
Some productions have a volunteer crew to tidy up the dressing rooms, or assign small backstage cleaning tasks to each dancer, but many do not. Also, many venues actually charge show producers cleaning fees for dressing rooms that were left looking like a tornado hit them. No matter what condition the dressing room was in when you first entered, it’s just plain old good karma to leave it spotless!