Costuming tips for (and from) a plus-sized dancer

A saidi galabeya can be flattering for the curvier figure as it smooths and elongates lines.

A saidi galabeya can be flattering for the curvier figure as it smooths and elongates lines.

Holidays can be a time to plan or make a new costume. Here are some suggestions from guest blogger, Obsi. Who previously wrote a blog here about being a plus-sized belly dancer:

Costuming can be quite hard for the “plus size” dancer.  Especially since we come in all shapes and sizes.

We often fall into the trap of wearing loose-fitting clothing, to try to cover up the body – but I find that can often look less flattering than tighter fitting clothing can. I was originally taught that putting more fru-fru on your hips can make your waist appear smaller – so embraced  the large skirts with big poofy tucks on the hips. However I have definitely found that when I’ve worn tighter fitting costumes people have commented on how much weight I’ve lost, or how much more flattering that looks. The first time I had to wear a tight-fitting Saidi dress, I was really concerned that I’d look horribly fat, but I was pleasantly surprised!  I do still like my big skirts and tucks, but it is nice to wear something more slinky now and then – it definitely does create a different look.

I have what I call a “double belly” – a roll above my bellybutton and one below.  Which is a harder body shape to be able to disguise, I think. Some larger women like to wear mesh bodysuits to cover their belly.  There is even “powermesh” that supposedly sucks you in a little, but I find that’s not enough for me.  I confess that I like to wear “shapewear” (those elasticised tummy sucking in undergarments) to smooth out some of the lumpy belly. I also like to wear a black bodysuit because black is slimming and disguises some of the bumps. Which means I can’t get away with looking like I have an exposed belly like you can if you’re wearing a flesh coloured mesh bodysuit.  Although from an audience perspective, I can tell when people are wearing a flesh coloured cover (usually because they have no bellybutton!), which I find more distracting than a naked belly would be.  But I understand that the dancer needs to feel comfortable.

I tried once wearing a flesh coloured and less constricting version of the shapewear (so that it just looked like a flesh bodysuit), because I felt uncomfortable being the only person in the group wearing a black bodysuit when everyone else was bare bellied.  But I ended up feeling more uncomfortable dressed like that.  Every photo from that night just made me want to cry.  So I made the decision that I would rather stand out and be a bit different to everyone else, by wearing something I felt more comfortable wearing.

I think that is really a key point.  You have to feel comfortable in your own body when you dance.  If you’re feeling self-conscious, you won’t be able to dance as well as you could, and you won’t be enjoying yourself as much as you should. Your audience will probably notice you aren’t comfortable too. If you can’t look back on photos without never wanting to eat again, then that’s no good either.

So part of being a dancer really is to have confidence in your dancing, and feel that you are beautiful.  Costuming obviously helps the audience see what you’re doing and makes a better show for them (you can dance in a T-shirt and jeans, but it’s not going to look as good) – but it can also help you to feel more confident about yourself, which in turn makes you a better dancer.

A troupe needs to dress the same and it can be challenging to find a style that suits all figures.

A troupe needs to dress the same and it can be challenging to find a style that suits all figures.

Unfortunately when you dance with a troupe, you usually have to wear what the troupe wears.  Slimmer ladies can often buy costume pieces online and at cheap prices.  Whereas there can be much less choice for a plus size dancer, and often higher prices.  Trying to costume for a bunch of women of different sizes can be a bit tricky!  But it is important that you all can feel good about what you are wearing.

Even just finding class-wear can be a bit problematic sometimes.  I find the decorated portions of regular sized hip scarves and coin belts are nowhere near big enough for those with large hips.  Even in some of the so-called “plus size” ones they sometimes don’t cover enough.   Or if they do physically fit, often they only *just* tie up, and you’ll see the slimmer women with longer hanging ties, and feel jealous!  I have found though that searching specifically for “plus size” or “XL” and checking measurements, will sometimes allow you to find costume pieces that will fit.  Ebay is getting a better range of “plus size” costuming pieces all the time – which is great!  It means not only is there more variety for us, but it also means there must be more demand for it!!!

With shorter hip scarves that only just do up, I’ve taken to wearing them so that they tuck in at the sides of my hips and the rest dangles down the sides, rather than trying to do them up and looking obviously too small.  You can sometimes use one of the long rectangle ones at the front, and tie it to a triangular hip scarf at each hip, letting the extra bits dangle down.

As you can see from this gorgeous group of curvy dancers, they have tied two hip scarves together at the sides to extend and flatter.

As you can see from this gorgeous group of curvy dancers, they have tied two hip scarves together at the sides to extend and flatter.

If you’re a bit crafty, you can do things like sew 2 smaller skirts together to make one wider one, or add extra panels in to extend clothing to fit.   I’ve altered several skirts that were too narrow, by opening up the side seams and wearing them as a sort of “lap lap” style skirt with another skirt underneath.  Sometimes you have to be a bit creative to find ways to work around problems!

I quite like the idea of wearing a fitted galabeya (“Saidi dress”) costume, as it can cover some of those problem areas (belly and arms for me) while still allowing your movements to be seen.  Particularly those cut to allow your decorated bra to be shown.  These can be worn with bare legs if you’re happy to do so (if your thighs won’t rub together – hello bike shorts!), or with a full skirt or harem pants if you want to cover more.  The modern galabeyas are usually made from very stretchy lycra, so I’ve found that especially the plus size ones, can stretch to fit a very ample dancer!  I have also seen some dancers where I suspect they took regular size ones and opened up the side seam, adding an extra panel down the sides – which is a great idea to get extra room if you need it.  The same can be done for tighter fitting skirts and harem pants too.

Beaded fringing that hangs in a straight line across can make the torso look shorter.

Beaded fringing that hangs in a straight line across can make the torso look shorter.

Over the years I’ve come to realise some things that (in my mind) flatter or don’t flatter the fuller figure.

I’ve learned that a decorated bra without any fringe, isn’t as flattering for a fuller bust as one that has fringing – the fringing helps distract the eye I think.  But also too much fringe, or too heavy fringing can be unflattering.  I have one decorated bra I made with very long chunky fringing (to hide the belly) that mostly went across in a straight line just above my belly button.  While it hides the part of my belly I’m most uncomfortable with, it just doesn’t look attractive, and makes my torso look very short. It’s better to concentrate fringing to a V shape at the front of the bra –  the part you want to focus people’s eyes on.  The V shape is far more flattering than a straight fringe.

If you haven’t been blessed with a large bosom, and want to give yourself more, try giving your bra a more 3D effect.  This can be done with things like the cupped flower shaped sequins, rather than using flat ones.  I’ve seen people using ruffled fabric.  You want to make sure the cups fit, and by all means try some bra inserts to give you more lift.  But if you can add extra oomph with the decorations on the outside of the bra, it can create the illusion of fuller breasts without any worry of any “chicken fillets” falling out mid performance!

With belts, likewise I have found that straight belts aren’t as flattering as ones that have a curved or pointed front and back section.  I also find belts with some sort of fringing look more flattering than plain ones.  I think it has to do with creating an illusion of your body being longer than it is.  Straight lines just cut straight across and can make you look shorter and chunkier.  So breaking that straight line with fringing or dangles, and not using a straight line, can really help.  Sometimes I think a little protruding belly hanging over the belt can look better than a “muffin top” effect by wearing a tight belt across the belly.

I see a lot of plus size dancers wearing their skirts on their waist instead of the hip.  I can understand the reasons for this – when I started dancing I wanted to show as little belly as possible, so wore my skirts up high.  Then as I grew in confidence, my skirts lowered. I know there is often a practical reason to wear skirts higher, as some body shapes make it difficult to wear a skirt on the hips without it falling down (nobody wants that!).  Wearing a skirt on the waist can disguise the “double belly” thing too.   However wearing a skirt lower on the hip can elongate your torso, making you look slimmer.  It also means that the belt will be on or closer to your hip, so that hip movements can be accented properly.  I’ve found the point on my hip in which I can wear my skirt without it falling down, but since I also wear a bodysuit, I pin pin pin!! just to make sure it won’t slip down!

Wearing sleeves has the added bonus of not only feeling less self-conscious about flabby upper arms, but can balance out the hips visually. Tucking skirts up into the hip belt can make the waist appear smaller.

Wearing sleeves has the added bonus of not only feeling less self-conscious about flabby upper arms, but can balance out the hips visually. Tucking skirts up into the hip belt can make the waist appear smaller.

My upper arms are also quite flabby, which makes me very self-conscious of my arms.  I don’t feel comfortable going sleeveless  (not even in class).  Luckily there are a few different options for sleeves – and it’s not something that looks out of place if you have a bare belly but with a little sleeved vest.  Obviously if you’re covering your belly with a body suit or something, you can opt for one with sleeves (short or long) which covers 2 problem areas at once.  But if you’d like bare belly but sleeves, you can go for a little vest with sleeves attached, a “shrug”, a tie-top or choli etc.   You can go for full coverage or use a coloured mesh or lace if you’d like to just disguise things a little.  If you have larger arms, it might be a good idea not to draw attention to them by having upper arm jewellery or decorations.  Focus the decorations on the forearms or wrists to draw the eye away from where you don’t want people to notice.

But make sure you don’t hide.  Wearing loose-fitting outfits can sometimes make you look bigger than you are, while hiding some of the body movements.  Try to work out which features you’d like to show off, and design the costume around that.  Got a great set of legs?  Maybe you’d like a skirt with (tasteful!) splits so that you can make the most of them. Want to hide the front of your belly, but the sides and back are fine?  Try a costume design where you have a covered section (perhaps glittery mesh) attached to your bra and belt, that covers just the part you want to cover and leaves the rest bare.

Use colour wisely.  Black is obviously slimming, and light colours can be unattractive, but unless you are after a dark look, you may find an all black costume doesn’t have the effect you want.  Using brighter colour in the areas you’d like to highlight and darker ones in the areas you’d like to disguise, you may find you can create something flattering for your body.  I found out the hard way (back in my belly baring days) that an all white/gold bra and belt set doesn’t always look flattering from a distance on very pale skin.  I had the unfortunate effect of looking almost naked!

The coverage of the bra must be ample enough to cover without "spillage".

The coverage of the bra must be ample enough to cover without “spillage”.

One thing to watch out for is to make sure your costume fits well and nothing is spilling over.  I have seen a few “Plus Size” dancers who looked larger than they probably are, due to the fact they were squeezed into costumes that really weren’t suitable.  You certainly don’t want people to be wondering if you are going to pop a seam or fall out of your bra!

Bras that are cut too low can seem like the cups are about to runneth over, even if they are perfectly secure.  So sometimes you may need to add an extra section to the top of the cup to give extra coverage.  Tight fitting clothing can make you appear slimmer than baggy clothing, but make sure it doesn’t look like you’re wearing a costume several sizes too small.

Luckily there is a great amount of flexibility you can have with bellydance costuming – there are many different styles and designs out there.  So you have the freedom to create something to suit your body shape.

4 thoughts on “Costuming tips for (and from) a plus-sized dancer

  1. This is a terrific article about how to solve common problems for plus-size dancers – I can relate to so many things. I agree about loose clothing not being the answer, it’s something I realised long ago about ordinary clothes too. I have wide hips, and if I wear a loose flowing dress, I just look as though I’m as wide as my hips ALL THE WAY FROM MY NECK! I look much better in something that comes in at the waist, even if it does show a bulge or two.

    I only recently worked out the thing about fringing on belts. I bought a fabulous Turkish bedlah with l-o-o-o-n-g beaded fringing and thought I looked great in it, until I saw the photos. I look as though I’m standing in a hole – my legs look about six inches long!

  2. Pingback: Performing for Plus Size Belly Dancers | Belly Dance Bazaar

  3. Part your lips sensually. Don’t clench your jaw or your mouth, stay loose. This will also help you to breathe out of your mouth and in through your nose, allowing for a bigger exhalation through the mouth and a deeper inhalation – refilling and re-energising your every move.

  4. daniakaMarch 29, 2013There should be no reosan why they would laugh at you. For one, you’re defeating a stereotype that all plus-sized people just sit at home and do nothing. Two, you’re doing something that’s keeping you healthy no matter what size you are.If you’re confident enough to bring it up on the first day, go for it. Tell them you’re nervous about it. If anyone laughs at you, then the group loses your support and then they’re not worth it. Good luck! =)

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