Which of us does not enjoy putting on a dance costume? To do so is both exciting and mood changing. We enter a different world and project aspects of ourselves which we perhaps hide in daily life.
Obviously all outfits need to be created out of strong materials which have a degree of flexibility. The dancer’s body must be allowed to move freely in all directions and the design must show the dancer’s movements to best effect. Details such as jewelry, hair-styles, shoes, tights and undergarments must be carefully thought through.
For a dress to fit perfectly it must be tried on with suitable underclothes. This makes it easier to see what alterations need to be made and to judge how the audience is likely to react to the outfit. Before any performance all relevant dance costumes should be checked that they still fit, are clean and without loose stitches or ornamentation. It goes without saying that they should be carefully ironed. All accessories should be chosen and to hand.
Over the centuries European outfits worn for dance have become very much simpler. The days are long gone when a dancer’s movements are dictated by their clothes. When men wore skin-tight clothing and shoes with extremely long points and women had dresses with trains which could consist of five yards of heavy material there could be no leaping about.
Every style of dance has its own characteristic costume. Irish dancers wear dance costumes which have strong links with the dresses worn by the peasants two hundred years ago. Until recently women wore a cape which covered their backs while men used to wear an unpatterned kilt and a jacket with a folded cloak draped from one shoulder. The amount of embroidery, its design and colors have changed greatly over time.
Both men and women wore “hornpipe” shoes (also called “hard” shoes or “heavy shoes”) and for reels and jigs soft shoes (ballet shoes which lace through side loops). Boys wear a “reel shoe” that has a hard heel but no tip on the toe.
A major influence on Irish dance costume was the show “Riverdance” (1995). It introduced male dancers wearing trousers rather than kilts. This change has been generally accepted and boys under ten are no longer permitted to wear kilts. In fact the number of men wearing trousers now outstrips those wearing kilts.
Ballroom dancers will need to wear formal clothing. Floor length dresses with a full skirt and a fitted bodice for the women. Men need a formal black evening suit. The ladies dresses may be ornamented with sequins and gem type accessories. Men need to wear black leather shoes. Ladies wear high heels which adds a touch of elegance as well as making the dancers legs look longer.
Jazz dancers often wear jazz pants and a close fitting top with special jazz shoes. These have split soles to give them great flexibility. Another popular costume is leotards worn with a tuxedo type of jacket. The dance costume needs to have interest through color choice or glitter. Men wear flared or fitted trouser and shirts with lots of stretch in them.
There are various types of team dances such as cheerleaders, and competition teams. Their costumes need to be bright, bold but tasteful emphasizing the unity of the dancers. Men and women could, for example, both wear trousers and shirts with perhaps the women’s shirts being in a lighter color than the mens.All clothes have to be able to withstand considerable wear and tear. At times the girls will stand balanced on another dancer’s shoulders, at others they will be performing handstands and cartwheels. Sometimes the outfit consists of a short pleated skirt, cheerleading briefs and close fitting top, a figure hugging short sleeveless dress, bright colored top and shorts. The predominant features of a cheerleaders clothes is that they are very short so that the legs can be moved freely in all directions. The teams’ emblem is usually features prominently on the front of the clothes. Accessories for cheerleading include pom poms, hair decorations and sneakers. Dance costumesmust be light weight and flexible. The type of dance and the choreography will also affect the choice of outfit.
Dance costumes for disco and night club dancing are nowadays short and glitzy. The emphasis is on the women looking sexy. Department stores stock dresses which will serve very well. Women should just make sure that they do not show more of themselves than they intend to – think about bending over wearing a short skirt. Luxurious fabrics like silk and satin always look good.
Street dancing is a very personal and eclectic form combining influences and elements from many different styles of dance. The style develops from the individuals own personality and background. Street dance is associated with youth who use dance for pleasure and as a way of expressing their frustrations with main stream society without resorting to violence. Street dancing has now become accepted as a vibrant and legitimate form of dance. Street dancing competitions occur both on the streets and the stage.
The origin of Hip Hop clothes can be found amongst the African American urban youth who invented this form of dance. It is clothing for young adults. The craze has now spread to various musical celebrities who also wear these clothes. Distinctive accessories add to the “look”.
Hip Hop clothes have well known brand names like Baby Phat, Marc Ecko, Gino Green Global Hip Hop clothes to mention a few. The clothes themselves are very casual in bright colors. The wearers personalize the outfits with gold chains and other jewelry. The clothes are known for interesting pictures such as skulls, and swirls amongst others.
These designs can be found on tee shirts, tops and hoodies. Hip Hop outfits include pants, skirts and shorts. The baggy, low slung trousers are well known. The tops must be close fitting. Hip Hop has many different styles of dance costume.
Another dance which has an informal costume code is Swing. This is because Swing like Hip Hop is a very athletic form of dance with lots of hopping, bouncing, jumping and lifts. The dance costumes are often reminiscent of those worn in the 1940’s but are given a modern twist.
Well fitting shoes are very important. Ballroom dancing shoes should be avoided as they do not support the feet during twists and turns. Jazz shoes although they are flexible and have a good suede sole like ballroom shoes offer no lateral and arch support to the foot. The correct shoes will be comfortable, have a sole which allows for the slide steps and supports knees, ankles and legs. An insole adds to comfort. Popular brands include Bleyers Swing Shoes and Aris Allen.
Present day costumes for Middle Eastern dance bear no resemblance to traditional designs. The costume worn today is called Bedlah in Arabic (meaning “uniform”). It was adopted by dancers in Egypt in the 1930’s from where it spread throughout the region. It owes its origins to Hollywood. A night club owner named Badia Masabni introduced the costume because it was what foreigners were expecting to see.
The traditional costume covered and concealed the contours of the dancer’s body. A scarf or belt was tied around the hips to emphasize the dancer’s movements.
Modern day dance costume designs include a fitted top or bra often decorated with fringes or coins, a decorated hip belt, and harem pants and/or skirts. The skirts can be straight, layered, circular or panelled. The veil is little used in Egypt. Dancers today wear this costume to also perform folkloric routines as well. This is a pity because the traditional folkloric dresses have great charm.
I would like to briefly mention ballet costumes. Elaborate costumes were designed by Inigo Jones for Elizabethan masques and early Renaissance costumes date back to the period when ballet itself was developing. From the romantic period onwards ballet costumes were simplified and became more formal.
By the end of the nineteenth century ballerina’s wore long tutus and the male dancers tights. The introduction of new synthetic fibres has revolutionized contemporary dance outfits.
There are many,many costumes associated with different forms of dance which I cannot mention here.The availability of Lycra and other stretchable synthetic fibers has led to new costume concepts.