Curves and cues: Interview with ATS belly dancer Hillary – Part 2
What are some costuming dos/don’ts and hacks for curvy ATS dancers?
First the Dos.
- Wear shorts under pantaloons, to prevent chub rub. Absolute #1 for me. As mentioned above, I have hella thunder thighs, so I need to wear shorts/leggings/tights/etc under pretty much everything, both in dance and in my regular life. I use black cotton bike/yoga shorts (that aren’t too tight or bulky) under my loons; they keep me comfy friction-wise, absorb the sweat, and prevent wear and tear on your loons (plus you can wash the shorts much more often/easier than the loons). Another plus is, if a venue lacks a dressing room or any changing space, you can remove most of your layers and still have the shorts to cover you so you’re not flashing anyone.
- If you have skirts that you adore but they are several inches too short, wear the shorter skirts over a skirt that is the proper length. You can tuck both, or only tuck the top, short skirt to maintain length at the bottom.
- Costume to your proportions; don’t be afraid to go big! When you’re a tall/curvy dancer, wearing big puffy tucks, thicker belts, and longer scarves/fringe/tassels/etc will look more proportional and balanced on your body. Some plus sized dancers don’t like wearing big tucks or double skirts; I hear things like “I don’t need to be any wider!” all the time. But exactly the opposite is the case: when you go big with your tucks/puffs, you actually are visually ‘contained’ by them. Yes, you will technically be wider, but 1) why is that the worst thing one can be (hint: it isn’t), and 2) it creates an optical illusion of smallness by maintaining proportion with the rest of your body.
- If you’re like me and you’ve got both a big butt and belly, your belly probably pushes the skirt lower in the front and you have to wear the skirt high in the back to hide your buttcrack. To combat this, I’ve started buying skirts a little longer than my straight inseam and only roll the front (instead of all the way around) so that I’m not tripping over the skirt in the front but my ankles are still covered in the back.
- Reinforce all your belts with interfacing (you can get it at any sewing/craft store) so that the belts will stay straight and won’t warp.
- Darts are your friend! Many dance belts are straight as an arrow, which is hard for most body types but especially doesn’t work for curvy girls, and you end up with the dreaded belt gap. Pinch and sew together little pieces of the fabric along the top edge of the belt, making the top smaller and giving the belt a nice curve that will hug your hips/booty. Don’t make the darts too big, and don’t do them all at once; too much too soon will ruin the design on the belt and make it rippled. Sew a few small, evenly spaced darts all the way around, try it on to see how it fits, and if you still have a gap, put in more darts. Rinse, repeat, until it fits snugly.
- In the same vein, (although this one is more of a personal preference), I tend to buy (or make) belts that have ties on both the top and bottom corners because, as someone who is very curvy in the hips, belts that have just one tie in the middle tend to be tight in some places and loose in others. Especially if you’ve put darts in, the top of your belt is going to be ‘shorter’ than the bottom of your belt, and being able to tie both parts separately with different strengths makes the belt fit more snugly.
- Overall, just make sure to tie/secure everything (belts most of all) tightly, as the pressure from extra tummy can sometimes make a belt slip down; gaps in the front or back are not cute. We as curvy women tend to shy away from tying things super tightly because we are conscious of bulges and muffin top but trust me, it’s better than your belt drooping or falling off.
- Black safety pins are LIFE. Buy approximately 700,000 of them and you will be happy forever. They disappear against many colors (even up close) and make pinning worry-free because you don’t have to care about the silver of the pin being too visible. If you tend to wear lighter colors, they also make white/other colors of pins, but I’ve found the black is the most useful in my costuming.
- This is a pretty well-known one, but it bears repeating: coin bras with non-halter straps are life-savers for chesty girls. Crisscross backs, or regular bra-style straps are so much more comfortable and will help with neck/back pain in the long run, especially for those all-day gigs.
- If you’re worried about muffin top or visible belt splices/ties, tucking your skirt on the side hides them and really emphasizes hip movements; plus, they help create a balanced bottom (see above rant about proportions), especially if you are wide-shouldered, busty, or have a belly.
- Buy a bunch of extenders for your necklaces in various sizes (I found mine on amazon, with lobster clips on both ends) so any necklace you buy can fit comfortably. Even if they aren’t on a chain (i.e., the woven rope/string ones that have a button-and-hole closure), you can still use the chain extenders; I clip one lobster clip around the thread attaching the button to the rope (under the button), loop it through the rope loop, and then use the second lobster clip to attach to wherever on the chain is comfortable. If you don’t like the look of the visible chain, you can also sew extra rope to the necklace, but this works if you’re in a time crunch.
- Keep track of ideas and looks that you enjoy somewhere like Pinterest, so when you have a craft idea or need to throw together a costume, all your inspirations can be in one place. I have separate Pinterest boards for ATS costumes and hair gardens, for those days when the ideas just aren’t flowing and I need something to jump start my engine.
- Measure everything 900 times! I have probably six measuring tapes (at work and at home), specifically so my boss/coworkers can catch me standing up at my desk to measure my hip, although, in a pinch I have used headphones and a ruler to measure, so I guess at least getting caught with a measuring tape is less awkward than my coworker wandering over to see me wrapping headphones around my butt…
- Overall, know your body and dress for your body. Know your measurements (I have mine written down in a bunch of places, even all my finger sizes for rings) and always buy things that are the right size/length. As I said before, while you should acknowledge that just because something looks good on a smaller dancer doesn’t necessarily mean it will look good on you, don’t automatically dismiss a costume piece/idea that you love just because of your size; just because it might not look the same doesn’t mean you can’t make it work with a little tweaking. I have plenty of belts that I have absolutely fallen in love with that were way too short, and instead of writing them off forever, I found a way to wear them (see below).
Now the Don’ts
- DON’T leave a big empty space in the middle line of your body (i.e., hipscarves and/or belts that are too short and only cover the back half your hips), especially if you are like me and tend to use the two side tucks; the blankness is less apparent with other tucks, probably because the skirt fabric is pulled across the body.
- INSTEAD: Fill the space with literally anything. Wear two belts (one tied over the other), or one belt paired with a decorated headband, or a belt paired with a coin drape in front. If you don’t want a belt-fix, wear two hipscarves (one in the front and one in the back), and/or long metal/yarn tassels, and/or chaintette/fringe belts (they are often made with extremely springy elastic and can fit all the way around even extra-large hips). My most-used hack is the SuperBelt: I will buy two similar-looking belts and sew them together on one end and leave the ties on the other, so that I make one long belt that fits all the way around my hips. Usually this results in extra belt left over, so I will either cut it (if there is a lot) or sew the belts together slightly overlapping (if there is just a few inches), just in case I gain weight and end up needing more length. I usually tie these on one side and do side tucks so that the area where the two belts meet is hidden under the skirt fabric. It doesn’t even matter if the belts are EXACTLY the same design or color (you can see in the photo that I paired one blue and one purple belt), since it will be almost impossible for anyone to see both parts of the belt at the same time while you’re wearing it. Whatever option you choose, filling up that middle space helps to bring you back into proportion.
- DON’T wear skirts that are too short and show your ankles/feet, it visually cuts your body up into sections and makes you look shorter. Especially if you have a big butt like me, it will be even shorter in the back as your butt takes up more fabric.
- INSTEAD: buy skirts that are the proper length (duh). I usually buy a little longer than my straight inseam because my butt and my tucks take up more length than someone of a different body type. As I always say to short dancers: you can roll a skirt that is too long, but you can’t (easily) create fabric on a skirt that is too short.
- DON’T wear your skirt up around your belly button. No. Stop. No! Seriously, no. I see tons of dancers (of all shapes and sizes!) doing this, and it is one of my biggest costuming pet peeves. It’s universally unflattering, makes your waist shorter, and (especially with taller dancers not wearing skirts of proper length) brings the skirt up several extra inches from the ground, completely ruining the proportions of your body (see Don’t #2). Maybe it’s because as women we are constantly bombarded by the idea that our bodies are never good enough and so we unintentionally compensate by hiking up the skirt over our stomach pooches in order to feel more contained/covered/safe; maybe it’s because the skirt is too long and the dancer doesn’t like the feeling of a rolled-waist skirt; maybe it’s because the dancer isn’t used to wearing anything low-slung and the high placement of the skirt just feels more natural. Regardless, STAHP.
- INSTEAD: Wear your skirt as low on your hips as you can go without buttcrack sneaking out. Almost uncomfortably low. I know that it feels like your hoo-ha is going to pop out, but visually it gives you MILES of waist. If you skirt is too long, roll the hem before scooching it down. Admittedly, certain body types (e.g., bubble butt, square hips) have a harder time wearing a skirt down too low like this, but if your insecurity is the only thing holding you back, take a page out of Elsa’s book and let it go.
- DON’T secure your hipscarf (or hipscarves) by tying a knot with the corners. It shortens the scarf, makes a big ugly bump on your hip, makes it harder to put on any belts, and gives you lumpy hips. Not cute.
- INSTEAD: Pin your scarf using a safety pin (maybe a black one, since you already bought 700,000 of them like I said, right?). It looks smoother, gives you extra visual length, is easier to layer, and there is less of a chance of it coming undone mid-performance. Plus you get to see more of the design on the scarf, since it’s not all scrunched up around your hips.
- DON’T grab your tucks too close to the top of your skirt; the top tiers of a 25-yard skirt are made with a lot less fabric than the bottom ones, so there is no wiggle room like there is at the bottom of the skirt, where the tiers are made with tons of fabric. When you pull the higher tiers up, it shortens the overall skirt and ruins the look of the tuck: when the puffs are so long, they tend to be flatter and put the tucks’ volume at mid-thigh instead of at your hips (and don’t move as nicely when you dance).
- INSTEAD: Grab several inches below your knee (at or below the seam of your bottom-most skirt tier) to maintain volume at the bottom but still give you a nice puff.
Hillary began her study of Middle Eastern Dance in 2006 with Brenda of Boston, followed by Basimah of northern New York in 2007. She was a founding member of Basimah’s Middle Eastern Dance Ensemble and trained in traditional Egyptian raqs sharqi (using a muscular-driven technique stemming from Aegela of Toledo, OH) for four years. In 2013, curious about other styles, Hillary began taking classes in American Tribal Style (ATS) from Mimi Fontana of NYC, director of Manhattan Tribal; she was invited to join the Manhattan Tribal Collective in 2014 and Tribe Hamsa (directed by Maria Naja Richardson) in 2016. Hillary is also the founder and owner of Third Eye Bling, a shop for facial adornments for all types of dancers with a specific focus on the bindis used in ATS costuming.