Mentioning the “unmentionables”
Let’s talk about unmentionables, as my grandmother used to say. By “unmentionables” I mean underwear, as in underpants and bras. Yes, here on a website about belly dancing I want to discuss “foundation garments.” Here’s the thing—as dancers, we spend a lot of time talking about foundation movements and maybe even about “getting back to basics” in our study of posture and body alignment. But our foundation garments are just as important, and we don’t ever talk about them!
Let’s start by talking about bras—that seems a touch more belly dance related doesn’t it? If your costuming is in a style that allows a regular bra to be worn under it, then please wear a properly fitted and supportive one. Even if you don’t have particularly large breasts. There are a few reasons why I suggest bras for everyone.
First of all, even the best fitted choli or wrap top occasionally gaps at the neckline when you lean forward. The audience is watching you, that’s what they’re supposed to do, and when the neckline gaps, then they are going to see much more of your breasts then you planned on them seeing if there isn’t a bra under there. Another reason is that when we dance we move around a lot. We shimmy, we bounce, we twist. Even with the best of isolation skills, our breasts move around in response to those movements. Yup, little breasts do too. They aren’t like biceps, made primarily of muscle, they are softer tissue and they respond more to body movement, and that movement can distract from your dancing. My final reason is all about lines. We spend time learning good posture, to extend our torso, to hold our head up, to dance to the very tips of our fingers and toes, all so that our movements and poses present beautiful shapes and lines to our audience. A properly supportive bra improves those lines. It give us the clear distinction between our rib cage line and our waistline and helps to create clean-looking isolations of our undulations and shoulder movements.
If your costume top is of the bra type, then the second and third reasons I’ve given are of particular importance. Just because the cups on the bra cover enough breast to make it legal, doesn’t mean that it’s the right bra for you. Make certain that bra top holds your breasts in a supportive manner. Straps that are too long or too stretchy are going to give you movement and lines that shouldn’t be part of a beautiful performance.
Now let’s talk about underpants. Let’s start with: wear them. Yes, even if you’re wearing pantaloons or if your skirt has built in shorts. You never know when, heaven forbid, a costuming malfunction will happen, and while I’d rather not see panties on stage, I’d rather see panties then, well, bare lady parts. I know many dancers wear itty bitty skimpy thong panties under their costumes, and while I’m a huge fan of the thong panty, these are really only a good choice if they are your “plan B” coverage. No matter what size your backside is, it should remain covered when you’re belly dancing. If you’re wearing a skirt with multiple slits, a very long split up one leg, or one made of a very light, floaty fabric, standing in front of the mirror those itty bitty panties are just fine—but the moment you do a spin, turn or kick, trust me, the audience will see your backside, especially if you’re on a raised stage. Even if it’s just a glimpse, you’ve now distracted them from watching your dancing and they are busy trying to get a better look to see if you are or aren’t wearing panties.
The best choice really is full coverage panties, dance briefs or hot shorts (aka booty shorts, boy shorts and hipster shorts) dyed to match the costume. Choosing them in a fabric similar to that of the costume means that if your audience catches a glimpse, it simply looks like it’s part of the costume. Heck, if you’re having your costume made for you, ask for a pair of matching hot shorts out of the exact same fabric or choose dance briefs in a similar color and add some bling to the edges (and underneath, go right ahead and wear those “plan B” itty bitty thongs).
For our tribal and historic folkloric dancers out there—those pantaloons are a very important “plan A.” Big circle and 25 yard skirts rise up a whole lot when you spin or do skirt work, and on the occasions where you’re on a raised stage—the audience can see right up that skirt. But even when level with the audience it’s easy to show a little too much length of leg and then you run into the same issue of having an audience who’s only focus is “does she have panties on?” And really, wouldn’t you rather have them remember you as “that wonderful dancer,” then “the dancer who didn’t have panties on”?