When Costumes Attack

It’s April Fools’ Day, which seems like the perfect time to discuss—Dum, Dum, Duuuuuum!   Costume Malfunctions.

Everybody, regardless of occupation, has had their clothing play tricks on them at some point in their lives.  A zipper that didn’t get zipped (or unzipped itself!), a crucial button that went flying, or a seam that split and let everyone know far too much about your underwear choices—the list goes on forever.  These things are never fun, and they always seem to occur in circumstances that make fixing them unobtrusively just about impossible.

Now imagine that you are in an extremely tight-fitting costume.  It is held on by very slender straps, yet covered with heavy decorations.  In some cases it only just covers up some of your most important bits.  Imagine that you are wearing this costume as you jump, spin, twist and bend.  Oh, yeah, one more thing–you are On.  A.  Stage.  The possibilities are mind-boggling.

Bra clasps, for instance, are always good for a laugh.  Even heavy-duty ones can bend with use, or break loose from their moorings due to worn-out threads.  If these tricks don’t work, an extra-talented clasp can simply unlatch itself as the fabric warms up, moves and stretches.  What to do when this happens?  Panic.  Run.  Die.

Next, anything that is true for a bra clasp is also true for a belt clasp.  Old-fashioned Egyptian and Turkish costumes come with a detachable belt, usually rimmed all the way around by long beaded fringe.  The purpose of this fringe is to accentuate hip movements.  Unfortunately, it is also very heavy.  Not only can the standard bra problems occur with the belt fastenings, the weight of the belt itself can drag both the belt and the skirt further and further down the dancer’s body as she moves.  If left unadjusted, this can expose the dreaded Crack of Doom.  ‘Nuff said.

Some modern costumes have a skirt that is itself heavily decorated, so a detachable belt isn’t necessary.  That doesn’t always solve the problem, though.  These skirts can slide up, down and sideways with the greatest of ease, especially if they were even the tiniest bit loose to begin with.  Plus they often have zippers, and we all know what havoc a zipper can cause if it tries.

For the truly adventurous dancer, some of these skirts even feature cutout patterns along the sides of the hips to expose more skin.  These are a bit risqué for my taste, but they get downright risky when a skirt starts to shift.  The problem is twofold:  1) The cutouts make it impossible to wear underwear under the costume.  For a performer, going commando is never, ever a good idea, especially if you are going to be on a raised stage or doing floor work.  There are too many tragic stories on this topic to even begin to relate, so I’ll just say that I once got an unexpected show from a panty-impaired dancer who was whipping a sword around and the sword caught and lifted her skirt for the world to see.  Yeesh. 2) Now that you are not sporting undies, the skirt will do everything in its power to work itself around until the cutouts are no longer over the hips.  Double yeesh.

Accessories are their own barrel of monkeys.  Jewelry of all kinds can get snagged on a dancer’s costume, hair, scenery and other dancers.  Jewelry can break and go flying, or disintegrate into many sharp pieces on the dance floor.  (This usually happens when the dancer is barefoot.)  Wigs and hairpieces that were fastened with a million clips and bobby pins still find ways of sliding off the dancer’s head one he or she is onstage.  Bonus points if they fall into somebody’s food.

Next up, finger cymbals.  Finger cymbals are the belly dancer’s equivalent of ninja throwing stars, except that the dancer’s not usually trying to throw them.  Finger cymbals throw themselves.  To prevent this, dancers must fasten cymbals to their fingers with elastic that is so tight their fingers turn blue.  This feels just great, and sometimes the cymbal breaks loose anyway.  A truly dramatic arm gesture coupled with loose or broken elastic can result in the cymbal flying across a room and burying itself in the drywall (this actually happened to a friend of mine.)

Some costumes really go too far.  I once had a heavy silver necklace fly up and hit me smack in the teeth when I did a hair toss.  I’ve also had glass belt fringe that shattered under heavy use, leaving tiny pieces of glass that embedded themselves in my feet.  And then there was the time a ruffle on a flamenco-type skirt tore onstage and almost made me break my neck.  There is only one thing to do in these cases:  Ditch the offending piece and get a new costume.  And pray…


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