Preparing the dance for a performance is a process in itself, from conception, to banging my head against the wall to meticulous rehearsal. But preparing to perform is about a whole load more than having the choreography polished.
Sometimes a potential client will ask me to perform at a reduced rate and only perform a single set, instead of two, or for 10 minutes rather than 20. In reality I can't offer much discount for this, because the part that people actually see is only the tip of the iceberg. Being performance ready involves continuous commitment (like drilling, conditioning and developing material) and a solid investment of time beforehand, specific to that gig.
As a professional performer I do believe it is necessary to have the ability to drop everything and dance at short notice. I always have costumes on the hanger, generic sets compiled and regularly rehearsed etc, so that if I get a last minute booking, or another dancer calls and asks me to cover for her, I can roll up with a few hours notice and put on a fabulous show. But from my own perspective, I know that I do my best work when I have had the opportunity to tailor my performance to the client, venue and audience. I also know I am in my best headspace for performance, and give my absolute best, when I can be totally confident that everything is in place and is going smoothly.
Recently I was making small talk with the mother of one of my childrens' friends. I told her what I did for a living and she was rather surprised, "I'd never have guessed" she said. "Yeah" says I "it takes quite a lot of work to turn me into a bellydancer"....
T - at least 1 week. Finalising the playlist.
I'll usually check in with my client about now too, and confirm any music requests. Finalising a week in advance means that I can guarantee myself rehearsal time in a large studio to run the entire set (I have space booked for one session a week by default).
I will likely have rehearsed each track separately many times, but I think it is important to rehearse a whole set from start to finish at least a couple of times. That 6 minute drum solo might feel fine as a standalone piece, but can you still dance it with as much energy after performing 15 minutes of upbeat pop?
T- 2 days. Costume alteration time.
There's no point in doing this too early, because the fit on my costumes has to be exact and a tiny fluctuation in weight can be the difference between a good fit and a potential mishap. Sometimes I will be wearing a costume that I haven't worn for a year or so, and you can't just get those out of the wardrobe 3 hours before a performance and hope they will fit! 2 days is a good timeline to get it done, without it being too last minute and with time to buy in supplies if repairs are needed.
I make the vast majority of my costumes myself, and when I do, I keep adjustability in mind.
There's a balance to be set between the ease of getting into a costume and versatility in sizing - especially with costume bras. Some of my bras have long straps that are tied in a knot or bow, and reinforced with a safety pin. This makes them really adjustable, you can get the band and shoulder strap length spot on every time, but they have to be tied right; usually they need to be tied, left to settle, then adjusted. My modern Orientale style costume bras are usually based on the hard "Dina" bra bases. These tend to fasten with hooks (I use trouser hooks, which are bigger and stronger) they are great for quick changes but the hooks have to be taken off and resewn in order to adjust them.
When I make skirts or pantaloons I always make the waistband accessible and easily adjustable.
T- 24 hours - putting together the costumes
At this point I gather together all the separate components. I tend to store complete sets on the same hanger, but some items go with more than one costume. The complete costume might also include shoes, bodystockings, tights, hairbands/flowers. I also always include a cover up, because I almost always need one at some point. I always lay everything out before I pack it so I know exactly what I have and can pack it efficiently.
For most commercial bookings I will be dancing 2 sets, which means 2 full costumes, often with a change of accessories (I try to make them starkly different so I often change my hair and everything between sets).
T- 23 hours - packing the bag
THE BAG has consistent components that I will always need, and changable components. The night before a performance I will check the stocks on things like hairgrips and pack the costumes and props into the bag carefully. Once it's set to go I try not to interfere with it at all, in case I accidentally take something out and forget it. I'm quite particular like that.
I also always pack at least 2 copies of my music. Usually I have my ipod, my phone and a CD of the whole set. There are some things you just don't take chances on.
T - 3 hours, the final countdown
On the day of a performance I try and make sure I have a couple of hours before I have to leave set aside for getting ready. I try to give myself more than I need because rushing is the sort of thing that gets eyelashes glued to your ears.
First thing I do is eat. Something proteiny so it's filling but not stodgy. Dancing on a stodgy meal is not good. Sometimes when I perform at a restaurant they will offer me dinner, which is frankly awesome. The tough bit is waiting until after I have finished dancing to take them up on it.
There was also the time when I told my husband not to worry about me for dinner, because I was dancing later. He took that as meaning I wouldn't have time to eat, so he boxed up a whole homemade pizza for me. I had a 2 hour drive ahead of me with this pizza smelling amazing on the passenger seat. I planned to eat it on the way home. Most of it didn't make it that far.
So once I have eaten I will usually have a shower and start looking at getting ready proper. If I'm using my real hair, I will usually dry it at this point and set it in velcro rollers or large pin curls to keep it out of the way while I do my face.
T- 90 minutes - Beat that mug
I give myself an hour for stage makeup, it actually takes less, but various other things tend to be going on as well which I can't really quantify - like painting nails. Taking time to lay down a good base and contours makes all the difference in a solid, lasting look.
Things like false eyelashes need a steady hand and time to get right, it really is a case of more haste, less speed otherwise.
T-30 minutes - Hair
Hair is always the last thing I do before leaving the house. It usually involves messing around with some kind of hairpiece and loads of bobby pins.
T - 15 mins - clothes
I rarely travel to a gig in costume. Most of my costumes are not comfortable to travel in and many could potentially be damaged. They just aren't made for sitting in. They also aren't made for being chucked in the washing machine if I get splashed by a puddle or catch the skirt in the car door. I usually wear something like a jersey maxi dress that I can step into to avoid hair and make up issues.
Time to go!
Grab the gig bag and off I go!