Saturday, 20 December 2014

Diva inspiration - beat that mug.

[A note to the uninitiated: "Beating your mug" is drag-speak for putting make-up on. In no way do I wish to encourage violence against crockery]

Continuing on my Drag Queen inspired series, today we are moving on to one of the most important things a bellydancer can learn from Drag Divas: Stage makeup!

Putting your game face on. Make up to dazzle your audience.

A really common issue for new performers, and many experienced ones, is learning how to create a stageworthy make-up look. I teach a workshop to help dancers create their performance face, but it's not something that usually comes into regular bellydance classes.

I developed my make up skills from a mixture of theatrical make up, character make up for LARP and fancy dress, inspiration from performers and sheer experimentation. Then I started looking more closely at not just the finished looks, but the process by which the look is created. There are literally thousands of tutorials on YouTube, with everything from subtle tricks to dramatic transformations. Drag queens are a brilliant resource for this. There are a lot of drag tutorials out there and they are useful to performers because:

  • The make up is usually styled for performance, not everyday wear
  • The make up is designed to last through sweating under lights
  • It has to disguise superficial flaws (like skintone and 5 o' clock shadow) flawlessly
  • It also has to adjust face shape and structure, emphasizing key features
  • Facial expressions are highlighted and exaggerated 

A lady knows how to wear make up tastefully for daytime, dramatically for evening, and theatrically for the stage" - Dita Von Teese

Many dancers do great daytime or evening make up, but are not sure how, or nervous to ramp it up for the stage.

It's really important to adjust your make up for the setting. Daytime, evening, photography, close up performance and stage faces need to be adjusted to give the best result for the medium.

Everyday make up will wash out and disappear completely under stage lighting, or even just in subdued evening light, but close up and under natural lighting, stage make up can appear over the top or even clownish. It takes practice, judgement and nerve to do a good stage face when the lighting necessary to apply it is not the lighting it will be viewed under.

Beat for the back row
Image from
So here is your first Diva tip. It comes from Alyssa Edwards, who made her name of the pageant circuit.

It's no good if your make up is fabulous, but only the people sitting at the very front can see it. If you are dancing, and emoting with your face, you need your expressions to be clear, right to the back of the room. This means strong brows, open eyes, strong lips and deep contours.

Add a little extra if you need it to translate to video. It will feel like too much. If it feels like too much, it's probably almost enough.

Always do your 'brows

So carrying on from that, brows are compulsory. Always.

I have always done my brows, I have to because mine are white-blonde and as soon as I put on any make up they become invisible and I look like an alien, but even if you have good brows for daylight, you need extra for photos or stage.

It helps if you have a head start by shaping your brows well. If you are scared to take the tweezers to your face, get a beautician to, even just once, then maintain the shape yourself. If your brows are pale, you can dye them a little darker too.

Queens usually glue down their brows. Yes, with actual glue stick. Then they draw them on higher. Doing this gives a more open expression, allows you to really exaggerate the socket line of your eye make up. It also re-proportions manly facial features. You can try raising your brow level and see how it works for you. I usually draw my brows to the higher part of my natural browline, and I maintain a pretty high arch regardless. Go careful on this though, you want expressive eyes, not permanent surprise.

You can do your brows with pencil (sharp, little strokes to look like hairs) and/or powder pigment (narrow, angled brush, slightly damp). Powder is great for filling in brows that already have good shape.

Maybe she's born with it, maybe it's contouring

Image from
Ongina's contouring, pre-blending
People are catching onto this more now, but the right shading can do wonders for your face. You can use contouring to completely change key features like jawline and nose shape, or just to enhance your natural bone structure so that it doesn't get "lost".

Flash photography or stage lighting will wash out the natural shadows in your face, making you look like a pale pancake. You can counter this by constructing artificial shadows and highlights that restore the 3 dimensional nature of your face. Take a look at these images if you aren't convinced yet.

It can be a case of applying a subtle, non-sparkly/shiny bronzer in the right areas, or going full on "cutting" lines with a dark pigment. Most queens seem to use several shades of panstick to create their contours from the foundation up. You need to highlight the areas that need to look "raised" and darken the areas that are in shadow.

It is usual to contour the sides of the nose, cheekbones, jawline and hairline. There is a tonne of resources on the internet to help you learn about contouring, but it also takes practice. Every unique face needs to be contoured differently, so you can gather tips and experiment, or book an appointment with a make up artist who can show you what works on you.

Let it cook

Cooking was something I had never heard of before Drag Race. Well, I knew that make up behaves differently at different temperatures, and often kept my pencils near my body heat prior to application, but the queens take it a step further by letting their make up sit on the skin to adjust before blending and shading, as in the image above. It makes it a bit easier to work with and gives it staying power. I have found it works for creams and powders, give it a try.

Flutter those lashes

"If you think you look good without lashes, imagine how good you will look with lashes" - Courtney Act

Image from
Courtney is right, false lashes are amazing. Even if you have amazing natural lashes, and mascara, remember, you are beating for the back row. You don't need to go as far as Bianca here, who tends to wear at least 5 pairs.

Lashes come in all kinds of styles, you can get tiny bunches to just add a few extra, natural looking lashes, winged lashes that get longer to the outer corner (my favourite), thick lashes, spikey lashes, coloured lashes, lashes with gems or sequins built in.

It takes a bit of practice to get them right, but I bet you have a dance-friend who uses them already and can show you how. Pre-glued lashes are a bit easier to use, but be careful when you get them out of the packet as you can accidentally separate the lashes from the adhesive tape. Lash glue isn't too hard to get used to, if you have sensitive eyes though, be aware that most lash glue contains latex, but alternatives are widely available.

Adding the sparkle

Glitter and gems are part and parcel of the bellydancer's loadout, don't leave your face behind. In season one of Drag Race, I was immensely impressed with Shannel's ability to apply a large number of crystals to her face, in a relatively unobtrusive manner. The make up she designed for her team in episode 2 was beautiful and included around 10 AB gems, carefully positioned to add subtle sparkle as they performed. It's a good episode to watch because you get to see the process of designing make up for a group of performers.

If you aren't sure about gluing things on yet, try a little glitter to really bring out your highlights or eye make up. Use proper cosmetic glitter, not craft glitter though!

Now go and practice

Hopefully this has given you a bit of an idea where to start, but ultimately you need to go and do your homework now. Don't try a new look out an hour before a big performance, play about at home and do some practice runs until you are comfortable with your look.

If you are looking for inspiration, and arn't sure where to start, I'm going to recommend James St James Transformations, for some fabulous and often downright wacky makeovers, which allow you to see the process and get tips from some great make up artists.

Now, go beat that mug!

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