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What are Different Types of Dance Costumes?

By Sheri Cyprus
Updated May 21, 2024
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The variety of dance costumes for both men and women is wide since there are so many different performing arts dance themes. Dances range from ethnic traditions to musical plays; costumes always fit in with the performance's overall mood and energy. Dancewear costumes may be homemade or professionally constructed.

Belly dancing costume pants as well as scarves are typically airy, billowy and extravagantly detailed. Light, vividly colored, floaty fabrics such as silk and chiffon are used for these pieces as they move with the belly dancer to create a vibrant effect. By contrast, the top of belly dance costumes is usually tight-fitting. It covers only the chest and bares the abdomen; typically, it's heavily embellished with metallic braid, sparkling sequins or small jewels. The belly dance is a graceful, swaying series of movements that are Middle Eastern in origin.

Hawaiian dances also include types of swaying movements, but the costumes are very different even though the body's midsection is still left bare. A traditional Hawaiian hula skirt is made of long grasses and the bra-like top features two half coconut shells. Contrasting this type of look are the classical ballet dance costumes with their short, outwardly flounced skirts attached to a covered torso section. These costumes, known as tutus, often include netting under the skirt to help it hold a circle shape around the dancer's hips. The outward layer of fabric for both the top and skirt sections is usually satin that may be either elegantly plain or richly embellished.

Irish dance costumes are typically made from satin, velvet or other luxurious fabrics. Lace or sequins may accent a sleeveless or elaborately sleeved top, while the skirt is usually about knee length and flared. The classic Irish dance costume for men is a dressy shirt worn with dark pants or a kilt; a vest is also sometimes added.

Brazilian carnival dancers usually wear small, short costumes with detailed head pieces. They do the Samba dance which is upbeat and fast moving; the costumes are brightly colored with jewels, beads, flowers or feathers that create an exciting look to coordinate with the mood their movements create. Musical theater, such as in "The Wizard of Oz," calls for dance costumes unique to the storyline. For instance, "The Wizard Of Oz's" lead role of Dorothy is a Kansas farm girl; her costume includes a blue gingham dress with hair ribbons as well as a white blouse and socks.

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Discussion Comments
By LTimmins — On Aug 21, 2011

@Monika - You're right, costumes can end up costing a pretty penny if you're buying them brand new! There are ways around it though, but you'll have to get a little more creative. Most second-hand stores are a treasure trove of clothing or even discount theater and dance costumes that are a bit out of the ordinary.

If you need character dance costumes, then that will require a little more effort. Try heading to your local craft store. They usually have tons of stuff like sequins, beads (including pre-beaded strings), pompoms, colorful pipe cleaners, fabric swatches and much more. If anyone else has DIY tips on making dance costumes, it would be much appreciated!

By AnnBoleyn — On Aug 20, 2011

Since the article starts off with belly dance costumes, it made me wonder about how women are portrayed in dance through costumes. There are so many possibilities of clothing that they could have, yet we so often see that they are rather scantily clad. Even in Middle Eastern culture, which tends to be rather conservative where women are concerned, belly dancers can get away with way less limitations!

Even if female dancers quite covered up, the dance costumes or accessories tend to be rather tight. Compared to what male dancers wear, do you feel this is fair?

By fingered — On Aug 20, 2011

@Azuza - Part of the charm of watching a dance is definitely the costumes! More than just for show, I think they're also so much fun because it helps to convey something of the overall mood of the piece, or perhaps what the dancers represent.

With this in mind, what do you think about modern dancers? Very often, I notice that they simply wear regular street-wear: T-shirts and baggy pants or leggings. It makes the dance feel less special, don't you think?

By kylee07drg — On Aug 19, 2011

My friend had to wear an overly showy costume for her clogging class. She was ten at the time, and I remember thinking how ridiculous the costume made her look, though I never told her that.

One part of the costume I particularly hated was the clogs themselves. Those shoes looked like wooden boats. They rose to a sharp point at the toes like elf shoes.

The dress wasn’t much better. The skirt puffed way out, like it had layers of other fluffy skirts underneath it. You could see white fluffy material holding it out from her body. The sleeves were really puffy as well.

By StarJo — On Aug 18, 2011

My hip hop dance costume was very edgy. I took the class to learn a few moves, but I ended up joining the regular group and buying the costume.

The top was a one-shoulder, hot pink, tight-fitting garment with an overlay of black material full of big slits to let the pink show. The bottom was a hot pink skirtini, which is basically a bikini with a skirt covering it. The black bikini would show when we either bent over or twirled, so it was necessary to have underneath the skirt.

I did feel a little more exposed than I wanted to when the skirt would rise. However, being part of the group was so much fun that I overcame my shyness. The moves were fun, and the costume reflected that.

By seag47 — On Aug 18, 2011

I took a belly dancing class, and the costume I wore really made my movements feel more dramatic. My freckled skin and red hair made me feel out of place in the class, but when I put on that costume, it just felt right.

The pants were deep purple satin with lavender chiffon underneath slits in the satin. Gold-encircled amethysts adorned the waistline and extended partially down the legs.

The tight purple top had a gold braid along the bottom edge. The material crossed over the chest, and a lavender chiffon scarf billowed out the top and hung down to the braid. The scarf was anchored in several places to the top by amethysts.

By Perdido — On Aug 17, 2011

I still remember my dance costume from a play I was in at nine years old. The play was about the effects of the sun on plants.

The girls got to play rays of sunshine, and the boys were vegetables and trees. The girls’ costumes were yellow dresses with skirts that had jagged edges. They were covered in orange glitter.

I remember how elegant it felt to dance and twirl about in that dress. The uneven edges made the skirt whirl dramatically, and the sparkly yellow color made me feel vibrant, like an actual ray of sunshine.

By Monika — On Aug 17, 2011

@Azuza - Dance costumes are lot of fun. Unfortunately they can get very expensive! A friend of mine performs belly dance, and some of her costumes cost hundreds of dollars.

The costumes are so neat looking though, I almost think it's worth it. My friend gets hers custom made and they last a pretty long time. Still though, I imagine the cost might prevent some beginning dancers from purchasing the costumes.

By Azuza — On Aug 16, 2011

I think half the fun of dance is the costumes! I did ballet when I was younger (very briefly) and I loved getting dressed up for the recitals.

I remember our big end of the year recital was my favorite. We were supposed to be a fountain, so our costumes were blue with very flowy, flouncy skirts. We didn't have a very big role in the show, but I had a lot of fun wearing that costume!

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