Dressing for Dancing – lifelong passion

My first passion, that I recall, was for dressing up.  I remember being “mad” for the Candy Fashion doll and for a long green silk skirt my aunt gave me that went in my “dressup trunk.”  (I seem to remember her bringing me something from India as well, maybe a saree even.) When watching TV I’d go put on an outfit and do what the people in the show were doing.  I couldn’t watch; I had to do.  So I guess the impulse to move and the impulse to be in costume are tied together.  And now, at 53, it is maybe more than ever the case that the look in my mind, in the mirror, the feel of the fabric and the sparkle of shimmering colors, DRIVES the desire for dancing.  At the Academy Awards the other night, (such a good show it was) one of the presenters spoke of the importance of costume in the building and presenting of the character an actor/actress defines and portrays.  It is the costume that finishes the personality and makes it believable in the role.

I am more in love with dance than ever, but when I practice a dance, or when I am moving just for fun by myself, I dance better and am happier when I’m dressed up.  I know that I need the “character” of the dancer for my confidence.  In the costume, I feel more myself.  When I dance a piece I know I come out in a way that is more fiery and confident than my daily self.  At least it used to be true. Maybe I’ve grown into my dresses more fully.

Beauty is crucial to me.  A friend of mine who is a jazz and modern dancer was lamenting the weight of bollywood jewelry.  For me that weight is pure bliss.  The look and feel of that heavy mass of shining jewels (real or fake) is interwoven with the bliss of movement.  The illusions created by fabric, the enhancement of the feminine figure by a fitted shirt, tight sleeves, see thru sleeves maybe, a skirt that flares with turns, is vital to my inner experience.

My inner experience, whether its fully realized or only a longing is for the celestial.  Costumes are the material pathway to the celestial.  They remind us of the energetic world beyond matter.  Colors are energy and beautiful lines are Mother Divine to me. I want to radiate the essence of moving vibrant femininity.

I was always girly.  My outfits had to match and were conscious and colorful.  when I was twelve I used to get to sleep by designing outfits for everyone in my class, boys AND girls.

I live in my vision of costumes.  Every day my day is filled with images of costumes.  Getting dressed, I wish I had 5 mannequins to dress up. One outfit is not enough!  My love of bollywood has brought me further into the world of the fancy.  Many times, the dresses are much fancier than most Kathak costumes.   And they are usually more revealing.  The thing is to find what is most appealing and flattering on one’s own figure.

Seductress is an aspect of the Divine feminine.  Afterall, in classical Indian dances, a central theme is flirtation, whether its Parvati luring Shiva from his samadhi or Radha looking for Krishna or, in bollywood, a young woman enjoying her power over a crowd of men, (Aja Nachle) it is that coyness and sensual reveling in the human form that is as intoxicating as the music, the movements and the lyrics.  It is symbolic of the senses giving pleasure so that the mind is charmed and follows the senses deeper and deeper in.  All the Way IN.


I was in Ahmedebad at the Kadamb center for Dance and Music, studying Kathak in 2000.  I had not yet owned an official “Moghul-style” costume, but had always put together whatever I had in order to make a costume for performing. I had not performed very much yet.  I always preferred the vest over a tight dress and flared skirt that is the Kathak style used for technique dancing.  It is from the Moghul court dancer look and it was inspried partly by the Sufi circle skirts they use in Dervish turns. 

I went to a fabric shop and spent at least an hour selecting the exact shade of periwinkle for the leggings and the dress.  Some other Americans had arrived at the school and they were more experienced than me at shopping for costume material so I went with them.  When I had my fabric I was trying to decide what to do for the long scarf (dupatta) when I noticed some fabric that would match what Megan was having made.  We asked the sales person to show it to us and not only did Megan love the piece I’d seen, but next to it was a lovely lavender-periwinkle patterned scarf woven with silver lurex.  When they unfolded it for me, I had that sensation of perfection and I bought it and went to the tailor to have the costume made.  It was so fulfilling to have the exact thing made to fit perfectly and to come closer to the moment I’d seen in my mind for years: performing in that costume.  Spinning, slapping my feet and moving my hands and eyes with as much precision and love as I could find in me.    That costume is gone now. I wore it many many times and actually, no other has fit me quite so well.   But remembering it makes me commit to wearing things that reflect my exact taste.  I feel my own link to Devi through the expression of my taste, my look, and my joy in the fabric of life.   Purusha is silken silence. Devi is the material world and all its sparkle.

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