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Gilded Serpent presents...
The Complete Performance Bag
by Anna

Once you start performing regularly, you will quickly discover how critical it is to be prepared for anything. Poorly sewn bra straps, minor injuries, and misbehaving hair can put a damper on your performance by causing stress and distracting you from the task at hand.

The performance bag is that ONE practical and necessary accessory that aids in the creation of that ideal performance environment.

Being prepared for anything before, during, and after the show with a well-stocked performance bag can save you time, help to keep your costumes and accessories organized and in good condition, stop the hassle of getting all the various items you need together for each performance, and ensure that you have all the contingencies covered when things do not go as planned. Murphy’s Law applies to belly dancing too.

Before you go out and buy a cute little bag with many pockets, take a moment to consider what you need. The organizing process is best done top-down. We must first determine what items we need to go into our bag then we can better select what bag will best organize those items.

Let’s begin by gathering basic items that should always be in your bag. Most of these items can be purchased at your local drug or discount store or you may already have them. I recommend getting a big box or container to store the items in until you are ready to select a permanent bag to carry them in:

  • Safety pins (in various sizes) in any small container to hold them. I use an old Altoids tin to store mine. Safety pins will be used to reinforce your costumes or to make quick costume repairs.
  • Hairspray and other hair products
  • Static Guard – to fight static electricity in your costumes and veils. Some folks say not to use it, but I have never had a problem with it.
  • Facial tissues - whether you have allergies, a cold, need to wipe something off your costume, or polish your sword last minute…Keep a travel size packet handy.
  • Bobby pins and hair accessories you use – just keep them in your bag, so you have them, whether you are doing your hair at home or at the venue.
  • Small sewing kit – a basic kit includes a needle and a few colors of thread. Pre-made kits may be purchased at discount, drug, and fabric stores.
  • Small, basic first aid kit – include a limited range of bandages and an antiseptic. I also like to carry a small bottle of NewSkin; it’s a clear antiseptic liquid and bandage in one – perfect for shaving nicks and small wounds. Small kits can be purchased at drug, discount, and sporting good stores.   
  •  Hair brush and/or hair pick – for grooming yourself. Nothing says “unprofessional” like bed-head.
  • Hand sanitizer – sometimes you are in a location where you can’t wash your hands.
  • Moisturizer
  • Baby Wipes – great for cleaning off mystery substances or for cleaning up before or after a show.
  • Stain removing wipes – don’t let a stain set into that expensive costume. Treat stains immediately.
  • Emergency toilet paper – if you’ve ever performed at a public park or have restaurant gigs, you’ll understand completely why this is necessary. You can buy prepackaged small rolls at drug, discount and sporting good stores.
  • Make-up for touch-ups - at least a hand held mirror, powder, eyeliner, and lipstick. The rest is dependant on your needs.
  • Business cards and promotional materials – Be ready to give out your info and promote your events. Always keep extras in your bag.
  • Medication – always have a small bottle or packets of painkiller/anti-inflammatory and indigestion/heartburn/nausea medicine. Eye drops are great to have too. If you require prescription medication, have that in your bag, as well. You can get a cute little pill box to carry it, if you like.
  • Breathe spray or dissolvable stripes – not only do they fight bad breathe, but a couple sprays or one strip can help keep your mouth from getting dry during performance.
  • A bottle or two of water – one before and one after your performance. Staying hydrated is top priority. Get the fluids you need before you sweat and then get more to replace the fluid you lost during performance. This is especially important for those dancers doing long sets. 
  • Travel-sized toothbrush, toothpaste and floss – doing a show after dining? Be prepared to clean your teeth. Floss is great to repair fringe too,
  • Organizers - You may also want to purchase smaller bags or containers to help you organize everything within your performance bag. Be sure to buy these containers after you have pulled together all your necessary items AND before you select a bag.
  • Printed index cards with your basic bio/introduction on them – this will save you time and the frustration of trying to write this out before going on-stage. You have more important things to do before your performance than trying to come up with a glowing schpeel off the top of your head.
  • Towel – great for wiping off sweat and cleaning up spills. You can also wrap your costume in it, to protect it and absorb the sweat out of it, after performing.
  • Snacks – like granola or energy bars. Good for taking the edge off hunger and giving you a little extra energy before you perform.
  • Travel-size deodorant
  • Feminine products – always (no pun intended) have extra.
  • Disposable razor – if you didn’t have time to shave or you missed a spot
  • Lint brush  
  • Cover-up or kaftan – to maintain the mystique of your costume before and after the show.
  • Fashion tape – double-sided tape to hold your costume in place.

Now, let’s go beyond the basics. Below is a list of things that you may or may not carry in your bag. This is where your individual needs come into play. It’s important for you to consider what YOU usually need to be prepared. Please add what you need to the ideas I have below:

  • Jewelry and accessories– if you wear it, have it ready. I use a big zip lock baggie but I’ve been searching for a jewelry roll that has clear plastic zippered pockets. You should feel free to improve the organization of your own bag based on your needs and desires.
  • Body glitter – spray, roll-on, or loose powder, it is up to you.
  • Hair pieces or wigs – be sure to store hair in a container that protects it and helps it maintain shape. Before I decided to grow my hair out, I had a fall style hair piece, I would store it in a collapsible shoebox-size container made of breathable mesh. It really helped to keep the hair piece in shape and allowed it to air dry. 
  • Extra contact lenses and solution – if you have really poor vision and could not perform without vision correction.  
  • Warm gloves or slippers – if you get cold hands or feet before performing.  
  • Spare false eyelashes and eyelash adhesive
  • Dance shoes – if you perform in them.

So, we have now covered the items that will remain in your bag most of the time. Let’s consider what else you will be putting into your bag on an individual performance basis. This will also help to ensure we choose the right size bag down the road:

  • Costumes- what type of costumes do you usually wear, heavy and bulky or little and light, or a mixture? Do you typically do costume changes and require carrying around more than one costume?
  • Music – do you intend to carry two CDs in two jewel cases or do you intend to have a case with many CDs in it?
  • Zills (2 pair) – if one set is broken or lost, have a back-up
  • Props – are you going to be storing props that you regularly use in the bag? such as- veils, candles, etc.

Now, lay out all the items that you will putting into your new bag on a big table or on the floor. Then sort them into piles and into categories that best fit your style. For instance, one pile can be hair stuff, one pile can be jewelry, and another could be first aid and medicines.  

Now, go out and find a bag that will fit and organize all the stuff you need to carry – with room to spare.  That could mean a duffle bag or a medium-sized “carry-on” with wheels and a handle. Perhaps you currently own a bag that will do the job or you may have to do a little shopping to find the right one. If you do need to purchase a new bag, I recommend going to a store like Ross or TJ Maxx, they have a range of brand name bags and luggage at good prices. However, do not skimp on quality here, you want a bag that can stand up to years of use and abuse. Find one with strong zippers, handles, and fabric.   

Warning: Resist getting a bag that is too big, too heavy or hard to maneuver. You don’t want to waste your energy lugging your bag around. You need that energy for your performance. If you can’t lift and carry it comfortably, reduce the size of your bag, consider getting smaller (travel-size) items of what you need, and make sure you are carrying ONLY what you may need. If you know an item isn’t essential and has no potential to save you or your costumes, ditch it.    

Bags come in many shapes and sizes. Some have various compartments, lots of pockets inside and out, wheels, different carrying mechanisms, in other words, much to choose from. While searching for the perfect bag, visualize where your items may fit best into each prospective bag. Once you have a bag selected, experiment with organizing everything into the bag. I like to store things by use. First-aid and repair items go in one pouch, jewelry and hair items go in another. The possibilities are endless. The goal is to find a system that is effective and efficient for you and helps you to easily find what you need when you need it. Be prepared, to shuffle things around a bit until you find what works best for you.

Once you have the bag packed as you like it, be sure to put a name tag on it with pertinent information. Just in case it is lost or stolen, you want to be sure you have done everything possible to get it returned to you promptly and safely. Make it as easy as possible for the finder to contact you, include your stage and real name, if different, as well as your phone number and email address. I wouldn’t recommend putting your home address on it, for security reasons.  

Lastly, be sure to keep your bag well stocked and replace used items promptly. What good is it if you don’t have what you need, when you need it? In the future, if you find that you need to keep getting another item before heading out the door or that you always need to stop and get a particular item at the store, just add it to your bag to save you the hassle!

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