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zaheeaBrightening Your Performance with the Right Stage Makeup

By Nuriya (

Most dancers know how to apply makeup for daily usage or restaurant performances, but when it comes to stage makeup, application drastically affects the audience’s perception of the dancer.  Proper application can enliven your performance and draw the audience in by creating an enchanting allure, while improper application can detract from your performance by making you look tired, drawn, or even ill.  Here are the general techniques of applying stage makeup to enhance your natural beauty under harsh stage lighting in addition to a brief “do’s and don’ts” list to follow.



Apply fake lashes.  Remember, we want to magnify everything for the audience! I prefer the strip lashes (they appear darker and are easier to apply). Get some lash glue (Duo is a great brand) and a cheap simple pair for about $5 at the local drugstore to increase the glam factor! You can use the kind with glitter or embellishments but they usually aren’t fully appreciated from stage.

Use someone else’s make-up.  This is sometimes unavoidable (in emergencies) but remember, eye products and lip products often contain bacteria and viruses from the prior user (herpes, pink eye, flu). Be conscientious of what you are putting in/near your eye and lips. Invest in your own products for hygiene.

Apply glitter but strategically. Glitter draws attention so don’t apply all over.  I usually apply over the décolleté area or shoulders. If applying on face, I limit it to the eyes only.

Forget about your costume. This is important for function and for coloring. Don’t wear sticky gloss if you are doing veil work. Don’t clash the colors on your face and your costume.  Keep these things in mind when choosing your make-up that day.

Paint your nails. It adds to the “polished” finished product. This is not the time to go for the demure French tip, paint your nails a luscious, feminine color that will show on stage and attract attention to your beautiful hand movements.

Rush the application. Certain products, like those heavy in loose glitter or powder can fall with wear. Leave plenty of time to move a bit, blink, and test the fallout of those products so you can wipe away excess before going on stage.

Invest in a good set of brushes.  This makes make-up application much easier. Sephora has great sets of natural bristles, which are preferable unless you are applying a powder foundation or eye liner, in which case go for the synthetic bristle.

Forget to moisturize and exfoliate. This should be done regularly, but things fall by the wayside. Either way, make sure to exfoliate and moisturize before a performance so that products apply evenly and smoothly distribute color.

Invest in a quality primer. If you are wanting your make-up to last all day, such as in a competition or festival scenario, this is a must. Aside from longevity, it also increases intensity of eye shadows and smoothness in application.

Use gloss-products (unless on hair or lips). I’ve seen gloss eye-shadows and glossy blushes, which are meant to give a dewy look. However, under stage lights, this just looks sweaty or greasy.

Keep cohesiveness in mind. This applies to group performances; if one person is wearing glitter or red lips, everyone should.

Apply make-up after getting dressed. You risk staining the costume with loose powders or if you drop a product. Always apply make-up first, then cover your face using an old t-shirt or cloth when putting on your costume to avoid transference or stains.

Experiment. Fun stuff such as rhinestone application (using eyelash glue) to the face and body, or other items can add liveliness and uniqueness to your look.

Neglect to add the finishing touch.  This involves polishing off the whole transformation process with finishing spray and/or translucent powder to “set” your face.  This step is key for any performance under hot, intense stage lights, no matter how short.

Getting Started With The Right Basics
Choosing appropriate colors are the basis for any great stage look.  Stage lights intensify color disparities so take extra precautions to select the right colors for you. 

When selecting foundation, try to match your natural skin color as closely as possible. This involves testing the make up on a fresh, clean face.  Remove make up at the jaw line and apply to test the color.  Although many women test foundation colors on the inner wrist, the jaw line is much more accurate.  Be particularly aware of your skin undertones (yellow, olive, or pink undertones).  Frequently, women have difficulty matching their exact shade but are many brands nowadays that offer custom mixed foundations.  If you cannot match your skin tone, opt for a slightly darker shade. Going for the slightly paler shade will make you look washed out.  (Side note: foundation is not something I skimp on.  As a person with warm undertones in my skin, most drugstore foundations give an ashen look to my face. I splurge here with a trip to Sephora for the right shade.)

Lastly, do not forget your personal foundation needs. If you have oily skin, opt for a powder based foundation. Certain brands such as Lorac makes a great liquid/powder foundation that you can apply wet for a smoother finish, but dries into more of a powder finish to minimize shine.  For dancers seeking to cover skin blemishes, opt for a heavier coverage.  I myself tend to flush under stage lights so I always opt for a heavier coverage foundation when dancing under stage lights than in a restaurant setting. 

Once you have the proper foundation, application is key.  Invest in a proper set of tools to ensure an even and thorough coverage.  For those applying liquid foundation, I suggest a synthetic-bristle foundation brush (made by many brands for approximately $20).  Foundation brushes spread the foundation evenly while holding onto a minimal amount of product, so that your foundation lasts longer.  This is much more preferable to fingertip application or sponges, which are often havens for bacteria.  I also would suggest a small stage-light mirror. I have a pocket-sized one, about the size of a Blackberry, which I purchased a few years ago for $15.  It magnifies and illuminates so that I can apply makeup with a fine-tooth comb under lighting as close to stage lighting as possible.  

If you are looking for a long-lasting application, consider applying a primer a few minutes prior to foundation application.  I personally use a primer only for an all-day make-up application and only apply it to the face (not the eyelids, but know of other dancers who use the same primer for both the eyelid and face). 

The key to creating a flawless complexion is to blend, blend, and blend.  Blend in a downward and outward stroke from the center of the face (usually the T-zone where redness lurks) all the way to the jawline to create the smoothest look possible.  Do not cut the blending short of the jawline because to your eyes it looks “blended.”  Stage lights will illuminate inconsistencies that are invisible to the naked eye under normal lighting. 

Once you have blended, apply any concealers if necessary, and set with a finishing powder.  Depending on the length of my performance I alternate between loose/pressed powder or matte finishing powder specifically formulated for high intensity lighting.

Visually Maximizing Your Features
Here’s the most important thing to take away from this article: DO NOT USE A LIGHT-HAND WHEN APPLYING STAGE MAKE-UP.   This is not the time for modesty.  You are on stage, performing for an entire audience.  Give it your all. You need to put so much make up on that you would feel embarrassed to go to the grocery store.  That being said, let’s get down to the nitty gritty.

“The Eyes Have It”
A good dancer dances with every part of her, including her eyes.  We make eye contact with the audience, direct the audience to look where we want them to look, and express our connection with the music, all using our eyes.  Any stage dancer should play up her eyes to make them bigger, more visible to an audience that is seated farther away.   The following tips help maximize your eyes for a long lasting sultry and mystical look.   

Before beginning have on hand the following: eye shadow brushes (I prefer natural bristles for easy application), primer, a palette of high mica-content eye shadows (including: a neutral, medium color, a darker smoky  color, and a highlighter color),  fake lashes, glue, mascara, an eyelash curler, loose powder, and an eyeliner (pencil or liquid). 

Start with the eyelid primer. This is a frequently overlooked step by most dancers.  The primer serves multiple functions: it intensifies color, creates a smooth and crease-free surface, keeps powders from transferring, and adds a few hours to the life of your eye makeup.  If pinch comes to shove, I will use a face primer on my eyes instead of going without a primer, but a good eyelid primer is definitely a must have.  Apply the primer from the base of your lashes up to your eyebrow.  Aside from the primer, before beginning the makeup application, I apply a heavy dusting of loose powder under the eyes to catch any loose eye shadow powder.

I always begin with a neutral colored eye shadow, to help smooth out the blending for the rest of my eye makeup.  After the base shade, I apply my 3 must-haves: my highlighter, my dark smoky color, and my “middle of the road” color.  These usually are from a similar color family or will relate in some way. Sometimes I match these to the color of my costume (for example: I danced in a competition last fall wearing a gold and black costume; I received tons of compliments on my eye shadow that day, which was gold, green, and black).  I often use purples or pewters mixed with blues as these colors go best with my complexion (see attached photos).  Whatever colors you decide on, think dramatic.  This is not the time for daytime or office makeup.

I start by applying my middle of the road color over the eye lid, just up to the crease.  I find that powder shadows are easier to blend and work the colors into the lid using a natural haired brush (such as sable).   I apply the darker color in a sideways V shape (the point of the V is the outer corner of the eye; 1 leg of the V goes along the top lid’s lashes and the other leg goes into the crease).  This is where I blend, blend, and blend some more. Let me say this again, blend!  You need to be particular aware of your eye makeup from all angles so blending properly is key.  I blend using small circles, directed up and outward from my eyes.  You must remember that what looks heavy or adequate to your naked eye will not be what your audience will see.  They will be seated much further away and have to view you under harsh stage lights.  Consequently, I will often repeat the “coloring of the eyelids” process mentioned above between 2-3 times, until the color is as intense as possible.  While this may be disconcerting to you, look at the attached photos to see how minimalist this actually looks under professional lighting.

After I have applied sufficient color to the eye area, I apply a highlighter in two places: 1) under the brow to create depth and in the inner corner of the eyes.  This is usually a shimmery gold or silver, sometimes flecked with small bits of neutral colored glitter, for that extra pop.

I then dust off the powder from beneath the eye using a tissue, and begin wrapping up my eye makeup application.  I maximize the shape of the eye using a winged-out black eyeliner.  Liquid liner, or pencil is fine; stay away from loose powder as an eyeliner unless you mix it with a product that will help it become liquid and set.  I then apply strips of fake lashes (a must under stage lights). This would also be the time to apply any rhinestones if desired. After a few minutes, when the glue has set, I curl and apply 2-3 coats of black mascara to the lashes. 

Lastly, I fill in my brows using a brow filler set comprised of wax and filler powder (these sets are available in many color pallets to match every dancer’s brow color).  I apply this so that my brows appear approximately twice as dark as they are naturally.  Stage lighting will minimize your brows and as the brows frame your eyes, I prefer a thick, prominent look. I also apply a concealer under the eye, if needed. 

Finally, I set the eyes either with a finishing spray or with a product such as Benefit’s She-lac, which is a godsend for me. It holds the makeup in place until I vigorously rub with a makeup remover later that evening. One bottle has lasted for over 5 years for me and has kept my make up in places for over 12 hours at a time.

“Luscious Lips”
A beautiful smile is key to any performance.  As with your eye makeup, apply product to your lips to draw the audience’s attention to your smile.  Keep in mind two factors as you apply lip product: your performance and your smile.   Before applying lip product, I consider my performance: if I am doing intensive veil work or spins where my hair will fly, I stay away from glossy or sticky products. If I am doing a taksim piece, I use a softer lip color, as I will have less of a smile and don’t want to look harsh. I frequently use either a neutral gloss or a darker lipstick, depending on my needs for that performances.

Glosses are relatively easy to apply.  If you like, line the edge of your lips, just beyond the lip line, using a color similar to the product.  Fade this in with small strokes so that the color blends into your lip naturally. Follow this with the lip gloss and if you like, apply a slight shimmer to the center of the lips for the extra “pouty” look. 

Lipsticks present more of a challenge.  They stain costumes and veils badly so only use when you are willing to take the risk.  When applying a darker, more substantial color of lipstick, I apply a lipstick primer to even out the cracks and wrinkles in the lips.  I line the lips as I would above for a gloss, apply the lipstick in 2-3 coats, staying well inside of the lip line.  As a final touch, I take a thin brush and apply foundation or concealer around the lip liner, to help hold the product in place and prevent bleeding.  Do not forget to do check your teeth prior to your performance as lipstick frequently migrates inward.  I do the finger test: before finishing my makeup, I insert my index finger into my mouth, lightly purse my lips around the finger, and slide the finger out.  Any traces of lipstick that would stain the teeth usually transfer to your finger and you should be safe until you eat or drink.

One last thing to remember: choose your lipstick shade wisely.  Choose a color that matches both your complexion and the rest of your make up. For example, if you have cool toned eyes, apply a cool toned lip product.  Don’t ever feel as though you cannot find a red or a gloss that matches your complexion well. There is a glove for every hand. Visit the makeup counter and enjoy  working with a makeup consultant until you find the right shade that brightens your smile.

“Highs and Lows”
Finally, before finishing my look, I accentuate the curvatures of my face and body using highlighters and low lighters.  These products make the high points of my face more prominent, while making the sunken portions appear deeper.  This combination helps accentuate the dramatic features of my face. 

Areas to highlight using a subtle shimmer: top of the brow bone (just below the eyebrow), top of the cheeks (be careful not to use anything too glossy here as it can look greasy or sweaty), top of your chest or décolleté area, and shoulder tops.

Areas to lowlight using a powder slightly darker than your skin tone: your cheeks (just below your cheekbones) and in between your breasts for that extra fullness.

Any area that has not been covered by one of these is covered with a matte setting powder to prevent shine under stage lights.  I use either a loose powder or a pressed powder specifically for stage lighting or photo shoots, depending on the length of performance. 



belly dance make up

belly dance make up

belly dance make up

belly dance make up



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