Sunday, December 30, 2012

Bharatanatyam Dance Costume

This December I had a chance to perform (on stage, albeit not a professional one) a Bharatanatyam dance - a type of Classical South Indian dance that I've been taking lessons in this past year.

For a costume for this performance I had the choice of renting, or making my own, and of course I took on the challenge of making it. 

The costume is made up of a number of individual pieces which fit together and kind of  give the overall look of a sari (but much more comfortable to dance in).  Starting from the top, there's a blouse (I converted a western blouse, which buttons in the front, to a sari blouse, by re-shaping the top, and adding bright gold bands around the sleeves).   

The pallu, or shawl, drapes over the chest.  This was very difficult for me to make, mostly because I used the wrong types of fabrics (polyesters and such, which didn't pleat they way they should have).  There's a hip cover too (my teacher calls this a 'basc' - I don't know if that's how it is spelled).

Pyjama pants are made with many pleats in them, to allow for comfortable movement (I made mine out of a satin tablecloth, and embellished them with gold bands from a sari).

A pleated fan (mine has 3 layers of fans) hooks onto the pants and opens out nicely in certain half-sitting and sitting dance postures. I made this out of an actual sari (no western fabric I've tried has even come close to pleating as perfectly as the sari fabric). 

Anklet bells are worn on the decorated feet (in my case, I painted the foot design in red lipstick).  The anklet band was lined with thick fleece on the inside, and closed with Velcro (I'm sure that's not exactly the traditional way of doing it).  The Christmas jingle bells I sewed onto it didn't quite sound like my teacher's authentic ankle bells, but close enough!

My hair is short, so I wore a wig, and made an extension for it out of yarn. The hair extension has to reach well below the waist, and tucks under a golden waist belt or band. The costume jewelry includes:  many many bangles, necklaces, earrings and other hair jewelry, and hair ornaments (what looks like a bun at the back of the head, and a white flower wreath).

There's the traditional bindi on the forehead.  And the hands, like the feet, are decorated in paint in a traditional pattern (the fingertips are red up to the first knuckle, and a series of dots are drawn on the back of the hand).  The bright paint (lipstick, again, in my case) draws attention to the fingers, which are supposed to move in characteristic ways during the dance.


  1. Michelle! I didn't even recognize you! When I first saw the pictures, I thought you were just posting examples of what you wanted your costume to look like! That costume is amazing! Great job!

  2. I was searching online for 'how to make a Bharatnatyam Fan'. My daughter has a performance in 2 weeks and that is not enough time to get a costume stitched, though I am in Bangalore India.

    Your approach to designing the costume is very creative. I am inspired to try something new with what I have..need to look at the sarees I barely use. thanks