Makeup and prep for stage is a long and precise process. It takes hours to build on the layers of makeup that will brighten your face and keep it that way throughout a very demanding stage performance. The top layer of stage makeup usually melts away with the focus of harsh lights on the dancer’s face. Hence it’s essential for stage makeup to be much thicker and longer lasting than regular makeup.
A lot of artists completely mask their natural features and draw enhanced, exaggerated features for stage. It’s always hilarious to see people’s reactions when they come to see me backstage.
Most indian classical dance forms use no props or sets on stage. So most of the expression and communication is done through the face and particularly, through the eyes. Exaggerated eyes are drawn so that the viewer in the last row of an auditorium can connect with the dancer on stage.
Perfecting stage makeup is an essential part of a dancer’s growth. I think it improves our understanding of the characters we play and makes a direct connection between us and the stage. I have learnt most of my makeup tricks from my Guru, Deepak Roy who is an exceptional artist. As young dancers, we waited in line for him to draw out our eyes and bindis before each performance. There is something very special and pure about a Guru watching over every little detail of your performance.
Here is a priceless video of Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra getting Guru Sharon Lowen ready for a show
Working with makeup artists and my Guru, I have learnt a few things about stage makeup that I would like to share with you.
Before We Begin
I like to begin working on my face a day before the show. A facial or a clean up can do wonders to make your skin glow. But if that feels like too much effort, here is a face pack recipe that I swear by. (Recipe credits to my mum)
2 tbsps Oats
1 tbsp Yogurt
A pinch of Saffron (optional)
A tsp of milk if the mixture is too thick.
Mix together and apply to a cleansed face. Wash off when the pack begins to dry.
Keeping your skin and body well hydrated is a very important part of your beauty regime. So sip on room temperature water or cups of green tea all through the day of your performance. Dry skin always makes your face looks tired.
Before you begin to work on your face it is essential to prep yourself for all the action that is to come. Nothing brings in freshness like a well rested body. I try to pack in a nap for at least half an hour befor I start my makeup.
Prep your Face
The 1st step to makeup is to make a hydrating layer between your skin and all the makeup that is going to go on it. A moisturizer of any kind will do a brilliant job at that. Make sure the moisturizer you choose is a non greasy one so that it is easy to build on it. I use the Bobbi Brown tinted moisturizer since that also forms the 1st layer of my makeup.
Contouring & Highlighting
Perhaps the most essential step to stage makeup. A well done contour and highlight job gets half the work done.
Highlighting and contouring is a trick makeup artists have been using forever on celebrities, but it wasn’t until recently that it became part of everyone’s makeup routines. H&C can change the way your whole face looks.
We contour parts of our face where a natural shadow forms (eg. below the cheekbone) and highlight the part that we want to be most visible (eg. cheekbone itself). Contouring basically means darkening and highlighting is brightening different parts of your face.
The right amount of highlighting can help you lengthen your nose, give your face more structure and even elongate or shorten your jawline.
To get the right look, your contour shade needs to be 1-2 shades darker than your natural colour and your highlight shade must be 1-2 shades lighter than your natural shade. Thankfully there are makeup pallets available that puts the right shades together for us.
I use the Kryolan Ultra Foundation Trio. Its is 3 shades in one pack. The contour and highlight shades work perfectly for me while I use a different foundation to blend the shades.
Mastering H&C will take a few attempts so keep at it till you get the perfectly chiseled nose. 🙂
After you have mastered the art of H&C, use a foundation shade of your preference to blend the look. Some artists prefer to partially blend the shades. You could do that for stage but make sure to blend well for a photoshoot.
Here is a video tutorial that I used to get my H&C right:
Choose Your Foundation Well
Choosing the right foundation could be a tricky process. There are 3 main types of foundation pan cake, pan stick and liquid foundation. They all serve pretty much the same purpose, make the choice dependent on how comfortable you are with each medium. I used to use a liquid foundation and now I find it much easier to work with a cream based pan cake. Make sure you pick a foundation that matches your skin type and colour. Buy a water based foundation if you have oily skin and a cream based if you have dry skin. I also prefer to use a water based foundation for outdoor events to avoid the extra sheen on my face.
Do you need Powder?
Yes you do! I learnt this lesson the hard way. After all the primary layering on my face I decided to skip compact powder only to realise that my pictures turned out super oily. Its hard to notice this difference in person but is more than evident on stage and during photoshoots. So always finish your look with some powder.
Make your Eyes Speak
Every dancer knows that the eyes have got to do all the magic on stage. So take your time to understand that kind of eyes your character requires. A thumb rule I follow while doing my eyes are that my eyebrows form the frame of my eyes so they match the length of my eyeliner. I fill the gap with the right eye shadow and try to keep the use of color to the minimum.
While applying eyeliner to the lower lid maintain a gap between the lid and the line to make your eyes look bigger.
I have used a bunch of different eyeliners and have seen them run profusely through the show. Gel eyeliners work best for me. I particularly like the Maybeline liner and brush set.
Dress Those Lips
Most classical dancers use shades of red/maroon on their lips. I love the Kryolan Lip Rouge Wheel to blend any shades of red that I like.
Line your lips with a shade slightly darker than your lip colour. Some dancers even use black colour to line their lips.
Tip: A great tip I learnt about using lip makeup is to only apply lip gloss to the center of your lips. It makes your lips look bigger and doesn’t add too much sheen to your face.
Rouge is another way to add highlights to your face. Always apply rouge to the apples of your cheeks and any other parts of your face you wish to highlight. I also use a strobe cream by MAC before I apply my rouge to bring out a little more colour on my face. Its a great product to keep your face looking bright.
Lights, sweat and heat are going to make your makeup fade away. To finish up my look I spray on a fixing spray to keep everything in place.
I also dab a piece of cloth soaked in ice water between each layer of makeup to help it set faster. It is also a great idea to keep this ice cool cloth back stage to dab away any makeup runs while you try to catch a breath between performances.
Tip: Never Wipe your face with a tissue. It sticks!
Your skin and body take a real beating during a performance. The harsh lights, makeup and the performance itself drains you out. Don’t let it all take a toll on you. Treat your skin well and it will reward you too 🙂
This is a secret I learnt during a makeup workshop with Anita Ratnam. The Shu Uemura cleansing oil. Its an oil that takes off all your makeup and can be washed off with just plain water. It is by far one of the best products I have used on my skin. I recommend it to anyone who applies a generous load of makeup.
Another brilliant makeup remover is fresh cow’s milk! For a long time this was the only makeup remover I used. I used to have a lot of makeup bleed the next day though. Dont worry about any makeup traces on the day after your show. Its just your body clearing out what you missed.
Tip: A great tip I got from Anita Ratnam was to keep your skin clean and clear on the night after your show. No moisturizer or cream of any kind should be applied to your skin. Let it breathe and repair itself while you get a restful night of sleep.
As is evident from my post, I enjoy makeup very much. I think that is the most essential step to it. A happy dancer with a content heart is the best makeup to put on!
Hope you find these tips and tricks of stage makeup useful. Do write in if you have any questions. 🙂