Some dancers I know take a single shoulder bag containing just their wallet, skirt, belt, veil, and cymbals with their costume bra already on. I am on the other end of the spectrum, having been both a wardrobe head and stage manager for theatrical productions I tend to be the one that can rescue fellow performers backstage if needed. More often, I can rescue myself!
For the TL;DR crowd, there's a list at the bottom ^_~
I can't say for sure if hard sided or soft is better. I really liked my old hard sided bag, it felt secure and I never worried about running through puddles or rain and the TSA lock with a combo was perfect. But I'm also enjoying having pockets on the outside of the bag with my current model. I use the small pocket on top for safety pins, fan, iPod, business cards and seed tips, and lip stain. This is where I keep the things I might need last minute for a show. The larger pocket on the outside I treat as a purse I stuff my water bottle into it (although a camel pack would be better), my wallet, extra phone battery (especially if you keep gig details, like the address, in your phone!), and cell phone. That's why there's a lock on those zips ^_~
You want to pick one small enough to carry on stairs, fit into cramped "backstages" and keep you from over-packing but big enough to not squish your veils and skirts. I fit my candle tray and large pillar candles into my bag and wanted room for 2 costumes, so mine is probably at the max size, I sometimes find "backstages" with it a little tight but then I'm in Manhattan. (Speaking of which, someone with less upper body strength than me wouldn't want this size on the trains).
I also keep a plastic bag to keep my shoes from making a mess on anything else in the bag, and a plastic shelf liner sheet as a changing mat. This way I can take my shoes off in a nasty bathroom, or on a floor covered in melted road-salt-snow and keep my feet and costume clean and try until I'm ready to put on my dance shoes.
That MAC bag is where I put candle sticks, a nice lighter, and my tray. The brown bag next to it has pillar candles in it, which I burned down and put liquid fuel tea lights into, which are inside a ziplock in the bag with them. These are the "set up the tray prop" bags. I would combine them, but don't want the candle sticks to beat up the pillar candles.
The cat bag there has a hard core from a paper towel roll, to keep my veil from getting wrinkled (just creased) and a dryer sheet, to control static. I also put my zills together into a baby sock and put them in that bag. This is the "everything else is set and it's time for the last touches" bag.
You can see some packing cubes in the photo, which I use to organize costumes. For a while I was doing a two part show, with the same bedlah and changing my skirt and arm decorations between sets. So I put my bedlah (wrapped in fabric so that nothing would snag) in the green one, my big chiffon skirt and pantaloons in the big blue one, and a slimmer type of skirt in the grey one. Put arm decorators in first, then your skirts, then undies (and body stocking, if you wear it) in last. The idea is that the things you need to put on first are closest to the opening, so when you're in the little bathroom stall getting ready you can reach them easily, and not need to dig and have another part of the costume get pulled out and land in the toilet, or something. Exactly what I put into the bags changes, but I always follow the idea that things are grouped by when I need them, and organized to avoid accidentally dropping something or having to dig through a pile of chiffon. Your cover up can get tossed into this main compartment, or into a packing cube, too.
For bigger props, just because of their shape it's not practical to get things like swords, canes, wings, or bigger trays into the gig bag. That's why it's so important to have room for your "purse" in your main gig bag. You might need a separate bag for these bigger things, and 3 bags to 2 arms on a commute is no fun!
That glasses case in the photo is my first aid kit, with bandaids and Neosporin, ibuprofen, and flesh toned KT tape (incase my ankle acts up). If you are responsible for a troupe I recommend having a more substantial kit, including chemical ice packs and info cards with people's allergies and emergency contacts. Break-and-use ice packs are also a good thing to have if you're dancing at a festival, hafla, or stage show put on by dancers as opposed to a restaurant or catered gig where they would have ice available if really needed.
For music, I keep CDs with sets of various lengths and tailored to various types of audiences pre-made and ready to go. I usually make a set specifically for a gig, but just in case I have these ready. I have a 30 minute set, a 20 minute one, 15 minutes, and a 7 minute belly-gram. There's a set for a cultural fair that is more folkloric, one aimed at a birthday with non-Middle Eastern guests, and one set up for a wedding. Look at the kind of gigs you do, or could imagine yourself doing, and make sets for them that use songs you can dance in your sleep, so that when you've had the CD in your bag for 5 years and don't remember what's on it, because that's how long it took before you forgot that your iPod was crushed with no battery, you can do the show and look like it was intentional.
I also have a brush that folds in, a reusable lint brush (no need to find a trash can for the tape coming off a sticky roller, no need to keep buying replacement, and no need to create more trash for the landfill), extra contact lenses (although I've performed without them), and talk powder (great if your thighs aren't used to being in a skirt for long periods of time).
So in your sewing kit bring fashion tape, extra hooks and bars, snaps, strong thread, needles (regular sized for getting though hard bras and beading needles to stop a bead-explosion from spreading until you can get the costume home), thimble, and scissors. I also have a tape measure, mini-seam ripper, some straight pins, a stain removing pen, and anti-static.
a tiny tampon (although I recommend checking out this site for more comfortable hygiene times, it's off topic), a tiny mascara, a tiny eyeliner, tiny lipstick, mini nail file, bitsy hair spray (I don't think you could accomplish much styling with that, but it came with the kit and is good enough that I can un-slippery my hair for sword), and a sample of clinique that my roommate gave me. The little kit from the impulse buys at Sephora also came with breath drops, clear nail polish (which could be better fit into the sewing kit), lip balm, and deodorant wipes, and makeup remover wipes.
If I had to do my makeup from only these items, I could. It wouldn't look as good as if I had my full kit, but it would pass for stage makeup. (I'm pretty lucky that my skin isn't too bad. If you feel you need foundation, bring a "travel size" of that, too). The lipstick can double as blush, the eyeliner can be smudged into a smokey eye, and I have powers to hide my under eye circles, fill my eyebrows, and contour my cheeks and chin in that clinique sample. I'm pretty lucky that people seem to think I have on false lashes if I wear fiber formula mascara (thanks, grandpa!) so if it's a total emergency I give myself an excuse to not have false lashes.
Again, apply your makeup before getting to the gig, and hopefully you'll never need any of these items. If you need to McGyver a face you can.
- fast grabs
- safety pin baggie
- business cards
- seed tip (a $5 or $10 bill that "magically" appears in your costume: no one is sure who tipped you but they all think they should do it too!)
- hand fan
- lip stain (for your final touch up before going on)
- cell phone
- extra cell battery/charger
- side pouch
- plastic bag with dance shoes
- extra underwear
- foldable bag for street cloths
- main section
- plastic mat to stand on in the bathroom
- costuming pieces organized by when you need them
- underwear, body stocking
- skirts, pantaloons
- bra and belt
- arm decorations, headbands, etc
- jewlery if you wear it
- quick fixes
- extra CDs with sets of various lengths and tailored to different crowds
- fast flats
- corn cussions
- contact lenses
- lint brush
- hair brush
- first aid
- flesh toned KT tape
- (allergy and e-contact info for troupe members, ice packs if you're putting on a stage show instead of dancing at a restaurant or catered event)
- sewing kit
- straight pins
- regular and beading needles
- hooks and bars
- extra safety pins
- scissors (small enough for a plane, incase you forget they're in there)
- mini-seam ripper
- measuring tape
- fashion tape
- stain remover
- anti-static spray
- emergency makeup
- tiny tampon
- tiny lip stick
- tiny mascara
- tiny eye liner
- sample eye shadows
- tiny deodorant
- clear nail polish
- bitsy nail file
- remover wipe