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Why do young dancers wear makeup?

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Although used for a purpose, when children wear stage make up controversy is often sparked.  Many parents feel that their children grow up soon enough and that wearing makeup of any kind for any reason should be put off as long as possible. 

Young dancers are required to wear makeup because stage distance and heavy lighting can cause dancers to look faceless or produces dark shadows around the eye sockets. Makeup enhances the visibility of a dancer’s facial features allowing the audience to recognize the emotion being conveyed, and easily identify if the performer is male or female or the type of character or role they are portraying.

When it comes to stage makeup, it is also not a one-gender issue.  Young male dancers are required to wear makeup as well, but the amount and requirements for both sexes is different and this is generally where parental and societal concern surfaces.

Why is stage makeup important?

If you ask any dance teacher why your toddler or child is required to wear stage make up for their recital or end of year concert their standard stock answer will be because when up on stage the lights wash out their facial features or if they are not using stage lighting they may answer – so the people in the back of the audience can see their lovely face.

Dance is a form of art and is expressive.

Dancers show emotion through their face which adds to the context and overall understanding of a performance. Being able to clearly see children’s facial features and their expressions is therefore important.

But why is boy and girl stage make up applied differently?

The fact is that boy dancers can get away with minimal stage makeup, no bright red lips or false lashes – more natural-looking makeup is applied – therefore why are there different expectations and requirements for female makeup?

Stage Make-Up Requirements for Boys

  • Foundation and Powder
  • Contour powder or blush
  • Brown and Natural Eyeshadow
  • Eyeliner
  • Mascara
  • Lip Color a few shades darker than their natural lip color

Stage Make-Up Requirements for Girls

  • Foundation and Powder
  • Brown Eyeshadow with White or light shade for highlighting under the eyebrow
  • Pink Blush
  • Eyeliner
  • Mascara or False Eyelashes
  • Red Lipstick

If we are looking solely at the argument that stage lighting is so bright it drowns out the audience’s ability to see dancer’s faces clearly or people in the back of the auditorium need to be able to see the dancer’s faces too, there should be absolutely no reason your daughter can’t wear more natural stage makeup, basically what male dancers are required to wear because if people can see the boys faces when made up like that, why don’t we do our girls faces the same.


It all comes down to what we as a society believe a female and male should look like. Female faces should look pretty and male faces should appear chiseled and strong.

Therefore the argument dance teachers are really pushing is that on-stage faces are washed out and if you want the audience to immediately identify and know your child is a girl then the stage makeup you apply needs to reflect that.

A second argument is that your dance teacher wants uniformity on stage.

They generally purchase the same costumes for everyone to wear depending on gender, ask girls to wear their hair in a certain style, and also ask all the girls to wear their makeup, in the same way for conformity on stage.

These arguments are the real reason girl dancers are asked to wear the prescripted red lips and false lashes, as is the norm for adult female dancers as well.

Stage-Makeup is Not Meant to Make Children Look Older!

Stage makeup is not meant to sexualize your child. Just as birds prune their feathers to attract a mate, so do we humans primp and pamper ourselves to make us more attractive. For this reason, many parents feel that it is inappropriate to introduce their child to the world of makeup because the western societal context placed on wearing makeup is that it is worn to make yourself more attractive to others, especially those of the opposite sex. Therefore many parents feel that until their child is of a certain age or reaches a certain level of maturity they should not need or have to wear it.

The True Purpose of Stage Makeup

The true purpose and intention behind stage makeup, however, is to ensure the dancer’s face is seen clearly when on stage, it is not the same as wearing everyday makeup as you will see in the following guide.

But if you are really apprehensive about putting makeup on your child, speak with your dance teacher about your concerns and about the most natural look you can achieve for your child. 

If no compromise can be made and you are still not comfortable with the makeup requirements at your dance school, you might need to look for a dance school with similar principles to your own or go to a school where recital participation is not compulsory until you feel your child is old enough to wear it.

What is the difference between stage makeup and normal makeup?

So how is stage makeup different to normal everyday makeup exactly? Here we have put together a guide about the kinds of stage makeup dancers wear, why they are important and how their application differs from the everyday makeup many teens and adults wear on a daily basis.

What is Foundation?

Foundation is a cream, powder or a solid cake of skin-toned lotion that you apply to the face to create a uniform base. It hides blemishes, flaws and creates a consistent skin tone across the face.

Stage Makeup useEvery Day Use
Dancers usually use a foundation that is one tone up from their normal color and apply foundation with a heavier hand to combat the effects of lighting on stage and ensure it stays on whilst sweating.Foundation should be exactly matched to skin tone and applied lightly to appear natural.

What is Finishing Powder?

A finishing powder is a soft and silky powder brushed over the foundation to prevent shine. It creates a matte look to the face.

Stage Makeup useEvery Day Use
Dancers need to use a finishing powder to reduce shine as this bounces the lighting off the dancers face creating odd shadows, shapes, and reflections.A finishing powder can make a person’s foundation appear unnatural and heavy so it needs to be used sparingly.

What is Contour?

Contour can come in the form of a liquid, a cake or powder and is used to give definition to the face.

Stage Makeup useEvery Day Use
Male dancers use contour powders to create chiseled cheekbones and strong lines on their face as heavy foundation tends to make the face look one dimensional. Facial features are re-defined and enhanced under stage lights with the use of the contour palette. Female dancers also use contouring techniques to highlight features on their face, but it is more a personal preference and not a requirement.Getting the perfect contouring effect for your face is the in thing in makeup today with lots of youtube tutorials out there to teach you how to do it.

What is Blush?

Blush can be a cream or powder that is brushed onto the cheeks to make them look rosy.

Stage Makeup useEvery Day Use
As stage foundation can be heavy, it can take all the natural color out of the dancer’s face. Therefore a pink-toned powder called blush is either brushed into the fleshier part of the cheeks or brushed up along the cheekbone.

The amount of blush applied can depend on the dancer’s preference. A dancer who knows their face will gradually become red from the exertion of dancing will use less than a dancer that does not experience this. However, if you were standing close to the dancer blush would be noticeable to you.
You would never put as much blush on for normal day wear as a dancer would – it would look unnatural and perhaps make you look flushed in the face. Therefore it is used sparingly to give color to the cheeks.

Some people forgo blush all together and just rely on contour.

What is Eyeshadow?

Eyeshadow generally comes in powder form and is applied to the eyelid to accentuate and bring attention to the eyes.  Eyeshadows come in as many colors as the rainbow.

Stage Makeup useEvery Day Use
It is common practice for young girls to simply use brown eyeshadow over the eyesocket and lid with white or a lighter shade under the eyebrow to accentuate the distance and difference between the eye and eyebrow. Males will also fill there eye socket with natural skin color tones to accentuate their eyes.Because eyeshadow comes in various colors, many people experiment with it to create different looks which can be natural and accentuate their features or be fun and colorful depending on their mood, what they are wearing or the event they are going to.

What is an Eyebrow Pencil?

An eyebrow pencil is a pencil with an oily stick within it usually in a brown tone which you apply to the eyebrow.

Stage Makeup useEvery Day Use
When foundation is put on, the eyebrow is generally covered in the cream or powder as well. This lightens and blends the eyebrow into the face and from the stage makes it appear as though the person has none.

To fix this problem dancers use an eyebrow pencil to give their eyebrows both color and shape. This can also be done using brown eyeshadow, but you have more control using a pencil.
Eyebrow shaping and grooming is very popular at the moment and there are many tools out there today not just eyebrow pencils to help you get the perfect brow.

What is Eyeliner?

Eyeliner can come in different forms a pencil with an oily stick and liquid or gel which are applied with mini paintbrushes.

Stage Makeup useEvery Day Use
Dancers use both white and black eyeliner.
They apply white eyeliner to the inside rims of their eye and the inner eye to help them appear bigger and brighter from the stage.

Professional ballet dancers use black eyeliner to draw a line from the bottom of the inner the eye to the outside tracing the shape of their eye a cm below the lash line. This creates the illusion of a larger eye when on stage helping to be able to convey emotion when on stage better. On the upper lid, a winged line close to the lash line is drawn to accentuate the eyelashes.

Male dancers wear basic eyeliner to give their eyes shape without appearing feminine.

For children however drawing or painting along the upper lid and lower lid lash lines is all that is needed, but often a struggle to apply on a wiggly kid and can make their eyes water.
Eyeliner is worn in varying ways but generally always close to the lash lines unlike dancers who may wear it a little below to create the illusion of bigger eyes.

What is Mascara?

Mascara is a liquid applied by a brush to the eyelashes to make them appear fuller and darker.

Stage Makeup useEvery Day Use
Female dancers generally wear black mascara with false eyelashes. The Mascara helps to bond their own lashes with the false ones.

Male dancers apply black mascara to their lashes as like with the eyebrow pencil, once all the other makeup has gone on, the eyelashes tend to blend into the other features of the face and mascara helps to make them more dominant.
It is said that Princess Diana never left her house without her mascara on. Mascara comes in various shades and many women wear it on a daily basis to accentuate their eyes.

In normal circumstances, mascara is known to highlight the eyes and give dramatic lashes.  Under stage lights, mascara, applied properly, will help the dancer’s eyes to be seen.  Mascara that lengthens and gives volume is best for dancers.  When combined with eyeliner and eyeshadow, the eyes are enhanced and beautifully displayed.

Some female dancers wear false lashes.  This gives them a more feminine look.  Most female dancers use mascara because the false lashes tend to irritate the eyes.  Most makeup experts advise dancers to put on three layers of volumizing and lengthening mascara.

What are False Lashes?

False eyelashes are longer and fuller than a persons normal lashes and come on a thin band which you glue to the upper lid as close to the natural eyelash line as possible.

Stage Makeup useEvery Day Use
It is common for females and not males to wear false eyelashes. They help to complete the feminine appearance of the face. Dancers usually wear a pair only on the upper eyelids. The lashes are generally thick and do not need to look 100% natural because their purpose is for them to be seen by an audience sitting a distance away from them, not up close. Natural-looking false eyelashes are commonly worn and many women intricately place individual fake lashes on their lids to create a more natural look than a pair of fake eyelashes gives you.

What is Lipstick?

Usually, the final piece of the stage makeup puzzle to be applied, lipstick can come in the form of a liquid or an oily stick and is applied to the lips to give them color and shape. Many people also use a Lip Liner or pencil to draw the shape of the lips before filling them in with lipstick.

Stage Makeup useEvery Day Use
During dance performances, women and girls usually wear red lipstick.  Men and boys wear a natural lipstick a few shades darker than their own lips.  The reason for this is so the audience can see the shapes of the dancers’ mouths.

Without the lipstick, the audience would not be able to tell if the dancers were smiling or frowning.  When you are up close to a dancer in normal lighting, the lipstick might look too dark or thick, but under stage and dance floor lighting and from a distance it looks fine.
Women have different feelings about wearing lipstick during the day and many prefer a more natural lip balm or lip gloss, most usually wear it if they are getting dressed up and the color they choose to wear depends on their mood, the event and what they are wearing.

Because of stage lighting and audience distance, dancers wear makeup to avoid a washed-out, formless, and shapeless appearance of the face. Dance performances are exciting for young people and should be exciting for parents as well.  When a child or teenager is performing, seeing their facial features is an important part of being able to see the joy that dance brings your child.

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