The Glorious Gig Bag!


Performers need different gig bags for different events. In this blog post, we attempt to unpack the various supplies & sundries found in the glorious gig bag of a professional dancer!

You may be stepping out for a stack of restaurant gigs, or traveling across the country to take part in an outdoor festival. Perhaps you are the entertainment at a wedding that requires multiple props and costume changes. Maybe it’s a dance community gala show that you’re packing for. No matter what, the glorious gig bag and its contents will be the lifeline for any dancer at any performance!

Types of Gig Bags

Here are just a few examples of the types of gig bags most performers use – your mileage may vary!

The Shoulder Bag

Pros: Easy to carry, easy to wash, doesn’t take up much room.
Cons: No separate compartments, doesn’t close or lock, easily squished, not waterproof.
Hot Tip: You can sew your own zill pocket in a canvas bag by stitching the bottom and side edges of a square of fabric to the inside!

If you’ve got your regular gigs down to a science, you don’t have far to travel, and you do most of your makeup and hair at home, you’ll probably do just fine with a basic canvas shoulder bag. This is the same sturdy bag that you might bring to dance class – it holds a decent amount of stuff, and maybe has a pocket or two for you to stash your finger cymbals or a hairbrush (if not, see the Hot Tip above).

The beauty of the shoulder bag is that it is uncomplicated. You only need it to hold your costume (or your street clothes if you arrive to your gig in costume & cover up, like many do when stacking gigs), your veil, and a travel-version of your makeup kit (touch ups only). The shoulder bag is also ideal for quickie festival gigs where you won’t spend much time dancing, but you may want to spend some time exploring afterwards, and you don’t want to drag a rolling suitcase behind you everywhere you go.

The Suitcase

Pros: Holds & organizes everything you need, protects it’s contents nicely, can be locked.
Cons: Can be cumbersome, takes up space, not easily washed.
Hot Tip: Hide a scented dryer sheet or potpourri sachet in your suitcase for a fresh smelling bag!

This is my personal go-to for any gig where I am doing more than one set, or any performance that allows me enough of a dressing room that I can do my hair & makeup at the event rather than at home. I prefer a smaller, carry-on sized suitcase, mainly because I want to make sure I’m not taking up too much room in a shared dressing space, and I also don’t want to lug a huge case up and down any stairs that I might encounter.

A suitcase has plenty of pockets and sections to keep lots of things organized, so I tend to keep a small first aid kit (see the packing list section below), business cards & flyers, a fan, extra cymbals, a water bottle, and a few extra items in there at all times. The suitcase will always be a staple for touring pros as well – everything you need in one place, neatly organized – at least until after the show.

The Garment Bag

Pros: Protects and preserves delicate or easily wrinkled fabrics.
Cons: Can be cumbersome, may not be easy to store in dressing rooms without wardrobe racks.
Hot Tip: When you buy a dress or jacket, ask the store clerk if they have any garment bags for you to take it home in! If it already comes with one, ask if they have any extras they could give you.

If you’ve dropped a thousand bucks on a designer costume with intricate flatwork or easily stained silk and embroidery, you probably don’t want to roll that puppy up and squish it in to a suit case. For many dancers, a garment bag is the best way to transport their costumes that can become easily wrinkled, and many even use a garment bag to carry their freshly ironed veils, which seem to wrinkle in seconds, or remain creased after being folded.

Garment bags are easy to come by (see the Hot Tip above), but might not be a great thing to bring to festivals unless you have a place to stash your stuff while exploring. Garment bags might also be tough to hang up in some dressing areas, can be easily knocked down from makeshift hangers, and laying it out flat when there’s nowhere to hang it will quickly annoy everyone you are trying to share a space with.

The Plastic Tub

Pros: The ultimate in waterproof, squish-proof protection for your stuff.
Cons: No compartments or pockets, and… I mean… it’s a big plastic tub.
Hot Tip: If someone makes fun of your big plastic tub on wheels, tell them that it’s a great place to hide a body. 

I’ve only known a few dancers who bring plastic tubs or containers with them to gigs, and most of the time, these containers were reserved for headdresses or jewelry. However, in my time I have also seen some performers bring in a rubbermaid-type container on wheels – kind of like the 21st Century version of a train case.

The plastic tub is the ultimate protection for items you don’t mind folding, but it is not as organized as a suitcase, and large ones may elicit strange looks from your fellow performers. If I feel the need to use them at all, I prefer to use smaller plastic tubs for individual items as mentioned above, and I usually store them in my suitcase.

Other Items:

Big freezer bags/sandwich bags are great ways to keep smaller items separated and organized in large gig bags, or shoulder bags without pockets. Try to re-use them as many times as you can so that you don’t become wasteful. I like to use the fabric zip-up bags from the 5-10lb bags of rice I get at the store. Little dollar-store change purses or makeup bags work well too. If you’ve bought a sheet or drapery set recently, those plastic zip up bags are great for storing heavy jewelry, cymbals, or bras with lots of decor.

Gig Bag

The Packing Lists!

Now that you know which type of bag(s) you’ll need for your gig, you need to start packing. I’ve made a few different lists for you to start with, depending on what kind of gig you are doing.

Please note – these packing lists are for your gig bag, not your purse! I would assume that in your purse you already have items like your ID, phone, keys, wallet for tip storage, etc. I also haven’t included ways of storing specialty props like swords & shamadans – these won’t fit in a standard bag anyways, so they come with their own unique transporting challenges.

I have also not included items that are almost always unnecessary, like a full backup costume, or an extra 5 pounds of finger cymbal sets just in case your elastics break or you lose your cymbals. If you really think you might need a backup, keep it in the car – there is no need to bring an entire extra costume with you through the back area of a restaurant, or stashed in the tiny dressing tent of a festival.

Restaurant Gigs
For a Restaurant Gig, most dancers are in & out pretty quickly, especially if they are stacking gigs for that evening. Dancers will also likely not have a lot of room to get ready, or much room to stash their stuff – many have either a small office or back room that isn’t exactly private, or no real space at all that isn’t in the way of busy staff. It’s best to arrive completely ready to go, with just a few essentials in your bag.
I recommend using just a shoulder bag to carry your veil, cymbals,  music, and a few makeup items. If you are lucky enough to have a dressing room or a private, locking space to get ready in, a suitcase will be fine.

Packing List:
– Veil
– Cymbals
– Music either on a CD or on a device, and any necessary cords that you’ll need to hook your device up, though you’ll likely just use what they have on hand.
– Cover Up (you should arrive wearing this over your costume, but you’ll need room in your bag to stash it while you dance)
– Small fan or sweat towel
– Backup dance underwear
– Small makeup bag for touch ups, including a compact mirror
– Small baggie of safety pins (I usually just pin then to the inside of the bag so I can grab them easily)
– Dance shoes if you use them
– Business cards
– Emergency tampons and medical items that you don’t already have in your purse, like an asthma inhaler.
– If you have room in your bag, bring a bottle of water or a small snack if you are stacking gigs. If you don’t have room, keep that in the car.

Weddings & Private Parties
Weddings and Parties can be a whole other beast, depending on the type & size of the event. Wedding gigs can be similar to private parties – you will probably have at least a locking bathroom or a private room to prepare in (unless you are simply showing up to someone’s living room party, in which case, modify the Restaurant Gig list as needed).
A suitcase and garment bag are glorious gig bags for these events, and considering the fact that they are often more formal than a restaurant gig, you will probably be afforded the space & time to hang & store any costumes you are bringing or changing in to.

Packing List:
– Veil/Sword/Shamadan/any props you will be using
– Cymbals
– Music & any specialty cords for the DJ to hook up (they probably have what you need, but you never know)
– Cover Up & Costume (you might arrive in regular clothing if you have time & space to get ready, like at a hotel, but always have a cover up handy in case you need to go speak with the DJ or your host)
– Small fan or sweat towel
– Backup dance underwear
– Dance shoes if you use them
– A simple hip scarf (when you get the bride and/or groom up to dance, bring a hip scarf in the wedding colours to tie around their hips)
– Small makeup bag for touch ups, including a compact mirror
– Small sewing kit for emergencies (unlike a restaurant gig, you may have time to actually sew up or fix any broken items, rather than pinning them)
– Business cards
– Emergency tampons and medical items that you don’t already have in your purse, like an asthma inhaler.
– Water/Snack if necessary (it’s not always easy to refuse dinner & hospitality from your hosts, but most pros don’t stay for dinner afterwards unless they really can’t say no)

Festival Gigs
The environments for festival gigs run the gamut from outdoor festivals with no covered stage area or change area, to indoor stages within an outdoor festival. You may find yourself dancing on grass, or on pavement. You might end up on a burning hot stage in the sun, or barely covered in the rain. I am not going to make lists for every eventuality, and this packing list is not for personal travel needs, just for performing. You can modify for weather and special stage conditions.
For a gig bag, I’d recommend either a shoulder bag or a small suitcase – you may not have a large area to store it, and you don’t want to try rolling a big suitcase across grass or through mud. If it’s truly awful weather, that plastic tub might not seem so ridiculous after all.

Packing List:
– Veil/Sword/Etc.
– Cymbals (bring large ones for outdoor festivals – they won’t be able to hear your tiny tinkers).
– Business Cards
– Cover Up/Costume (if not wearing it there) & street clothes for afterwards
– Dance shoes or foot protection (generally you’ll want to wear shoes at festivals unless you have a good stage surface)
– Music and necessary cords, backup CD
– Small makeup bag & mirror (you probably won’t have a mirror in your prep/backstage space)
– Sunscreen/bug spray (whether it’s cloudy or sunny, you can get burned)
– Safety Pins
– Business Cards
– Fan/Sweat Towel
– Backup dance underwear
– Water & a snack (unless you are getting free food from festival vendors, but try to avoid buying festival food & beverages. You’ll wait a long time, it can be hard to transport back stage, it’s usually quite heavy/not great for dancing on, and it can be very expensive)
– Small medical kit/items (you won’t find tampons at festivals, and you are vulnerable to injuries on stages with unpredictable surfaces)

Dance Community Gala Shows
This may be the most common type of show you do if you don’t regularly dance at weekly restaurant gigs. Community shows are fantastic, usually involve a very small performance commitment (1-2 performances of 5 minutes or so each), and you usually send your music in ahead of time so you don’t need to carry cords & backup CDs with you (though many do, just in case there is a problem).
The real issue that needs to be considered at these shows is dressing room space. I’d recommend either a shoulder bag or a small suitcase for these kinds of shows, unless you have the kind of props or costume that requires a garment bag, in which case you’ll probably have somewhere to hang it. You need to be considerate of the many other people you will be sharing a space with, all vying for their few square feet of floor space to stash their bag (let’s not even talk about the competition for backstage mirror space). It’s a good idea to arrive with hair & makeup done, so that you only need to bring supplies for touch ups.

Packing List:
– Props & Costume (if you can’t arrive in a cover up)
– Cymbals if necessary
– Backup Music if necessary (just bring an extra copy on your phone if the host was using MP3’s)
– Cover Up so you can watch the rest of the show
– Small fan or sweat towel
– Backup dance underwear
– Small makeup bag for touch ups, including a compact mirror
– Small baggie of safety pins (I usually just pin then to the inside of the bag so I can grab them easily)
– Dance shoes if you use them
– Business cards or flyers for upcoming events (check with your host to see if it’s ok to share them)
– Emergency tampons and medical items that you don’t already have in your purse, like an asthma inhaler.
– There are almost always snacks & water backstage, but bring something if you really need to
– Camera/phone for photos with friends

Final Tips

These are just lists to get you started – you can bring as much or as little stuff with you as you like, but you may find that bringing only the essentials is less hassle than bringing everything but the kitchen sink. It might make you feel better to have 3 extra copies of your music, 2 extra costumes, a full medical kit, a 3 course meal, a laptop, 3 sets of extra cymbals, and 7 choices of hair extensions with you wherever you go, but if you do a lot of shows, you’ll quickly appreciate a smaller, lighter, more efficient gig bag.

The most important thing is that you stay organized! If your costumes are in good condition, your cymbals elastics are sturdy, your hair & makeup are properly primed & set, and you have as much information as possible about what to expect at your gig, you’ll be able to pack lightly, and pack appropriately.

Use your best judgement, and soon you’ll learn exactly what should be in that glorious gig bag of yours!

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