Sew You Think You Can Dance
A conversation with the show’s Emmy-winning costume designer Soyon An
You know the struggles of costuming one recital every spring—imagine doing new productions back-to-back for nine straight weeks. That is the life of Soyon An, the head costume designer for “So You Think You Can Dance,” who builds 80 percent of the costumes on the show from scratch. And it’s not much of a break when she purchases the other pieces; she alters and embellishes all designs.
An, who attended both Otis College of Art and Design and Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising in L.A., has won two Creative Arts Emmy Awards for Outstanding Costumes for her work on “SYTYCD” since starting as the assistant designer for Season 2. She also styles the female contestants on “American Idol” and sees firsthand how styles in everyday fashion and designs in dance cross over. DT spoke with An before the ninth season of “SYTYCD” airs this summer.
Dance Teacher: What’s your design process?
Soyon An: My first step is always listening to the music. Then I’ll meet with the choreographer, who tells me her stories for the routine or the concept, and I’ll share my ideas for the costume’s color. After we talk I’ll either do a sketch or shop for the fabric. Next are a quick drape and a costume fitting—sometimes I’ll drape the material right on the dancer’s body to save time. I ask the dancers to do some of the learned choreography so we make sure everything will work, then we’ll put it all together with the sewing machine.
DT: How long do you have for this process?
SA: I have a team of two shoppers, two costumers and three full-time seamstresses. We find out which dancers got eliminated on Thursday night and learn who’s doing what genre of dance for the next week. Then we have two or three days to finish each costume because Tuesday is a dress rehearsal. It’s seriously nonstop!
DT: Any advice for teachers who are shopping for costumes to fit dancers with various body types?
SA: For a contemporary piece, choose something with a higher waistline; it’s nice and sweet. For a jazz number, I’d recommend getting sequined shorts and a top that has some line construction to flatter the bigger girls, because that will also accommodate the smaller girls.
If a dancer has broad shoulders, stay away from halters. What works best is a strapless top or a jacket that has lines of construction close to the center-front of the torso. It makes the broad shoulder more tailored.
Don’t put heavy or embellished costumes on curvy dancers. For instance, if I were buying a tango dress, I’d avoid floral embellishments around the chest area and the sides of the stomach. And if you are shopping for long, thin dancers, don’t use silhouettes that make the string beans look rectangular. Always have some sort of a line that creates a waistline or use a more structured shape.
DT: What’s big now in costuming that you see in everyday wear?
SA: There are so many types of spandex out there, and they’ve come out with really cool ones that look like faux leather or denim. They’re breathable and flexible and great for dancewear, but they’re on-trend in everyday wear. I love stretchy denim.
Also, high-waisted bottoms: I was putting them on dancers to continue their leg lines and so their belly buttons didn’t show in case the dancers flipped. And now, they’re fashion pieces. DT
Photo by Collin Stark