6 Strategies for Costuming Success That May Surprise You

Photo by Jim Lafferty for Pointe

No matter how many competition seasons or recitals you've got under your belt, drama inevitably arises over costumes. We spoke to costume companies, a designer and a competition judge for their indispensable advice on costume selection, ordering, trend spotting and customization. Let their wisdom inspire you to dress your dancers to look their best.


1. Be wary of following trends. Although simply cut leotards and pants without shirts (for men) are popular costume choices these days, JUMP Dance Convention teacher and judge Katy Spreadbury warns that such a minimalist approach isn't enough to elevate a piece to its full potential. Studio owners, she says, shouldn't focus solely on what makes the dancers' bodies look pretty but rather choose costumes that are relevant to the dance. "Costuming should give a visual representation of the world the dancer and audience members are experiencing," says Spreadbury. "When costuming is done in a way that creates that world, our experience as an audience is heightened."

2. Accentuate the positive; eliminate the negative. "When you choose a costume for your dancers, you have the opportunity to highlight their strengths and minimize their flaws," says Spreadbury. "If your dancers struggle to hold their centers, a two-piece will accentuate the area of the body they're having trouble with. If they have limited length in their neck, putting a lot of fabric there will only draw attention to the problem." Ill-fitting costumes can overexpose your dancers and make the audience feel uncomfortable.

3. Choose durable fabrics. "Good-quality fabrics will make all the difference in alterations," says Deborah Nelson, head designer at Satin Stitches, a custom dance-costume manufacturer. "Fabrics that are poor quality can be fragile, snag and tear when manipulated with extensive sewing and resewing." Nelson recommends spandex mesh, thick plain spandex, stretch spandex velvet, woven polyester chiffon and stretchy lace fabrics. Note that regardless of which fabric you use, it's much easier to take costumes in than to let them out—always overshoot slightly on sizing when you order.

4. Attend a costume preview show. Wouldn't you like to see exactly what you're ordering? There's nothing like the ability to touch and look closely at how costumes are made—and to avoid discrepancies between what you think you're ordering and what actually comes in the mail. "If you can make it to a United Dance Merchants of America show [held in the fall in Massachusetts, Georgia, Illinois and New Jersey—see udma.org] or if your costume company produces their own show, it can be very beneficial to understanding exactly what you're buying," says Ashley Zimmerman, director of business development for Curtain Call. Can't make it to a costume show? You can ask for samples to be sent to your studio.

5. Bring a sketch or photographs to your custom designer. Use visuals that have elements you'd like to pull from when planning with a custom designer. Explain the style of dance, too, and describe the music so your designer gets a sense of the piece's mood. Then, describe the age and size range of the dancers who are performing. "Communicate their ages as well as modesty expectations," Nelson says. "Explain the variety of body types so your designer can create something that is the most flattering for them." Be as specific and detailed as possible.

6. Avoid this number-one reason for shipping delays. Double-check the shipment date on your invoice. Costume A may have an early ship date, while costume B has a later one. If this is the case, your entire shipment will roll to match the later ship date. "This ordering mix-up is often the reason for confusing and delayed costume arrivals," says Zimmerman. DT

The Feldenkrais Method is a somatic technique created by Moshe Feldenkrais in the 1950s. The method has two parts: hands-on sessions with a Feldenkrais teacher (Functional Integration) or group classes comprised of verbal cues (Awareness Through Movement).

Mary Armentrout, a dance teacher, choreographer and Feldenkrais practitioner, shares three ways that this somatic practice can bolster your students' training.

Keep reading... Show less
Your Studio

Oversexualizing young kids has been a hot topic among dance teachers in recent years. It's arguably the most controversial topic teachers and studio owners are faced with. Deciding which choreography, music or costumes are appropriate—or not—isn't always black and white and can be easily overlooked. Is showing the midriff too much for minis? Is this choreography too provocative? Is this popular song too suggestive for a competition piece? The questions can seem endless with no clear objective answers. Until now.

Keep reading... Show less
To make dancers stronger and less injury-prone, Burns Wilson suggest adding floor barre or conditioning classes. Photo courtesy of Burns Wilson

With a career spanning 30-plus years in the dance field, Anneliese Burns Wilson has cultivated a unique perspective on health and injury prevention for dancers. From teaching ballet to teaching anatomy, she then founded ABC for Dance, which publishes dance-teaching materials. Now through research for her next book, which will focus on training the female adolescent dancer, she's delving even deeper into topics many dance teachers have overlooked.

Keep reading... Show less
Erdmann (left) on set for "Hairspray Live" (courtesy of Erdmann)

When Wicked ensemble member Kelli Erdman was training at Westlake Dance Center in Seattle, Washington, her teacher Kirsten Cooper taught her that focussed transitions would be pivotal to her success as a dancer. Now as a professional, she applies this advice to her daily performances, asserting that she will never let the details of her dancing get blurry.

Keep reading... Show less
Khobdeh dancing Taylor's Speaking In Tongues. Photo courtesy of PTDC

For Parisa Khobdeh, music does more than set the tone for a piece—it's enabled her to connect with movement. And once she joined Paul Taylor Dance Company in 2003, Taylor's body of work deepened this connection. "His choreography showed me the music, the architecture and the space," she says. "I now see the music."

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Buzz

We haven't been able to stop watching Lil' Mushroom since she popped and locked her way into Ellen's heart last week. We know you've got a long night of teaching ahead, and this is the dance inspiration you need to get you through. Check it out and tell us what you think about her killer moves over on our Facebook page! (She starts blowing minds at about 2:16.)

Keep reading... Show less
How-To

Because the chassé is often neglected during the execution of this traveling step, Judy Rice asks her students to do a minimum of a six-inch chassé before transitioning into the pas de bourrée. She encourages dancers to pay close attention to their shoulders and hips in effacé, too. "Kids tend to open it up. They look like they're fencing," she says. "You don't want that." Both shoulders and hip bones should be facing the corner.

Keep reading... Show less

Sponsored

Videos

Sponsored

mailbox

Get DanceTeacher in your inbox

Win It!

Sponsored