Sponsored by A Wish Come True

Behind-the-Scenes of A Wish Come True's Pennsylvania Costume Factory

Courtesy A Wish Come True

Studio owners who've been in the recital game for a while have likely seen thousands of dance costumes pass through their hands.

But with the hustle and bustle of recital time, we don't always stop to think about where exactly those costumes are coming from, or how they are made.

If we want our costumes to be of the same high quality as our dancing—and for our costume-buying process to be as seamless as possible—it helps to take the time to learn a bit more about those costumes and the companies making them.

We talked to the team at A Wish Come True—who makes all their costumes at their factory in Bristol, Pennsylvania—to get an inside look at what really goes into making a costume, from conception to stage.

Costume ideas can come from anywhere.

How is a costume born? At A Wish Come True, inspiration can come from just about anywhere: A fun movie character, an exciting new fabric, or an idea to ramp up an older best seller.

Most designs for A Wish Come True's 100% USA-made costumes are submitted by a dedicated team of designers, but everyone at the company is encouraged to submit designs if they'd like. Eva Jeanne Tanenbaum, A Wish Come True's interactive marketing coordinator, is usually responsible for running the company's social media accounts and updating their website. But recently, she submitted her first design idea—and it'll make its debut in this year's catalogue.

A young woman wearing a mask and a denim jacket with "wish" bedazzled on the back stands in front of a wall of shelves full of sequins

Eva Jeanne Tanenbaum

Courtesy A Wish Come True

Making a costume is a many-step process. 

Once a design is approved (it has to fall in line with A Wish Come True's aesthetic and make sense cost-wise), it goes to a pattern maker, who translates the design from a sketch on paper to a blueprint on a computer, notating how everything will be sewn together.

Then, a sample is made, and the designer will look at the sample on a dress form and decide on any changes that are needed. Once the design has been developed, a real-life dancer comes into the picture. At this stage, A Wish Come True photographs the design for the catalogue, using the opportunity to ask the dancers questions about the costume's fit and comfort, in case it needs any further adjustments. Then, once more size samples are created (to make sure that a costume for, say, a five-year-old dancer looks proportional to the same costume in an adult size), and all parts and pieces are accounted for, the costume is ready to be made-to-order for each customer.

This whole process is made easier at A Wish Come True because of the company's unique setup: The offices, where the designers and pattern makers work, are under the same roof as the factory, where the costumes are made, allowing for close collaboration between everyone involved.

A little girl's costume on a dress form, with a sequined purple top and a purple tutu with polka dots

Courtesy A Wish Come True

Getting them right takes lots (and lots) of planning. ​

A Wish Come True's 2021 catalogue hasn't even hit the market yet, and they're already working on styles for 2022. That's because the A Wish Come True team puts so much care into the design and production of each costume. That could mean poring over fabric catalogues "to find a fabric that will scream 'this looks like a pineapple,' " as pattern maker Stephanie Deni says. (Yes, that means we have a pineapple costume to look forward to.) Or, it could be the countless tests to ensure that sizing is consistent across the board. Deni, who has worked at A Wish Come True for almost 16 years, says that sometimes staff members even take a costume home to wash in their own washing machine, to ensure that colors don't bleed and sequins stay secured.

The set-up is designed to accommodate recital craziness. 

Ever had a student grow four inches between measurements and costume arrival? Or maybe you've heard the words "My dog ate my headpiece"?

Though these are nightmare scenarios for dance teachers, they are everyday occurrences at A Wish Come True. Because the entire company—from customer service to design to production to packaging—is in the same building, it's easy for staff to make last-minute changes to orders. A customer service representative need just walk down the hall to the factory to see if an order could be expedited, or if that barrette is still in stock.

A woman sits at a desk in front of a computer, with a earpiece and her desk covered in papers

Laura is one of A Wish Come True's customer service representatives.

Courtesy A Wish Come True

Lots of sewing machines are involved—even a dedicated tutu machine. 

Not all sewing machines are created equal—in fact, A Wish Come True has a wide variety of sewing machines, all for different purposes, from the single-needle to the double-needle to the binding machine and more.

But perhaps none are as exciting as the tutu machines, which are custom-made for the A Wish Come True factory to help seamlessly create tutus with a variety of lengths of tulle.

A woman uses a large sewing machine to create a costume out of light purple tulle

A Wish Come True's tutu machine

Courtesy A Wish Come True

For every female costume, there can be a matching male costume. 

A Wish Come True knows that it's no fun for boys to be in boring black pants and t-shirts when their classmates are in exciting and detailed costumes. So they offer a wide selection of costume options for boys—and can make custom male designs to complement any female designs upon request.

It's a surprisingly small operation. 

Tanenbaum says that many people have the misconception that A Wish Come True is a huge company, when really it's a mom-and-pop family business, operating more like a dance studio than a corporation. "We have a marketing team of three people, and we also do the graphic design," she says. "So we're just like dance studio owners, who have to be an owner and a teacher and a costume manager and a mom. I love helping customers realize that we're a small business, and we're here to help their small business." (And for Tanenbaum, A Wish Come True is literally a family business: Her father has owned the company for over 10 years.)

Though they are small, they are mighty: During their busiest season, Tanenbaum says they can produce thousands of costumes a day, and production team members need to know how to create up to 700 different styles (not including colors!) at a time. Recently, the A Wish Come True team took on a new challenge: Creating masks for their local hospital during the height of the pandemic.

There's a wall—yes, a wall—of sequins. 

And it's 20 feet tall. "It makes you happy just walking by it," says Deni.

There's also, unsurprisingly, lots of rhinestones, says Deni, which some staff members use to decorate denim jackets to wear to trade shows.

A woman stands in front of a wall of shelves covered with rolls of colorful sequins. She wears a denim jacket that says "wish" on the back in rhinestones

The famous sequin wall

Courtesy A Wish Come True

Some costumes are made by former dancers and current dance parents. 

A number of A Wish Come True's designers and pattern makers are former dancers, says Tanenbaum. A Wish Come True also makes colorguard costumes, and a few staff members are colorguard coaches on the side.

But it's the several dance parents who work at A Wish Come True, including Deni, who get to truly see the full life cycle of the costumes they create at their own children's recitals. Deni says she's become the unofficial costume guru at her daughter's studio. "Seeing something go from lines on a paper to someone wearing it and dancing in it is just phenomenal," she says. "It is the most rewarding thing."

Mary Malleney, courtesy Osato

In most classes, dancers are encouraged to count the music, and dance with it—emphasizing accents and letting the rhythm of a song guide them.

But Marissa Osato likes to give her students an unexpected challenge: to resist hitting the beats.

In her contemporary class at EDGE Performing Arts Center in Los Angeles (which is now closed, until they find a new space), she would often play heavy trap music. She'd encourage her students to find the contrast by moving in slow, fluid, circular patterns, daring them to explore the unobvious interpretation of the steady rhythms.

"I like to give dancers a phrase of music and choreography and have them reinterpret it," she says, "to be thinkers and creators and not just replicators."

Osato learned this approach—avoiding the natural temptation of the music always being the leader—while earning her MFA in choreography at California Institute of the Arts. "When I was collaborating with a composer for my thesis, he mentioned, 'You always count in eights. Why?'"

This forced Osato out of her creative comfort zone. "The choices I made, my use of music, and its correlation to the movement were put under a microscope," she says. "I learned to not always make the music the driving motive of my work," a habit she attributes to her competition studio training as a young dancer.

While an undergraduate at the University of California, Irvine, Osato first encountered modern dance. That discovery, along with her experience dancing in Boogiezone Inc.'s off-campus hip-hop company, BREED, co-founded by Elm Pizarro, inspired her own, blended style, combining modern and hip hop with jazz. While still in college, she began working with fellow UCI student Will Johnston, and co-founded the Boogiezone Contemporary Class with Pizarro, an affordable series of classes that brought top choreographers from Los Angeles to Orange County.

"We were trying to bring the hip-hop and contemporary communities together and keep creating work for our friends," says Osato, who has taught for West Coast Dance Explosion and choreographed for studios across the country.

In 2009, Osato, Johnston and Pizarro launched Entity Contemporary Dance, which she and Johnston direct. The company, now based in Los Angeles, won the 2017 Capezio A.C.E. Awards, and, in 2019, Osato was chosen for two choreographic residencies (Joffrey Ballet's Winning Works and the USC Kaufman New Movement Residency), and became a full-time associate professor of dance at Santa Monica College.

At SMC, Osato challenges her students—and herself—by incorporating a live percussionist, a luxury that's been on pause during the pandemic. She finds that live music brings a heightened sense of awareness to the room. "I didn't realize what I didn't have until I had it," Osato says. "Live music helps dancers embody weight and heaviness, being grounded into the floor." Instead of the music dictating the movement, they're a part of it.

Osato uses the musician as a collaborator who helps stir her creativity, in real time. "I'll say 'Give me something that's airy and ambient,' and the sounds inspire me," says Osato. She loves playing with tension and release dynamics, fall and recovery, and how those can enhance and digress from the sound.

"I can't wait to get back to the studio and have that again," she says.

Osato made Dance Teacher a Spotify playlist with some of her favorite songs for class—and told us about why she loves some of them.

"Get It Together," by India.Arie

"Her voice and lyrics hit my soul and ground me every time. Dream artist. My go-to recorded music in class is soul R&B. There's simplicity about it that I really connect with."

"Turn Your Lights Down Low," by Bob Marley + The Wailers, Lauryn Hill

"A classic. This song embodies that all-encompassing love and gets the whole room groovin'."

"Diamonds," by Johnnyswim

"This song's uplifting energy and drive is infectious! So much vulnerability, honesty and joy in their voices and instrumentation."

"There Will Be Time," by Mumford & Sons, Baaba Maal

"Mumford & Sons' music has always struck a deep chord within me. Their songs are simultaneously stripped-down and complex and feel transcendent."

"With The Love In My Heart," by Jacob Collier, Metropole Orkest, Jules Buckley

"Other than it being insanely energizing and cinematic, I love how challenging the irregular meter is!"

For Parents

Darrell Grand Moultrie teaches at a past Jacob's Pillow summer intensive. Photo Christopher Duggan, courtesy Jacob's Pillow

In the past 10 months, we've grown accustomed to helping our dancers navigate virtual school, classes and performances. And while brighter, more in-person days may be around the corner—or at least on the horizon—parents may be facing yet another hurdle to help our dancers through: virtual summer-intensive auditions.

In 2020, we learned that there are some unique advantages of virtual summer programs: the lack of travel (and therefore the reduced cost) and the increased access to classes led by top artists and teachers among them. And while summer 2021 may end up looking more familiar with in-person intensives, audition season will likely remain remote and over Zoom.

Of course, summer 2021 may not be back to in-person, and that uncertainty can be a hard pill to swallow. Here, Kate Linsley, a mom and academy principal of Nashville Ballet, as well as "J.R." Glover, The Dan & Carole Burack Director of The School at Jacob's Pillow, share their advice for this complicated process.

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From left: Anthony Crickmay, Courtesy Dance Theatre of Harlem Archives; Courtesy Ballethnic

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Ballethnic is based in East Point, a suburban city bordering Atlanta. In a metropolitan area with a history of racism and where funding is hard-won, it is crucial for the Black-led ballet company to present polished, professional productions. "Ms. Lydia" provides the "hard last eye" before the curtain opens in front of an audience.

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