Studio Owners

Ask the Experts: Should I Ditch My Studio's Strict Dress Code?

Q: I've had a studio for more than 20 years, and I have always had a strict dress code. Lately, I've been getting a lot of pressure to open up the dress code to allow for more self-expression. What should I do?


A: I understand why your dress code has been working for you: You can see body alignment clearly in dancewear like bodysuits and leotards paired with tights. Similarly, at our studio, we have our junior- and intermediate-level dancers wear navy or black bodysuits with pink tights for ballet. The seniors can wear any solid-color bodysuit with pink tights for ballet. But for the other genres, bodysuits, crop tops, shorts and leggings in any color or design are acceptable, as long as the dancers don't wear loose-fitting clothing. This way, we can see body lines, while allowing them some freedom of expression.

Well-fitted bodysuits and costumes with trunks work best for us onstage. When a costume requires tights, we opt for black fishnets. They give the dancers' legs a long and elegant look and work for all skin tones and body types. In the same vein, if you need your dancers to wear shoes onstage, we recommend choosing ones that match their individual skin tones. Because we have a diverse group of dancers, we use foot undies or fabric jazz shoes and dye them with tea (make a pot of tea, and dunk the shoes in it until you get the right shade).

I think you have to look at what makes the most sense for your dancers. Whether in class or onstage, you want them to feel good in what they wear, so maybe giving them self-expression with limits is the best way to go.

Teaching Tips
A 2019 Dancewave training. Photo by Effy Grey, courtesy Dancewave

By now, most dance educators hopefully understand that they have a responsibility to address racism in the studio. But knowing that you need to be actively cultivating racial equity isn't the same thing as knowing how to do so.

Of course, there's no easy answer, and no perfect approach. As social justice advocate David King emphasized at a recent interactive webinar, "Cultivating Racial Equity in the Classroom," this work is never-ending. The event, hosted by Dancewave (which just launched a new racial-equity curriculum) was a good starting point, though, and offered some helpful takeaways for dance educators committed to racial justice.

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Higher Ed
The author, Robyn Watson. Photo courtesy Watson

Recently, I posted a thread of tweets elucidating the lack of respect for tap dance in college dance programs, and arguing that it should be a requirement for dance majors.

According to onstageblog.com, out of the 30 top-ranked college dance programs in the U.S., tap dance is offered at 19 of them, but only one school requires majors to take more than a beginner course—Oklahoma City University. Many prestigious dance programs, like the ones at NYU Tisch School of the Arts and SUNY Purchase, don't offer a single course in tap dance.

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Teaching Tips
Getty Images

After months of lockdowns and virtual learning, many studios across the country are opening their doors and returning to in-person classes. Teachers and students alike have likely been chomping at the bit in anticipation of the return of dance-class normalcy that doesn't require a reliable internet connection or converting your living room into a dance space.

But along with the back-to-school excitement, dancers might be feeling rusty from being away from the studio for so long. A loss of flexibility, strength and stamina is to be expected, not to mention emotional fatigue from all of the uncertainty and reacclimating to social activities.

So as much as everyone wants to get back to normal—teachers and studio owners included—erring on the side of caution with your dancers' training will be the most beneficial approach in the long run.

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