Costume Catastrophe!

Like many studio owners preparing for recital season, Sue Sampson-Dalena of the Dance School of Fresno in California ordered costumes for her June performance in January. But when the arrival date for one class’s costumes passed with no sign of the shipment, she put in several concerned calls to the costume company, only to be met with constant busy signals.

Luckily, just days before the show, a few dedicated parents—who, to Sampson-Dalena’s delight, were also talented seamstresses—volunteered their time to buy fabric and whip up makeshift costumes for every member of the class. She never did get through to the company, though the costumes eventually arrived—weeks after the performance.

Whether it’s a costume shipment lost in the mail, backordered costumes that didn’t get delivered in time or a suitcase of garments misdirected on the flight to Nationals, costume mishaps are often unavoidable. Keep these creative strategies in mind the next time you’re in a jam.

Beg, Borrow or Rent
“Try to borrow costumes from one of last year’s classes—that’s the first line of defense,” says Sampson-Dalena. This works best if you can pinpoint a class where all students have remained local; tracking down a costume from last year’s senior who’s now a busy college freshman can be tricky.

Nancy Chippendale’s Dance Studio in North Andover, Massachusetts, has maintained an in-school costume closet for just this reason. “We started stocking the closet with my three daughters’ costumes and then had everyone donate their old costumes as well,” says Director Nancy Chippendale.

“When soloists need costumes, they go into the closet and put their outfit together, or at least use pieces from our inventory. I encourage my graduating seniors to donate items that they will never use again . . . such as jewelry, headpieces, trunks [and] belts.”

Next, look to local studios that may let you borrow or rent items they’re not currently using. “I can recall borrowing costumes from a friend [who owns a nearby studio],” says Sampson-Dalena. “She always had her show in early May, and she usually kept a lot of her costumes.” Cynthia King of Cynthia King Dance Studio in Brooklyn, New York, has often swapped costumes with teacher friends, especially those who work in public schools. “Sometimes they’ll have a budget [for costumes] and they’re just sitting there,” King says. She also suggests compiling an e-mail list of teachers you meet at conventions and teacher training seminars; in case of a costume emergency, you have a support system right at your fingertips.

If you’ve exhausted local dance schools, don’t overlook local theater companies or high school theater departments; there’s always a chance they produced Cabaret last year and could kindly rent you their hats, canes and gloves for your advanced jazz routine set to “Willkommen.”


Start From Scratch
If you have the time and funds to invest in a completely new set of costumes, consider ordering in-stock items from a company whose warehouse is in the same state as your studio; in-stock items could ship in a day if you pay for premium shipping. Keep in mind you may have to be flexible about style and size, given what’s available—hemming pants or tightening straps are small adjustments that can be made easily, if time allows.

“I have always had parents who are willing to come to the rescue,” says Sampson-Dalena. “I really admire those who can sew.” If you have several parents with sewing savvy, consider commissioning them to select fabric and construct a simple costume, as Sampson-Dalena did in the wake of her class’s costume disappearance. King keeps bolts of stretchy fabric, tulle and elastic at her studio in case her seamstresses need to quickly create a crop of simple circle skirts.

If sewing isn’t your forte, you’d be surprised at what can be put together with a hot-glue gun, says King; or look for no-sew hem tape, fabric glue or fusible webbing (a stiff fabric that becomes adhesive when ironed) at a craft store. Consider taking a basic garment from your local dance retailer, like a simple lyrical dress, and using fabric paint to create swirls, stripes or starbursts. For added sparkle, glue on rhinestones, sequin trim, fringe or beads. For a disco number, a trip to a local resale shop or the back of parents’ closets may yield enough retro pieces to outfit your group on the cheap.

Jazz Up Basics
If buying new or creating from scratch isn’t an option, think of what your dancers already have and build from there, says Sampson-Dalena. To meet one last-minute costume need, for example, she had a class wear black shorts and matching studio-logo tank tops that students already owned.

You can easily dress up your dancers’ classwear basics—black leotards, shorts and jazz pants—without altering them permanently. Start with all-black bodywear and add a big prop or accessory: a polka-dotted neck scarf, bright red satin gloves, glitter-covered top hat, sequined Mardi Gras mask or neon wig could do the trick. If the costume companies you’d usually count on for such accessories are tied up with spring recital orders, proceed to a local party- or theater-supply store. To order fabric in bulk and accessories such as hats, wigs or canes with a quick turnaround, King relies on Theatre House, a theater-supply catalog that can often ship orders by the morning of the next business day.

Another economical option is to buy a bolt of flowy fabric and let each of your dancers layer, drape and tie it over a leotard or unitard. Designs are limited only by their imagination: Sheer fabric can be worn toga-style, tied at the shoulder and belted at the waist with a ribbon; no-sew sarong skirts can be made by cutting a large triangle out of no-fray fabric; and thinly cut strips can be wrapped around legs and arms for a wild, twisted look.

Check out your library or local bookstore for craft books offering design inspiration. For DIY tricks like transforming an old sweater into legwarmers and gauntlets, or a T-shirt into a punk-rocker top or elegant halter, look for these titles: Generation T: 108 Ways to Transform a T-Shirt, by Megan Nicolay; 99 Ways to Cut, Sew, Trim, and Tie Your T-Shirt into Something Special, by Faith Blakeney, Justina Blakeney, Anka Livakovic and Ellen Schultz; and Second-Time Cool: The Art of Chopping Up a Sweater, by Anna-Stina Linden Ivarsson, Katarina Brieditis and Katarina Evans.

Start Shopping
If you don’t have the lead time, helping hands or creative energy to go the DIY route, look to local retail outlets for inexpensive costume possibilities you can bring home the same day.

The sleepwear/intimate apparel department at big-box discount stores can be a great starting place for inexpensive lyrical and modern costumes: Modest slips can double as dresses, while satin pajama pants can be slipped over a leotard. If you can’t find all the sizes and colors you need at one location, ask an employee to locate the remaining garments at nearby stores and designate parent volunteers to pick them up.

One of Sampson-Dalena’s teachers often finds costume pieces at discount stores like Marshalls and T.J. Maxx. “She always manages to find really cool things . . . and it’s always cheaper,” says Sampson-Dalena. Mall stores that serve the teen market—Forever 21, Charlotte Russe, H&M, Deb and Rave, to name a few—often stock large quantities of low-priced trendy garments. Sparkly tops meant for a night out on the town can pair with black jazz pants; bright mini-skirts can be layered over your dancer’s own leotards and capri tights; chain belts can give a solid unitard extra pizzazz.

Raid Your Dancers’ Closets
“Not everybody has to be dressed alike,” says King. Going for an individual look can take off the pressure to find identical garments for a class of 20—and it lets your dancers showcase their personalities.

If you’re doing a casual jazz, tap or hip-hop routine, look to your students’ closets for inspiration. Ten years ago, most dancers wouldn’t have dreamed of taking the stage in their blue jeans; now, however, almost all jeans are made with some Lycra for extra stretch. Start with jeans and have your dancers layer on their own colorful tanks, T-shirts and jackets. Consider introducing one unifying element, like visors in the same color or a bandanna each dancer can tie anywhere on her outfit.

Another option is to choose a color theme—black and red, or pink and turquoise, for example—and have your dancers put together new outfits using their own costume pieces, street clothes and accessories. Host a “costume call” day at the studio when dancers bring possibilities from home and help each other put their outfits together.

Losing your costumes may feel like the end of the world. But with a little ingenuity and elbow grease, you’ll be able to turn any costume catastrophe into a cause for celebration. DT

Lisa Arnett is the Midwest editor of Dance Spirit magazine and a Chicago-based freelance writer.

Dancer Diary
Claire, McAdams, courtesy Houston Ballet

Former Houston Ballet dancer Chun Wai Chan has always been destined for New York City Ballet.

While competing at Prix de Lausanne in 2010, he was offered summer program scholarships at both the School of American Ballet and Houston Ballet. However, because two of the competition's winners that year were Houston Ballet's Aaron Sharratt and Liao Xiang, dancers Chan idolized, he turned down SAB. He joined Houston Ballet II in 2010, the main company's corps de ballet in 2012, and was promoted to principal in 2017. Oozing confidence and technical prowess, Chan was a Houston favorite, and even landed himself a spot on Dance Magazine's "25 to Watch."


In 2019, NYCB came calling: Resident choreographer Justin Peck visited Houston Ballet to set a new work titled Reflections. Peck immediately took to Chan and passed his praises on to NYCB artistic director Jonathan Stafford. Chan was invited to take class with NYCB for three days in January 2020, and shortly thereafter was offered a soloist contract.

The plan was to announce his hiring in the spring for the fall season that typically begins in September, but, of course, coronavirus postponed the opportunity to next year. Chan is currently riding out the pandemic in Huizhou, Guangdong, China, where he was born and trained at the Guangzhou Art School.

We talked to Chan about his training journey—and the teachers, corrections and experiences that got him to NYCB.

On the most helpful correction he's ever gotten:

"Work smart, then work hard to keep your body healthy. Most of us get injuries when we're tired. When I first joined Houston Ballet, I was pushing myself 100 percent every day, at every show, rehearsal and class. That's when I got injured [a torn thumb ligament, tendinitis and a sprained ankle.] At that time, my director taught me that we all have to work hard, memorize the steps and take corrections, but it's better to think first because your energy is limited."

How it's benefited his career since:

"It's the secret to me getting promoted to principal very quickly. When other dancers were injured or couldn't perform, I was healthy and could step up to fill a higher role than my position. I still get small injuries, but I know how to take care of them now, and when it's OK to gamble a little."

Chan, wearing grey pants and a grey one-sleeved top, partners Jessica Collado, as she arches her back and leans to the side. Other dancers behind them are dressed as an army of some sort

Chun Wai Chan with Jessica Collado. Photo by Amitava Sarkar, courtesy Houston Ballet

On his most influential teacher:

"Claudio Muñoz, from Houston Ballet Academy. The first summer intensive there I couldn't even lift the lightest girls. A month later, my pas de deux skills improved so much. I never imagined I could lift a girl so many times. A year later I could do all the tricky pas tricks. That's all because of Claudio. He also taught me how to dance in contemporary, and act all kinds of characters."

How he gained strength for partnering:

"I did a lot of push-ups. Claudio recommended dancers go to the gym. We don't have those kinds of traditions in China, but after Houston Ballet, going to the gym has become a habit."

On his YouTube channel:

"I started a YouTube channel, where I could give ballet tutorials. Many male students only have female teachers, and they are missing out on the guy's perspective on jumps and partnering. I give those tips online because they are what I would have wanted. My goal is to help students have strong technique so they are able to enjoy the stage as much as they can."

Music
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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