Studio Owners

5 Costume Complications and Their Surprisingly Simple Solutions

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Kim Pelliccia has seen her share of costume-related emergencies during her time working for the recital costume company Dansco. “We've had studios flood, trains derail, Lucy's costume doesn't fit on Wednesday and the show is on Saturday," she says. As a studio owner, you're no stranger to the special set of potential problems that competitions and recitals bring. That's why we spoke to several savvy owners and costume companies for their surprisingly simple advice on handling five common costume complications.


1. A student loses her costume—two weeks before the recital.

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The explanation is usually bizarre: “The costume went home with Grandma, and it never came back. Or she was at her dad's this weekend, and the dog ate it," says Pelliccia. But the fix is easy: “Contact us right away to see if a replacement is available within the time frame you need it," she says. “Because we make our own costumes here, we have expedited shipping options. We could put them in the construction queue a little quicker, and overnight it or do a two-day air ship."

Costume Gallery has a new special section on its website called “Available Now," which features costumes in stock and ready to ship within three business days. “We update the style availability daily," says Elizabeth Balash, marketing and sales director. “It has current and past season styles." Your dancer's missing costume or a similar style could be available online and in your hands within days.

Don't forget to network, either. It's possible a nearby studio ordered the same style and has one in the size you need for you to borrow.

Pro tip: Go the extra (accessory) mile. Phyllis Balagna, owner of Steppin' Out—The Studio in Lee's Summit, Missouri, rarely has students lose entire costumes, but accessories are a different story. “We do, on occasion, have missing belts, trunks, buttons and bows," she says. “I always order at least one extra of each accessory and keep it in our company suitcase. I also keep various colored trunks, black fishnets, hairpieces and jewelry in the suitcase." But Balagna has a hard-and-fast rule about costumes that go missing the day of: “If a child loses a costume and we don't know about it until the day of performance, the child does not dance in that particular routine."

2. A costume doesn't fit.

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Should you exchange it for a different size, or have it altered? If it's slightly too big or small on the top but not the bottom (or vice versa), says Pelliccia, it's better to do a custom alteration. “You're always going to have that problem, even if you go up or down a size," she says.

If a size exchange is required, call the costume company immediately and place a replacement size order (a service which many companies provide free of charge). Balagna arranges to receive all costumes at least three weeks before the dancers have to wear them onstage. “This gives us enough time for alterations or reordering from a company," she says. “They'll work with you to get the correct size to you in time."

Bottom line? The earlier you order, the better. Place your costume order by January (for a May or June recital) to give companies the leeway to correct any issues that come up—plus, many offer a bulk discount rate if you take advantage of early ordering. “That way," says Pelliccia, “there's time to fix human error, or kids growing."

Pro tip: Get it in writing. Pelliccia recommends protecting yourself with an agreement signed by parents during the costume ordering stage, stating they agree to the size they authorize you to purchase.

3. A parent has an issue with a costume.

When Balagna's daughter, Jen—who directs the competition team and prides herself on keeping up with contemporary costume trends—chose leotards as costumes for most of the team's teen and senior contemporary pieces, parents were vocal about how these costumes didn't seem competition-worthy. “Parents have their own opinions of what a dancer should wear in a particular routine, and some aren't afraid to voice it," says Balagna. “The only thing you can really say is, 'Trust me—I've been doing this a long time, and I've yet to put a dancer onstage who was inappropriately costumed.'"

Pro tip: Tap into your studio owner Zen. If you stand by your decision and remain patient, your parents will eventually come around. When Balagna's students and parents arrived at Nationals, they soon saw that leotards were in vogue for nearly all of the teen and senior dancers. “They finally got it," she says, “and apologized for second-guessing our decisions. It also helped that two of our senior pieces won."

4. The custom-made costumes for your minis trio arrive in the wrong color and baggy in all the wrong places.

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Successful custom costumes are all about good communication. “If you're doing handmade costumes, it's important to have a good relationship with your seamstress," says Balagna. “By staying very connected to the building process of the costume, it's easier to manage the outcome of the final product." She advises asking how many costumes the seamstress is taking on besides your own order, to see if the date you need your costumes finished is feasible. To avoid an ill-fitting costume, Balagna recommends having several fittings before a dancer wears the costume.

Pro tip: Ready the rhinestone brigade. If, despite the best of intentions, a custom-made costume turns out poorly, Balagna has a couple of studio parents who are prepared to transform easy-to-find costume staples into something fabulous as a substitute. “They can take trunks and a fabric-covered bra top and make them look like a million dollars," she says.

5. A dancer now has a cast on her arm—how should you camouflage it? Sarah Garceau, of the Rachel Park Dance Center in Middleborough, Massachusetts, had a 10-year-old dancer who ended up in a cast up to her elbow (with her arm at a 90-degree angle) three weeks before a competition. To camouflage the bright blue cast, she wrapped it in an ACE Bandage to match the dancer's skin color. Other solutions? Cut a pair of nude tights to cover the cast or wrap it in flesh-colored CoFlex (a self-adhesive, thin foam bandage).

Pro tip: Make it fit like a glove. When Kristine Oberst had the same issue with a student at her school in Dallas, Pennsylvania, Back Mountain Dance Studio, the dancer's mom made a sleeve from sequin fabric to match each costume. “She was a huge hit at competition," says Oberst. “Everyone couldn't wait to see how she would match her next outfit."

Studio Owners
Courtesy Tonawanda Dance Arts

If you're considering starting a summer program this year, you're likely not alone. Summer camp and class options are a tried-and-true method for paying your overhead costs past June—and, done well, could be a vehicle for making up for lost 2020 profits.

Plus, they might take on extra appeal for your studio families this year. Those struggling financially due to the pandemic will be in search of an affordable local programming option rather than an expensive, out-of-town intensive. And with summer travel still likely in question this spring as July and August plans are being made, your studio's local summer training option remains a safe bet.

The keys to profitable summer programming? Figuring out what type of structure will appeal most to your studio clientele, keeping start-up costs low—and, ideally, converting new summer students into new year-round students.

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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!"

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