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Costumes 101


Teacher article



 Let's start at the very beginning, always a very good place to start. Everything begins with that spark of inspiration that leads a choreographer to take a piece of music, combine it with a group of performers and create a "new number". As the piece develops the dancers become more proficient, the choreography is fine-tuned but something is missing the costume. I have always felt the costume is the glue that brings a piece together completing the vision, transforming the dancers to characters and transporting the audience into the story.

 The correct costume adds tremendously to the completed piece but unfortunately the wrong costume can be the death of that same piece. I strongly recommend recruiting an experienced costume coordinator or designer to work with your teachers. That person should visit the studio, watch each number and talk to the choreographer prior to ordering or designing the costume. Another time we will discuss more about the roll of that person in your program and how to utilize their talents and skills. But where do we begin?

First collect the pieces of the puzzle:

1. What dance discipline is it (ballet, jazz, tap, etc.)

2. What is the age group and skill level of the dancers?

3. How many dancers are in the number?

4. Do any of the dancers have physical attributes or limitations, you need to consider in choosing the costume?

5. Does the choreography dictate special costuming needs, such as extensive floor work?

 6. Is it a period or theme number requiring a specific look?

 7. How often will they perform the number, is it competition piece or for a

Now let's try to put the pieces of the puzzle together:

The first point may seem the easiest to answer but it is not always clear cut, within each discipline are many options. A very sleek modern ballet requires costume and hair to match. A flowery tutu would detract from the number, much as a character number would be boring in the sleek costume that fit the earlier piece. The same holds true in Jazz, Tap, Lyrical, Modern, or Hip-hop. The costume reflects not only the dance discipline, but the character of that particular piece as reflected in the choreography and choice of music.

The age group and skill level of the group are so important in choosing the costume. How many of us have sat a dance recital or competition and cringed at the sight of little children in costumes more suited to 16 year olds? Let's all try to let the children be children, and save the sexy costume for much later. You can still have a polished, sophisticated look that is age appropriate. (Can you tell that this is a pet peeve of mine?) The costume can also be a wonderful way to mask the weak areas that are still developing with young dancers and level out the movements in a group. Keep in mind that the more of the body is exposed the more the skill level of the dancer will be evident. Perhaps you have a group that have beautiful feet and control of their legs but are still struggling with their port de bras, a sleeve on the costume will mask the weakness. Fabric can be your friend, the right fabric draped in the right way can create a desirable illusion, add movement and fluidity. Once again choose the costume to draw the eye to the strongest parts of the dancers.

 Next we move on to consider the quantity of dancers in a numbers in the routine. This is a time to evaluate the amount of space each dancer needs for the choreography, the size of the stage, and if there are props. It is helpful to see the dance to determine if you looking for precision when everyone needs to blend or is the time for possible formations using mixed colors or styles of costumes?

This is also the time to pay attention to point number five regarding choreography. Be aware if there is extensive floor work that it would be impractical in a dress or if it focuses on loads of turns that would be wonderful in a dress.

 Take time to look at each dancer and respect each dancer's body. Very few people or dancers have "perfect bodies" so once again we have to use our costuming skills to accent the positive and minimize the negative. I want each dancer to feel confident, happy and ready to perform when they put on their costume. If they are self conscious about their tummy or bust being exposed they will not dance to their full potential.

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