Everyone knows that costuming goes hand in hand with great choreography; and the look of a piece can make or break the artistic vision set forth by the choreographer. But, while none of us have a limitless budget, this week I’m bringing you the tips and tricks from costume mistress Poochie Malloy, from the D’valda & Sirico Dance & Music Centre, on how to costume on a budget and still set your dancers apart while performing!
** Poochie, how long have you been costuming dancers? 26 years, originally I started costuming with period costumes for operas and shows at our local theatres, then I changed to dancers when my children started dancing. I found I had a special ability to analyze the movement and construct costumes to enhance the choreography and enable the dancers to have the maximum and required range of motion. I was fortunate to work with some great people and have access to costumes built by great designers like Karinska, who did many of the NYCB costumes.
**What is your initial game plan and timeline at the start of costuming season regarding organization, gathering concepts of pieces, getting students measured, etc.? This is the procedure for our regular costumes, company and competition are a bit different and I will talk about them later. Usually about a month after the school year begins (the timeline gives classes a chance to stabilize, transfers, add-ons etc.) I visit each class to measure the students, since it is early in the year I measure with room for growth. Sizes are entered into the student database program we use (in our studio it is Jackrabbit) Mid October, early November, costume bills are sent to the parents, they have the option of participating so we have to wait for the forms to be returned, double check each class list before ordering. During this same period the teachers email me the themes for their classes and any special requests. When in doubt I visit the class and chat with the teacher. As costume catalogues arrive I go through marking potential costumes, in early October I visit the UDMA costume show to actually see the costumes and talk to manufacturers, check out the construction and fabrics. We start ordering the costumes mid-December and try to finish by mid-January.
Company and competition group costumes are a separate issue, usually they are needed earlier in the year and require a different standard of construction and usage (they are worn multiple times and need to be cleanable) The process begins the same way with measuring and receiving information from the teachers but in their case as soon as the choreography is started I visit each class to actual see the numbers, the type of movements and confer with the teachers.
**What is your process on collaborating with teachers/choreographers? All teachers are asked to email the concepts and ideas for their classes, I make a chart including the class discipline, teacher, date and time they meet and ideas submitted by the teachers. I also talk to the teachers when I go in to measure the students, I try to keep this an open dialogue and share by thoughts especially if it differs from theirs, happily the teachers I work with respect my years of experience and are open to my thoughts and I try to do the same for them. There are times I have to make a change and I try to explain this to the teachers but ultimately I make the costume choice.
**What is your # 1 piece of advice for studio directors on a strict costume budget? Take control of the process, minimize the amount of companies you order from in order to take full advantage of volume and/or early discounts, be creative and open to non-traditional sources for costumes such as online.
** What are your strategies on costuming all different body types? I always start with the most challenging student in the class, respecting their shape and size, if that student looks great in the class odds are the others will too. I think costumes should be age, and size appropriate besides being the correct one for the discipline and theme of the class. Provocative and revealing costumes on young children are just wrong!
**How can accessories make or break a costume? They are the icing on the cake, and an important part of the finished look. A polished costume includes the correct hair, tights, shoes, and accessories.
**What is one essential costuming element one should never cut corners on? This is a tough question because I try to get the best quality costumes and accessories at the best possible prices. I love a bargain, but it is only a real bargain if it is a good quality, and the right costume for the number, so I guess my feeling is cut the corners but not your standards.
**What are some costuming tips studio directors can utilize if they don’t have a costume mistress? Look at the people around you and use their gifts, you may have a parent who is a terrific seamstress and could be a real help. I actually started costuming to pay for classes for my children, it led to training with some very gifted costumers and learning the field from the inside. It is very difficult for studio owners to do it all, why not train a staff member to take over the task? It also important to teach the dancers to take proper care of their costumes and be responsible for the accessories and upkeep, especially true for competition dancers!
** Biggest piece of advice teachers and directors may not know about costuming that can enhance a dancer’s appearance on stage? Watch the other schools, note the ones the look great on stage and analyze the differences. Watch videos of professional companies, watch the movement of the dancers and fabrics; again, analyze the things that make it special. Be aware of body types, movements, think about why is it good or bad....just open your eyes.
** Just for fun…dream show/ type of piece you’d love to costume with a limitless budget? Well I have always wanted to dress Miss Piggy...lol. Oddly enough it never starts with my vision, I need the choreographers to start my creative processes. Then, I always wish for a better budget!
Thanks Poochie!!! :)