• Lesley Mealor

Costuming For The Competition Stage

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Part of every dancer’s experience at competition is the fun of wearing a costume! From your very first tutu to your first costume in a Broadway show, there’s nothing like dressing up and playing a character! In the dance competition world, you’ll see everything from simple black leotards to Bob Mackie-inspired rhinestoned dresses, both of which can be impressive and effective when paired with the right choreography. IDA judges Ashley, Joey, and Nicole discuss their favorite costume tips, thoughts, and ideas to make your routine stand out, and tackle one of the burning questions in the competition industry - tights or no tights?

“When you look at the night sky, why is it always so much more beautiful to see a sky filled with stars, rather than just one or two stars? The sparkle!” Joey is a judge who loves to see rhinestoned costumes at competition.

He says, “While I usually rhinestone my students’ costumes myself for a fee, should any of them ever desire to learn to do it themselves to save some money, I’d gladly teach them how! All of a sudden [...] now a student takes even more pride in what they are [putting] on stage because they had even more of a hand in the presentation.” Ashley also appreciates a rhinestoned costume, but reminds choreographers and dancers to consider the character being portrayed and the story being told. She recalls seeing a competition number “where the dancers were representing homeless orphans and the dance held a message about the plight of homelessness in America. However, it was really hard for me to suspend my disbelief and empathize with these characters because the dancers had glitter on their faces and rhinestones in their hair.” Similarly, Nicole agrees that while rhinestones look good on stage, “stones or sequins do not make a difference to my score at all.” A cohesive, thought-out costume choice will likely do the trick to support the choreography and technique of your routine, but it doesn’t hurt to go the extra mile with a little sparkle!

Many studios have strayed away from catalog costumes over the past decade, and are instead looking to popular stores like H&M, Forever 21, and Urban Outfitters to dress their dancers. Ashley comments, “We live in an era of fast fashion, meaning that after you've worn new clothes once, they are almost worthless in the global market.” By using an affordable piece of clothing from a fashion store, you may then be able to budget for those rhinestones to glam it up a little bit, and have a completely unique costume! Joey’s advice is to take advantage of technology and “go to the Google Shopping tab, type in "Red Floor Length Silk Dress" and you're in business. A little extra effort versus just pointing to a picture in a costume book can go a long way and save a few pennies” to create the custom look you want.

However, Nicole stresses that “the amount of stones or money spent on a costume does not make a difference in how I’m scoring your child. Invest your money in your dancer’s training, not what they’re wearing!”


Taking pride in your presentation can look like a simple silhouette or a glamorous gown, so whatever you choose to costume your dancers in, do it with thoughtfulness and care!

Finally, we have arrived at the dreaded question - tights or no tights? Teachers, choreographers, and dancers have wondered for years how judges feel about this conundrum. IDA judges have one answer: “It depends!” For Ashley, these questions must be asked before making the decision:

“Does this costume ride up and reveal parts of the dancer the audience shouldn’t see? And does the bare-legged look distract from the style that is being presented?” If the answer to either of these questions is “yes”, then tights should be worn.

Classical ballet, classic musical theatre, and Broadway style tap are all styles that traditionally include tights, so respect the tradition! Try a nude fishnet tight for tap and jazz to provide more texture to the leg lines. Nicole advises that “you can never go wrong with tights that match the dancers’ [skin tone]. Taking care to dye tights and shoes is a great way to ensure a clean line and uniform appearance.” For Joey, wearing tights comes down to a dancer’s personal choice, but he also says, “As a male judge [...] there have been many instances where I have felt the need to avert my eyes from an unfortunately directed tilt or kick from a dancer not wearing tights or a costume not offering enough coverage.” Investing in body glue or body tape, doing a dress rehearsal in costume, and looking at the dance from all angles (remember, judges often sit below the stage, so what we see is different from what you see in the studio or even in the audience) will ensure that no surprises happen on stage! If you do opt for no tights with a leotard or brief, also consider lining the costume, since tights would have served as an undergarment. Many lycras are very thin and leave little to the imagination. Often taking that one last look will find something fixable to avoid a costume malfunction!

Presenting a total package at competition starts with the costume, so take care to consider all aspects of your choice; from fit, to style, to functionality. Don’t be afraid to glitz it up a bit, but also don’t shy away from simplicity if the routine warrants it. Most importantly, consider whether the costume flatters and complements your dancers, and makes them feel proud to perform!



*Photos provided by Epic Dance Showcase & Talia Childers, Director of Backstage Dance Company in Knoxville, TN

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