by Guest Blogger: Tiffani Singleton
Fashion is typically not the first word to pop into your head when you think of dance. Unless you’re someone like me (a fashion-loving performer with a penchant for designing her own costumes.)
As a dancer, it can be easy to forgo the importance of costuming in production simply because your focus is on a multitude of other things. Like your health, mastering your technique, serving facials, and what have you.
Fashion and dance are more intertwined than most people realize. I’d like to shed some light on the symbiotic relationship between fashion and dance and what that looks like in movement and storytelling. Let’s get to it!
Fit is Everything:
Understanding fit is a big part of taking ownership of your presence as a dancer. Depending on the style of dance your outfit/costume can make a huge difference in the quality of performance.
For example, wearing a leotard and tights for a waltz takes away from the beauty of a dancer’s sweeping movements. Similarly, wearing a tutu in a hip hop class would take away from the sense of grounding characterized by the style.
Possibly the best example of the intersection between the dance and fashion worlds started in 19th century France. A gentleman by the name of Jules Léotard created the first leotard to give him greater mobility in his high-flying acrobatic routines. Originally called the “maillot”, Monsieur Léotard revolutionized what would become of the dancewear industry.
It wasn’t until the 1960’s that the modern-day Spandex/Lycra leotard began to make its appearance in dancewear. Up until then, leotards were made of knitted cotton material and were worn primarily by circus performers and gymnasts.
The late 1970s and ’80s were marked by the rise of the aerobic exercise craze and the emergence of the leotard as a fashion staple. What was once a garment exclusive to performers became a decade-defining trend made popular by celebrities like Jane Fonda. From bikers and wrestlers to ballerinas, the leotard proves to be the ultimate uniform largely due to its form emphasizing design.
Even today, the leotard continues to play a large role in the fashion industry. Shapewear lines such as Spanx by Sarah Blakely and Skims by Kim Kardashian mimic the design of a leotard to give the wearer a smooth finish under clothing.
As a celebrity Styling Assistant, I can tell you first hand that red carpets would be a much darker place without the use of shapewear. And I’m sure ballet classes would be a much different environment without leotards as well.
Color, Color, Color!
Color is arguably the most important aspect of the staging process. Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s “Swan Lake” is a fabulous example of how the use of costume, color, and choreography come together to captivate an audience.
In “Swan Lake,” the ingenue Odette is danced by a ballerina costumed in white and embellished with jewels and feathers. She is meant to mimic the ethereal beauty and grace of a swan. While her evil counterpart Odile (danced by the same ballerina) is costumed in a similar get-up but entirely in black.
The stark juxtaposition in coloring along with the ballerinas varied technique helps to paint a vivid picture of the two characters differing personalities. When shown together, black and white are indicative of the struggle between good and evil. (Think: Yin and Yang.)
While today it may be hard to imagine Swan Lake without the Black Swan, the original production did not feature a costume change for Odette/Odile. In fact, the first Black Swan was not introduced until 1941 by dancer Tamara Toumanova for the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York City.
At the time, American audiences were not as familiar with the production, so to distinguish Odette from Odile, choreographer Alexandra Fedorova-Fokine had Odile staged in black. Thus the “Black Swan” was born. A simple costuming decision made nearly 80 years ago continues to enhance the depth of storytelling for the iconic production.
From SYTYCD and Dancing With The Stars to the Rockettes and everything in between, fashion has long since been apart of the dance tradition and will continue to be as long as there is a story to tell. The next time you don a leotard or even a pair of baggy jeans, consider how the garment’s shape and color add to the story you are telling.
Thanks for having me!
About the Author
Hey, I’m Tiffani! My titles include fashion enthusiast, pup lover, and daughter of the Most High. But feel free to just call me Tiff! When I am not writing for my fashion blog Tiff On Fifth, you can find me sewing, listening to music, or watching a football game (in no particular order.)