Everyone needs a good catch phrase. I have several for all my life situations. This one is most commonly heard echoing off the walls of the dance studio or performance venue. In fact, it is so well-known that I will have other Moms joining in the chant. Thus sprung the idea for this week’s blog.
So this week I am writing on where to find both practice and performance clothing for male dancers, but also I’m going to talk about just making your own. Disclaimer: this blog was written in January of 2017, so any website link is current at that time. Being a mom of male dancers, finding dancewear in an actual store in a smaller town is all but impossible. Occasionally, if you are willing to pay for it, you can have your monopoly store order you something and take their cut too, so I will turn to the internet to find practice wear and performance wear. Now, why the title? Well, a secondary goal is to hopefully inspire you, as a Mom of a dancer, to learn to sew /craft some of your own things as well. I did have a few opportunities to do this for my daughter, most notably the ‘True Colors’ recital where I got to take a bunch of green outfits from Goodwill, a bunch of glitter and green craft supplies and make a stage full of Emerald city dancers, but female dancers are most often one of several and need to be uniform. Whereas boys don’t have to match and you may be presented with an opportunity to create. But before we get into all of that excitement, we should start with the boring stuff.
Let’s start with practice wear, because that is much easier to find. First off, compression wear is very in now for athletes of all sorts. Check your local store to see if you can conveniently find something that fits the dress code without the fuss. I also enjoy the dry wick options. These work well for all dance types generally with the exception of ballet, most ballet focused studios do have specific type and color expectations for their male dancers which may vary from studio to studio.
For ballet wear, you can find a great deal of options on the discount dancewear sites that will fit your needs. Generally they run true to size. For shoes, while your son’s feet are growing, I suggest going to the store directly because shoe sizes for online ordering are sized for females, which are different than men, so it’s difficult to get a good fit. Once you know their final size and preferred brand, then you can order online. As I have said in other blogs, Capezio and Bloch men’s tights are see through, so I don’t recommend you waste any money on those brands. I find that Sansha makes a nice tight for men. Their white tight dyes fairly well for colors too. This website carries some great choices as well, including the elusive ballet sock for men: http://boysdancetoo.com/. My favorite jazz pant for men is Capezio; however, their extra-large became too short when Jon reached 5’ 10”, so we switched to Motionwear, which makes longer pants. My boy is longer in the torso, so I really have him wear long compression wear athlete shirts because men’s dancewear shirts are generally too short. For a while I had a wonderful company I loved, loved, loved that would at no extra cost make any style of shirt or pants longer and any color you wanted but…
Sadness the day I went to order my son another tan biketard and found this. Now there is no other place that sells tan biketards the style he likes that I have found.
Ok, now let’s move to performance, starting with the easy part, tights. Men’s white tights, I recommend Sansha, which can be dyed to match what the teacher would like for a color fairly easily using RIT Dye. This site: http://www.welovecolors.com/Shop/MensPerformanceTights.htm does sell men’s performance tights, but I have never tried them as I have only had one time where I needed a color other than black or white.
All costume companies do have a small section for male dance options. If you are not a person who sews, your teacher will likely work hard to find you an option from the catalog. So, you can pay $60.00 for the vest you can make for $15.00 that is a much poorer quality. I have to say, I have been generally disappointed in most of the costumes from catalogs as they do not fit well and I have to take them apart and resew them anyway. You need to follow your teacher’s vision and most teachers I have worked with try to save you money, but I know that is not consistent across all studios. I’ve been lucky. Also, teachers don’t have control if the studio marks up the price to make a profit.
At this point, we are going to have a frank talk about money. It costs a lot to have a dancer, male or female. My experience has been that male dancers often cost more than the female due to overpricing (economics supply and demand thing) AND the fact that in my case I often have to pay a participation fee (which covers the female costuming, teacher time and venue) and then I have to go spend $100s on my son’s costume additionally. For my son’s performing company, each casting has an accompanying costume budget which is put in a lump pot for my son. So if I’m instructed to obtain say a tap costume and it takes me $120 to meet the teacher’s request, that $80 remains in the pot until the end of the season and may be used to spend more on his jazz costume. The problem with that practice is basically discrimination, it is costing more for my boy to participate in dance than the girls because I am still spending the money, I just can’t fundraise for it. That is a reality of male dance performance wear. I stopped at this point to chat to say when I started as Mom of male dancers, I could hem pants and sew on buttons, but by golly, I taught myself to sew because some other dance Mom, who adopted me and my kids convinced me that I could do this, and while sewing your own costume is not necessarily cheaper because the dance materials are expensive, it is a much, much better quality of costume than will be ordered for you. So if you have a serious dancer, don’t be overwhelmed by this sewing thing, I urge you to consider this as an option. Sewing costumes is different than other sewing. As my fellow dance moms will chant occasionally, “Ya can’t see a flea on a galloping horse!” This is my saying that I repeat all the time. A dance costume is viewed from far away on a moving target. If your seam is crooked, big whoop. If you didn’t match the pattern, whatever! Let me show you what I mean:
This handmade dress shirt with fringe, the seams were most certainly not straight and the fringe was often not caught in the seam when I sewed it. What? You can’t tell? Exactly! And quite frankly, he grew so much that season, and I did not choose stretchy material, that he ripped that shirt in the middle back from top to bottom on the last day of the recital.
For this handmade vest, I didn’t get the shoulders exactly matched so when I turned the vest a portion of the unfinished material needed to be whipped stitched to prevent fraying. The homemade dress pants, I am terrible at the fly so there is a hole at the base of the zipper. Can’t tell? No? Hmmm…
I made the vest, sash, pants (years ago reuse from Nutcracker) and armbands. The sash corners were not rounded well when I turned them and the piping on the vest had the ends sticking out. Again, you don’t see it? I’m sensing a pattern.
This purchased shirt had the girls’ hair ties cut up into shapes and hand sewn on while on my husband served as a dress form. In addition to the tiny blood droplets from where I accidently stuck my husband, the whipped stitching had bubbles since my son is thinner than my husband. Can’t see it? That’s because YA CAN’T SEE A FLEA ON A GALLOPING HORSE!
So let’s make the assumption that your director/ teacher trusts you to obtain the costume she has envisioned, before I decide to sew it, I do check out some places first. First, I always do a run by eBay just to see if what I need is there. Every now and again, I get lucky. The next place I go is my WISH app if the teacher wants just street clothing. Dresslily or WISH has some really cool clothes for guys for very reasonable pricing, far more reasonable than costume companies.
Next stop is Amazon, but I find Amazon is less reliable with their shipping if it’s coming from out of the country and their sizing is not always accurate. Don’t forget to stop by Halloween shops too.
This particular dress jazz pant is a good purchase for a grown male dancer, though rather expensive:
I recommend it because I find that often gentlemen are asked to wear black jazz pants, black dress jazz pants or black tights. You can have it available for year after year once they have finished growing. These are available on various websites so I’m not going to list a specific one.
Before we start this section, let me explain a quirk of my person. I see costume. When I watch a dance, hear a song, I see costume. So I actually do not enjoy dances if the teacher’s costuming vision conflicts significantly with what I might have envisioned. It’s not an ego thing, that I know costume better, no it’s just I hear a song and see a matching costume/outfit that would go with that. When I go a performance, I watch how the costume looks and moves first. It’s who I am. That’s why I love being able to watch my kids dance for an entire season, because I can get that part of my oddness out of my system early in the season and then actually watch the dance as the year progresses. I found when my kids who studied dance in college (oldest two so far have college dance degrees), I struggled with coming to see their piece one time as I couldn’t work through my quirk that way. I hear color, I hear flow, I hear sparkle vs. no sparkle, I hear costume. It sounds weird and most people can’t relate at all. I always wished I could be a costume mistress to a studio in my volunteer capacity. As I have moved through this world, I find not many other people can do this. Not to mention, I know how to adjust most costume problems. I love it when someone else is put in charge of costumes and they come consult me.
Let’s assume you get brave enough to try sewing, I wanted to show you some patterns with examples of results. I am not going in any particular order so I will try to include in the description if they are easy or more challenging to sew. You can do this! Regarding finding the right material, I often borrow the female counterpart’s costume so I can match color and go straight to the fabric store. Sometimes I have to order online, particularly brocade for vests. Again, there are a number of brocade and lycra sites you can buy for wholesale. Dance costumes often need a four way stretch material for at least part of the construction, which is best as a stretch knit or a lycra. Four way stretch means you can pick up the material and pull it every way and it will stretch. Other material comments I will talk about as I demonstrate the costume.
This pattern I used for a lovely Nutcracker jacket for the butler. I used a broadcloth that was on sale. Now broadcloth doesn’t allow for a great deal of movement so you will notice this is slightly big, but an open jacket is an option that is pinned to the vest or insert a panel on each side of the back of a stretch knit in matching color. I have also used this costume for dress jazz pants. Very easy to make and dance in, made from a two way stretch:
This pajama pattern might not look like it could become a dance costume but with some shiny lycra fabric, bam! You don’t even have to bother to hem lycra.
This pattern served me for both the male (D) and female (C) for this piece. A lovely two stretch fabric and a simple modification to the line of the hem got me the base of this costume.
I have used this pattern for the dress shirt, tie and vest. Often if a teacher wants your child to match the female dancers, they will accept one of those choices. I have actually modified the vest pattern so that it is one piece in the front too and stretch material in the back that he can place over his head.
As you can see I have done this for years. I have many more examples, so don’t let your heart fail when your teacher says, “I’d like a tangerine tie” or “I’d like a lemon yellow dress shirt.” You’re not going to find it, not. Not silver grey, not lime, not sparkle tie (I added sequins on the one pictured), not pin stripped, not velvet gray, not. They don’t generally respond to you handing them a box of 8 crayons and asking them to limit their choices to those colors either. Oh, if they want sequined material, attempt to redirect and if not successful, have extra sewing machine needles on hand as you will break some. Since I have most commonly made the shirt, vest and tie, these have become quite simple for me. (Note: the picture of my four children is one example where I was allowed to make my daughter’s musical theater costume)
Couldn’t find my example of this, but it makes a nice jazz shirt if the teacher wants the boy to match the girl exactly. Now the rub with that is the studio must order the material from the costume company, which requires a 2 yard minimum order at no less than $25.00 per yard so I do cringe when the teacher wants them to match exactly. I don’t see a need for the boy to blend, they are the boy and I think that is unique and should be celebrated, but that’s me.
This pattern is quite complex and expensive, but wow, did it look sharp on stage. You basically make two jackets, one from broadcloth and one from lining; neither are cheap materials and require several yards to complete. As he is under dressed with several layers for his transition, I had to make the jacket bigger. I could follow the pattern exactly since I didn’t modify and if you remember right sides together, everything works well. You just need patience. Don’t forget eBay for things like bulk brass buttons, epaulet, or trim to save money. This costume’s brass buttons are all different patterns; they are just the same size. Remember that flea and galloping horse?
This is one I am most proud of. Need a Flynn Rider from Rapunzel? Got it! You will notice this is a very modified pattern and for that I consult my genius sewing sister, Cheryl, who combined the collar with my wedding dress pattern from the early 90s, latches were mine by eye, accessories on cosplay websites. The fabric was upholstery, yup, upholstery, with heaviest interfacing. Dyed white tights. It looked perfect for the pas de deux of ‘I See The Light.’ Keep in mind this was attempted after years of sewing experience.
This particular one my son needed to be a pirate so I could follow the pattern exactly, which made it easy. A pirate shirt could be a ballet shirt; however, the shoulder for this style falls below the shoulder, so you would need to adjust that if you use this pattern. Your director may not like the ruffle either.
Don’t overlook female costume options either. Once you have mastered simple sewing techniques, you can remove the darts from the vest and lengthen it to make it a male version and have less hip in the pants to adjust to the male or making the pant shorter as I did for Russian.
30s song? Look for some stylized pants with a tie that matches the ladies dresses. The tie I used a regular pattern but eyed making it wider. Jon hated these pants because they were so skinny at the bottom he couldn’t change quickly.
I saved the best for last. I have used this ballet shirt since Jon was itty bitty so that this pattern is about disintegrated. Sometimes just open, sometimes with laces, sometimes as the pattern dictates, sometimes adding cuffs. It is the perfect poet’s shirt and quite easy as long as you remember right sides together. Yes, the collar often messes me up. I also lengthen from the pattern and I don’t cut the neck as much because Jon doesn’t like it that open.
With the popularity of Hamilton, here is a new pattern I bought; I can’t wait to use it:
Remember my little book written in the 50s? Well, she has patterns for men’s ballet costumes in there. Now this is way out of my league, so when I need this level of help I enlist my sister.
If you decide you want to try to sew something, here is my tip for the first time try:
- Buy a pattern that you do not have to modify at all, both style and size
- Go ahead and cut up the pattern, normally I cut under it so I can save pattern for later use
- Remember right sides together
- Matching thread is not as important as you think
- Read and reread before doing the instruction
- I wouldn’t pick a pattern with a collar first
- The back of the pattern lists fabric suggestions; stores have fabrics classified in different ways so bring along a sewing friend for your first fabric buy
- Notions is on the back of the pattern; this means buttons, zipper, etc
- Lay out the pattern on the fabric and pin before you cut to be sure they fit
- Sometimes things have to be taken apart and done again; that’s ok just have a good seam ripper
- YouTube is full of ladies wanting to help you sew so if you don’t understand a term- google it
Hopefully I have given some resources to Moms of male dancers so that you don’t have to rely solely on costume companies as your only resource for costumes. More importantly, I hope you want to try to sew a costume for your dancer. I can’t describe the joy I feel seeing my boy dancing in my creation. I also cherish the look he has on his face when I complete a costume for him and when other dancers comment on his costume. He is proud that his mother can sew and she made this thing that only he has. In a time when it’s difficult to get your boy to talk and you are often butting heads about many different topics, we have this one thing and I wouldn’t trade it for the world.