Dancing in a dress

In dance class and rehearsal, you’re probably decked out in a leotard and tights or leggings and a tank top.  But when you perform in a competition, recital, or musical, you might end up donning a skirted costume.  Whether you’re performing in a tutu, wrap dress, or leotard with fringe, you need to know how to make your skirt work with you—not against you.  Sounds obvious, right?  You rehearse in the proper shoes and with all your necessary props. But do you ever really practice in rehearsal wear similar to your costume? Probably not.  Dancing in a dress—like dancing in heels or with your hair down—is a great skill to have.  Here are three tips to help you master dancing in a dress:

  • Practice makes perfect. No matter the shape or length of your skirt, make sure you rehearse in your costume before the big performance or competition day.  Even a bit of weighted fabric can affect the physics of your turns and the height of your jumps.  It’s easy to get the heel of your character shoes caught in a floor-length dress. And the way you maneuver your port de bras when wearing a stiff tutu can be awkward if you’ve never practiced with it before.  You wouldn’t throw on a brand-new pair of dance shoes before performing on stage—make sure you’re just as comfortable and confident in your costume.
  • Work together. Not only do you have to figure out how to control your own skirt, but If you’re dancing in a group or with a partner, you have to understand your skirt in relation to them, and sometimes vice versa.  Work it out together so you don’t get messed up.  You want to make sure your tutu doesn’t scratch your partner during your assisted pirouette turns.  And a billowy skirt might cover your partner’s eyes when he lifts you above his head unless you both know the best way to maneuver the fabric. Rehearse together to make sure the costumes work seamlessly into the choreography.
  • The dress is the dance. The movement of the dress is just as much part of the choreography as whatever your body is doing.  The longer the skirt, the more you have to be in control of where it’s going as you turn, kick, and leap across the stage.  Especially if you’re performing an ensemble number, if the skirts are flying in all different directions, it doesn’t matter how precise your physical choreography may be because the picture as a whole will look a mess.  Practice the precision of your dress—every shake, throw, spin, and kick—so that your choreography looks like a beautifully moving piece of art with all the fabric flowing with intention and in unison.

Dance teachers often discourage students from wearing skirts to class so that they can see your alignment and proper technique.  But it’s never a bad idea to keep a skirt in your bag and ask if you can throw it on for the last 10 minutes of class just for practice.  Mastering how to move with different costumes, shoes, and props will make you more comfortable and confident no matter what you’re dancing!

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