#FromTheSQJudgesChair – Choosing the Right Costume

September 13th, 2019 by Elizabeth Radabaugh


CostumeChoosing the right costume is important for the overall atmosphere of the piece. The main goal of a costume is to support the piece’s intention and move the story forward. Picking garments that are aesthetically pleasing, stylized to the piece and flattering to the performer, can be tricky. Here are some great tips to get you through the stress of picking out costumes for 2020!



To finish the picture of any routine, the costume needs to be visually appealing. You want to make your dancers look gooood! Start by asking yourself, “What kind of emotion do I want the audience to feel?”  Build your color pallet from there. CostumeBe mindful of the emotions you’re trying to convey. Red and pink can be romantic while neutral tones like taupe and grey can be calm and soothing. If you’re looking for more of a pedestrian feel, try using multiple colors and textures. However, just beware it can make a performance look messy and out of sync if not properly coordinated.

Think of the routine as an overall picture. Does everything go together? Does the prop, garment, hair-piece and shoes complement each other in one cohesive statement? The fabric or color scheme does not have to matchbut it should complement the choreography. Be conscious of the overall shape and silhouette of the costume, which brings me to my next topic.


Body Lines

CostumeAs dancers, we are constantly watching the lines of our bodies. The mirror helps us see if we are doing something right or wrong. When deciding on a costume for your students, one must be aware of the line that the garment is creating. Long skirts and footed tights tend to elongate the line of the body, while cut-off pants and rolled up tights visually shorten one’s figure. Use optical illusions when picking costumes. Hour-glass patterns are becoming more popular with leotards and bodysuits because they automatically give the illusion of a synched waist.

If you’re choosing a pair of pants for your dancers, consider choosing a shoe that best complements the line of the leg. For example, a black pair of pants with a black pair of shoes tricks your eyes into thinking the line of the leg is longer than it is.  However, if you want to highlight an area of the body you would choose a bright stark color. Think of the white pair of gloves mimes wear. The bright white color highlights the mime’s hand movements while your eyes can look at nothing else. Watch how your costume draws your eye and make sure your giving your students the best costume that complements their bodies.



CostumeThe style of the costume should directly relate to the theme of your routine. Perhaps you’ve chosen a roaring 20’s Charleston inspired number. Would you have them wear a button up shirt and jeans? No, you would obviously have them in fabulous fringe flapper dresses. This drives the story forward and sets the stage for the narrative you’re telling through dance. The important thing to remember is to do your research. Make sure that your chosen era of inspiration is accurate, clear, and authentic. Look at the “normal” styles of that decade. How can you manipulate it into a dance costume? If you’re inspired to use a modern style, you can draw upon current TV shows, music videos or magazines. Puzzle your look together with accent pieces and build the garments together. This creates a new and unique style of costuming specific to your dancers. Your costume style should set the stage for your story and timeframe.


While there are many things to consider when choosing your students’ costume’s, the main idea is to make them look amazing in all aspects; artistically, physically and aesthetically. Consider every angle of your decision. Be sure to think things through thoroughly to avoid problems down the road. Ask yourself, “Does this costume support the piece’s intention and does it move the story forward?”. From there, you can enrich any routine with a fabulous and unique costume!


Marissa Staniec is a performer, choreographer, teacher and adjudicator for StarQuest with over 20 years of experience in the dance industry. She also hosts, writes and produces her own podcast on iTunes called “Beyond the Mirror: A Dancer’s Podcast”.


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