Performance Memories Part I: Costume Fails

The beginning of May means its performance season- our spring dance recital is about three and a half weeks away. Performances can be stressful for dancers, no matter how experienced, but the more you dance on stage, the easier it becomes to adapt to any mishaps, mistakes, or costume troubles. I thought I’d take some time this month and share some of my performance memories- the good, the bad, and the ugly. Today, I’ll focus on the worst costumes I’ve had to wear.

Teachers should take their time choosing a costume for a particular piece- one that fits all dancers, works with the theme and message of the dance, stays within a set budget, and of course is age appropriate. Sometimes teachers take their students’ opinions into consideration, but ultimately, have the final say. This means, not every dancer is going to like every costume they wear, but most look great on stage. Not every costume works however and I have some stories that I love to share:

  • When I was about 8 or 9 years old, I performed a tumbling routine to a Mickey Mouse version of “Whoop there it is”- straight out of the early ’90s. We wore a two piece costume with multi colored ruffles on both the top and bottom. Other than it being questionably age-appropriate with the bare midriff, its biggest problem for most dancers was that it was just a sign of the times. However, for my scrawny self, the ruffled bikini style bottoms were too big and made me look like I had a full load in my pants. Luckily, my aunt was able to alter to help it, but it still never looked great on me.


  • It’s now the late ’90s and I’m in middle school. Our school dance department’s spring performance was themed around the future as we approached the new millennium. For our modern/jazz class, our teacher had chosen a trendy costume, though it was quite impractical, and honestly, quite hideous. We wore these halter dresses that had blue crushed velvet bodices and a skirt that was this white vinyl-y faux leather material. It felt weird, the halter top was not sturdy, and a dress was not the best option for the piece with lots of inversions and floor work. Gross.


  • Another horrible middle school costume came when I was in 8th grade. My dance studio was putting on a production of Cinderella and I was cast as a horse with one other classmate. Now, the color choice for our costume was the first questionable decision. The director could have chosen a dark brown shade, but instead, she chose tan. Think nude for a Caucasian- i.e. both dancers. We wore nude unitards on stage with the headdresses that my mom created to the best of her ability, but regardless, it didn’t look good. In my aunt’s words, we looked like “naked Indians” from the audience. If that wasn’t bad enough, remember that we are in middle school dealing with puberty and the many changes  that come with that- suffice it to say I was uncomfortable and nervous that entire performance.


  • My time in my high school’s dance department brought a few crazy costumes and challenges. One year, my teacher tried to create Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory through dance. The piece was a colossal failure at best and we were wearing street clothes, many of them not meant for dancing. My classmate, who portrayed Violet -the character who turns into a blueberry- wore a halter dress and danced with a large yoga ball. During her solo, her halter strap broke, she almost had a Janet Jackson moment and had to run off stage and tape her dress back together. I was an oompa loompa and had to spray my hair green (in the movie it was orange but okay?) for every. single. on stage rehearsal. My hair had green in it for weeks after. Another year, the same teacher decided it would be cool for a modern dance for us to wear tutus that had sections rubber banded to create a messy look- it was not cute.

Throughout the years, I’ve had plenty of fabulous costumes and even more unmemorable ones, but I always reach for these stories when my dancers complain that their costume is too itchy/poofy/boring/ugly/whatever. When choosing costumes myself, I try to take everyone’s body shape/size, their age, and the movements of their piece into great consideration. Oftentimes, I struggle to choose a costume or reject one that my colleagues might have chosen because I don’t think my dancers will be comfortable- I don’t need them to like it, but I do need them to feel good wearing it, or their dancing suffers.

Stay tuned for more performance memories including dealing with small performance spaces, onstage mishaps, and more. No pictures for the worst costumes, but there will be some for other memories 🙂


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