You have selected a dance school and signed up for ballet lessons. Now its time to shop for your ballet clothes!
Your dance school should provide you with a dress code and a list of stores to purchase the items you need. Don’t go online to buy your first ballet clothes – you will need to try things on and get help selecting styles and sizes. You will need at least one basic leotard, a pair of pink tights, and a pair of pink ballet shoes. If you will be taking more than one class weekly, you may need another set or two of tights and a leotard. Depending on the dress code, you may also wish to purchase a basic short wrap skirt and some simple warm-ups or cover-ups for walking in the halls between classes or for warming up before class. So let’s talk about what to shop for.
Before we get started, be forewarned that you may feel a bit strange in a leotard and tights at first. They look and feel very different than street clothes! A question that new female dancers are often too shy to ask is: Should I wear underwear and a bra under a leotard and tights? Most dancers consider the tights to be the underwear and most leotards are made with a lining or shelf bra attached. (Wearing dancewear is very similar to wearing a bathing suit.) If you are not comfortable with this and prefer additional layers, there are many options available specifically for dance that you may choose from. Body Wrappers, Natalie and Capezio offer boyshorts, thongs, bikini cuts, bra tops, leotard-cut underliners and unitard-cut underlines. These are all designed in fabrics and colors that fit discreetly under leotards or costumes and that are moisture-wicking. Do yourself a favor and don’t try to wear streetwear underclothes with your dancewear. Street styles are way too bulky and noticeable, and they can trap moisture and heat that can cause, ahem, issues.
Now for the fun stuff. For your first pink tights, ask for a convertible foot. These tights have a slit on the bottom of the foot so they can be rolled up to the ankle. This is invaluable if you are planning to take other dance classes, like modern or jazz. I would recommend choosing Body Wrappers, Capezio, Gaynor Minden or Bloch tights. These brands offer various fabric choices, so ask the sales person to let you feel the different fabrics and help you choose the proper size.
For your ballet leotard, you should choose something simple in a comfortable fabric and cut. A short sleeve or tank version with a high back is usually best for your first leo to avoid feeling too revealed and to be able to wear a bra if you prefer or need to. Some good leotard brands are Mirella, Body Wrappers, Capezio, Bloch, Grishko, Freed, Sansha and Natalie.
Next your pink ballet shoes. Soft ballet shoes are made in satin, leather and canvas. If your dress code does not specify, try leather or canvas which are what most students wear. Ballet shoes should cover the toes, sides of the foot and heel. The sales person should help you find a size that does not bag around your foot but does not cramp your foot either. For advanced students, I like to see elastic criss-crossed from heel to arch, but on a beginner, I recommend just one elastic across the arch of the foot. Ask the sales person if they sell any shoes with elastic pre-sewn. Look for ballet shoe brands like Fuzi, Angelo Luzio, Capezio, Bloch, Sansha, Freed, Grishko and Principal.
Ballet shoes come in split-sole and full-sole. That refers to the leather pad on the bottom of the shoe. A full-sole shoe has a strip of leather in a footprint shape while a split sole has a pad on the ball of the foot and one on the heel. The idea is that a split-sole highlights and enhances the look of the foot’s arch while increasing ease of motion. It does, but note that a full-sole offers resistance on the arch that can be useful for pointe preparation.
Now to accessorize. Does your dress code allow for a short skirt? If so, make sure you know what colors are acceptable and if there is a minimum or maximum length. If the dress code just says “short”, look for a one-layer skirt no shorter than ten inches and no longer than fifteen. Basically, you want a length that covers the bottom of you leotard when you are standing still, maybe an inch or two longer if you like the look. The most common cut of a ballet skirt is a wrap style that you will cross in the front and tie in the back. If you don’t want that hassle, some pull-on styles are available. Look for delicate chiffon, georgette or tulle fabrics that flow when you move and swirl when you twirl!
Now for your warm-ups. Most teachers do not allow warm-ups during class, but they are great for protecting the muscles after class during cool down and between classes. They also protect against cold A/C. Some warm-ups double as cover-ups. Warm-up options are so numerous, I can’t possibly list them all, but some options include legwarmers, wrap tops, shrug tops, tunics, knit tights, warm-up dresses, knit skirts and shoulder wraps. Try on different styles to find what you like best.
At any age, it is really inappropriate to walk to or from the studio in nothing but a leo and tights. You should bring either a change of clothes or cover-up outfit to wear to and from the studio. A simple cotton dress that you can slip over the head works well for this, as does a sweatsuit.
If you have a gym bag, that should be suitable for your ballet gear. If not, you will definitely want to purchase a medium-sized bag that can fit a change of clothes, a water bottle, your purse and your ballet shoes and warm-ups.
Lastly, your hair. Most ballet schools require that females wear their hair pulled up off the face in a bun or french twist. You should can pick up hairpins, elastics, hairnets and anything else you need at a local drugstore or at the store where you purchase your dancewear.
You have everything you need for your first ballet lesson! Be sure to allow enough time before your class to change into your dancewear and style your hair. And get ready to enter an exciting world of art, emotion, strength and unparalleled beauty. In my next post, I’ll tell you what to expect during your first class!