• The Australian Ballet’s fave practice gear
    Photo by Lynette Wills from 'Step Inside: The Australian Ballet'
  • The Australian Ballet’s fave practice gear
    Vivienne Wong with artists of The Australian Ballet. Photo by Christopher Tovo

The Australian Ballet’s fave practice gear

Ballet. It’s not all bun-heads and sequins, puffed tulle and fairy wings. Sure, the onstage costume-side of operations is dreamy and magical and helps transport dancers and audience members to another world, but there’s another side to dressing up that dancers put just as much thought into: what on earth do you wear day-to-day when your office is a rehearsal studio?

When Rodarte unveiled their vulture-inspired onstage designs for Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan, who couldn’t help an involuntary gasp of pleasure at their sheer ravishing inventiveness? But just as importantly, Amy Westcott, the costume designer for the film as a whole, put a ton of work and thought into what company members were wearing in the studio.

So, which designers do dancers at The Australian Ballet favour for the everyday? In a random poll of female dancers from all ranks of the Ballet, one name emerged over and over in the number one position: Yumiko, Yumiko, Yumiko. If you dance, you won’t be surprised. And if you do a little research into Black Swan, you’ll find that Westcott engaged Yumiko to custom-make a variety of everyday wear for the film on advice from dancers at New York City Ballet and American Ballet Theatre.

Understandably, things need to feel good when you’re moving and grooving in them for hours on end, and this seems to be the key to Yumiko’s appeal. Launched in 2002, the handmade label is the creation of Japanese dancer Yumiko Takeshima, who is now a principal with Semper Oper Ballett in Germany.

The dancers of The Australian Ballet gave it up en masse for the label. For Corps de Ballet member Alice Topp, Yumiko is a one-stop shop “for all things awesome” while Senior Artist Juliet Burnett explains that “you can custom-order your own colours in her beautifully handmade leotards, which are the comfiest EVER”. So popular is the label with The Australian Ballet’s dancers that hunting down Yumiko’s Tokyo store was the first point of call on the company’s recent tour to Japan, winning out over visits to Disneyland or cultural sightseeing.

The use of Chacott ‘sauna’ or ‘garbage-bag’ pants also increased rapidly after the company’s Tokyo/Nagoya tour (Chacott is another Japanese-based brand). “Plastics do keep you warm and they give you a great Flashdance vibe,” explains Coryphée Dana Stephensen. “And they make swooshy noises when you move! I find a coiffed side fringe and high ponytail really completes the look … I am an 80s kid after all.”

Coryphée Kismet Bourne likes to wear swimsuits as leotards, favouring Jets by Jessika Allen; Juliet Burnett has found that Stella McCartney has created a beautiful range for adidas. Bloch. Wearmoi. Capezio. Sansha. American Apparel. Even Target! The list goes on.

There is one kind of practice gear that’s hard to come by. It takes years of dancing and working with the one company to get your hands on such an outfit. We’re talking about hand-me-downs. “Some garments have been handed down by dancers for generations,” says Corps de Ballet member Brooke Lockett. “There is something lovely and comforting about that.”

Who’s your favourite designer for everyday dance?




15 March 2011

11 Responses to The Australian Ballet’s fave practice gear

  1. Jen says:

    curious to know how any of the AB dancers FIT into the Target dancewear range, which only goes up to a 14 (or MAYBE a 16) in the KIDS sizes! I mean, I know some AB dancers are small, but surely they’re not THAT small!
    I have to say that for dancewear, as a former plus-size person, it always frustrated me that if you wanted to buy ready-to-wear dancewear, you had a choice of black, black or black, and maybe long or short sleeves, and that was in the overseas, bought-on-line ranges. Here in Oz, they seemed to think that their XL range MIGHT fit, but in fact it is equivalent to a street-wear size 12-14. So no: my size 18-22 body would NEVER fit into one of those leotards offered to me by the salesgirls at Bloch or Energetiks or Sansha. (Getting tights to fit was quite an adventure too, I should say!)
    I also developed a very useful technique of NOT looking at myself in the mirror in class.
    On the other hand, making my own became quite fun. Jalie (from Canada) has a lovely range of dance (and ice-skating) patterns and Kwik-Sew’s patterns are nice too. Both are multi-sized and are quite easy to whip up!
    I just wish that some of the prettier ranges I see advertised in the dance magazines were available in slightly larger sizes.

  2. kittywalker says:

    Hi Jen, the ladies specified that they fancied Target for the best (and most reasonably priced) black tights and track-pants, rather than the kids’ dancewear range. You’re right, our company isn’t that small!

  3. Charlotte says:

    Fascinating. Love the contrast between the perfection of dancers’ costumes on stage and the well-loved, oft-shredded and insouciant slouchiness of rehearsal gear.

  4. Your Mother says:

    It’s lovely for convenience sake that you have links to the brands in question, but you should probably put a content warning on the American Apparel link if your main audience is young dancers. I mean, they have most likely seen boobs before, but it’s better to warn. And some of the ads could have a lot of younger girls asking some very awkward questions at home.

  5. kittywalker says:

    Hello Your Mother, many thanks for bringing this to our attention. On this occasion we’ve opted to remove the American Apparel link.

  6. Pingback: Designing for the stage: an Interview with Yumiko Takeshima

  7. Dianne says:

    Really enjoy all these posts!

  8. Marni says:

    Does anyone know where to purchase the pale pink shredded pants pictured above from? Or anything similar. Many thanks.

  9. Yani says:

    re: Your Mother,

    are you for real? what exactly will dancers see on the American Apparel site that they don’t in classes? shaming the female body/sexual expression is just disgusting on your part. why repress, rather than explain and educate, this doesn’t progress society.

    I doubt you have no idea what kids look at on the internet anyway, and to make a blatant generalisation as you did, not many young adults would ask questions anyway.


  10. ewrt says:

    As I sought out gear when I began venturing into ballet not too long ago, being completely new I bought a leotard in a small size, considering I buy everything I wear in a small size, as in UK dress sizes I am a 6/8. However when this leotard arrived not only could I not fit into it due to being simply not skinny enough but I was too tall, and I’m 5’3. I should have figured considering how small the physique usually is of experienced dancers, but I was quite disappointed at the lack of information the website had on measurements of the small size, and how the standards are so much higher for bodily structure and size especially for beginners.

  11. Carmen Angerer says:

    Hi ewrt,
    When you purchase any exercise clothing online, it’s a good idea to know the brand and how they size small, medium and large before you buy. If you have a dance shop near, you may want to scout out a style and fit that is perfect for your body. As we are all different shapes and sizes, you want to make sure your leotard is comfortable because you’ll be moving around in it a lot for class. There are a variety of leotard styles and shapes, not just small, medium and large, due to the fact that some of us are taller (or shorter) than others. I suggest you send back the leotard and find a style that is the perfect fit, before you buy. Good luck and happy dancing!

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