A sentimental (and horrifying) look at the dance styles of my life
By Diane Gudat
I no longer wear what most people would label as dancewear. These days, if my T-shirt in any way matches the stripes on my workout pants, I consider it a Rachel Zoe kind of day. The only possible way I would wear tights would be with a skirt of the same color and knee-high boots. As for a leotard, it would be cruel to subject not just my students but also Lycra itself to my over-30-something (ahem) body. So, frightened by an Oprah episode focusing on the dangers of hoarding, I decided to clear out the storage boxes labeled “Diane’s Dancewear.”
With trepidation, I lifted the top of box number one. It was stuffed with tights of every color, including one pair in a bright shimmery yellow. I remember wearing them with a long-sleeved black leotard, hand-painted yellow ballet slippers, and a black skinny belt that ran under my leotard in the back, came out the leg holes, and fastened in the front to make a faux “French cut” look. Another pair of tights, in ballet pink, had the feet and crotch cut off so I could wear them as a top, layered under my black camisole leotard. Digging deeper, I found multiple camisole shelf-bra tops, remembrances from my “one more layer of clothing might disguise my extra weight” period of style.
Then I saw it! At the bottom of the tub was one fabulous hot-pink, braided terry-cloth headband. The matching zipper jumpsuit was nowhere to be found, but I could picture myself in it perfectly. I slipped the headband on—straight across my forehead, of course—and my foot immediately popped to a perfect parallel passé.
I remember feeling so cool in this amazing ensemble. I was obviously the envy of all in my aerobic dance class as we danced to Jody Watley’s “Looking for a New Love.” I liked the look so much that I costumed an entire jazz class in oversized jersey zipper jumpsuits with contrasting slouchy ankle socks and headbands. Each dancer wore a combination of primary colors, including the laces of their white oxford jazz shoes. I proudly took this group to perform at the mall, where they performed two successive pieces by stacking their shiny purple-and-hot-pink striped leotards under their jumpsuits.
Eagerly I popped the top off the second box and there were my ripstop pants—maroon and navy, black and pink. Oh, how I loved them! They were not cool, of course, unless you rolled the top over a half-inch elastic belt. The perfect ripstop look also included slouchy leg warmers pushed down around the ankles. I remember topping off the look with a zipper-front leotard and a curly perm.
Sharing this box was my next phase of layering, the knitted full-body warm-up. This one was black, and it never fit the way it did on the girl in the catalog; it stretched where it should have bloused and never achieved that perfect saggy look. I am sure the problem was a flaw in the knitting pattern and not my dance physique.
Also there were the only pants I have ever purchased with writing across the rear end. Made of thick, black, glossy Lycra, they said “5678,” which might very well have been my measurements at the time. It could be my own insecurities, but I have never felt that the derriere is an appropriate billboard. Around that time I also purchased a pair of underwear that had a dance motif on the rear. Growing up in Indiana, I usually went a little over the top when faced with dance-related retail that was not available at the dancewear stores at home.
At the bottom of the tub was one fabulous hot-pink, braided terry-cloth headband. The matching zipper jumpsuit was nowhere to be found, but I could picture myself in it perfectly.
The third box was full of old recital T-shirts. I immediately conjured up the pride of designing the logos on the kitchen table and thinking how beautiful they looked when I picked them up at the printer. Of course, this was always a few sleep-deprived days before the recital, when I thought anything that was finished on schedule was beautiful. There were purple, yellow, lime green, and black versions, tie-dyed, splattered, three-quarter-sleeved works of art. There were even some that, in an early attempt to save money, I had silkscreened myself. I have always intended to frame the shirtfronts or have them sewn into a keepsake quilt by that place that advertises in the Sky Mall catalog. I wonder, though, if I would be able to relax under the pressure of a constant reminder of so many recitals gone by.
Next, I found all my old studio sweatshirts. A few had the neck holes cut larger, one had the sleeves cut to make fringe, and one still had a plastic circle at the bottom to pull the fabric through and knot at the side. One sweatshirt had been cut up the front to make it into a jacket of sorts. Some were embellished with puffy paint and rhinestones, while others were autographed by students or teachers from conventions.
These sweatshirts also reflected a wide range of sizes that had felt comfortable at various times—pre-pregnancy smalls, extra larges for the “baby” years, and mediums after that. I remembered the first time I bought a shirt for my daughter that matched mine. I laugh when I remember how all those designs and alterations were so important to making me fit in and feel good about myself.
The last box contained shirts and memorabilia from performances, events, and Broadway shows I have attended. I remember needing the shirts to make the event last in my mind and to let people know that I was more special for the experience. There were coffee cups with every dance quote imaginable (gifts from students over the years), a road sign that said “Broadway” that I picked up on my first trip to New York, and endless Playbills and ticket stubs, a few with stage-door autographs. I found my daughter’s first Playbill and ticket for Beauty and the Beast and grinned at the “huge” $45 price.
I dug out a light-blue satin studio jacket and a jean jacket, covered with rhinestones and airbrushed with my company’s first logo. A large envelope held pictures of my smiling dancers in their required leotards, with bangs sticking straight up, along with promotional photos of my first performance company. Some of these dancers are now among the proud parents whose children are in my classes. I found a pin commemorating my students’ performance at Disney World and a book of notes from my first national convention.
All of this made me laugh about dance fashion over the years. I thought about how annoyed I’d be when my daughter would come home from a convention with one pant leg rolled up or her sock halfway off her foot. There was a time when a two-inch part on the left or a French braid down the back completed her world.
With a secret smile, I am thrilled to see that leg warmers have made a fashion comeback. Headbands made of plastic or pre-wrap adorn my dancers’ heads, and they hearken back to the day of the matching scrunchie. Train cases gave way to Caboodles of every color, shape, and size, which have now been replaced by rolling Stanley toolboxes and portable dressing rooms. We have seen rhinestones mounted on spiral hair picks or glued to the part in the hair, the corners of the eyes, and fingernails. Spray glitter, hair Bumpits, and colored hairpins are standard equipment.
In the end, I condensed my stash, but only a bit. Just in case, I kept one of every style. Who knows when the Smithsonian might call? I threw very little away, but how could I? The ’80s are back, and I just might be cool again soon.