by Heather Turbeville
What’s better than a holiday show with Sugar Plum fairies, penguins, and peppermint patties? A holiday show that doesn’t require students to buy all of those costumes.
All 200 students at Dance With Miss Lindsay in Palm Springs, California, rent costumes that range from T-shirts and leggings to platter tutus with sequined bodices from the studio for its annual holiday showcase.
Why rent to students? When studio owner Lindsay Kaufmann founded the showcase nine years ago, she figured that providing rental costumes would differentiate her studio from others in the area. “My clients love it,” she says, and not just because they save money: they also tell her, “We don’t need 500 costumes in our house.”
But how does Kaufmann handle the logistics of buying, storing, and keeping track of the costumes, not to mention ensuring that students return them?
Fees and contracts. Rentals are $30 per costume. All parents sign a contract stating that they will be charged a $30 replacement fee for any costume that is not returned. Kaufmann keeps a list of who has and hasn’t returned costumes and keeps reminding the people who haven’t to bring them back. She estimates that just 2 percent of costumes aren’t returned. “Sometimes we get them back, and they’re torn or dirty,” she says. “I try not to judge and take care of what I need to.”
Distribution. Prior to the performance, students ages 6 and younger receive a Ziploc bag containing the costume and a printout detailing needed shoes and tights, and arrive at the show dressed and ready to perform. Older students find their costumes (properly labeled) hanging in the venue’s dressing room.
Cleaning. Students are told not to wash the costumes. Kaufmann takes care of necessary hand washing, spot cleaning, and dry cleaning.
Backstage logistics. Backstage staff put headpieces on students just before they go onstage, and supervise students with costume changes.
Quality control. Older dancers must hang costumes back up before they are allowed to leave the dressing room at the show’s close. “I’ve trained them,” Kaufmann says, “so they know.”
Communication. Parents begin receiving Constant Contact emails with costume instructions and reminders three months before the show. A handbook in the lobby also explains all policies.
Logistics. Kaufmann tags all costumes and stores them offsite. She keeps both a written database and a visual catalog of the number of units and sizes.
Casting. Choosing who does what dance depends on the number of students in each class and the size of the dancers. “Typically, when I costume the kids, I costume the heaviest kids first,” Kaufmann says, making sure that the costume that goes with a class’ dance will be one that all students are comfortable wearing.
Creative costuming is a must. If she has three blue, three white, and three gray costumes available, she’ll put them together in a lyrical piece. For a tap number, some dancers might wear dresses while others wear shorts, but the colors will coordinate.
Bottom line. Kaufmann sets a budget for costumes—and won’t spend over it. “We’ve got to make it work,” she says. Any profit she makes off rentals goes right back into the program to purchase new costumes. Her main “profit” is the loyalty of her clientele. “I want clients for a lifetime, not just a season or a performance,” she says. “If you make people feel really comfortable and welcome and good, they’ll stay with you.”
Kaufmann is thinking of giving students 8 and younger their costumes ahead of time next year and changing the fee to $50, $20 of which would be refundable upon returning the costume. Older dancers would still get their costumes at the theater.
“It’s a great thing,” she says of her costume rental program, but “you need to be really organized and not get upset if something happens to a costume.”
DSL copy editor Heather Turbeville holds an MFA in creative writing and literature from Emerson College. She lives in San Francisco, where she writes fiction, studies belly dance, and performs with The Zakiyya Dancers.