Meet The Ailey Dancer With A Side Gig Designing His Coworkers' Wedding Dresses

March 25, 2018

It’s widely known how jam-packed an Ailey dancer’s schedule is: the company averages between 175 and 200 performances each year. So it’s hard to imagine that these artists have time for anything else.

Impressively, eight-year AAADT dancer Jermaine Terry has somehow maintained a second career in costume and clothing design. From wedding dresses to one-of-a kind evening gowns for Ailey galas, the self-taught designer is inspired by the challenge.

What He Has To Say:
Terry gave Dance Magazine the scoop on how, in the words of Project Runway’s Tim Gunn, he is able to “make it work.”

How did you get started in fashion and costume design?

“I had a sewing machine in college and would alter costumes to really fit dancers. I’d even dye costumes for pieces I choreographed. But I really started designing while I was in Ailey II, because I was too cheap to buy dancewear! I’d buy fabric and figure out how to make my own jazz pants—I remember choreographer Christopher Huggins commenting on how much he liked them.”

Ailey II, “Wings” choreographed by Jennifer Archibald (2013) costumes by Terry. Photo by Eduardo Patino.

Have you ever taken lessons?

“Never. I learned from books, watching YouTube, experimenting and asking the wardrobe people here at Ailey for help. I’m a perfectionist, so if I really have no idea I ask them for help first, instead of bringing in a disaster.”

What companies have you designed for?

“Ailey II, Philadanco, Eleone Dance Theatre, Jeremy McQueen’s Black Iris Project, and I’ve built costumes for AAADT. My favorite project was Black Iris, because Eric Winterling [founder of a well-known costume shop in New York that built the Wicked costumes] donated the costume construction and materials to Jeremy. So I didn’t have to scale any designs back due to time or money.”

Jermaine Terry
Ballet Noir costumes by Terry. Photo by Michael Koschinsky

How does being a dancer help you with creating costumes?

“Costume designers that don’t dance may have an eye for a look or trend, but may not understand that a certain fabric is restrictive, or doesn’t hold up over time, or the design covers leg lines. I know what makes the dancers look good from all angles. I also love to design for the individual, something they like and feel comfortable in.”

Tell us about the wedding dresses you’ve made—fellow Ailey dancer Sarah Daley-Perdomo’s dress was gorgeous and so unique!

“I’ve made four wedding dresses for friends now. It was a lot of on-the-job training! Sarah wanted to incorporate something from her mom’s dress, but it had poofy sleeves, polyester fabric and was crumpled in a bag in the closet turning yellow. We took all the lace off and bought the rest of the materials in the garment district in New York. I built her dress while on tour in Europe, and had to travel with two suitcases—one just for Sarah’s dress!”

Jermaine Terry
Terry with Daley-Perdomo in the wedding gown he designed. Courtesy Terry

How do you fit sewing into your dance schedule?

“I start sewing when I wake up, before class. I sew during lunch in Ailey wardrobe, then after rehearsal…I sew. Even during intermissions if I have time after the first ballet, I’ll sew before getting ready for the next piece. Occasionally I’ll have friends help me when it gets to crunch time, but somehow I get it all done. I still have so much I want to learn!”

Jermaine Terry
Terry’s costumes for Waheed Works. Photo by Johanna Austin