Starting a Dancewear Line is Trickier Than You Might Think
Launching a dancewear line seems like a great way for professional dancers to flex new artistic muscles and make side money. Several direct-to-consumer brands founded by current or former professional dancers, like Elevé and Luckleo, currently compete with bigger retailers, like Capezio.
But turning your brand into the next Yumiko is more challenging than some budding designers may realize.
When the Business Grows Faster Than You Can Keep Up With
Abigail Mentzer Designs, which sells what it calls the original slinky skirt, largely looks like a success story. Started by Mentzer in 2007 in her apartment, the brand steadily grew into a business with a manufacturer and part-time employees. Mentzer says the company has sold nearly 30,000 skirts.
Yet Mentzer shut down the store today and is in the process of trying to sell the brand. She says keeping up with the demand for the skirts, especially while continuing to perform, has been daunting. And financially, she's never been able to make much profit.
"It's just become something that doesn't spark joy," Mentzer says. "I'm hopeful that in the right hands it'll continue to succeed and grow, and I'll be a part of it somehow." She'd like to continue working on the brand under a new owner.
Abigail Mentzer dancing for Tom Gold in 2011, wearing one of her skirts
Mentzer, a former soloist with Pennsylvania Ballet, started making the skirts when she was in the corps there. Fellow dancer Martha Chamberlain, who is now a full-time costume designer, invited Mentzer to come to her studio, play with fabric and try out some ideas.
Mentzer made her version of what she calls an ice-skater skirt, cut high on the sides with slinky fabric, and gave them to some of her friends in the company.
"They loved them and started asking for them for friends. It just spread like wildfire," she says.
From the beginning, Mentzer was uncomfortable with the business aspect. Determining what the skirts were worth was difficult and she felt awkward charging her friends. She waited about four years to incorporate as a business.
She saw the skirts more as an artistic and therapeutic venture. She loved coming home from rehearsal and sewing for a few hours, and producing a tangible artistic product.
Mentzer opening a shipment of skirts
"It felt so good to make something and see it afterwards," she says. "As opposed to being in the studio dancing, where you make something and you never get to see it."
She eventually enlisted a factory in New York City for help to keep up with demand, which made her feel frustratingly out of control. She describes lost fabric orders that cost her thousands of dollars, and once coming home to find a shipment waiting outside her apartment in the rain with the skirts bursting out of ripped cardboard boxes, strewn on her steps and the sidewalk.
The popularity of the skirts was encouraging, but it eventually became its own problem. Around 2013, she noticed other brands selling very similar designs. She consulted lawyers but learned that she couldn't protect the design of the skirt.
"I was told to just be the better business, that's how I could fight it," she says.
When Mentzer joined the national tour of Phantom of the Opera in 2013, she hired part-time staff to handle the day-to-day operations. Still, managing the business from the road was challenging. Pretty soon, she felt she didn't want to keep the business going, but didn't know how to abandon what she'd built.
"I didn't know the first thing about selling a company," she says. "I had just figured out how to start one."
Finding Your Audience Isn't a Guarantee
Starting a dancewear line while still dancing requires serious time management, says Erica Sabatini, founder of CÔTÉ COUR dancewear. A former first soloist with Carolina Ballet, Sabatini left the company in 2011 to work in fashion. She earned a degree in fashion merchandising from Meredith College then spent time interning for fashion brands and working in retail before working full-time on the selling side for fashion houses in New York City.
But when she launched her dancewear line, she didn't have a ready network of dancers to wear the leotards and spread the word by taking class and posting on social media.
"I had to work much harder to get the word out," says Sabatini, who credits her Instagram with early sales.
The inspiration for her line was to "elevate" what professional dancers wear with sexy, fashion-oriented design and high-quality fabric. To make that level of product viable however, her price point was $145 for a leotard.
"My measure of success wasn't profit; it was the positive reaction from the community," she says. "I would have designed something different, appropriate for students, if money was the goal."
After three years, she recently decided to put sales on hold as she makes some professional changes to her other fashion work and ponders the next evolution of CÔTÉ COUR.
Lia Cirio modeling for CÔTÉ COUR.
The Basic Question: Is it for Passion or Profit?
Mentzer wound up keeping her company going for the three years she was on tour and for a year that she spent freelancing out of New York City. Her sketchbook of other design ideas kept growing, but consumer desire for the skirts meant she put all her time and money into them, not expanding the product line.
"I couldn't get out from underneath the demand for the skirts," she says.
Before launching a line, Sabatini suggests figuring out if the product is for passion or for profit, and she recommends spending time interning in the fashion industry to understand what will be involved as the business grows.
"You need to see how product goes from point A to point B," she says. "Someone else may be sewing but they'll have questions and you'll need to know what you're talking about."
Mentzer is proud she introduced a new look for rehearsal skirts. She just didn't realize how hard it would be to be a business manager while dancing.
Though she's had ups and downs, she doesn't regret the journey.
"As dancers, we stand in front of a mirror all day long, thinking we might look good in this look or that piece," she says, "and I made mine."
Thirty years ago, U.S. Joint Resolution 131, introduced by congressman John Conyers (D-MI) and Senator Alphonse D'Amato (R-NY), and signed into law by President G. W. Bush declared:
"Whereas the multifaceted art form of tap dancing is a manifestation of the cultural heritage of our Nation...
Whereas tap dancing is a joyful and powerful aesthetic force providing a source of enjoyment and an outlet for creativity and self-expression...
Whereas it is in the best interest of the people of our Nation to preserve, promote, and celebrate this uniquely American art form...
Whereas May 25, as the anniversary of the birth of Bill "Bojangles" Robinson is an appropriate day on which to refocus the attention of the Nation on American tap dancing: Now therefore, be it resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress that May 25, 1989, be designated "National Tap Dance Day."
Happy National Tap Dance Day!
The way we create and consume dance is changing every day. Now more than ever, the field demands that dancers not only be able to perform at the highest level, but also collaborate with choreographers to bring their artistic visions to life. Dancers who miss out on choreographic training may very well find themselves at a disadvantage as they try to launch their careers.
Over the past 15 years, Gesel Mason has asked 11 choreographers—including legends like Donald McKayle, David Roussève, Bebe Miller, Jawole Willa Jo Zollar, Rennie Harris and Kyle Abraham—to teach her a solo. She's performed up to seven of them in one evening for her project No Boundaries: Dancing the Visions of Contemporary Black Choreographers.
Now, Mason is repackaging the essence of this work into a digital archive. This online offering shares the knowledge of a few with many, and considers how dance can live on as those who create it get older.
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It's not often that a promising choreographer gets to stage work in a world-class theater, on a skillfully-curated program with professional dancers, and with the possibility of winning a substantial cash prize. But at the McCallum Theatre's Palm Desert Choreography Festival, that's been the status quo for over twenty years.
Since Shea New, the festival's artistic director, founded the festival in 1998, she's worked tirelessly with McCallum's director of education and festival producer, Kajsa Thuresson-Frary, and stage manager and festival production manager Joanna Fookes to build a festival that nurtures choreographers, highlights high quality work, powerfully engages the local community and cultivates an audience base for dance in the Coachella Valley. The trio is backed by a strong team of professionals at McCallum and the brilliant volunteers from the local and national level who serve as adjudicators.
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Daphne Lee was dancing with Collage Dance Collective in Memphis, Tennessee, when she received two difficult pieces of news: Her mother had been diagnosed with multiple myeloma cancer, and her father had Parkinson's disease, affecting his mobility and mental faculties.
The New Jersey native's reaction: "I really need to move home."
Summer is almost upon us, and whether you're a student about to go on break or a pro counting the days till layoff, don't forget that with warm weather comes a very serious responsibility: To maintain your cross-training routine on your own.
Those of us who've tried to craft our own cross-training routine know it's easier said than done. So we consulted the stars, and rounded up the best options for every zodiac sign. (TBH, you should probably consult an expert, too—we'd recommend a physical therapist, a personal trainer or your teacher.)
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But as routine as icing our injuries might be, the benefits are not actually backed up by scientific studies. And some experts now believe icing could even disrupt the healing process.
I'm a contemporary dancer, and I'm nervous about trying to get pregnant since I can't predict if it might happen during the middle of the season. We have a union contract that is supposed to protect us. But I'm scared because several of my colleagues' contracts weren't renewed for no particular reason. Having a big belly could be a big reason to get rid of me!
—Andrea, New York, NY
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The groups featured in the show, largely based around clubs and electronic dance music scenes, span the globe and respond to a variety of issues—from inequality and social stratification to racial divides to crackdowns on club culture itself.
Last night, longtime theater legends (including Chita Rivera herself!) as well as rising stars gathered to celebrate one of Broadway's danciest events: the third annual Chita Rivera Awards.
The evening paid tribute to this season's dancer standouts, fabulous ensembles, and jaw-dropping choreography—on- and off-Broadway and on film.
As usual, several of our faves made it into the mix. (With such a fabulous talent pool of nominees to choose from, we're glad that ties were allowed.) Here are the highlights from the winner's list:
When you're a foreign dancer, gaining legal rights to work in the U.S. is a challenging process. It's especially difficult if you're petitioning to work as a freelance dancer without an agent or company sponsorship.
The process requires professional muscle along with plenty of resources and heart. "There's a real misnomer that it's super easy," says Neena Dutta, immigration attorney and president of Dutta Law Firm. "People need to educate themselves and talk to a professional."
Here are four things every foreign dancer who wants to work in the U.S. needs to know to build a freelance dance career here.
What does it take to "make it" in dance? It's no secret that turning this passion into a profession can be a struggle. In such a competitive field, talent alone isn't enough to get you where you want to be.
So what kinds of steps can you take to become successful? Dance Magazine spoke to 33 people from all corners of the industry to get their advice on the lessons that could help us all, no matter where we are in our careers.