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What's the best way to extend the life of your favorite leotard or piece of workout wear? Aside from fabric quality, it largely comes down to what you do on laundry day.
We spoke with Erin Rollins, costume shop manager at BalletMet, for her top tips on keeping your beloved dancewear in rotation for years to come. (Spoiler alert: No, washing and drying everything on the same setting isn't advised.)
Keep it cool<p>"Cold water is always the best option with stretch fabrics," says Rollins. "Warm is okay, but hot water should be avoided." Why? It can damage the fabric's elasticity over time. Plus, if your clothing has bright or deep colors, opt for cold—heat can have adverse affects on color fastness. </p>
Regular versus delicate cycles<p>The majority of leotards, sports bras and activewear can be laundered on a regular cycle, says Rollins. Tights, leotards and anything that's delicate (like lace or lightweight mesh) should be set aside for a delicate cycle or hand-washing. </p><p>Be mindful of anything with hooks, which can damage other items. Rollins recommends washing your tights in a lingerie bag to avoid snags.<span></span></p>
The drying debate<p>When it comes to using a dryer, "there's a lot of debate about this in wardrobe land," says Rollins. "Many wardrobe managers will avoid drying garments because it elongates the life." But she points out that company costumes have a very high value and often need to last at least 10 to 20 years. "Most dancers don't need their rehearsal wear to last like that, so drying really isn't that big of a deal."</p><p>In fact, if your leotard is looking saggy, the dryer's heat can help the elastic in stretch wear "spring back." And if it's a synthetic fabric, shrinking usually isn't an issue. </p><p>One exception to using a dryer: If the tag lists more than 5 to 7 percent cotton. With cotton, colors fade and the surface of the fabric can develop a fuzzy white layer. Using a dryer speeds up that process. </p>
Caring for your favorite pieces<p>A washing machine is never foolproof, warns Rollins. "There is always the potential for 'laundry disasters': snags, tangles, shrinkage, dye stains from other clothing, etc." That said, clothing made from heavier fabrics, like sports bras, activewear and some leotards, will generally hold up fine. </p><p>"But if the item is made from a super-lightweight fabric, or has lace, or if I <em>really</em> love it and want it to last forever, I might hand-wash it, so I'm certain it stays intact," she says. </p>
How to hand-wash<p>Fill a sink or tub with cold water, add a very small amount of clothes detergent and swish it so suds start to form. Soak your item for 30 minutes, then rinse it in clean, cold water. Roll the clothing in a towel to remove excess moisture, and let it air dry on a plastic hanger or rack. (Avoid wire hangers, which can rust, says Rollins.)</p>
About those stinky, sweaty clothes...<p>"Odor in clothing is usually due to bacteria, and bacteria will only grow if you give it time to get started," says Rollins. Post-class, don't throw your damp clothes in your hamper, or let them sit in your dance bag or a locker for more than a few hours. "That's a great recipe for gross." </p><p>Salt from sweat can also wear down stretch materials, notes Rollins, so wash promptly if you can. </p><p>If you're not doing a load right away, let your clothes dry before you add them to the basket. And if you're worried about the lingering stench, soak it in cold water for 30 minutes before washing it with warm water and putting it in the dryer. </p>
What she wishes dancers would stop doing<p>"Don't <em>ever</em> wash your tights with anything that has color," says Rollins, recalling a dancer whose tights had turned grayish pink because she'd washed them with her leotards. "The majority of dance tights are made with nylon—a magnet for dye. If there's anything else in the washer that has color, and even a tiny bit of that color escapes, the tights will grab that color and never let it go." </p>
When buying new dancewear, consider fabric, weight and weave<p>Aside from how you wash your dance clothes, Rollins says these three factors can shorten their lifespan:<br></p><ol><li>Fabric: "Natural fibers like silk, cotton and bamboo break down more quickly and show holes."</li><li>Weight: "If a fabric is super-light, sheer or thin, it will wear down more quickly."</li><li>Weave: "If the weave has large holes that you can see—like mesh or lace—it will be more likely to snag."</li></ol><div>If you're looking for dancewear that can go the extra mile, opt for opaque, synthetic material that feels thick when held between your fingers.</div>
During this pandemic, we dancers have not been living in our normal bodies. Even though we may not see a physical change, on the inside, our bodies have altered. Use me as an example: Before COVID-19, I was a 28-year-old healthy, active human being. But after my recovery, a 15-minute abdominal workout practically destroyed my hips, kidneys and my entire dance career.
When Yvonne Montoya climbs all over the piano while her 12-year-old son Buddy tries to practice on it, we might guess that she is either having a parental meltdown or making a dance. Turns out, it's both. "It's been wild, and completely overwhelming," says Montoya from her Tucson, Arizona home, where she lives with Buddy and her husband.
Montoya, a 23rd-generation Nuevomexicana and founding director of Safos Dance Theatre, is one of many dance artists navigating motherhood during COVID-19. Choreographers, educators, artistic directors and dancers are not only trying to keep their careers afloat by creating digital work, but some have also been dealing with their now homebound children in the wobbly world of the Zoom school room, which is about to crank up again in most of the U.S. Doing that while managing a company, a studio or a freelance career can sometimes generate a type of artful chaos.
Yvonne Montoya: Finding Creativity in Constraints<p>Montoya is not one to let a good meltdown go to waste, which is exactly what she has done with <em>Stories from Home: COVID-19 Addendum. </em>She is releasing a new episode every Wednesday on Instagram Live and <a href="https://www.patreon.com/yvonnemontoya" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer dofollow">Patreon</a> for a nominal fee through September 16.</p><p>The original version of <em>Stories from Home</em> was slated for a September show on the Millennium Stage at the Kennedy Center, where Montoya was a 2019–20 Kennedy Center Citizen Artist Fellow. She has expanded the piece for today's digital world with longtime collaborator and filmmaker Dominic Arizona Bonuccelli.</p>
Montoya and Buddy
Dominic A. Bonuccelli, Courtesy Montoya
Ana Maria Alvarez: Hosting Conversations With “Mama Artivists”<p>When <a href="https://www.jacobspillow.org/" target="_blank">Jacob's Pillow</a> director Pamela Tatge asked <a href="https://www.contra-tiempo.org/" target="_blank">CONTRA-TIEMPO</a> artistic director Ana Maria Alvarez what she was up to during a digital catchup with some of the 2020-season artists, Alvarez replied, "I am mothering," with her beaming smile.</p><p>Before the pandemic, CONTRA-TIEMPO was poised to make its Doris Duke Theatre debut at the Pillow, along with a full summer of touring. A bright spot on the Los Angeles dance scene, CONTRA-TIEMPO recently celebrated its 15th year of presenting salsa, Afro-Cuban, hip hop, dance theater and contemporary dance with a social justice message.</p><p>These days, Alvarez is home with her 3-year-old and 9-year-old sons, while trying to stay active as a creative artist and connected to her company.</p>
Alvarez with her oldest son
Brandt Brogan, Courtesy Alvarez
Pre-COVID: Alvarez teaching a class while on tour with CONTRA-TIEMPO and holding her youngest son
Toni Valle: Juggling Classes, Films and Parents While Creating the World She Wants for Her Son<p><a href="https://uh.edu/kgmca/theatre-and-dance/about/faculty/valle/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer dofollow">Toni Valle</a> is a Houston dance legend, known for her advocacy, blending politics and aerial dance, and her production wizardry in her job as a professor of practice at the University of Houston. She had a hunch that the virus was worse than people thought, so she took her 16-year-old son Dante out of school before it officially closed. With five days to put her own classes online, she's the first to say those were some hectic days. A bit later, in April, she began retooling her dance company, <a href="http://www.6degreesdance.org/" target="_blank">6 Degrees</a>, for dance film projects. On top of that, she is the primary helper for her elderly parents, who both have preexisting conditions that make them more vulnerable to COVID-19.</p><p>"The first thing I did was get a stronger internet," says Valle. Once her son's Zoom classroom was up and running, she found that he needed some coaxing to get his schedule together. "Normally, he would go to school and bring home good grades, but this is different, really more like college in the way the time is structured," she says. "I definitely had to micromanage his day in the beginning."</p><p>With Dante soon heading into his junior year, she wants him to consider his options in the arts. "He sees my life as an artist, so it's not like he doesn't know how hard it is." Plus, Dante is a singer, the most problematic of the arts when it comes to virus spread.</p>
Toni Valle with her son Dante
Mark Valle, Courtesy Valle
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