Thursday, December 12, 2013

Ursula's Peacock Gown

Ursula is a really vibrant woman!  She has a big personality, is artistic and creative, and has so much energy and enthusiasm that she literally fills my studio when she visits for her design meetings and fittings.  I have never known a client for whom a peacock-inspired gown would be more appropriate!

She dances only International Standard style, which means she does 5 dances, Waltz, Tango, Viennese Waltz, Foxtrot, and Quickstep, and she does them all in closed hold, maintaining body contact with her partner in the process.  This means that although everyone wants a gown to be lovely from the front...

...since Standard gowns are seen mostly from the back, they need extra design attention provided to the back of the gown.

In this case, we decided on a feather-embellished godet "tail" of sorts, to add an extra bit of excitement at the back of the gown.  We found some beautifully sequinned mesh and a bit of green gold silk to back it with and then added real feathers to the top, along their spines, so they could move in the breeze.

We also created individual eyes from several different fabrics. to provide a base for our diagonal embellishment of the gown, and then swirled round the eyes with delightfully green-gold Jet AB curling feathery bits.

We tested various stones to get just the right effect, before beginning the actual rhinestone application.

The finishing touches included a necklace and earrings, and four floats for her arms, created from color-blended ostrich boa, and more peacock eyes.

I always really enjoy designing the jewelry to go with each gown!  Ursula will bring her gown back in next week for an additional layer of underskirt or two, in green-ish gold, to give it just a bit more volume and show off her nice, neat footwork.  Thank you so much Ursula!  We had a great time making your Peacock gown!

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Kim's Thankful Praise

Sometimes, one of my clients wants something other than what I typically create.  Many times, these  things are what I like to think of as "unicorns," because it can be hard to define exactly what is needed, and the goal can be a moving one.  In this case, Kim wanted a gown for a Theaters Arts piece.  Usually, I encourage dancers to purchase practice clothing for things like this, (I often add sleeves or embellishment) since the intended purpose of the costume is limited to one unique number and rarely re-sellable, or re-usable.  Custom dance wear is expensive, and I encourage my clients to think about resale value as we design.  So I encouraged Kim to think in terms of re-use, as a more traditional ballgown, with the addition of embellishment and sparkle, when she was through performing the Theater Arts piece.

In Kim's case, the Theater Arts piece was deeply personal, and important to her.  And she really wanted something special to dance in.  The piece is about her return to ballroom competition, following a health scare, that might have made it impossible to dance again.  She wanted something soft, fluid, and beautiful.  Even the choreography was a little bit "unicorn-ish" and hard to describe.  She referred to it as a waltz, although the music was in 4/4 time.  But I appreciated what she meant when I saw the work.  It was full of spirally, turning, waltzy action, and without sound, I might have thought it WAS a waltz.  The piece is also praise to God for her recovery, so there was is a hint of spirituality to bring out visually.  We tried to use color to represent "heavenly", and "angelic" with our gentle crystal blue.   And texturally, we also kept everything soft and cloud-like.

Here, she is performing the piece last April, when the gown was made.  Which tells you how far behind I am in my blogging!  But a pause in my work allows time, so I will take advantage of it.
Theater Arts pieces frequently involve a story, lifts, and other movement that requires well-fit clothing, and fabrics that are both not sticky, and not slippery.  The character in this story is Kim as a ballroom dancer, simply presented, joyful in being able to move and be physical in an easy, happy way.  But I think, with the addition of rhinestones and more specific focus, the gown can also grow into being a more traditional ballgown when the piece it was created for is put to rest.
Thank you so much Kim, for letting me be a part of your telling of this story, essentially liturgical dance, with a ballroom twist.  And thank you too for the beautiful photos you provided for me.  They tell the story of the gown MUCH better than my traditional studio stills.  I am thrilled that you are dancing again, and glad to be a part of that!  And a final thank you to Pro Scott Anderson, who appears here with Kim, and created this lovely piece for her with the assistance of his beautiful daughter, Megan Anderson.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Tracy's Elegance

Usually, Tracy arrives at her design meetings with tremendous preparation and forethought.  But this time, she had just one goal in mind.  A new gown for International Standard Ballroom that would be the epitome of elegance and sophistication.  But she had no images. 

And she also had an idea that the gown might black.  This can be a dangerous choice, if you are not a very well-known dancer, because by default all the gentlemen on the floor are wearing black or midnight blue, with only rare exceptions, and the danger of blending in and not being seen in large heats is very real.

In Standard, the competing is done entirely in closed hold.  The lady dances in front of the gentleman, slightly offset to his right side, and does not separate from him while dancing. So the back of the gown is as important as the front, if not more so, since the back is seen exclusively, except between dances, when the couple separates.   His hand covers her right shoulder blade (or thereabouts) and so, the right side of the back is the best place for sparkle and detail.  In this case, his hand fits beneath the epaulette, and is partially masked by the generous wing.

As we hunted through fabric catalogs and looked at current styles published by my favorite supplier, we happened across a gown that seemed to have many of the attributes we were talking about.  It was black, but also had some white.  It was intensely sparkly, to help it stand apart from all the tailsuits on the floor.  And it was certainly elegant.  With that as a basis for action, we made minor adjustments to accomodate Tracy's specific needs, and had a design we both thought was a just right fit for our goal.
Generally, Made for Movement gowns are unique, but I have learned in 26 years of designing for dancers that there is nothing entirely new under the sun, and since fashion and clothing are not subject to copyright, there is no real reason to avoid creating something similar in style to existing gowns.  I usually prefer not to copy exactly, but this is very similar to the image we stumbled across.  I think personal fit factors strongly into this equation, and I also think trends and fashion dictate what silhouettes are desirable, and what colors are available for use in fabrics each year.  What is hot this year is something that every dancer wants, and at some point following a fashion trend blurs the lines of individual designs.

Tracy says "I love the boldness of the gown - people say it's unlike anything they've seen in Standard. And I love the volume of the skirt. People also said Scott and I look great together in it because we're both all in black and white. And he brought out his tailsuit for the occasion."

So, Tracy has a gown she loves, elegant, visible, and beautiful.  And we were thrilled to make it!  Now that she has a new Smooth gown, and a dedicated Standard gown, I am hoping that a new Rhythm gown might be on tap for 2014!


Friday, May 17, 2013

Nancy's Silk Skirt Gets a New Lease on Life

Seven years ago, Nancy brought me a wonderful silk georgette skirt.  She wanted it used to create and ballroom costume and we decided that costume could be both a rhythm gown and a smooth dress, by making the skirt removable.  It was her first ballroom costume collaboration and the results were good!  This is the rhythm dress we created, and the skirt pulled on underneath the dress to convert it to a ballgown.

I wish I had taken a photo of the skirt alone, before I incorporated it into Nancy's new ball gown, but I did not manage to do that.  I did take a quick shot of the embellished leotard with the skirt before it was assembled into the new gown, so you can see the relationship in the graphics.

AND I can show you the skirt in its new configuration!

In both cases, the embellishment details for the gowns were suggested by the graphic design in the skirt.  The first was a simpler, brighter, bronze level result,  and the new one is, for me, a WOW! 

My partner Michele and I debated and sampled several different processes to recreate the graphic on Nancy's new French Vanilla leotard base.  We knew we wanted the lines to be defined in the same way as they were on the skirt and then embellished with jet stones and flatback pearls.  After testing appliqued strips of black fabric, and the meticulous application of black permanent fabric marker, we decided that the latter had the most similar visual effect to that of the skirt.  After careful design and planning, and much pre-washing of the red lycra to avoid any post process color bleeding, we were very plesed with our results!

This is certainly the gown of a more advanced and more experienced dancer, one who knows she will be seen, even in black.  And a more elegant and serious look than the original.  When she picked up her gown, she brought in a Light Siam choker style necklace and bangles I had made for another costume of hers, and they looked perfect!

I am really wishing I could be at the Arthur Murray Showcase this weekend to see Nancy, Christy, and also Linda, who has a new Gently Used Rhythm Gown dance, but I will be at MN Star Ball on the other end of town.  I hope you will make it to one event or the other, and I hope anyone at the Arthur Murray showcase with a digital camera might send me a few images to keep me posted on what I am missing!  Good luck to you, my lovely ladies!

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

A Cure for the Blues for Cathy

I made this rhythm gown just over a year ago, but never got around to writing about it.  I thought I would wait until I saw Cathy wear it, so I could include photos of her dancing, but somehow, I never made it to an event of hers, and did not get the photos I had imagined.

There is another opportunity coming up, (which I would have missed again, given I will be at the MN Star Ball on that day) but Cathy broke her foot and is not able to dance in the Arthur Murray Showcase on the 19th, and I know she is SAD about that.  So hopefully, this little post will lift her couch-bound spirits!

We began with words from her teachers, and each had the word "precise" in their lists.  Also, we considered "legs" "fast" "light" and "sassy."  We also wanted a little tummy disguise, and amplification for that precise, fast movement.  We got "light" from our airy fabric choice of mesh in the kimono style top and the skirt.  We kept the skirt short, to show off those great "legs" and repeated the mesh in the skirt to allow us to see lots of leg without question of good taste.  The movement of the mesh around her leotard and compact skirt provides the amplification we were seeking, offering great light, "fast" action with her movement.  We actually added speed to the skirt with the weight of the row of stones at the base of the mesh. And the "sassy"?  Well I hope that is in all the action and swish this little gown has!  Plus, Cathy has that herself in spades!

All the lines and shapes in the gown are clean and angular, (in the interest of her "precise" dancing)from the v-shaped neckline and upper back, to the pointed open oval details we made good use of both as a collection point for the ruched skirt top, and frame for the tail of dance crepe we used.

One of my favorite parts of this costume is the jewelry!  We had originally designed something quite different, and at the final fitting, we re-designed to make better use of the angular design accent lines.  Yum!  I love the peek-a-boo necklace, and wish I had a shot of it on the form.

As she did on her last gown, Cathy did an excellent job of the rhinestone application, both as a means to stay involved with her design, and to ensure the lowest possible cost for a great result.

Cathy, I am so sorry you can't dance this weekend, but I hope this gives you a smile and some great memories.  I hope your will be up and animating this gown SOON!

Monday, May 6, 2013

Dazzle for Christy

 The design meeting for this gown for petite and trim Christy was an easy one.  Christy wanted something with substantial sparkle.  She wanted thick white fringe, and she wanted white and nude, or as we talked, white and gold.
 I showed her nude fabrics and she decided on a metallic gold mesh instead, and we embellished that, rhythmically, in Light Topaz AB, in contrast to the random application of the Crystal AB on the opposite side of the gown. 
We discussed color blocking as a trend in Latin gowns, and then created soft body-sensitive blocks to help define her curves and rhythmic action.  The fringe is thick as requested, accomplished through the application of three layers of long white tactel. 
We finished the back with a triple diagonal strap detail, and echoed the combination of the three delicate straps against the chunky, jewel encrusted gown, with a cuff and three bangle bracelets.
Christy was a delight to work with, and we hope she will be back in our studio again soon for a new gown for her smooth dances.  And we wish her the best at her upcoming Arthur Murray showcase.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Farewell to Gingerbread, Greeter and Sergeant-at-Arms

This is not a post about ballroom dance costumes, but about the loss of the official Made for Movement Greeter and Sergeant-at-Arms, Gingerbread.

Some of you might remember when we got Gingerbread as a puppy, from a rescue shelter in Buffalo Minnesota.  It was during our year in Rogers.  She was a sweet and very energetic ball of fuzz, athletic and wicked smart on her first day with us.  She was always ready for a good game, a ride in the car, or walk to anywhere.

We got her in September, and by December, she had begun to look like a grown up dog, but there was still plenty of puppy mischief.  I will share one story with you.  A few days before Christmas, Zak and I left the house early to run some errands.  We were gone for several hours and the lonely little puppy got bored and decided to have her own holiday party all by herself.  When Zak and I came home, he went ahead of me into the living room.  "Uh-oh," I heard him say.  Ginger had opened at least a dozen gifts, and shredded wrapping paper was knee deep.  I wish we had taken this picture BEFORE we cleaned up the mess.  I think she looks ashamed, don't you?

About this time, people began to comment that she looked a great deal like a trendy breed.  We bought a book about Nova Scotia Duck Tollers, and she certainly appeared to be a pretty good example.  These red, fox-like dogs caper energetically on the shores of lakes, chasing sticks thrown by owners from their hunting blinds.  Ducks descend, drawn hypnotically to the glorious waving flag of a tail, and after the hunter fells his prey, the dog happily retrieves it from the water.  "Tolling" as this activity is called, was in her blood, and sticks were her best friends for life.  She never left the house without one, and was known through out the neighborhood as "the dog that carries the stick with her."

She was never fond of loud noises though, and we wondered she might have been a disappointment to a hunter, and that had been how she ended up at the rescue shelter.

She certainly had the tail and the fun-loving temperament for the job!

By middle age, she was truly a beautiful creature, and might have had a lovely modeling career!
According to the age chart in her breed book, at 16, this year on May 24th, she would have been the canine equivalent of 100 years old.  She had slowed considerably, in the last year, walking less and less far on her walks, and losing her hearing almost entirely, and some of her sight.  The grey on her lovely face began to belie her age as well.

Early in the morning on Wednesday the 10th of April, Ginger suffered a vestibular stroke.  At the clinic we were told there was a chance she could recover, and we brought her home, to try to nurse her back to health.  She was at first only able to drink water from our cupped hands, and finally ate some mashed potato from my fingers.  We tried every food imaginable, meat broth, rice, her dog food mashed, baby food chicken and beef, unbelievably expensive food for sick dogs, $10 a pound low salt deli turkey, bread, crackers, you name it, we gave it a go.  Carl even cooked hamburger for her in water, and although she ate a few bites of this and that, her appetite never returned, and she finally refused to eat anything further.

Believing that starving to death could not be a comfortable process, we called MN Pets (a service I highly recommend) who came to our home.  Ginger was always afraid of the vets office, and we wanted her last moments to be in a safe and familiar place with the people who loved her.  A sedative was administered, which put her into a deep sleep.  Then a drug was administered to stop her heart.

For all of you who have known her enthusiastic greetings at my studio door, I thank you for your kindness to her.  It is very empty and quiet here now, and no one takes me out for my walk each day. I really miss her.

Friday, March 29, 2013

White Peach Blooming

All of Leslie's three styles of dance require a separate gown.  She and husband/partner Lee compete in American Smooth, Rhythm, and International Standard Ballroom.  Her Standard and Smooth gowns share floral details.  The Smooth gown has hand made passimentary roses, buds and vines.
Her Standard gown is a tropical fantasy of vibrantly bright, multicolored 2 dimensional flat blooms drenched in Swarovski sparkle. 
But her rhythm gown was a simple shape with clean lines and no flowers at all.  Until this week!
Leslie and Leland are headed to Amateur Nationals next week, to defend their championship titles.  Lee got a new look for his Smooth dancing earlier this spring, and looks very dapper and chic in his new shawl collar sleeveless jacket. 
Thank you Scott Anderson for sharing your photograph!
But Leslie was ready for a new look for the olderst of her gowns, and (following a comment at a recent showcase from coach and judge Mariusz Oslewski) wanted to bring pizazz, focus and color to the elegant, clean shape we originally designed.  I believe there can also be an advantage to visual cohesivness across the range of styles a couple dances, so we made White Peach bloom!
We gave her right shoulder a beautiful coral and peach toned garden, accented with limey green orchids.  We also created a choker and cuff, to balance the silk grouping on the right shoulder.  And we added just a little Swarovski sparkle to the garden, to help is belong to and blend with the gown.
We were careful to stay out of the way of her upper left back, where Lee's hand connects with her in hold, and the placing the cuff on the left hand both helped with garment balance, and kept the garden away from wrist connections in their choreography.

We send our best wishes for a joyous and successful competition to Leland and Leslie and appreciate the chance to "dance along."