On “So You Think You Can Dance,” a wardrobe malfunction can be pretty serious business, not just because of unplanned exposure, but it could also affect a contestant’s performance.
Emmy-winning costume designer Soyon An — who’s also styled “American Idol,” Carrie Underwood on tour and Susie Castillo — tells Zap2it about the challenges of outfitting athletic dancers and one particular wardrobe malfunction on “SYTYCD.”
“I think a good example in terms of wardrobe malfunctions that happened recently was when Lauren Froderman, her strap broke,” says An about the live June 30 routine Froderman danced with all-star Neil Haskell. “It had a hook and eye [fastener], and I guess the way she was dancing so hard that the metal hook bent backwards, so it came undone.”
The audience wasn’t treated to a Janet Jackson-esque eyeful, however, because of some careful planning on An’s part.
“We always cover the girls with pasties and then also tape them down,” she explains. “So we have a Plan B and a C just in case because our dancers are above and beyond. They’re doing things that are just incredible. They dance so hard.”
Broken straps are just part of the challenge of outfitting the dancers who not only move around more strenuously than the average person, but are also built differently because of their craft. This season, the recently eliminated Alex Wong and Billy Bell are two of the biggest culprits when it comes to the most extreme movements.
“Alex was incredible, the way his body moved, and Billy is flexible like a rubber band,” An observes. “In designing and creating wardrobe for them, I would have to accommodate their body. They’re very petite individuals, but as soon as they start moving, well, Billy’s legs go all over the place. It’s all in the fabric and in the cut.”
An’s job requires a combination of buying clothes off the rack, sometimes altering them in crafty ways or creating pieces from scratch. She details the process for two of the previous week’s dances and one from Season 6:
Robert Roldan and Kathryn McCormick’s fashion doll routine
“That one I definitely wanted to go the vintage route, so I went vintage store shopping. Those were store-bought. What I did was I cut up a polo shirt and attached it to a sweater [for Robert]. Kathryn’s shirt was actually a white turtleneck that I converted into a vest and used Swarovski crystals to create her stripes. I also added Swarovski crystals to add a little bit of flair to her skirt.”
Billy Bell and Jose Ruiz’s jaguar dance
“The turtleneck and jeans were bought but I bleached the jeans with a paintbrush, so the jeans took on this burnt orange color and then I went over it with paint. I hand-painted the spine in the back of the turtleneck and underneath his arms. I added a textured leather on top of the turtleneck. So you use the turtleneck as a base and then sew all the fabric on top and then spray-painted on top of the leather so I could bring out some of the texture.”
Sonya Tayeh-choreographed routine from Season 6
“Half of their bodies looked painted and the other half they were wearing black. That was one of my favorite dance numbers. I had a lot of fun spending my whole evening till 3 a.m. hand-painting those outfits. So half of it was store-bought and half of it was made. It was a dress I had bought and I split it in half and then I piped the skirt with that neon piping and then I made the other half painted and then we connected it so it became one piece.”
The job of a “SYTYCD” costume designer isn’t just artistic, but a race to beat the clock. As soon as the choreographers figure out their dance concept for the coming week, they present their ideas and requests to An, who then is working non-stop shopping, doing fittings, constructing, refitting, altering and a doing Tuesday “dry blocks” run-through before showtime on Wednesday and Thursday nights.
A few of the shops she hits up include Michael Levine, International Silks and Woolens, the Warner Bros. costume house, Jet Rage, Wasteland, American Vintage, Aldo and World Tone Dance and Nike for shoes.
Less ambitious dancers who still want fashionable dance clothes with less DIY and specialty shopping don’t need to worry. There are simpler alternatives.
“A pair of pants you can buy that’s actually still stretchy is American Apparel, their stretchy jean. Also Levi’s Super Stretch is great. You can go into a Forever 21 or a Bebe and get a flowy dress. One of the things that I like to do with those dresses is cut the lining out so it’s nice and flowy. Or you can get a chiffon skirt and split the sides so you get a nice full circle so it’s not like a tiny circle when you’re spinning. The spins look more dramatic.”
Of course, it would just be easier to take the clothes from the show, and the dancers have certainly had this thought.
“Oh, they ask for the clothes all the time, and I tell them, ‘Hey, we have a fairness policy. If you ask then I have to give the other dancers something. Also, outfits might go out on tour, so don’t ask me.'”
See An’s creations in action on Wednesday and Thursday nights on FOX.
Photo credits: Collin Stark, FOX