To kick-off our “Amazing Costumes on a Budget” series, we’d like to take a moment and introduce you to the talented Christina Powell-Dance Department Chair of the Savannah Arts Academy in Georgia. Christina knows all about creating fabulous, professional-looking costumes–without breaking the bank! When we asked if she’d be interested in sharing some of her best “trade secrets” with our readers, she eagerly accepted. So, if your dance production is in the middle of a financial bind, you might want to take a few notes. So grab a pen (or bookmark this page), and get ready to be inspired!
Class Act: So tell us, what initially prompted you and the Savannah Arts Academy to be “beautiful on a budget”? Was this something you’ve always done or did the current economy have something to do with it?
Christina Powell: Working for a public school in a dance department that is fully supported by fundraising efforts and ticket sales to productions (we receive no funding from the local or state government), we must be extremely creative with our funds. We must work around [financial] issues to be beautiful on a budget. We ask for a lot of help from local seamstresses who donate their time and sometimes even the cost of materials to create costumes for us. For tutus, we order the skirts with basques from Class Act Tutu and the matching basque fabric for the bodices. We then have parent volunteers or local costumers make the bodices for each dancer to complete the look. In addition, we sometimes work with fashion students from our local art college, Savannah College of Art and Design.
Class Act: Are there any specific actions that you take to do this? How does it all come together?
Christina Powell: Well, at the beginning of the year, I take inventory of our costume closet and create a list of the most wanted items that I’d like to purchase for the year. Two years ago, we ordered an entire set of white romantic tutu skirts from Class Act Tutu. This was our first big tutu purchase! In order to save money, we had the bodices made to complete the look. We used those tutus for a Swan Lake excerpt and for the Fairy Corps in Cinderella. We used them again this year for the Emerald City Corps during our ballet, “The Wizard of Oz”. Each time we use the white tutus, we change the decoration to fit the part. For the Emerald City Corps, a parent volunteer added emerald tulle overlays and a gold ribbon design on the bodice. The tulle was purchased in bulk from Class Act Tutu. Outside of ordering tutus, we also order other costumes that I feel like we’ll get a lot of use out of. For example, we ordered some Rockette-like white costumes that we wore in our Winter Dance Concert. We used them again for a local holiday event in downtown Savannah. The girls dressed up as snowflakes using these same costumes. Then in, “The Love of Broadway”, our final show this year, we used these costumes again with added gold accents to perform “One” from A Chorus Line. So, my advice is that you prioritize your costumes needs, determine what costumes you can get the most out of, and take baby steps each year until you create a wonderful costume closet!
Christina Powell: Yes, we do this a lot! For the lollipop tutus, I ordered that set of costumes at the beginning of the year. For our Winter Dance Concert, we used those tutus for a Sleeping Beauty excerpt. Then, we redecorated them for the Lollipop Corps for Wizard of Oz. We do this for all of our tutus. We always sew decorations onto the costumes so that we can easily take them off to change the look for the next performance. Never use glue! Also, skirt overlays are a great way to add color to costumes and to completely change the original look. The skirt overlays work best on white romantic tutus.
Class Act: Do you have any final words of advice or any “Top Tips” that you’d like to share before we close?
Christina Powell: It is so easy to get overwhelmed with costuming needs, especially if you are just starting to build a costume closet and you’re on a budget. When I took over as the chair of the Savannah Arts Academy Department of Dance, we didn’t even own a tutu! That was two years ago. Now, we own two complete sets of romantic length tutus (a white set and a pink set), a set of euro-tutus (red for the Poppy Corps for Wizard of Oz), four romantic tutus for the Cinderella fairies (Summer, Spring, Winter, and Autumn), and several pancake tutus (Fairy Godmother, Mazurka lead for Cinderella, Wizard for Wizard of Oz, etc). We have already used the white tutus in four shows, and the pink tutus in two shows. The red pancake tutu has been worn for the Mazurka lead in Cinderella, the Spanish variation for Nutcracker, the Don Quixote pas de deux, and the Poppy Lead in Cinderella! Lots of use out of the red pancake tutu! Also, the winter fairy tutu was also re-worn by Glinda the Good Witch for Wizard of Oz. The best advice I can give someone wanting to build a costume closet, is to prioritize! Think about what kinds of costumes you need for your upcoming shows. Think about what you can get the most out of. Start basic (a set of white romantic tutus is a great place to start! They are so versatile and beautiful on stage!!!), and again–take baby steps! Breathe! And most of all, have fun!
Thank you so much, Ms. Powell! Your creative ideas are going to come in handy for so many dancers out there. We wish you and the Savannah Arts Academy continued success! If you’d like to learn more about the programs available through the Savannah Arts Academy or attend future performances, please click here.
Denise Opper ~ Media Relations