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Behind the Scenes

  • Quick Tip: From the Costume Shop at Pacific Northwest Ballet (PNB)

    We first published this blog entry almost exactly 4 years ago. It remains one of our all time favorite tips: How to create an elegant and very "Degas"  tutu look on a budget. Enjoy this re-post.

    In 2006, Fleming Halby (then director of Pacific Northwest Ballet’s Seattle school) staged the only surviving scene from August Bournonville's "Konservatoriet". Class Act Tutu was honored to provide the white romantic tutu skirts for that performance.

    PNB School's "Konservatoriet "  ©Rex Trainter PNB School's "Konservatoriet " ©Rex Trainter

    The staging of this piece has always provided a great inspiration to us in how to create a beautiful classic look reminiscent of the early French ballet.   We were lucky to get to spend some time in the PNB costume shop learning how Victoria McFall created this lovely vision.   Here is what we learned.

    What you need:
    1. White Leotard
    2. White Romantic Style Tutu skirt
    3. Satin Ribbon
    4. Sheer Fabric for Sleeves
    5. Nude Elastic

    The Leotard
    • Start with a camisole style leotard. Remove the straps and replace them with nude elastic.
    • Create a pattern for an off the shoulder sleeve with a gusset. Here are some views of PNB’s sleeve and pattern:

    Sleeve with Gusset Sleeve with Gusset
    Sleeve and Pattern Sleeve and Pattern
    PNB Sleeve Pattern PNB Sleeve Pattern

    • Here you can find instructions for making your own pattern for gussets.
    • Stitch your sleeve onto the leotard

    Sleeve with gusset sewn to leotard Sleeve with gusset sewn to leotard

    The Skirt
    • Start with a romantic style tutu skirt. PNB used Class Act Tutu’s Romantic Style 5-Layer skirt in a mid-calf length.
    • Edge stitch a nice satin ribbon onto the waistband at the top and the bottom. Victoria used pale blue and white for Konservatoriet.

    Satin Waistband & Bow Satin Waistband & Bow

    • Sew down a faux bow if desired.

    This idea can be used for many different tutu looks and combining a professional quality tutu skirt with an inexpensive leotard can stretch your costume budget.

  • Talking to People

    by Madison Rayn Abeo

    The Fairy of Beauty


    Yesterday was the last show of Pacific Northwest Ballet's Sleeping Beauty. I was fortunate to be able to volunteer to help as a greeter in the lobby before the show and during intermissions. The Pacific Northwest Ballet School gives dancers in the upper levels, the chance to wear one of the costumes from the ballet, and talk to patrons in the lobby, taking photos and talking to people about the ballet! All the dancers love to wear the beautiful costumes, but I also really love talking to people. The adults ask about my dancing and I am able to tell them about upcoming shows I am in (told a lot of people about Pinocchio!) and the little kids love touching the tutu & pointe shoes and taking photos. Sometimes just getting down on the little kids levels, asking their names and what their favorite part of the ballet has been so far - is enough to make their day! It helps make their experience even more magical than Pacific Northwest Ballet already makes it! I am very grateful to have the opportunity to do it!

    Madison is a student at Pacific Northwest Ballet.  For more information and to follow Madison's journey towards becoming a professional ballerina check out her Facebook page, Madison Rayn Abeo: Support and Update Page.
    Photos:  Mariangela Abeo

  • Ballet Inspired Makeup Tutorial

    Ballet Makeup Mash-up!

    We wanted to share this Ballet inspired makeup tutorial with you because it is so fun (and because we LOVE Lisa Eldridge).

    This video features Roberta Marquez, principal, Royal Ballet.  It is styled with the Sleeping Beauty wedding tutu using "Bollywood"  inspired makeup by Lisa Eldridge.

  • Behind the Scenes: YAGP Competition with Carolyn Lovett

    Saucer Tutus at YAGP Finals


    Whether you've participated in the competition aspect of dance or not, chances are you've at least heard of the Youth America Grand Prix (YAGP). The YAGP is the world's largest scholarship competition open to students 9-19 years of age.

    We know how daunting the thought of competing can be, so we decided to provide you with some tips by going behind the scenes with Ms. Carolyn Lovett, teacher, choreographer and artistic director of the Lovett Dance Center in Tustin, California.  Carolyn's students have participated in YAGP since 2004 and routinely receive some of the highest marks at the competition...

    When did you and your school first get started with YAGP and why?

    I've been involved with YAGP since 2004. For the longest time I was afraid to do Grand Prix. I always knew it was out there but it seemed to be at such a high level that I dared not enter. As a Ballet teacher who has been working for studios that compete in the regular/jazz competition scene I have been very successful but I found it to be a bit of a dead end at least for Ballet students. If I was going to grow creatively and if my students were going to have more opportunities I needed to make a change. Finally I decided to take the plunge and what a plunge it’s been. I started by entering just a few soloists and groups to learn what Grand Prix expected and desired of the dancers. It has taken some time, but I feel that we fit in very nicely now and we are receiving the opportunities that come along with it.

    What sort of awards or honors have your children and students received at these events?

    Oh my….we started receiving awards our 3rd year in.

    We have had several top 12 Pre-Competitive placements. My daughter has won twice and placed top 12 in New York City. We have several top 12 placements in the Junior Division including top 3 placements and the “YAGP Award” this year. We have many Ensemble placements including Pas de Duex’s and personally I have received the “Outstanding Teacher” award once, “Outstanding Choreographer” 3 times and this year we received the “Outstanding Studio” award. We have also been fortunate to perform with YAGP in the Spoleto Festival in Italy with an ensemble piece I choreographed on my children and another student. My students have also been awarded scholarships through YAGP. Ultimately that is what Grand Prix is about, exposing students to professionals from around the world that can offer them a road to eventual success.

    My students have received scholarships to ABT, Bolshoi, Kirov, The Rock and Australian Ballet.

    What sort of planning does an endeavor like this entail? (I'd imagine it's quite a bit!)

    What it takes is time! Time for us to figure out what solos work best on each student, time to choreograph contemporary pieces for each student, time to improve technique, time to work on the chosen solos, and time competing those solos before we get to Grand Prix. I really get started as soon as the first YAGP Regional is over. We always learn from the judge’s critics so we start on those immediately to improve the solos for New York Finals and or the next year. Grand Prix is inspiring so we all start thinking about what to next before we are even done with the current year.

    How do you go about selecting your choreography and costumes? Why did you choose Class Act Tutu? (Hee hee...I had to throw that in there.)

    Lovett Dance Center


    When it comes to choreography, I am at the mercy of my own feelings. If I am going through rough times then my work tends to be a bit moodier and dark, but when I’m feeling more positive my work is lighter and more beautiful. I’m in a positive mood this year. As for costumes, we put what we can together without a costume designer to keep costs down but I do have someone make those costumes I just can’t find through a catalog. We do have to special order our tutus well ahead of time because they take so long to make. I ordered saucer tutus from Class Act Tutu this year because they were the only company out there that makes them! I had a special piece that required the saucer and Class Act makes a BEAUTIFUL one! Very nice quality and a fun selection of colors that fit my piece perfectly. By the way, that particular piece placed 1st at YAGP regional and will be competing in the New York Finals!

    Woohoo! That's awesome! So how do the parents feel about their student's experiences with YAGP?

    I think the YAGP brings out many feelings. It can be very exciting and rewarding, but can also be disappointing for those with high expectations but lack the preparation or physical attributes required for such an endeavor. When competing in Grand Prix, it is important to remember the level of talent is exceptionally high, and in New York it's mind blowing! Grand Prix is truly International is scope so my students have been able to meet kids from all over the world. Performing along-side kids from Brazil, China, Japan, Australia and numerous others countries is enriching to say the least. Even those students who do not compete as soloists find the experience exciting and enriching. The Gala alone is worth going for and the camaraderie it brings between the parents and students can last a lifetime.

    How has your involvement with YAGP (or competitions in general) enhanced your student's training?

    It has upped the game you might say. Grand Prix has pushed me to become a better teacher, therefore my students technical level has steadily increased over time. It is also encouraging me to choreograph work that I might not otherwise create. This gives my students a greater depth of movement to master.

    Lovett Dance Center


    What advice would you give to a school or student looking to compete in their first YAGP competition?

    Be prepared! Mentally and physically prepare and be willing to learn along the way.

    Thank you so much, Carolyn and congratulations to all of your terrific dancers!

    *STOP THE PRESSES!* We've just received the following announcement from Carolyn:

    "Things went great in New York! My son and daughter, Devyn and Tiana, both made it to final rounds. Tiana placed in the top 12 junior women. Both received scholarships to Princess Grace Academy in Monaco and Devyn also received a scholarship to Washington Ballet. My boys trio "Insight" (Devyn Lovett, Sam Zaldivar and Patrick Frenette) placed 2nd in ensembles and also got to perform in the Gala! This is a piece I choreographed for Dmitri Kulev Classical Ballet Academy. was a good week!" We'd have to agree! Congratulations to you ALL!! :)


    *All photos appear courtesy of Carolyn Lovett/Lovett Dance Center*

  • Coppelia - A Young Girl's Dream Come True

    Photo Credit: Denise Opper


    Back in May 2010, Dean and I took Abby to see PNB's production of Coppelia. She was so excited that day and took special care to wear her best dress (white, mid-calf length, lots of sequins and a small sparkly tiara in her hair), and kept biting her nails in anticipation.

    As we watched the ballet, she would smile, laugh and gasp with delight every few moments. She was in her element! Then as the curtain rose on Act 3 and a beautiful row of girlies dressed in glittering pink and gold tutus appeared, my girl was speechless. Breathless even! ;)

    After a moment she leaned over in the dark and whispered with her eyes as big as saucers, "Mommy! How did those girls get to do that?" "They're from the PNB school, honey." I whispered back.

    Abby continued to watch, spellbound. Then at the end of the performance she asked, "Okay. So, how do I get in the school?" At that time, she was still dancing at her local ballet school, but already things were starting to look sketchy for the new year. I explained how she would have to audition, which she immediately asked, "When can I audition??" I told her we'd talk about it later. (Ahem)

    Later during the performance's Post Show Q&A, Abby walked right up and sat in the front row of chairs. (For the record, I never opt to sit in the front row...) After listening to a few adults ask their questions, she asked Olivier Wevers what he liked about playing the role of Dr. Coppelius (her other favorite part). He was very gracious and said he liked "playing with a character" and that was what made it fun for him. Then she asked the Artistic Director, Peter Boal how old the girls in Act 3 were. His response was, "Levels 3 and 4, maybe some 5's. So anywhere from about 10 to 13 or 14." Abby was 10 at the time and so you can imagine how much this pleased her.

    As we left McCaw Hall that day, I noticed Abby looked deep in thought. When questioned, she simply said, "I'm thinking about how happy I am that I wore my best dress today." And why's that? "So that when I come back and audition for PNB, Mr. Boal will know who I am!" {#itdoesntworkthatway}

    Fast forward to September 18th, 2010. She gets in to the school.

    She was placed in Level 3 but sadly, Coppelia was not scheduled to be performed again. At least not yet. So Abby continued to work hard and hoped (and prayed a whole lot) that one day soon, Coppelia would be done again and that she'd get a part.

    Last summer, it was announced that Coppelia would once again grace the stage during the company's 2011/12 Season.

    There was a lot of speculation as to who would be chosen, how tall or how short you had to be, etc. With every passing rumor, Abby grew more impatient waiting for the Cast letters to go out. Then two friends received a letter. Then three friends. And at long last, so did she....

    I'm pleased to announce that Abby received a letter in the mail announcing that she had been chosen to perform in this year's production of Act 3...wearing the very pink and gold costume that ignited her determination to get into the school two years earlier!

    I'm so thankful to God for granting yet another exciting blessing in my daughter's life. To get the chance to perform in the very same production that catapulted her desire to attend the school into the stratosphere is nothing short of awesome! :)

    *Written by Denise Opper; originally published on the author's blog, Got Chai? *

    You can catch Pacific Northwest Ballet's Coppelia June 1st - 10th. Visit for tickets.

  • Freed of London: Putting Dancers' best feet forward

    A Freed shoemaker shapes the box with a mallet, the final step before the shoes go into the kiln to dry. Each cobbler makes 50 pairs a day, which are imprinted with their maker's mark. (Marcia Adair / For the Times)


    Tucked away in the side streets of Mayfair, the world-famous tailors of Savile Row make gentleman's suiting to order for businessmen, gentry, politicians, oligarchs and Saudi princes.

    Six miles to the east, in Hackney, lies another temple to old-school English craftsmanship: Freed of London, makers of custom pointe shoes since 1929. In a small workshop flanked by midrise apartment blocks, a no-frills sandwich café and a betting parlor, 12 shoemakers each transform satin, canvas, cardboard, burlap and leather into 40 pairs of pointe shoes each a day. (Read more here)

    Are YOU a Freed dancer? What are YOUR thoughts on your shoes and/or your maker?

  • Putting a Ring on It

    valentines-day-rosesDancing with the one you love—isn’t that everyone’s dream? What are the pleasures—and the challenges—of sharing your stage life with your partner in marriage?

    Check out this great piece from Dance Magazine featuring beautiful dancing couples, including Seattle's own Olivier Wevers and Lucien Postlewaite.

    Happy Valentine's Day, everyone!

  • En Pointe!

    Three ballerinas from Australian Ballet talk about metarsals, metho baths and the meditative nature of sewing in this short film about pointe shoes. Perfect for budding ballerinas wearing their first pair of pointe shoes this year! Check it out!

    EN POINTE! from The Apiary on Vimeo.

  • Angela Sterling: Ballet Photographer

    Leslie Rauch, Principal Pacific Northwest Ballet and Angela Sterling.  Lesilie is wearing Class Act's V Neck Bodice and Classical Tutu Skirt


    Check out this great video featuring dance photographer, Angela Sterling! Pay close attention to the clip because at approx. 3 mins, 50 seconds, you'll see Leslie Rausch, Principal Dancer, Pacific Northwest Ballet, wearing Class Act Tutu's V-Neck Tutu Bodice and Classical Tutu Skirt.

    And as a little side note, Angela provided the gorgeous photos you see here on Class Act Tutu as well as Vala Dancewear. {Pretty awesome, huh? ;) }

    Thank you, Angela for sharing your talents with the dance world!

  • 'A Very Young Dancer' - All Grown Up

    youngdancerbook"In the fall of 1976 “A Very Young Dancer” leaped into the imaginations of a generation of little girls. This children’s book by the photographer Jill Krementz chronicled the day-to-day life of a 10-year-old student from the School of American Ballet, following her to class and through her starring role as Marie in New York City Ballet’s “Nutcracker,” for which she was was handpicked by George Balanchine himself.

    Fans of the book might have assumed that Stephanie went on to an adult ballet career as well. But like countless other young dancers in professional children’s schools, Stephanie saw her career end in adolescence, a time of rebellion and discovery. Most move on to other interests. But for Stephanie leaving the school was filled with shame and secrecy. Finding her new place in the world — after the attention that came with the book — was a long and painful journey littered with troubled relationships and financial struggles, with moments of deep darkness and depression..."

    I don't know about you, but I distinctly remember borrowing this book every week from my school's library for years!) Read Stephanie's brilliant interview and learn more about her life after ballet, here.

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