What Dancers Want: Dressing Toddler Dancers

Tank-top or short-sleeve leotards, seen here on some students, are usually the most comfortable styles for the youngest dancers so they don’t overheat or play with straps.

While parents may be inclined to buy the cutest, most stylish clothing for their little ones, teachers often have different ideas of what is actually effective in the classroom—and reflect this in their dress codes. We spoke with three dance instructors about their apparel preferences for their youngest dance students.

Sasha Munchak

New Orleans Dance Academy
New Orleans, LA

DRN: What style leotards work best for younger students?

SM: Tank-top style or short-sleeve leotards are the best for staying secure on the shoulders without making the student too warm. Spaghetti straps easily fall off the shoulders, and long sleeves are too hot. We’re very strict that no skirts or tutus be added to the leotards, since the students’ arms will tug on them rather than doing the dance moves.

DRN: Which tap shoes should younger students wear in class?

SM: The tap shoes should have a Velcro or snap closure that the teacher can easily adjust if needed. Children that young typically can’t tie a bow yet, and ribbons often come untied in the middle of class, forcing the teacher to stop instruction.

DRN: What other items might young dancers need for classes?

SM: When we approach recital, parents need to buy new, clean pink tights, either Capezio or Bloch. Students in our combo classes use cute dance bags, backpacks or tote bags to carry their extra shoes. Scrunchies and bows are also a great way for the students to sport a fun accessory.

Stephanie Prosenjak

Cherry Creek Dance
Denver, CO

DRN: What clothing do you recommend for young ballet and tap dancers?

SP: Even when they’re very young, I want to make sure that their ribs and core are engaging correctly without a swayback, so I really need students in a leotard without a big ruffle tutu. Leotards with small attached skirts are fine, but loose skirts tend to be a distraction that the students pull up or down. We do let them choose whatever color leotard they wish, though, which is fun for them.

DRN: How does clothing vary for your petite jazz classes?

SP: Students are welcome to wear small bike shorts or leggings in jazz classes, but the bike shorts still require tights underneath to look appropriate for class. T-shirts tend to ride up and expose stomachs, and they’re too baggy for proper body alignment, so we still require leotards, as well.

DRN: Do you have any preferences when it comes to shoes and tights?

SP: Full-footed tights are a must. Footless tights especially don’t work for our combo classes, because the students’ feet become sweaty, making the shoes difficult to change—plus, they develop blisters. We love Bloch and Capezio shoes because of the good quality leather, and beginner students, no matter their age, need to be in a full-sole shoe to develop foot strength.

DRN: Do any cute accessories work well in the classroom?

SP: When it gets chilly, ballet sweaters that either tie in the back or pull on work very well. Legwarmers are also adorable and can easily be removed if the child is playing with them. There shouldn’t be much extra in the hair, though—sometimes, students try to wear crowns or clips that easily fall out, but their hair should be held back by a hair tie or a headband.

Mary Seidman

Mark Morris Dance Center
New York, NY

DRN: How does your dress code for younger students differ from other programs’?

MS: We don’t have a strict program for dress, although I really stress that they keep their hair back and wear clothing close to the body so I can see their form. We also offer modern for our young students, for which many students wear footless leggings and a plain T-shirt or leotard. Logos are not allowed on any of the clothing that the students wear.

DRN: What do students seem to prefer when they’re given more freedom in their dress code?

MS: Younger ones still want to wear leotards and tights because it makes them feel like the older ballerinas. So even with relaxed rules, that’s still the most common outfit. We really don’t like our students in short shorts, though, so leggings are very popular. In the cooler months, we start to see some sweatpants. And most students stick to solid-colored clothing, rather than patterns.

Amy Smith is a dance teacher and writer based in Greensboro, NC.


Photo by Keith Pinkston, courtesy of New Orleans Dance Academy

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