What Dancers Want: Outfitting Tiny Tots

Making a good impression on each year’s new crop of young dancers, like these at Young Dance Academy, can turn them into customers for life.
Making a good impression on each year’s new crop of young dancers, like these at Young Dance Academy, can turn them into customers for life.

When choosing merchandise to supply the youngest dancers, you may be torn between traditional and just downright cute. But dance teachers need their dancers to stay focused and comfortable in the classroom to ensure a proper dance education. We’ve asked three professionals what they want to see dance retailers provide for their pre-dance and creative movement classes.

Selina Pengelly
The Dance Academy, Westland, MI

DRN: What dress code do you maintain for your youngest dancers?
We have the same dress code for both our young dancers and our advanced dancers—black leotards with pink tights and pink ballet shoes, or with tan tights and jazz shoes. We give the students boundaries and rules at a young age, which they must maintain throughout their dance careers. I would love to see more black leotard options for little ones, such as leotards with fun straps in the back. I see too many purple and pink leotards for younger kids.

DRN: What accessories do you allow in the classroom?
Black ballet skirts and black fitted shorts are great—I just prefer that they not be attached to the leotard so we can take them off for small classroom performances for the parents. Scrunchies, hair bows and flower clips are great. They allow students to get creative and have a unique touch, as long as nothing’s dangling that they would play with. Warm-ups are allowed, but I prefer the students in athleticwear with sweat-wicking fabrics, since cotton makes them too hot.

DRN: What would you like dance retailers to be providing more of for young dancers?
Tan jazz shoes for small feet can be very difficult to find, and we sometimes want them for recital dances. I also like the ballet shoes that have elastic all the way around the foot, rather than tie strings, so that the teacher doesn’t have to keep tying their shoes. And I’ve found convertible tights are best for young students—if their tights are getting scrunched in the shoe, we can just pull them up above the ankle.

Sandy Young
Young Dance Academy, Inc., Oak Creek, WI

DRN: What are your preferences for young-dancer tap shoes?
The shoes with pre-sewn elastic often don’t fit tightly enough around the foot. The best tap shoes have a strap with a buckle—they can be adjusted slightly if the foot grows, and the kids don’t mess with them like they do with shoes that have ties.

DRN: How much growth room do you allow parents to buy for their kids’ shoes?
If the student is buying a shoe in the fall, a half size bigger than a snug fit is OK. But starting in January through the end of the season, the shoe style, color and fit should be correct for recital. We prefer the Capezio Daisy Ballet shoe, because the pink isn’t too peachy, and the Bloch pink tights match the tone of the shoe very well.

DRN: Do you have any dance clothing you don’t allow in class?
No tutu or skirt is allowed. It’s not always a popular choice with the parents, but it’s a matter of the students not pulling on their skirts the whole time. Little shorts or unitards work great. Spaghetti-strap leotards can also be problematic, since the straps tend to fall off the shoulder, so short-sleeve, long-sleeve or thick-strapped tanks work best.

Terri Rooks
Greensboro Performing Arts, Greensboro, NC

DRN: Are there any accessories that work well in a dance classroom without becoming distracting?
Hair ribbons and lovely attached skirts are fine. I allow sweaters on a cold day if the studio is not yet warm enough. If a sparkly skirt fits and does not slide off or slip around, I allow it with 3- or 4-year-olds, but if it becomes distracting, I ask them to [take it off and] put it back on at the end of class. I tell parents, “Dance class is fun, but it’s not playtime.”

DRN: What do you recommend for secure tap shoes for little ones?
The elastic slipped over a button is too big for a very small, petite dancer. For my own daughter, I sewed elastics onto her shoes that fit her feet, then stitched a ribbon on top. She could then slip in and out of her shoes. When she grew, I cut off the old elastic and replaced it to give her more room.

DRN: What do you recommend dance stores
provide for young boys’ dance clothing?
I prefer that boys wear fitted athletic pants and a fitted white T-shirt that will tuck in to the pants. They should wear black ballet shoes and white crew socks with oxford-style tap shoes. However, if a boy comes to class with a less masculine self-image, I do consider it my job to provide a safe place for him to explore and express, as well.

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

Photo by Jenna Engen, courtesy of Young Dance Academy

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