What Dancers Want: Three Jazz Dance Instructors Describe What Works Best for Their Classroom Apparel

While dance teachers don’t necessarily dress like their students, they do need fitted clothing that shows their lines. For example, booty shorts, like the ones Brandi Nichols is wearing here, are great to layer with sweatpants, and a basic bra goes well under a fun tank top.

With jazz pants now losing their trendiness in the dance world, retailers are having to rethink the jazz dancer “look.” We asked three jazz dance instructors what they like to wear in the classroom, plus what are the latest styles they would like to see in dance stores.

Ashley Barone Litwin
Owner of The Anna Marie Dance Studio
Wilmington, DE

DRN: How does your clothing as a jazz instructor differ from that of your jazz dancers?
ABL:
I wear slightly looser clothing, such as a brightly colored tank top with athletic sweatpants, while my dancers are still required to wear a black leotard with blank pants or leggings. The students also wear tan jazz shoes, whereas I tend to go barefoot, since I’m usually just marking combinations. Underneath my sweatpants, I wear black spandex booty shorts in case I get warm, or I sometimes switch it up with leggings.

DRN: Are there any items that you don’t see at dance retail stores that you prefer to wear?
ABL:
I wear more athletic clothing now, like Under Armour and Adidas, which is hard to find at dance retail stores. I also like to grab things here and there to mix and match, like a comfy flannel to wear over my tank tops in winter or a new spandex legging. Because I wear my clothing so frequently, it wears out quickly, so I’m looking for inexpensive items.

DRN: Do you have a bag that you like to keep your dance and studio equipment in for classes?
ABL:
Yes, I switch up my bags every few years as they wear out, but I am super-happy with the book bag I bought this past year. It has tons of pockets for little odds and ends that I need, and it is great for storing my laptop and paperwork. I actually store my dance shoes and some clothing at the studio.

Sydney Smith
Apprentice company director and jazz instructor at Rock City Dance Center
Little Rock, AR

DRN: What pants do you like to wear when you’re teaching jazz?
SS:
I don’t see a whole lot of jazz pants, so I prefer to wear black athletic leggings that go to the calf or ankle. I wear both cotton and sweat-wicking leggings, but black or charcoal gray are my go-to colors because they go with anything.

DRN: What are you looking for when you’re shopping for your dance clothes?
SS:
As an instructor, I need to be comfortable and not feel restricted, but also be able to show the dancers the lines of my body. Instructors also aren’t getting much cardio in the classroom, so I wear a lot of layers, such as a cotton or Lycra V-neck tank top and a light, zip-up athletic jacket.

DRN: Are there any items you would like to see dance retailers providing more of for instructors?
SS:
My kids get a big kick out of shirts I wear with fun sayings on them. I wear a tank top right before competition that says “Is That All You’ve Got?”, and the kids really get into it. So I’m looking for colorful tops that will pump up my dancers and inspire them.

Brandi Nichols
Owner of Gotta Dance
Studio & Company
Bend, OR

DRN: What trends have you been noticing in jazz apparel for instructors and dancers?
BN: I grew up wearing jazz pants and still love them, but anytime I require them for performances, my kids don’t know what they are. My students really go for leggings or yoga pants that are tight down to the ankle, so no more bootleg pants.

If they want to wear a booty short, I require a longer spandex short. If I wear a jazz pant, I stick to Capezio—my pants from middle school are still in great shape.

DRN: What clothing works well for teaching jazz dance?
BN:
In jazz, you do a lot of upper-body isolations and specific arm movements, so I like wide-strap, formfitting tank tops. When it’s colder, I wear a long-sleeve cotton shirt, again formfitting. I sometimes wear athletic leggings, but I love my gaucho pants for their versatility—if I’m teaching Bollywood and West African the same day, they work for all styles.

DRN: Can you describe what you’re looking for when shopping for your dance apparel?
BN:
I need clothing that is comfortable, that I can wear outside the dance studio and that won’t be distracting to my students. I like Capezio’s performance bras, but I’m just looking for basic colors to match my tank tops. So solid-colored bras and tank tops with thick straps, paired with black leggings or pants, are my staple items.

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

Photo by Cohen & Park

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