What Dancers Want: Back-to-School Basics

Marcel Owens: Fun, strappy designs can make even “basic” leotards feel performance-ready.
Marcel Owens: Fun, strappy designs can make even “basic” leotards feel performance-ready.

Some might think that “basic” equals boring, but dancers know that basics—their staple leotards and leggings—are anything but. Whether a dancer’s basics function as dress-code-approved apparel or the capsule collection of her dance wardrobe, they’re the pieces she’ll return to again and again. We spoke with high school and college dancers about the leotards and leggings they buy for class.

Monika Eisenheim

Kennesaw State University
Kennesaw, GA

DRN: What’s your favorite style of leotard?

ME: At KSU, the dress code for ballet is a black leotard and pink tights. Sometimes you can wear a skirt. For all other classes, you have to wear black clothing. I really like a spaghetti-strap camisole leotard with a sweetheart neckline and a low back. It has to be supportive enough that the straps won’t fall off my shoulders.

A crisscross in the front is a flattering style. I also like leotards with three-quarter-length sleeves that have a low-cut back. When you’re taking multiple dance classes, you want something that will transition from ballet to modern.

DRN: What classes do you wear leggings to, and what do you look for in them? 

ME: I wear leggings for any class but ballet. I love ones with mesh up the side of the leg. Mesh adds contrast to the leg line, without being out of dress code, and it’s slimming. Long leggings—to the ankle—are a trend here at my school; they make your leg line look longer.

DRN: How many leotards and pairs of leggings do you like to have?

ME: I like to have a week’s worth of everything. I could probably get by with half a week’s worth, but sometimes I get on overload with schoolwork, so it’s nice to have a breather before I have to do the laundry.

DRN: When do you shop for leotards and leggings?

ME: Summer or fall, when I’m getting ready for back-to-school. Also around Christmastime—when I need to refresh my leotards and leggings supply. In the springtime, I shop for summer intensives, since they might have a different dress code from what I have to wear year-round.

Alexandria Kinard

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Urbana-Champaign, IL

DRN: Describe your ideal leotard.

AK: I own about 15 leotards, but I wear the same six in rotation. They are colored or have an open back or mesh or cool designs. I use those six for daily classes, mainly ballet. Because I’m short, my favorite leotards are high-cut, so my legs look longer. I also like halter leotards that show off my back when I’m dancing. Plus, I don’t have to continuously pull them up to cover my cleavage. Aesthetically, I like leotards that are simple and attractive, nothing too frilly. 

DRN: And what about leggings?

AK: My favorite leggings of all time are my Nike Pro leggings. They’re very smooth and have stirrup straps at the bottom of the pants, which you can slide your foot into, to keep them from riding up. I also like that they’re high-waisted and don’t slip down when I dance. 

DRN: Do you have a dress code for your dance classes?

AK: I don’t really, except for wearing something that showcases the lines of my body. I still like to wear a leotard and tights to ballet, just because that’s how I feel my best; for modern, I wear a tank top and leggings. 

DRN: What kind of dancewear trends do you see among college dancers now?

AK: In modern, I see a lot of yoga pants and tank tops instead of leotards. In ballet, I see joggers, leggings and tanks instead of black leotards and pink tights.

Marcel Owens

Artistic Fusion Dance Academy
Thornton, CO

DRN: In all of your classes but ballet, you wear leggings. What’s your favorite type?

MO: I always try to find high-waisted leggings. Black leggings look clean and presentable, but I like patterned ones, too. 

DRN: When shopping for leotards, what catches your eye?

MO: I like a unique pattern that stands out, a leotard that I don’t see other people wearing. A lot of my leotards are high-cut and open in the back. When your back is open, it makes you look so much stronger. 

DRN: What do you buy for auditions, leading up to competition and convention season?

MO: I want to look presentable for auditions, where you can wear whatever you want. I mostly wear leotards with leggings over them. When it comes time for conventions, I’m usually dancing on carpet, so it’s good to have my legs covered—otherwise, you’ll get carpet burns.

Rachel Rizzuto is a writer, dancer and choreographer based in the Midwest.

Photo courtesy of Marcel Owens