What Dancers Want: Three Pro Ballerinas Talk Tights

Professional ballet dancers (like Emily Adams, here) tend
to prefer convertible tights not only for easy foot care but also for the option
of wearing their shoes without tights
to get better grip in their toes and heels.

While tights may seem like an afterthought compared to the many fashions and styles of leotards, professional dancers definitely have their preferences on fabrics, cuts and brands of tights. After all, they wear them upward of eight hours a day! We spoke with three professional ballerinas about what tights they need throughout the season, and how they choose the tights that will complement their dancing best.

Julia Feldman, Dancer, Sacramento Ballet Company

DRN: What colors and styles of tights do you most often wear for classes and rehearsals?

JF: Typically we wear pink tights if we’re working on classical repertory, and either black or nude tights for contemporary. Our company prefers Body Wrappers tights because of the thin mesh fabric—we want our muscles to be visible. If the tights fabric is too thick, we actually call them “sausage tights.” The only drawback to really thin tights is their tendency to tear, so you do have to be very careful with them.

DRN: How many pairs do you typically go through in a day?

JF: I usually wear two pairs a day, either changing at lunch or when we’re switching between classical and contemporary choreography. For contemporary, we can play around to a certain extent with our outfits, so you might even change into a bright colored tight for fun.
I typically rotate through 10 to 12 pairs of tights a week.

DRN: Do you have any tricks that you do with your tights?

JF: Pointe shoe heels tend to slip off your tights, so you can either cut the tights to just above the heel, or you can put some rosin on the heel. Clear nail polish also helps to stop tight runs from getting too big too quickly.

Emily Adams, Principal Dancer, Ballet West

DRN: What brands and styles of tights do you prefer to wear?

EA: Our company wears Zarely convertible tights with a seam up the back; I love how soft the fabric is. I usually wear these when I need pink tights. When I wear black tights, I prefer the full-body Capezio tights. The full-body style is more versatile, so I can wear them up if I need more support under my leotard, or I can roll them down to my waist. With half tights, I have trouble keeping the waistband rolled down to my hips, and they’re uncomfortable around my waist.

DRN: Are there any tights that you favor or stay away from?

EA: My favorite tights to wear are white tights because of how much muscle definition they show. My black tights I only wear for contemporary routines, as they’re opaque. I mostly stay away from mesh tights, since they’re kind of itchy and bunch up strangely, creating what I call “elephant knee.” As a tall dancer, I also need tights that come in an extra-large size.

DRN: When do you normally purchase tights?

EA: The beginning of the season is usually the only time I need new tights, since we’re given old company tights to use in classes. I usually just replace a couple of pairs that have too many runs in them.

Nicole Kelsch, Principal Dancer, Ballet Theatre of Maryland 

DRN: What brands work best for you for classes and performances?

NK: The company prefers us to wear Body Wrappers for performances, but I like Capezio for my own personal use. The Body Wrappers fabric will start to cling and bunch after a few washes, but the Capezio tights are not too constrictive and are light enough to make you feel like you’re not even wearing tights.

DRN: How long do your tights usually last?

NK: My tights last about two years, unless I cut out the heel, which will lead to runs. I only go through about six pairs a week, so I just replace a couple at the beginning of the season.

DRN: What colors and styles are preferred by you or your company?

NK: I prefer mesh half tights in black for my classes, unless I’m doing very classical work. We usually wear Body Wrappers pink half tights on stage, although some costumes might require a full-body tight or even a nude-colored tight. Convertible or stirrup tights are best so that we have the option of not wearing them in our shoes if needed to feel the floor better or to reduce heel slippage. 

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