What it Takes to be a Dancewear Designer
When Kelsey Byerly started making her own uniquely styled leotards while studying in the Joffrey Ballet School/New School University BFA program in NYC, it didn’t take long before classmates bombarded her with requests for garments of their own.
For her senior thesis, she drew up plans for a dancewear company and presented a fashion show with 10 outfits for friends and faculty. Three years ago, after graduation and a short stint performing with California Ballet Company, she made her school project a reality and started the company, Flaunt Body Wear in Encinitas, CA.
Skill Set: Starting a line of dancewear requires creativity, persistence, patience, business savvy, knowledge of sewing and clothing construction, fabrics, work space and money.
Humble Beginnings: When funds were short during Flaunt’s start-up, Byerly worked out of her home and stored finished garments in the garage. She even modeled her own designs; her mother served as the company photographer and the backdrop for the photos was a white sheet hung in the living room.
Gotta Dance: Byerly teaches dance classes on the side for extra income and to keep herself moving. “I just can’t be happy only designing all day and not dancing.”
Life of a Leotard: After sketching a design, Byerly has a pattern and sample garment made before the final product is mass-produced and shipped to retail stores and individuals.
Signature Styles: Unique leotards with flower embroidery, mesh insets and asymmetrical details.
Trend Spotting: Keeping a finger on the pulse of the dance community is essential. Byerly asks dance students to fill out surveys on their dancewear likes and dislikes to help guide Flaunt’s designs.
Coworkers: Fabric makers, pattern makers, cutters, sewers, models, photographer, web designer, accountant, sales representatives, retail store owners
Tools of the Trade: Drawing table, sketchbook, scissors, pins, fabric, measuring tape, fashion magazines Inspiration: “For ideas, I look at what trends are in fashion magazines and on TV,” Byerly says. “I clip pictures and hang them up.”
Hours: “I’m my own boss, so I work whatever hours are needed, and sometimes that means 12-hour days.” During the fall, she works 10-hour days Monday through Saturday to keep up with the busy back-to-school season, but works more regular hours the rest of the year.
What's more daunting than getting into your dream college dance program? Figuring out how you'll cover the costs of tuition, room and board, incidental expenses and more. Here's the good news: The right scholarship(s) can bring your dream school well within reach.
Look Around, Look Around
Scholarship applications are due between the fall of senior year and graduation time, so familiarize yourself with funding opportunities during the spring of junior year. And there are a lot of opportunities out there, says Kate Walker, chair of dance at Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts in Dallas, TX. "A lot of school guidance counselors now have software that automatically matches you with scholarships," she says.
Seek out scholarships on your own, too. According to Walker, "a lot of corporations are required to have some community engagement, including offering scholarships, so research corporations in your community." Your parents' employers might offer assistance too, says Doug Long, an academic and college counselor at Interlochen Arts Academy in Interlochen, MI. "They might have scholarships you can apply for just because your parent works there."
Other sources of grant money you won't have to pay back (as you would a loan)? The YoungArts Foundation; competitions/conventions, like New York City Dance Alliance; and the university or dance department you're applying to. Even some scholarships aimed at athletes are open to dancers!
A winning scholarship application involves a fair amount of paperwork, especially if the organization requires you to show financial need. In addition, certain scholarships ask for the College Board's CSS/Financial Aid Profile, which gives the awarding organization a more complete picture of your family finances.
Other ingredients of a successful scholarship application include recommendation letters, a dance and/or academic resumé and an essay or statement of purpose. Treat these components just like college applications: Have multiple trusted adults proofread your materials, and ask for recommendation letters or transcripts long before deadlines.
A note for non-dance scholarships: Including objective measures of achievement can only help you. "List national recognitions, like YoungArts or other competitions," says Long. "That shows the scholarship committees that people at high levels have acknowledged you as an artist of quality." And don't forget who your audience is. "Especially in writing samples, make sure you paint a vivid picture for your reader," Walker says. "Don't assume they know about all the things—like barre every day—that we as dancers take for granted."
No award amount is too small to be worth your time and effort. As Walker says, "Don't pooh-pooh a couple hundred dollars in award money, because any scholarship is funding that you didn't have yesterday."
A version of this story appeared in the July/August 2017 issue of Dance Spirit with the title "All Aboard the Scholar-ship."
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