Houston Ballet Demi Soloist Natalie Varnum shows off her signature style (Claire McAdams, courtesy Houston Ballet)

Fashion Forward: 3 Pros Share What Goes into Their Dancewear Choices

When it comes to in-studio dancewear, the pros know that the right look, piece, or material can mean the difference between a day feeling confident and comfortable, or just plain out of sorts. With so much time spent honing their craft in dance clothes, choosing those items takes equal parts strategy, creativity and a healthy dose of fun.

Here, professional dancers Ian Eastwood, Karilyn Ashley Surratt, and Natlie Varnum share what goes into their fashion choices that enables them to look good, feel great, and turn heads in the studio.


Ian Eastwood, freelance dancer, choreographer, and teacher

On his favorite footwear: "Eventually I realized I was burning through my shoes too fast. I needed to find something classic and simple that would always hold me down, so I switched to the low-top authentic Vans. These days my go-to dance shoes are Vans Old Skool. They're a little fatter and more supportive. What's nice about a classic shoe is you can grab a new pair everywhere."

On creating a signature look: "I like mixing and matching new stuff with old stuff. Classic stuff with edgy stuff. I hone into a certain look and change it from time to time. I have my vintage tee for the day, crazy sweats, and Vans. It's a formula."

Comfort is key: "I like things that have been worn a lot. I like feeling that the piece that I'm wearing has life to it. I feel like a mannequin if I'm just given a brand-new T-shirt."

Favorite pieces: "I have a big collection of vintage tees. I have a Where's Waldo? T-shirt. I collect Simpsons vintage tees, Loony Tunes vintage tees, Batman vintage tees, etc. I also have this one denim jacket that has 60 pins on it. It's a conversation starter everywhere I go."

Karilyn Ashley Surratt, musical theatre dancer and former Radio City Rockette

Karilyn Ashley Surratt poses in front of a red background. She stands in a developp\u00e9 position, one leg high by her head. Her arms are extended overhead, and she looks gleeful. She wears bright blue, patterned leggings and a matching cropped tee shirt, with brown cowboy boots.

Faren Brooke Collins, courtesy Karilyn Ashley Surratt

For versatility: "I love a unitard. They are so easy but so edgy. You can wear them for anything. You can put a lot of things over them. I also love American Apparel body suits. They have a high-cut leg, and for me, a long leg line is so great. You see the line and the musculature."

To make the most of old dancewear: "I love repurposing an old leotard. Maybe it's your favorite leotard and you don't want to throw it away. I cut the bottom off and turn it into a crop top—I think it's a cool way to reuse something."

For self-care: "For rehearsals, it's a lot about quick and easy muscle recovery. I wear CW-X compression pants with Stabilyx compression webbing. The webbing matches how your tendons crisscross over your joints. Wearing the compression tights for rehearsals helps me to have faster recovery in the evening. As I've gotten older, that's very important to me, especially as a Rockette."

On what she looks for in dancewear: "I consider the fabric quality. Dance clothes are not cheap. They are an investment. If you buy good quality things up front, they will last you years. I love Grishko, Yumiko, American Apparel, Farever Art, and Art Stone."

Natalie Varnum, Demi Soloist with Houston Ballet

On her go-to dancewear for class: "For class, I start with a Bloch or Yumiko leo with Zarely tights (our company's pick). I wear Bloch stretch flat shoes and usually start with a hot pink RubiaWear jumpsuit for my warm-ups. By center, I put on a cute skirt, which changes to match my leo of the day."

For rehearsals: "It depends on what we are rehearsing. I always have a certain rehearsal garment to mimic the costume (romantic tutu, long skirt for contemporary, etc.). When we start doing in-studio runs, I try to match the character I'm playing color-wise: all black for Carabosse or a high-neck leo for Mayerling. It makes it fun and helps me get into character."

For confidence and comfort: "I go for the high-neck, long-sleeve, low-back leotard—In the middle, somewhat elevated/Sylvie Guillem–style. Sylvie always gets you through! Maybe in a good green for me. I also love Bloch leotards for confidence and comfort, and I'm a huge fan of Maldire Dancewear, as well."

On what goes into her fashion choices: "I love funky patterns. I have so many wild leos with hamburgers or Sailor Moon on them. It makes it fun. I also love my friend's company, Rezonance Athletics, because they make all of their dancewear out of recycled fabrics!"

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Photo by Joe Toreno. Hair by Marina Migliaccio and makeup by Lisa Chamberlain, both for the Rex Agency.

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