On any given day, Pacific Northwest Ballet’s rehearsal studios are filled with ballerinas decked out in a rainbow of colorful, innovative leotards—many designed and hand-sewn by principal dancer Elizabeth Murphy.
Murphy didn’t grow up sewing. In fact, she didn’t even know how to run a sewing machine until she was 18. She didn’t want to sit still long enough.
The Chelmsford, Massachusetts, native started dance lessons as a child in her hometown, and by her early teens decided to pursue a dance career. She moved to Pennsylvania to train at The Rock School for Dance Education. While still a student, she danced supplementary roles at Pennsylvania Ballet. Murphy then landed a position with Ballet West II before entering its main company in 2007.
But she was miserable. “My first year in the company was the hardest of my career, as of yet,” she says. Murphy didn’t expect overnight success, but she also never imagined how tedious it would be to stand around for six hours every day, waiting to rehearse short walk-on roles. For the first time, she contemplated quitting.
Instead, she decided to look outside dance for a new creative outlet. She discovered it in sewing.
Murphy found a bargain sewing machine online, along with a few easy patterns. Every evening, she came home from the studio to learn something new. When a friend suggested she try her hand at leotards, she found a simple bathing suit pattern, and turned to YouTube videos for guidance.
“It was freeing to practice and master sewing techniques, whereas in dance I sometimes felt stuck, or limited,” Murphy says.
The sense of accomplishment she found in sewing motivated her out of her dance rut: In 2007 and 2008 she attended Pacific Northwest Ballet’s summer intensive. Impressed by artistic director Peter Boal, and by the dancers she met in Seattle, Murphy kept an eye on the company and joined the corps de ballet in 2011. She’s moved up the ranks very quickly, and last November, Boal promoted her to principal dancer. In a pre-show speech, he compared her to a young Meryl Streep. “When she’s onstage, the audience can’t take its eyes off of her,” he says.
At PNB, Murphy has danced everything from Sugar Plum Fairy to featured roles in contemporary works, like William Forsythe’s In the middle, somewhat elevated. “It feels so good to dance things that don’t put a limit to your range!” she enthuses.
You can say the same thing about her approach to designing dancewear. Murphy sews each leotard using soft spandex and mesh, with the aim of crafting lightweight, breathable garments. “I try to create simple lines that accentuate the beauty of the ballet body,” she says. She’s also developed a unique leg seam. “It keeps the leotard down better, without cutting into the leg,” she explains.
PNB corps member Emma Love Suddarth says she’s never worn such flattering, and comfortable, leotards before. “I get a little sad towards the end of the week when my Liz leotard supply runs out,” she says.
Last summer, Murphy started to market her eight leotard designs on Etsy, under her own brand, Label Dancewear. “My slogan is ‘Love Your Label,’ which is essentially ‘Love Yourself,’ ” she says. She wants to inspire younger dancers to accept themselves more than she did at her first job. “We’re so passionate about what we do,” she says. “But I think a lot of times, when we’re in it, we don’t see the beauty.”
Murphy still makes each leotard herself but plans to hire somebody to help her meet demand. She’s sold more than 300 leotards in the past six months and hasn’t had time to replenish her stock.
For now, Murphy is content to keep Label Dancewear fairly small. But someday, when she hangs up her pointe shoes, the goal-oriented ballerina may reinvent herself as a big-time entrepreneur.
There’s nothing better than the feeling you get when you walk into your favorite dance store. You're surrounded by shelves of pointe shoes, racks of warm ups and—my personal favorite—gorgeous leotards. But with all of those leo options, it can be a daunting task to pick out your favorites. Which will make you look your best? To help, we’ve made a list for the best leotards to flatter every body shape. When you feel comfortable in your dancewear, it can do wonders for your confidence, and in-turn, affect your performance in class, rehearsal and even auditions.
With wide shoulders, your goal is to draw attention inward and down. A boat neck will accentuate your collarbone while cap sleeves will help blend your shoulders with your torso. A pinched-front camisole is a good choice for when you want to go for the delicate look.
Avoid: Halter leotards, which can make the shoulders appear wider than they are.
Look for leotards with a built-in shelf bra or underwire. A conservative neckline, thick straps and a high-cut leg lend more support while drawing attention away from your chest.
Avoid: A dipping neckline and thin camisole straps, which bring focus where you may not want it and pose the threat of a wardrobe malfunction.
Find a leotard that emphasizes your shoulders with an open neckline. Ornate detailing at the top such as prints, colors, patterns or gathering will take the attention upward with a fashionable addition.
Avoid: Solid colors with a plain, bare neck, which draws the eyes to your hips since there is nothing pulling the focus to the top.
With the right balance of proportions, sleeveless leotards, thin straps and low necklines lengthen everything on your upper half.
Avoid: Tank leotards and three-quarter sleeves, which cut the line of the arm.
You can fake a longer leg line with a high cut bottom, often called a French cut, and a plunging neck or back. These details make the entire body seem taller.
Avoid: Biketards, low-cut legs or wearing shorts over your leotard, which can cut the line at too square of an angle.
You’ve likely been blessed with gorgeous long extremities, so embrace them! A classical ballet cut, camisole straps and low-cut legs are staples to look for. These all provide the illusion of an incredibly elongated torso and play up your already lengthy arms and legs.
Avoid: High leg lines, which could shrink the look of your trunk.
We have all had one of those days where you just don’t love your abs. Ruching or gathering around the stomach and ribs will make your waist appear smaller and give support.
Avoid: Spandex material or milliskin without any gathering. The shiny texture brings attention where you may not want it.
For these and other styles, and to find out where to purchase classwear in your area, contact the following manufacturers:
Bloch: 800-94-BLOCH, www.blochworld.com
Body Wrappers: 800-323-0786, www.bodywrappers.com
Capezio/Ballet Makers, Inc.: 800-533-1887, www.capeziodance.com
Chacott Co., Ltd.: 800-835-1701
Danskin: 888-DANSKIN, www.danskin.com
Eurotard: 770-475-3045, www.eurotard.com
Freed of London, Ltd.: 866-MY-FREED, www.freedoflondon.com
Gaynor Minden: 800-637-9240, www.dancer.com
Grishko: 800-474-7454, www.grishko.com
Harmonie: 800-435-4518, www.harmoniedance.com (purchase Harmonie clothing online at www.capeziodance.com)
Leo’s Dancewear: 800-736-LEOS, www.leosdancewear.com
Malakhov by Chacott: 800-835-1701
Mirella: 800-457-0304, www.mirella-dance.com
Mondor, Ltd.: 800-363-1460, www.mondor.com
Natalie Dance Wear: 888-223-1878, www.nataliedancewear.com
Prima Soft: 800-431-6005, www.prima-soft.com
Sansha: 910-371-0101 x110, www.sansha.com
Weissman’s Designs for Dance: 800-477-5410, www.designsfordance.com
Só Dança: 800-269-5033, www.sodanca.com
The color orange has a special meaning for Keith Lin, designer of KeithLink leotards. To him it signifies sunshine and the happiness of dancing. For six years, Lin’s colleagues in the dance world urged him to start his own line of leotards, and on April 4, the brand launched its first Spring/Summer collection, Awakening.
Lin studied dance at Taipei National University of the Arts but soon realized that his passion lay behind the scenes. He left college to work in a costume design shop, and after three years his mentor told him to open his own workshop. Lin spent the next thirteen years designing costumes for companies like Cloudgate and Taipei Chamber Ballet.
Lin’s debut studio wear collection features eight styles for women and five for men. Unlike most brands, each style comes in one specific color, and Lin only makes twelve leotards for each style because he doesn’t want people to show up to class in the same outfit. Fabric, cut and color are all important elements. “The fabric needs to expand to twice its size,” Lin says, “so that dancers’ movements won’t be restrained by the leotard.”
Lin finds inspiration for his designs in Greek mythology and the statues of gods and goddesses and the lines of their bodies. His leotards take the names of Aphrodite, Arete, and Nymph to reflect the character and romantic essence of the myths.
Lin is very meticulous and treats his every design like a work of art. KeithLink leotards come in a dainty box. The tags, with care instructions, are hand-sewn on after every detail is checked as a sign of approval that the product is ready for sale. Right now leotards can be purchased in Taiwan, and Lin is exploring ways for dancers in the U.S. to purchase his leotards.
“The studio space should be embellished with color and design,” he says. “My vision is that every dancer can take class carefree and stop worrying about their leotard.”
Pointe is giving away three KeithLink leotards (all size M). Check out our giveaway!