What is a dance leotard?

The dance leotard is a skin-tight one piece garment that covers the torso but leaves the legs free. Its qualities make it ideal for styles of dance such as ballet and jazz. The dance leotard is available in several different cuts such as tank, cap sleeve, camisole, polo neck and long sleeve though there are variations of each of these styles.

The dance leotard as we know it today originates from the 1800s. It was made famous by French acrobatic performer Jules Léotard who lived from 1842 – 1870. He called the garment a “maillot”; a French word used to refer to different types of tight-fitting shirts or sports shirts. The first known use of the word leotard can be traced back to just 1886; several years after Leotard’s death. In the 1920s and 1930s, the leotard had influenced the style of bathing suits and they had also begun to be worn by professional dancers on such as the showgirls on Broadway. Since then, the leotards applications have been extended to exercise, yoga, under-clothing garments and in the 1970s they even became common as street wear, popularised by the disco craze.

The most important characteristic of the leotard for the dancer is its flexibility. This is because it allows the dancer completely unrestricted movement. The skin-tight quality of the dance leotard accentuates the performance by showing off the dancer’s physique thus enabling the audience and teacher to clearly see the placement of the dancer’s body. This “formfitting” quality is highly important for many styles of dance such as ballet.

The most common materials from which dance leotards are manufactured are Nylon Lycra and Cotton Lycra. Though both of these materials have the same formfitting qualities, Nylon Lycra has a slightly glossy finish whereas Cotton Lycra has a matt finish. Both of these fabrics are available in a wide variety of colours. As there are few dance schools with the luxury of a costume designer, such a wide choice of colours provides a cheap way to easily influence the way an audience perceives a performance. For example, different colours can be used to represent different moods such as red for anger and green for envy. Nylon Lycra is also available in many different printed fabrics such as tiger, leopard and rainbow.

If you’re thinking about decorating a plain leotard in order to create a unique dance costume for your performance, it’s important to maintain its formfitting qualities. Sewing accessories such as sequins to your dance leotard can make it more rigid as they will restrict the stretchy properties of the fabric. Sewing on accessories can also sometimes make it difficult to take the leotard on and off, so worth keeping these to a minimum. If you want to create a glittery effect for your dance leotard, you’re better choosing a glistening fabric for the leotard itself as this will ensure your leotard has the sparkling effect you want without compromising flexibility.

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