Bollywood Jam – The Story Behind The Costumes

The video finally arrived from ADA Providence! I wish this was in High Def but competition videos tend to be shot in an older format so they’ll play on virtually any DVD player. From start to finish it took me about six weeks to make all 56 costumes. The inspiration was a Salwar Kameez for the girls and Kurta for the guys, both are South Asian styles worn in that part of the world by millions of people every day. To get started with this project I had a meeting in January with Rennie Gold and Kellie Grant to get a sense of what they were thinking for a costume. Rennie is the director and owner of The Gold School and Kellie is on the faculty. Rennie choreographed Bollywood Jam. He had a thick catalog of dance costumes and while there were a few South Asian styles available they were interpretations of formal clothes such as Nehru jackets or were variants on sari, such as a choli (the blouse worn under a sari) paired with loose pants. All of these were out because two years ago another dance school did a big Bollywood production routine that used those types of clothing styles. Plus, the Level 3 dancers are under the age of 13 and, unlike many other dance schools, Rennie will not allow young girls to wear costumes that are not age appropriate. Plus the colors weren’t really what he was looking for either. He used my Pantone deck to chose a color palette and I did web research to come up with ideas.

Rennies final choice was a turquoise blue for Level 1 (the oldest kids, age 13 and up), a lime green for Level 2 (ages 11 13) and a bright yellow for Level 3 (ages 8 13). He left the color choice for the pants up to me and that was an interesting challenge. It had to be dark color because all of the dancers wear the same tap shoe: black leather Capezio G100s that cost $65 a pair. Asking them to buy new tap shoes for one routine was out of the question. The pants color also had to coordinate with the three tunic colors. Lucky for me research revealed that a dark merlot wine color is used in real South Asian clothing and it looked great with the tunic colors.

Design Sources

The Girls: Salwar Kameez is a garment for women and girls made from woven fabrics; the basic design is a loose tunic with side slits, a pair of tapered pants fairly tight through the leg that scrunch at the ankle plus a scarf or shawl in a chiffon. The scarf and pants are often the same color and contrast with the tunic. It can be a day or evening garment depending on the fabric. Even though the design is simple the fabrics range from plain woven gauze to sari-type fabrics in bright saturated colors with beautiful metallic designs woven through and embellished with elaborate trim. The tunic can be sleeveless, short sleeved or long sleeved and a v-neck is most common.

The Guys: a Kurta is a tunic worn by men and boys, very loose, and the only embellishment is at the neckline. Its also made from a woven fabric and the pants can be matching or not.

Fabric: This was an even bigger challenge! My first choice was sari fabric for the tunics and a knit for the pants. Sari is widely available on Ebay in poly-cotton and I found a source that had the three colors I needed. Each sari had a stunning jacquard clover motif woven through with a silver jacquard border. One sari is 7 yards long and I found a source for about $15 per sari and I could get several tunics out of each one with a cross grain layout. I ordered one to make a prototype, however, the fabric was really really sheer and it needed a lining, which was totally out of the question for 56 costumes. So I had to go with a knit for the tunics as well and Spandex House came to rescue; they sell Milliskin which is a 4-way stretch knit (80% nylon, 20% Spandex) and it comes in 40 colors. Its meant for dance/gymnastic costumes and work-out clothing. Spandex House has the matte finish version which was perfect. Several of the girls told me they found the leggings to be really comfortable, I think thats due to te high Spandex count. Its a rather heavy drapey fabric like Slinky but thankfully it doesn’t grow like Slinky. A raw edge on Milliskin will not run or ravel and not having to hem sleeves and pant legs was a real time saver.

Trim: the move away from sari fabric to a plain knit meant I had to look for trim and it had to be at a great price. Trim is always more expensive than fabric and my price limit was $75 per costume. Ideally I wanted to find a trim in three different colors lo and behold Cheep Trims had metallic fan braid in yellow gold, light gold and silver at a great price point: 20 yards for $12 and I easily met the minimum order requirements.

Patterns: Initially, New Look 6086 was exactly what I was looking for in terms of a Salwar style tunic. A short sleeve was perfect because I didn’t want to worry about sleeve length. The scarf was eliminated because there is partnering in this routine. However, once I switched to a knit for the tops I wanted to look for a simpler design without darts to cut down on construction time. Jalie 2805 (the t-shirt pattern) was the final choice and I lengthened each pattern into a short tunic shape with side slits. The end result is much more body conscious than a real Salwar and more appropriate for a dance routine. In tap routines the judges need to see every dancers legs and feet for scoring. Jalie 2920 was used for the leggings and I extended the length by 6 inches to get the ankle scrunch. The guys costumes use Simplicity 9900, a pajama pattern. A few minor adjustments were made; a v-neck was added and and the Henley front and center seamwas eliminated. Oddly the younger boys costumes fit them perfectly but the older guys costumes were HUGE even though I made them in the correct sizes. After the try-on each one had to be cut in two inches on each side for both the pants and the tunic. Now these guys are dancers and all in amazing condition nonetheless the slopes on this pattern is so huge I recommend going down a size for any guy if you decide to use it.

Production

Production sewing was the biggest challenge. There are three sets of dancers in this routine, both guys and girls,and the age range is from age 9 to 18. In the end it worked out to 56 costumes in 12 sizes across four colors. Yes I made 112 pieces of clothing! The school gave me basic measurements for the girls (bust, waist, hips) and I took measurements for the 7 older guys (chest, waist, back length, waist to floor from the side). I winged it on the younger boys because they are all about the same height & size this year and a boys medium worked for the three of them. In the end I traced off and altered patterns in 12 sizes for the girls and 3 sizes for the guys. That was a ton of work but I have them saved so I can use them again.

The costumes had to be delivered a full week before the first competition so Rennie could do rehearsals and a run through prior to the competition. My biggest fear was handing them out and discovering that one (or more!) dancers would not have a costume when they needed to wear them that weekend. I came up with this production plan to prevent that:

  • Each dancers name, gender, measurements, size for each piece and dance level was put on a 3 x 5 index card
  • The girls costumes were made first, then the guys.
  • I sorted the cards and made a separate list on a legal pad of how many pieces were needed of each size in each color. For cutting the list was grouped by size, costume color then by dance level. Bodices were cut first, then sleeves.
  • all of the pieces for each garment were rolled together and placed in a wire laundry basket to the right of my serger. As I finished each garment I dropped each one into another laundry basket to my left.
  • Trim was added after all the costumes were made.
  • As each piece was made it was checked off from the totals for that size and each piece was marked with its size on a piece of tape.
  • When a color was finished in a size I added the dancers names to the tapes, put each into a zip-lock bag and dropped in the 35 index card with the name facing out.
  • The pants/leggings were sewn and added to each bag in the same manner..

After all the costumes were done I did a double check against the master list of names to make sure each dancer had a costume. On costume day I did not miss ANYONE! 🙂

There were a few glitches during production,the electronics in my serger overloaded and I had to enlist Anns help and her industrial serger to finish them up. She gets a big THANK YOU and a giant hug for being such a solid and supportive friend. There have also been repairs here and there. A few kids went through a growth spurt and their costumes were too small based on measurements taken last fall. Some have been accidentally washed, but hats no big deal as I have extra fabric (never wash a dance costume!) For Nationals next month Ill whip up spare leggings in a few sizes because if something needs repair there will be no time for fixing anything while were in Boston at the Hynes Convention Center. One final touch for the girls will be bindi and jewels over their eyebrows.

All in all it was a fun challenge and I got paid for it too!