Perhaps the most familiar styles of dance costumes are those for ballet. In the late eighteenth century, members of French ballet troupes developed the familiar outfits: tights and tutus. Even male ballet dancers donned the tights. The tutus freed dancers to move more easily while the tights still kept them covered for modesty’s sake. Before this costume invention, ballerinas had to wear full skirts and petticoats.
Today, the various types of ballroom or competitive dancing are the most prevalent type of dance. The most important element of all dance costumes is comfort and a style that allows for freedom of movement. Most dancing dresses are therefore made with spandex for stretch.
Style of costume is also important and varies depending on the type of dance. Each style of ballroom dance developed a particular type of costume. For instance, for latin dances, such as salsa, merengue, samba, mambo, lambada, and tango, the dresses are seductive, fitted, and have a latin flair. Bright colors, ruffles, low necklines, and high hemlines dominate for these dances.
The dance costumes for more traditional ballroom styles are much more modest than latin dancing dresses. The waltz, for example, is set to classical music and requires a ball gown for the woman and a tuxedo for the man. Ball gowns for waltzes should be conservative and classic in style. They have long full skirts and do usually not come in bright colors.
For the quick step and the fox trot, two other ballroom dances, dresses may be less formal. Shorter dresses in brighter colors and with more embellishments are appropriate because they are danced to ragtime and swing music.
Other popular dances include ethnic dances and the costumes needed for these are dictated by the culture from which the dance originates. For instance, flamenco is a traditional dance of the gypsies of Spain. A very particular style of dress is used for this dance. The flamenco dress is long, fitted and has ruffles down the length of it. The bottom is flared to exhibit the spinning movements of the dance.
Another ethnic dance gaining popularity is Irish dancing. The dresses are meant to mimic the peasant dresses worn by women several hundred years ago. They include elaborate Celtic embroidery and are only knee-length because this type of dance is largely foot work.
The increasing popularity of traditional dancing for fun or competition means more focus will be put on the costumes. Anyone interested in participating in these dances should be familiar with the appropriate attire.