On a (very) hot Thursday in August I headed into New York to help out at a charity and, more dauntingly, buy some Ballet clothes. It had been a while since I had decided I wanted to take Ballet, and by this point I knew what school I was going to take lessons at, and what their dress code was. Due to having qualifying exams for my PhD at the end of August, I also knew that in all likelihood I wasn’t going to be back in New York for a while, and I felt I would have a much better chance of getting guys’ Ballet clothes in the Big Apple then locally.
I realised this would be a little different than heading to the mall to buy some jeans, so I decided a little preparation would be useful and so I headed to the web.
First off, I had already read the absolutely amazing free e-book by Ballet For Men’s David Hunter called “Ballet Apparel For Men” and had found it so useful I even bought it in paperback from Amazon (and it looks even more amazing in real life than on screen). I immediately popped the book into my bag for the day in case I had any problems or questions while in the city.
Next up, I google-mapped Manhattan for a list of dance stores. There were a smattering all across Midtown and I immediately recognized Capezio as being one of the names mentioned in the Ballet For Men book. They have multiple shops in New York, with their main two being just off Times Square (their flagship store) and another near the Lincoln Center. I decided their flagship was my best bet, with my reasoning being that the larger the store the more chance they had a good range of men’s clothing.
I therefore headed into the city with my shopping list ready to buy some clothes!
I’m going to go through one by one each item I purchased, say a little about how easy it was to choose/size/buy as well as my first impressions on them all.
1. Ballet Slippers
On walking into the Capezio store I was immediately greeted by a plethora of pink: leotards, tutus and all things I immediately think of with girls and ballet. Okay, so that wasn’t actually the case – but it was what I had geared myself up to expect so I was a little taken aback when I didn’t see this at all. Actually, upon exiting the elevator (which you had to get to via the back of Ellen’s Stardust Diner) at first this seemed like any other high-end fitness store in New York with lots of T-shirts, sweatpants and the like. There were many helpful staff (including, I was slightly surprised, a couple of guys) and after explaining I was a complete beginner they recommended I head to the shoe section to start.
This was certainly a better reception than I’ve had in some other places and they didn’t seem phased by the fact I wanted to do Ballet (at one potential Ballet school, on asking for the adult class schedule I was asked “Is your daughter over 16?” – not only do I not have children, I’m only 23!) and I went to the back of the room where there was a wall filled with all kinds of dance shoes. There were Ballet slippers, pointe shoes, tap shoes, shoes I think were meant for highland dancing and other shoes that I have no idea what they would be used for other than torturing your feet. The shoe assistant was serving a mother/daughter when she saw me looking a little overwhelemed and helpless and came over as soon as she was done.
Out of a huge selection of shoes, very few were for guys, and I was quite glad for that as it made it all seem a little less daunting. I told her I needed some men’s black ballet slippers. She asked if I wanted split or full sole, leather or canvas, and what size. I knew I needed split sole, but wasn’t sure about what kind or size (especially as UK shoe sizes are different to US) so she passed me a foot-measurer and went in the back to pick out some “Capezio Romeos” in both leather and canvas in an 11W.
I had read quite a bit on the web about the difference between leather and canvas and there seemed to be a lot of merits in both – for example leather lasts longer, but canvas is cheaper. The woman in Capezio was great though, and simply told me that the better type is whichever fits my feet better. It was reassuring to know I wouldn’t make a “wrong” decision either way, and after trying both on we decided leather looked like it fitted better and I put them behind the counter to pay for later.
Item Bought: Capezio Romeo Male Ballet Slipper, Size 11W, $38
2. Black Men’s Tights (and Elastic Belt)
Looking online it seems like there is a lot of anxiety with guys starting Ballet about wearing tights. To be honest, after competing in Crew and cycling I have spent a large portion of my time at Univeristy in either Lycra or Spandex showing off far too much flesh for my liking. To that end, wearing tights doesn’t really bother me as much as it seems to bother others.
Having had much success getting the slippers, I headed over to the tights section and asked an assistant for some help in selecting a pair of Black footless tights. I had decided on footless after reading various comparisons, one reason being I wouldn’t have to deal with getting holes in my toes (I’m not great with a needle and thread, although I feel that is going to change!) and, being honest, I felt not having feet would make me feel slightly more manly (and less like I was wearing women’s tights). As it turned out, the girl on tights wasn’t particularly clued up about male tights and I pretty much had to find them myself, on the top shelf of one of the racks. I guess guys are generally taller than girls and putting them up there keeps them out of the way. On the other hand it makes it rather difficult to browse!
So perched on top of some step ladders I started rifling through the box of tights searching for any in my size. The girl originally suggested a medium, but I looked at the packet and found that the height range for a medium was 5’4″ to 5’7″; over half a foot shorter than my height! In the end she worked out an XL (height 5’10” to 6’1″) was needed and I started searching again. After finding a lot of white tights (definitely not brave enough to be wearing those yet!) I finally found some black in my size, only problem was they were footed. It isn’t a huge deal but I asked the girl if there were any in the back. She told me there wasn’t but suggested I ask at the register in case there were some at one of the other stores in the city.
I headed to the register and asked the girl serving for some help, and she couldn’t have been more helpful. She sympathized with how hard it is to find dance clothing for guys (I think she said her boyfriend is a dancer) and even joked about it to one of the male staff as he passed by. She also congratualted me on choosing to take Ballet and told me how much I’ll enjoy it. She had a look on the system and unfortunately there weren’t any footless tights elsewhere, so I told her the footed would be fine. I also mentioned the need for some thick elastic to make a belt to keep the tights up (I decided on a belt rather than suspenders, mainly because of my poor sewing ability). She immediately produced a few feet of inch-thick black elastic and added it to my bag at no extra charge. I think this is standard policiy, but whichever way I thought it was very thoughtful.
Item Bought: Black Capezio Male Footed Tights, Size XL, $25
Item Bought: A few feet of thick black elastic, free!
3. Sewing Kit
Next up was an easy one – a sewing kit. I’ve never owned a sewing kit in my life (I’ve never needed to repair any clothes while in the US and when I’m back in the UK I get my mum to do it…) so even though I knew dental floss would do for thread, I didn’t have any needles to use it with! The amazing cashier (seriously Capezio, make this girl head of PR! I think her name was Marie…) produced a little kit that she swears by, even finding one with black thread. In it there was two thick needles, a spool of thick strong black thread (no coloring of the floss with a Sharpie needed!) with a thread cutter and a little guide to sewing pointe ribbons (thankfully I’ll never need that…). Although a little more expensive than buying the needles separately and some floss, it is pretty useful to have it all together and I’m sure it’ll be good to throw in my bag and have on me if ever anything goes wrong at the dance studio.
Item Bought: StitchKit Black Sewing Kit, $7
The next item I didn’t bother getting from Capezio as I had been assured everywhere I go that it doesn’t matter where I got my white T-Shirts from, as long as they were reasonably tight fitting for the teacher to get an idea of my lines. I’ve always liked Gap tops (they are good quality and seem to fit me well) and so before Capezio I had gone to pick up a pack of plain white T-Shirts. Now the only reason I am mentioning this is that I went into Gap and picked up a large to try on, my usual size. I put the shirt on and it was a bit of a tent on me, and definitely not close-fitting. I was a little surprized by this and so picked up a medium instead. Trying this on, I found it was only marginally smaller and just as loose. In the end I needed to pick up a small, that’s right, a small! A 185lb, 6’1″ guy wearing a small T-Shirt. And to be honest, it still isn’t all that tight, so be careful if you are sizing up Gap T-Shirts, you might be smaller than you think!
Item Bought: Pack of 2 Gap White T-Shirts, Size S(!), $19.50
5. The Dreaded Dance Belt
Now we come to the all important, and much dreaded, Dance Belt. As with I think all beginners, I was (and still am) slightly intimidated by the dance belt. Now if you don’t know what a dance belt, don’t worry, I didn’t know either when I first heard the term. Think of a cross between a jock strap and a thong used to make sure certain parts of your body don’t move all over the place while dancing. Yup, sounds pretty horrible doesn’t it! I tried to read up a lot on the dance belt before going shopping – I definitely didn’t want to get the wrong size or type and end up in a lot of pain. I can’t remember all the different resources I used when researching but some good sites were definitely Ballet For Men’s post on them) (plus the e-book)and Henrik’s short and sweet post on Tights and Tiaras.
So although slightly daunting, I at least didn’t feel embarassed asking for some help with selecting a dance belt while in the store. I was shown to the lone rack towards the back of the store and the girl left me to “do my thing”. Unfortunately I needed some help so had to track her down after staring blankly at the rail for a minute or two. First up, what style did I want? Unfortunately not many of the tutorials had really covered this, other than saying you need a thong back rather than full back. I mean, in front of me there were quilted, non-quilted, ones that looked so padded you could use them as a pillow, and ones that seemed so thin I was sure they wouldn’t be of any comfort whatsoever. The girl advised me that most guys she had served seemed to like the basic quilted panel dance belt. Next up was sizing – I had no idea what size I was in dance belt terms, but after consulting the catalogue we worked out from my waist I would be pretty much exactly between a medium and a large. I wouldn’t want this to be too easy would I?!
After some more useful advice from the girl we decided I should probably go for a large – I don’t particularly want to cut off my blood from my legs when I’m going to be dancing. I already knew I needed the nude color (definitely not white or black!) so I started searching for a large, nude, quilted panel, thong back dance belt (now you see why I needed some help!) and lo and behold there were none left on the rack. After searching through the entire rack a couple of times none appeared so I headed back to the cashier to check the other New York stores. As helpful as ever she rang around and found that the Lincoln Center store had one in stock and she asked the sales assisstant there to put it behind the counter for me.
With many thank yous I paid for my stuff and headed up to the other store, passing the amazing Lincoln Center in the process. I never fail to be amazed when passing this area when I think of just how much music, dance and theatre goes on every day there. It also reminds me how lucky I am to live so close and be able to take advantage of all the opportunities it presents. After getting briefly distracted by all this I arrived at the store, which was much smaller than the Times Square one. The men’s items were all hidden away in the corner and I had a quick browse before picking up the dance belt from the counter. Once again, the cashier was very helpful and asked me all about why I was taking Ballet lessons and what I’m looking forward to most. It seems every corner I turn I find another example of the “dance community” and am reminded how friendly everyone is – I don’t think I’ve felt such camaraderie in anything else I’ve done.
As for the dance belt, lets just say that it is still pretty scary, even when you own one, and after trying it on to check the size I’m pretty sure it’ll take a while to get used to it!
Item Bought: Capezio Quilted Panel Nude Dance Belt, Size L, $27
So that was my first experience shopping for Ballet clothes (or do I call it uniform?) and on the whole it was fairly painless and easy! I’m sure future trips will be quicker, or even instant if I decide to just go for internet shopping. I am glad I went to a “proper shop” for my first time though as I think it would have been more than a little overwhelming to try and get all this from home without seeing the items.
So, if you need to get your first set of clothes – go for it! I promise it won’t be as bad as you think!
Until next time, keep dancing!