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Ballet-inspired clothes find their way out of the dance studio

(U-WIRE) LOS ANGELES – When 5-year-old Marisa Hartwick goes to college, she’ll still be playing dress up. “I will wear a pink or red dress, and I will wear ballet slippers,” she said. Like many girls, Hartwick, whose parents are both UCLA alumni, dreams of becoming a ballerina one day.

(U-WIRE) LOS ANGELES – When 5-year-old Marisa Hartwick goes to college, she’ll still be playing dress up.

“I will wear a pink or red dress, and I will wear ballet slippers,” she said.

Like many girls, Hartwick, whose parents are both UCLA alumni, dreams of becoming a ballerina one day.

“I want to be a ballet dancer because I’m going to be on stage, and (the clothes) are my favorite part,” she said.

Hartwick isn’t the only one who plans to dress like a ballerina past childhood: Ballet clothes have left the dancer in the studio and moved to college students in the streets. Dance clothes, from ballet flats to leggings, have become a part of mainstream fashion and are showing up everywhere on the UCLA campus.

But why would some of today’s fashion trends be inspired by ballet?

“People want to look like the dreams inside of their heads, which is what dancers represent,” explained Kim G, who goes by the name Sukha G and has been teaching ballet and yoga at the John Wooden Center for 13 years. “Society’s answer is to imitate (their dreams).”

Nikki SooHoo, a first-year world arts and cultures student who has been dancing in a variety of styles ever since her first “Mommy and Me” class, agrees.

“I think a lot of little girls want to be ballerinas. The image of being a ballerina draws them in,” SooHoo said.

SooHoo believes that this aspiration continues from childhood to adulthood.

“The image of a dancer is so beautiful: The long legs, the elegance, the essence that they give off,” she said. “People want to feel that way.”

Both SooHoo and Aaron Valenzuela, a fourth-year art student and president, designer and model for the University of California Fashion and Student Trends Club, have noticed ballet-based apparel showing up on campus.

Examples include leggings that look like dance tights, leotards, ballet flats, leg warmers and jackets that have the cross-and-tie wrap like ballet sweaters.

“Basically, there are a lot of clothes that are dance-inspired,” Valenzuela said.

“Women are looking to reclaim their femininity.”

Because ballet is typically associated with women, it is one of the ultimate symbols of delicate femininity.

“I think a lot of girls still have that ‘ooh, I want to be a ballerina’ mentality,” said Angelica Nutt, a second-year theater student who has been dancing hip-hop and salsa for about six years. “It goes along with femininity, which is why fashion has gone that way.”

Nutt’s personal favorite style is leggings with a layered, “ballet-esque” skirt.

Putting on dance-inspired clothes is like returning to childhood, a time when fashion rules strictly included dresses and frills for some, and a tutu accessorized anything.

“When I was little, I used to get spankings because I hated wearing pants,” Nutt said. “I learned to dress down.”

But with little girls like Hartwick still wanting to play dress up in college, this could be why — as more women discover the trend, more women embrace it.

In Westwood, leggings are sold at Urban Outfitters, leotards and unitards (a leotard with leggings attached) can be found at American Apparel, and ballet flats are sold at Crisalide, formerly known as Footnotes.

“I’ve been purchasing a lot of the ballet kind of shoes,” said Grace Kim, owner of Crisalide.

Kim said she has also seen a rise in the sales of leggings.

“I sell a lot of them,” Kim said, which could partially be because of the 10 percent off she offers to UCLA students.

“It is a fashion trend these days,” she added.

Sukha G said a possible reason for ballet-inspired fashion is that ballet clothes are meant to be comfortably moved in, so the comfort factor makes it practical for everyday wear.

“It really feels good,” she said. “It makes sense that one would like to walk through life like that.”

Ballet-inspired clothing is also rational from the designers’ perspective.

“When I’m designing, I don’t think about a ballerina, but I do think about movement — about how the clothes move and how the clothes allow the person to move,” Valenzuela said.

“I look for the extravagant and elegant at the same time.”

According to Valenzuela, the style is currently experiencing a shift from being inspired by the dancer in the studio to the dancer on the stage.

The newest trend is more formal and romantic.

“Society lends itself to being dressed like a performer, with a little bit of glamour,” Valenzuela said.

But ballet-inspired fashion, whether from the studio or the stage, is more than just the latest vogue.

It is about more than wanting to wear the same ballet flats as virtually every celebrity, or leggings like Nicole Richie and leg warmers like Lindsay Lohan.

The trend is about exploring one’s childhood dreams.

“(It’s about) dreams and that beautiful innocence, that bold power which comes with being a child,” Sukha G said.

Put simply, don’t most women still want to adorn themselves in a pink dress and ballet slippers, spin around the room, making the skirt flow out like a tutu?

“It is less about looking like a dancer and more about how comfortable dancers are in their skin,” Sukha G said. “The more at home you get in your body and your skin, the more beautiful you will look.”

Daily Bruin (UCLA)

04/30/2007

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