‘So You Think You Can Dance’: the fanciful creations of costume designer Soyon An


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The perfect costume is like icing on a cupcake when it comes to “So You Think You Can Dance.” Sure, the performances would be great on their own, but what would a Bollywood dance be without the colorful sequins, a pasodoble without a flouncy gown, a Latin dance without fringe to shake? Costume designer Soyon An has been designing for the show’s tours for five seasons and the TV show for three and this year won a Primetime Emmy for her efforts in Season 4. We caught up with her to learn more about what she does:

What’s your process for designing the outfits?
Each Tuesday I learn who the choreographers are, and as soon as I find out, I give them a call so they tell me the two or three song choices that they might be picking from, and the music editor gives me copies of all three tracks. It’s such a process getting song clearance. Then the concept is chosen and that’s when I throw in my ideas about color, how full the skirt is, or how fluid it should be or how see-through or what kind of fabric, leather or chiffon and so on.

What happens to the costumes that don’t go on tour?
They go into a nice storage box with an inventory list and we archive them. I spoke with Mary Rose, the head of the Costume Designers Guild and she invited me to have the costumes in the FIDM New Year’s exhibit so I’m hoping it goes out.

What are some of the lessons you’ve had to learn as you go?
Dancers need a lot of leg stretch: The crotch always needs to be very flexible so regular pants will never work. A dancer’s jacket isn’t a street outfit: it can look like one but the pattern is quite different because we don’t want the shoulder to lift up, so those are some of the lessons that I learned. The dancer’s body is beautiful but also different from the average person. Their thighs are bigger, the calves are bigger, the waist is smaller, the shoulders and arms might be bigger. Everything must be tailored and everything needs to be custom-made to fit the waist.

Was there anyone you had any trouble designing for?
Ashleigh [di Lello] was a little difficult, but those are the challenges that come with my job, to accommodate people. I don’t know if she had more a tunnel vision since she came from the ballroom world but we made it through and she’s part of the Top 6. She’s a very nice person but when it comes to the performance part, she gets stressed and gets into a little bit of a diva mode.

Was there anything you’ve had to talk the dancers into?
They all come in with their opinions but once I hold up my scissors and go at it, it works out. The stuff I first put on them, because I’m just draping at first, never looks the way that it does by the time of the show. They’re always like ‘Oh, that doesn’t look right’ and I say ‘You should know by now it’s not going to look like this!’ It’s funny because it’s a routine but they forget every week. I think it’s maybe their own stress from having to memorize new dances every week.

What were your favorite costumes of the season?
All of the group numbers were all my favorites. I really did put a lot of myself out there: When it’s not a competition part of the show I can really be free with my creativity. The ballroom stuff really isn’t my ground, but I dove in and put my own little twist on it like the pasodoble and the quickstep and the jive and the cha-cha. Jason Gilkison was awesome to work with, Jean-Marc Généreux as well, it was really fun to do their costumes, it was very contemporary. We really experimented this season with hip hop with Tabitha and Napoleon [D’umo]. And I love Sonya Tayeh. She’s always like, ‘You know exactly what I’m talking about! It’s disgusting!’ We always have fun. It’s been a lot of stress, a lot of high and low emotions, a crazy roller-coaster of awesome.

What else have you been up to?
I dressed Adam Lambert for the ‘American Idol’ tour. He’s surprisingly easy to work with: When you meet somebody you just know when you can really grow with the person and dive into the potential image that we have. With some of the others we really had to pick their brain, like being a therapist. It worked out really well with Adam and we already knew the kinds of leathers and brands that he liked so that made it easy to collaborate. I also dressed the girls for ‘Idol’ and I will be doing it for this season too. I like being busy. I make myself crazy if I don’t.

--Claire Zulkey.


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