“I feel that the essence of dance is the expression of man – the landscape of his soul. I hope that every dance I do reveals something of myself or some wonderful thing a human can be.” - Martha Graham

Ballet, hip hop, salsa, and modern jazz are some of the most popular styles of dancing. While we often think that learning to dance is just for kids, you can learn the steps for ballet at any age. More and more adult ballet classes are starting.

To do ballet, you’ll often need a ballet leotard, tights, and some demi-pointe or pointe shoes. Tutus are just for use on stage and aren't usually typical dancewear when practising.

So how can you choose your leotard?

What Style of Leotard Should You Choose?

There’s more to a leotard than meets the eye. It looks a lot like a bather or a bodysuit without the buttons and it may even have a tutu sewn onto the hips.

What do ballerinas wear?
While most of us probably picture tutus when we think of ballerinas, these are only for performances. (Source: lika777)

The leotard isn’t obligatory for every dance class, especially if your dance class doesn’t have a strict policy on what you wear. That said, while you can attend a ballet class in leggings and a tank top, there are several advantages to wearing a leotard.

It was designed with movement in mind so you can focus on your dancing without being distracted by your clothing. Similarly, it helps your teacher to better see your movements and correct you if you’re doing it wrong, something they won’t be able to see with baggy clothes. The leotard also acts as a dancer’s second skin and will facilitate their movements. Thus, even if you think you’re too old to wear a leotard, you might want to consider it.

There are several types of leotard you can get according to your body type.

Dance Leotards with Thick Straps

While this style is falling out of fashion, it’s often recommended for your children who are just starting their ballet lessons. They can comfortably move without the straps moving about.

Leotards with Thin Straps

This style is far more common. You can find leotards with thin straps, backless, or with elaborate lattices on the back. Make sure that your dance leotard matches your body type:

  • Thin or overweight: avoid lattices on the back as they won’t do much for you.
  • Large chest: avoid plunging necklines and opt for leotards with reinforcement around the chest area.
  • Broad shoulders: avoid thin straps and opt for a crew neck.
  • Small neck: choose a V or boat neck.

If you have a short or long torso, you may want adjustable straps.

Sleeveless Leotards

These attach behind the neck and offer a particular style. However, there are a few disadvantages to them:

  • They can pull on the back of your neck and become uncomfortable.
  • As you bend down, they may reveal your chest.
  • If you have large shoulders, they may be unflattering.

Short-sleeve, 3/4 Sleeve, or Long Sleeve Leotards

While very elegant, these types of leotards aren’t very common during ballet for one simple reason: ballet lessons often take place in heated rooms and nobody’s cold while they’re doing ballet. However, if you don’t like your arms, they may help you feel more comfortable.

Leotards with Shorts

As we get older, we may get certain complexes about our bodies. A simple leotard and tights combination might be found for prepubescent children. That said, older dancers may not feel comfortable in this type of clothing. This is why there are leotards with shorts built into them to hide your thighs and bum. If you still don’t feel comfortable, you can opt to wear leggings over the top.

Leotards for Men

Men’s leotards usually have short sleeves but there are almost as many variations available as there are for women with V necks, crewnecks, and long-sleeve options available. The bottom of men’s leotards tend to be like briefs and male dancers tend to wear shorts or leggings over the top of their leotard rather than tights underneath them like female dancers.

Find out more about makeup for dancers.

Materials for Leotards

Comfort is paramount. Thus, there are plenty of different materials used in the manufacture of leotards and only you can decide which one you prefer.

What are leotards made of?
Given how physically demanding ballet is, you'll want a leotard that stretches and wicks sweat. (Source: Pexels)

Lycra

Throughout history, this has been the most common material used when making swimwear and gymnastic clothing. Leotards for little girls are usually made of lycra. Generally, it’s quite comfortable, easy to wear, and helps when you sweat. When you’re six years old, you won’t tend to sweat as much, but once you’ve hit puberty, everything changes. That said, there may be other materials that you prefer.

Cotton

This is the nicest material to wear but it also retains moisture. Avoid leotards with sleeves if you don’t want sweat patches at the end of your lesson. This material lasts longer but will also become rougher with each wash.

Microfibre

This material is ideal if you sweat a lot as it wicks away moisture. You’ll feel quite dry even after putting the effort in. However, it can get quite warm. Don’t opt for a long sleeve leotard. You can also go for Tactel nylon, polyester, or polyamide. Choose materials with elastane in them as they tend to be more comfortable.

In any case, make sure you try your leotard before you buy it, especially if it’s your first ever one. If needs to fit without being too tight. If it leaves red marks on your skin, you’ll need to change it. You need to be comfortable when moving around. Try a few dance moves when you try it out: plié, penché, sauté, etc.

Colours for Leotards

In some dance schools, you mightn’t get a choice of colour. In some places, the colour represents your level and is useful for telling apart the beginners from the experts when it comes to an end-of-year show. However, this trend seems to be disappearing, especially in adult classes.

What colours can ballet dancers wear?
Different styles of dance can have very different uniforms. (Source: habanera)

Little girls don’t get much of a choice as most leotards are in pinks and purples. After a certain age, you can start picking whatever colour you like. If you’re doing an end-of-year show, your teacher might ask you to get a leotard in a particular colour so that everyone’s in the same colour.

You can choose your colours according to your skin colour or hair colour or just according to which colours you like. Warm colours work well with darker hair and skin colours while cold colours work well with fair hair and paler skin tones.

Warm colours include:

  • Red
  • Dark pink
  • Orange
  • Yellow

Cold colours include:

  • Blue
  • Green
  • Purple
  • Light pink

You can also get black and white leotards. Black is thinning and is a good choice if you’re conscious about your weight or your figure.

If you opt for a light colour, be aware that some of them can be sheer.

Find out more about the cost of ballet outfits.

Do You Need to Wear Underwear with a Leotard?

For women with larger breasts, a bra is essential. Even if the leotard includes support, it mightn’t be enough and you may end up with back pain and chest pain. Opt for a flesh-coloured bra with adjustable straps.

Do you wear underwear with leotards?
Leotards can take some getting used to. (Source: sobima)

You can wear a leotard like a swimsuit, without any underwear. Some dancers may feel more comfortable with nothing underneath than with their knickers hanging out of the bottom or underwear that’ll move about as they dance.

However, you’re free to choose whatever you feel most comfortable with. Opt for underwear that doesn’t stick out from under your leotard and knickers that won’t move around as you dance.

So which leotard are you going to buy for your ballet lessons?

To get you started, we recommend that you check out the ranges from Capezio, Wear Moi, Bloch, and Sansha.

For more help with dancewear, dance shoes, or dance costumes, you can always ask your dance teacher or private tutor.

If you need more help with ballet, think about getting in touch with the talented and experienced tutors on Superprof. You can get either face-to-face tutorials, online tutorials, and group tutorials and since each comes with its pros and cons, make sure you carefully consider which one will work best for you, your preferred learning style, and your budget.

Similarly, many of the tutors on Superprof offer the first hour of tutoring for free. Make use of these free hours to see if you get along with the tutor and whether or not they're right for you.

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Jess