Costuming for ‘Dancing’ goes down to the wire

'Rhinestone therapy' of utmost importance to dancers

‘Dancing’ celebrates unlikely milestone | Format waltzes to riches | Tranter promotes BBC values on unscripted side | Costuming for ‘Dancing’ goes down to the wire

Contestants on “Dancing With the Stars” sweat and toil through hours of practice perfecting their routines, but they don’t get near the stage until costume designer Randall Christensen bedazzles them from head to toe.

“There’s something to be said for rhinestone therapy,” laughs Christensen. “I think it can make you a better dancer, because you hold yourself differently when you’re wearing something special, something dramatic, something that was made just for you.”

Christensen — who has won an Emmy for his work on this show — has next to no time to design and create these deeply personalized costumes for each contestant on the show. Contestants meet with him Tuesdays after the results show, when they’re given their new dance and music assignments for the week. The designer sketches and brainstorms with them. By Wednesday, he’s delivering all the fabrics to the cutters. Costumes are sewn together Thursday, then fit on Friday and Saturday. Beading and rhinestones are applied Saturday and Sunday. Couples come in for fitting Sunday, and final adjustments are made at that time.

Well, the final touches usually happen then.

“I’ve been backstage right before a couple goes on stage with a pen light in my mouth adjusting a costume or putting on more stones or beading,” says Christensen. “This job is a costume designer’s dream and his worst nightmare all wrapped up in one.”

The designer gets the costumes on the contestants with the help of a staff of approximately 24 to 26 people that includes seamstresses, beaders and cutters. Initially, the staff is spread out with several people dedicated to each contestant. Then, as contestants are eliminated, people are reassigned so progressively larger numbers of people are working on each costume until the season ends.

Christensen isn’t just up against a tight schedule when putting together looks for the show. Though the men usually wear the more conservative pieces on the show, women contestants must often go far out of their comfort zones. This makes the designer a kind of couture therapist who coaxes them into looks he believes will work for them.

“I’ll be the first to tell you this isn’t for the meek, because we have you strip down to a G-string,” says Christensen. “By the time you’re on stage you’ve been sewn, hooked and strapped into your costume because that’s the only way to keep it from falling off of you while you dance.”

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