“Dancing with the Stars”
By Liuba Randolph, March 3, 2010*
I met up with Costume Designer Randall Christensen as he and his team are starting prep for the next season of “Dancing with the Stars.”
L. Randolph: Randall, what is an average week like once the show is on the air?
R. Christensen: March 22nd is the first live show, and then you grip onto the desk and hold on for dear life! We do have the luxury before we go live to sit down with the couples and go through look books, tear sheets, etc., but once the show starts it’s a different story. Tuesday night after the results show, we only have about 15 minutes to meet with the teams and finalize their look for the next week’s episode. They are given their music earlier on that day and in this 15-minute period we discuss their ideas for choreography and style for the number. I pull out ideas and we fine-tune a look that works for that number. It is a 15-minute rollercoaster ride! I talk mainly to the professional dancer, because I come from the ballroom world and they know that I will understand the needs of their choreography. We talk in “dance lingo” and then I will turn and translate it to the celebrity. They have to trust me to make them look great in a costume that is comfortable to dance in. We make it clear up front, that they can let us know what all their concerns are, but they need to leave the creative work to us. There is a lot of trust in that respect. Throughout the season the celebrities will send me links to videos, or send me tear sheets, so we are always working closely with them. But it’s a mad dash on Tuesday nights, because everyone wants to be first to nail down their color and design. Designs are finalized on Wednesday by noon. We spend the rest of the day choosing fabrics, and then we deliver everything to our cutter fitters by 6pm. They cut and sew all day Thursday, and then we start having fittings on Friday (celebrities) and Saturday (professionals). Camera blocking is on Sunday and the final check fit is done at that time, and then, remarkably, everything is beaded overnight. Swarovski is our hero! We use about 3 million crystals a year, not counting the sew-on jewels, and we wouldn’t use anything but Swarovski crystals.
L. Randolph: Is everything custom made or can you buy things?
R. Christensen: Every single thing, except for maybe a necktie or an occasional shirt, is custom-built on Wednesday. We are thrilled when we can find a dress shirt that can work, but even those have to be rebuilt with gussets and long underarm seams to accommodate the dance movements. All of our suits, vests and dresses are custom-made.
L. Randolph: Do you have the same crew you started with since season one, or has it grown and expanded?
R. Christensen: We have most of the same crew, except for one person. We have between 14-16 cutter/fitters and tailors/seamstresses, a supervisor, two ACDs and dressers for show nights. Due to the hectic schedule I just described and the increased size of the Tuesday result show, I have handed that portion off to my two ACD’s, Daniela Gschwendtner and Steven Lee. They do get co-designer credit for the Tuesday Result Show. They work with the choreographers of the dance numbers for the celebrity songs. They usually only have a day or so to put it all together while still helping me out with the Monday show! It’s a huge collaboration with the professional dancers, the celebrities and my ACDs/Co-Designers. They work exceptionally hard and I couldn’t do it without them.
L. Randolph: How do the actual dances inspire you for each costume?
R. Christensen: Well, the dances are only a springboard. The producers like to choose contemporary songs and it can be the song that kills you. I want to be authentic to the dance, such as the cha-cha or samba, but the song could be a heavy metal song, so I have to be creative and meld those two worlds, while meeting the expectations of the celebrity and making them feel comfortable and beautiful. If their hips aren’t moving like they should, we add an extra ruffle, etc, to accentuate the movement. That’s where the professional dancers comes in. They communicate to me in private about their concerns for the celebrity and we tweak the designs to help in anyway we can. We do try to keep a fashion element and that’s where magazines, style.com, tear sheets and such come in handy for inspiration. It’s a fine balance keeping the dance clothes looking fashionable and contemporary while reflecting the dance and the song.
L. Randolph: Do the celebrities’ personalities inspire you as well?
R. Christensen: Totally! I tried pre-designing before I met the celebrities, and not one of those designs was ever used! Once I get to know their personalities and watch their body language and how they move on the dance floor, the ideas start flowing. I get into a panic every Tuesday night, but then I trust my instincts and the collaboration is what brings the ideas on.
L. Randolph: How are approvals done?
R. Christensen: A gift from the gods, with the producers! This is my first show on TV, but with all the horror stories I’ve heard, none of that happens here! The Executive Producer told me that the co-producers tried to bring in the sketches and swatches to show himm and he said he didn’t want to see them. He wants to be surprised like the rest of America on show night. That’s a lot of trust, it’s a little intimidating, but it is also a great compliment to this department.
* This article is reproduced from the CDG Newletter.