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Magic Behind Custom-Made Costumes for 'Dancing'

Magic Behind Custom-Made Costumes for 'Dancing'

Seamstresses work on costumes for the show "Dancing with the Stars," backstage at the show's offices in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Chris Pizzello)

Associated Press/AP Online

March 22, 2011

LOS ANGELES – For Randall Christensen and his wardrobe team at ABC’s “Dancing With the Stars,” the next 10 weeks are going to be a crystal-encrusted, chiffon-wrapped blur.

“Dancing” is known as much for its dazzling costumes as its disco-ball trophy. Every week, celebrity contestants and their professional partners step out in costumes ranging from glamorous to outrageous; from swingy dresses reminiscent of Ginger Rogers and old Hollywood elegance to skimpy spangled hot pants.

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Randall Christensen, costume designer for the show "Dancing with the Stars," shows off an outfit for dancer Cheryl Burke

Each outfit is one-of-a-kind, handmade and custom-designed with the dancer’s personality, figure and ability in mind. They’re couture pieces, cut and assembled by veteran costumers and seamstresses from fabrics selected specifically for each performance. Every feather wisp is glued on individually, each rhinestone and sequin carefully sewn on by hand. And the entire episode’s attire is conceived of, styled and stitched into reality in about four days.

“People really don’t realize that there’s no magic closet that we pull this from. It is a bolt of fabric every Wednesday,” says Christensen, a dancer who’s been making costumes professionally since 1978. “We never use a ready-made costume … every single solitary thing is made from scratch.”

Twenty-two custom-made costumes and 11 new stars will make their debut on Monday’s season premiere (8 p.m. EDT). The cast includes actors Kirstie Alley, Ralph Macchio and Chelsea Kane; athletes Sugar Ray Leonard, Hines Ward and Chris Jericho; singer Romeo; radio host Mike Catherwood; talk-show host Wendy Williams; reality star Kendra Wilkinson; and model Petra Nemcova. Each contestant is paired with a professional dancer who choreographs and teaches the week’s routines and dreams up the costume concepts.

Christensen translates their visions into sketches on Tuesday and buys the fabrics on Wednesday. His team of two patternmakers and 10 seamstresses transform the raw materials into costumes by Friday.

Their workroom contains the highest concentration of sequins anywhere at CBS Television City, where “Dancing” is filmed. Along one wall are bolts of fabric: shimmery purple, deep emerald green and bright royal blue – materials ordered from a dance company in Europe where the fringe, stretch fabric, mesh and chiffon all match.

“That’s the toughest challenge,” Christensen says.

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