A stitch in time

Costume shop maven makes sure ASU's dancers hit the stage in functional style

The ASU dance costume shop.


It’s the first night of dress rehearsal, and Jacqueline Benard is sitting in the back of a darkened theater. Though she is taking in the action on the stage, her eyes are zeroed in on the dancers’ costumes.

Will the fabric change its color under the house lights? Does the pattern match what the dancer is trying to convey? Will the piece rip with intense movement?

For Benard, the coordinator for Arizona State University’s dance costume shop, these are crucial questions, and ones that need to be cemented before this weekend’s annual performance “Dance: Inventions and Conventions” hosted by the School of Film, Dance and TheatreThe School of Film, Dance and Theatre is in the Herberger Institute for the Design and Arts..

The high-energy show features more than 40 dancers and highlights some of the greatest hits and new original pieces of the 2015-2016 season. There’s a lot riding on the line for students, but Benard remains a steady hand.

“I don’t really get nervous, but there’s always something to fix or little adjustments that have to be done,” Benard said.

“Dancers are very physical so they break buttons or rip out a stitch or a hemline might catch. The idea behind the dress rehearsal is to try and catch and fix those mistakes before they take the stage. I’m confident it’ll all work out.”

ASU dance students walk with costume-shop coordinator Jacqueline Benard to a rehearsal.

Jacqueline Benard (also pictured at top, in the costume shop) makes her way with dancers to a dress rehearsal at the Galvin Playhouse on April 13 in Tempe.

Photos by Deanna Dent/ASU Now

Benard made it work for 19-year-old dance major Quinn Mihalvic, who will perform a 5-minute dance solo called “This Is the Dream Before I Die.” Like most of the dancers in the show, he defers to Benard for advice on his costume.

“I came into the shop and told Jackie what I wanted, and she created it for me on the spot — she literally made these black Spandex shorts from fabric in 10 minutes,” Mihalvic said. “I have very thick thighs and sometimes that can get in the way. I’ve ripped pants before. It was the easiest process I’ve ever gone through with wardrobe. Now I can go onstage with confidence and just focus on my performance.”

The costume shop — one of threeThe other two costume shops are located in ASU’s School of Music and the J. Russell and Bonita Nelson Fine Arts Center. in the Herberger Institute — has been Benard’s stage for the past 27 years. It has been in the Physical Education Building East since it was constructed in 1965 on the Tempe campus. The costume shop remains as relevant as ever, Benard said.

“There’s a new interest in handmade things, and there’s jobs all around the field of costume design,” Benard said. “It’s never been a lost art form because it never went away. All three of our shops are non-stop busy, especially in the spring when we have shows one on top of another.”

The dance shop coordinates all of the costume needs for about a dozen faculty and student productions. It produces everything from dresses and pants to jewelry and hair braids.

Dancers are required to take a second-year class that Benard teaches in the shop called DCE 261: Team Teaching in Sections of Creative Practice. Students learn about costume design, lighting, sound and media and dance. They also learn hand-painting, silk-screen techniques, sewing and costume design.

“We start with the basics like sewing a button, learning how to stitch or make a hem, simple things you might take for granted that you think people know but necessarily don’t,” Benard said. “The idea is to become a well-rounded artist because you just can’t be limited to being a dancer, a mover or a choreographer. There’s a lot of skills that an artist must embody.”

Second-year graduate student Yingzi Liang, a 25-year-old dance major from China, said she didn’t know much about costume design until she took a grad assistance class with Benard last year. She said her skills have grown tenfold.

“Before I came here I was just a dancer. Now I know how to use a machine, how to dye a fabric, how to select the right texture or fabric,” Liang said. “My focus will remain on dance choreography, but I want to offer my audience the full visual experience of costume and body.

“I now look at myself as a full artist.”

Benard said working in the dance shop has offered her something even more: a full and enriched life.

“The beauty of being in an educational setting is that there’s always new and fresh energy. You see students come in as naive and eager freshmen, and by the end of four years they are confident, have expanded their intellect and their artistic skills,” Benard said.

“These students are like my kids. When I first came to ASU, I was an older graduate. Then gradually I became the aunt, then a mom, and now, I’m like a grandmother. It’s nice.”

If you go

What: “Dance: Conventions and Inventions.”

When: 6:30 p.m. Friday, April 15; 7:30 p.m. Saturday, April 16; 2 p.m. Sunday, April 17.

Where: Paul V. Galvin Playhouse, 510 E. 10th St., Tempe.

Admission: $16 general; $12 ASU faculty, staff and alumni; $12 senior citizens and $8 for all ASU students.

Details: asuevents.asu.edu/content/dance-inventions-and-conventions

More Arts, humanities and education


An image of colorful video game equipment and screens in a photo credited to Stewart A. Elrod / Brandon Skeli on Flickr.

The future is a story

If there was one word reflecting the zeitgeist of today’s media environment, it might be “storytelling.” From its documented role in political conflict to its ubiquitous presence in influencer…

A vintage maroon school desk floating on a flat ASU gold background

AI's role in enhancing education

Editor's note: This feature article is part of our “AI is everywhere ... now what?” special project exploring the potential (and potential pitfalls) of artificial intelligence in our lives. Explore…

A shopping cart with a calculator, paintbrush and gear on a flat ASU maroon background

How AI is helping tailor the student experience at ASU

Editor's note: This expert Q&A is part of our “AI is everywhere ... now what?” special project exploring the potential (and potential pitfalls) of artificial intelligence in our lives. Explore…