How This Ballerina Went From Dancer To Designer

Photo: Courtesy of the New York City Ballet.
"I think when you stop dancing, you’re still forever a dancer,"Janie Taylor told me as she poked her way through dinner at the annual New York City Ballet Spring Gala. Taylor was the mind behind the outfits of American Rhapsody by Christopher Wheeldon and a former classical ballet dancer herself. For the ballerina-cum-costume designer, the night was a demonstration of how her two passions, fashion and dance, met on the grand stage.

Twice a year, fans gather at Lincoln Center to treat themselves to a night of art and dance. The schedule is as follows: a two-hour cocktail reception, followed by two hours of dancing, followed by two more hours of eating, drinking, and more dancing. If you counted how many sequins it takes to pull it all off, you'd be counting forever. But for a costume designer, it's a chance to kick back, relax, and finally see her creations in motion.

Similar to most fashion designers' upbringings, for Taylor, a passion for clothing came early. "When I was dancing, I’d always had an interest in fashion and design. My mom always sewed, and when I was young, she made a lot of my clothes. She taught me how to use a machine, but beyond that, I didn’t really have much training or anything," she told Refinery29 exclusively. And by the time she made it to a professional company, dancing in Justin Peck's Everywhere We Go, she'd taught herself how to make her own leotards. "A lot of the other girls liked [the leotard] and started asking me to make one for them," she said, of what amounted to be her big break as a designer. "So a bunch of people had this leotard I made, and [Peck] said, 'Oh, I think that leotard would be perfect for this ballet. Could you design something based off of it?'"
Photo: Courtesy of the New York City Ballet.
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In most cases, Taylor gets to watch the ballet before she starts designing. But in the case of American Rhapsody, she modeled the costumes against the backdrop (which was designed by Leslie Sardinias). "He didn’t really want people clothes — he wanted ballet clothes. But he also wanted '50s fashion somehow reflected through it. I think he was describing the backdrop as a 'surreal New York,' so I was kind of trying to make something that was not clothing," she explained. That sounds a bit like the first time standing tall in pointe shoes — the cart comes before the horse.

But from a construction standpoint, the dancer found designing clothes for another dancer easy. What she might lack in a design background, she makes up for with her experience as a ballerina ("of 16 years," she'll remind you). "My experience as a dancer has given me a lot of information for that. When I was dancing, every costume I put on, I was always inspecting...I was always really aware of all the details. I know how someone would want to be able to move." Historically, anyone designing for the New York City Ballet Spring Gala has a strong fashion background, and such names include the Mulleavy sisters from Rodarte in 2012, Joseph Altuzarra in 2013, and Carolina Herrera, Mary Katrantzou, Thom Browne, and Sarah Burton just last year.

When asked if her journey from dancer to designer was a decision she regrets, Taylor's answer was simple, and relatable for anyone who's made a similar leap. "I miss dancing. It’s something that’s always inside of you and doesn’t really leave. [But] it’s fun to be a part of it on a different side of what I spent so much time doing."
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