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This article appeared in the Herald of 16 November 2016.

When the girls at the McWilliams Academy of Dance step onto the stage next month at their annual concert few will realise their light-as-air costumes weigh “an absolute ton”.

The designer behind the sparkling dance dresses, NMMU fashion and textile design lecturer, Tyrone James, described how he uses glue, canvas, fabric and crystals to make the outfits: “It’s the weirdest combination of fashion and engineering. There are the trends each season that make what’s on top change, and then underneath it’s engineering.”

Dance mother Vanessa Forbes described James as “a designer extraordinaire”, who had been helping the studio for the past three years.

“The dresses are extremely beautiful and very complex to make, with all sorts of unusual requirements. The dresses are covered in Swarovski crystals and very heavy to dance in,” Forbes said.

In the UK, the home of Irish dancing, a new dance dress costs between £2 000 and £4 000 – in the region of R40 000 – so it makes sense to make rather than buy.

James said the dance performance circuit was extremely competitive and the right costume could indeed make a difference.

“The more they move, the more the dresses shine and, hopefully, they end up catching the eye of the judge,” he said.

To give them a bigger stage presence, the girls also often wore a wig with voluminous curls or a high bun.

“Beside the dresses weighing an absolute ton, there is also the cost. One mum said to me, she stopped counting at R6 500 – and that was just for the crystals. The mums tend to import the crystals themselves. We try and keep costs as low as possible because with the poor exchange rate, it’s hellishly expensive.”

The McWilliams show is at the Savoy Theatre from December 2-4. To book contact Benita, 083-733-3792, or Nicky, 079-633-4224.

Contact information
Mr Tyrone James
Lecturer: Applied Design (Fashion Design)
Tel: 27 41 5043717