Evidence of musical theatres date to the eighteenth century when two forms of this song-and-dance performance emerged in Britain, France, and Germany: ballad operas, such as John Gay’s The Beggar’s Opera (1728), and later on comic operas, such as Michael Balfe’s The Bohemian Girl (1843). At this time, many plays had short runs, and stage costumes were often based on everyday-dress design. In the late 1880s, comic operas conquered Broadway in New York, and plays, including Robin Hood, were designed for popular audiences. From the 1880s until the 1920s, the musical-comedy genre in London emerged, and designers such as Lady Duff-Gordon, known as Lucile, elaborated fashionable costumes for singers and dancers. In the early 1920s, tap-dance techniques were popularized and specially designed tap-dance shoes were available on the open market.
Men in Tights: The Male Dancer
In Russia, male dancers are highly regarded, and usually classical ballet training is the basis for a career in dance. Though a growing interest in dance exists among boys in other countries, many are too shy to take dance lessons and be obliged to wear tights, commonly considered a female article of clothing. Therefore, certain dance schools allow young male students to practice in T-shirts and short pants. Under the practice clothes, dancers usually wear suspensories, designed to isolate and support the testicles. Alternatively, a dance belt, specialized underwear, can be worn under tights. In both cases, the pouch in front is triangular, tight, and nearly flat to give support and form during dance moves. The subject of masculinity in dance has received popular treatment in such movies as The Children of Theatre Street (1977) and Billy Elliot (2000). Ramsay Burt’s book The Male Dancer explores the subject of masculinity in dance in greater depth.
Tap-Dance Shoes: Famous Sounds
The origins of tap dance, a style of American theatrical dance with percussive footwork, lie in slave dances in the southern states that incorporated African movement and rhythm into European jigs and reels in the early nineteenth century. Tap dance was adopted in theaters from 1840, and clogging in leather-soled shoes became more and more popular. At the fin-desiècle, turn of the century, two different styles of tap-dance shoes had been established: stiff wooden-sole shoes, also called buck-and-wing, made popular by the duo Jimmy Doyle and Harland Dixon, and soft leather-sole shoes popularized by George Primrose. In the 1920s, metal plates (taps) had been attached to leather-sole shoes, which made a loud sharp sound on the floor. In the 1940s and 1950s, dancers such as Fred Astaire, Paul Draper, and Gene Kelly popularized tap shoes to a wider audience through the medium of Hollywood films.
In the fifties, musicals such as My Fair Lady (1956) and costume designer surprised the audiences with numerous costume changes. Costume designer Cecil Beaton had created costumes enhancing the transformation of Eliza, the main character, from a common flower vendor into a society lady. In 1975, Michael Bennett’s A Chorus Line opened on Broadway, and aerobic and dance costumes became popular on stage and in everyday life. Bright neon shades in pink, green, and yellow dominated the range of colors. Dance tights, leggings, headbands, and wristlets spread from stage to fashion and vice versa. In 1988, the musical Fame, inspired by the movie and TV series, opened in London and reflected the fashion of the eighties, showing leotards and shorts. At the beginning of the twenty-first century, A. R. Rahman’s Bollywood musical Bombay Dreams (2002) opened in London, and its Indian costumes demonstrated the ethnic influence on stage design.