Kimberly Gomez

Q&A with Dawn Smart, ballroom dancewear designer

Kimberly talks to the owner of competitive ballroom dancewear company Dore Designs about her industry and the fashion of dancewear, at the Wisconsin State Dancesport Championship.

By - May 8th, 2013 04:00 am
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Elaborate dancewear ready to be worn at the Wisconsin State Dancesport Championship.

The Wisconsin State Dancesport Championship, a major dance competition sanctioned by the National Dance Council of America (the official governing body for U.S. professional ballroom dancers), was recently held right here in Milwaukee at the Pfister, April 24 to 28. It was a weekend devoted to dance – but also to those outfits worn by those dancers. While there, I had the opportunity to speak to Dawn Smart, owner of competitive ballroom dancewear company Dore Designs Inc. Although Dawn was extremely busy with dancers appearing for last-minute alterations and customers shopping for new costumes, she took a few moments to tell me about her business and the fashion of dancewear.


Dancer Catherine Zambos has been dancing for 3 years and has taken first in all of her competitions.

Kimberly Gomez: How did you get started in fashion design?

Dawn Smart: I was interested in clothes since the age of three. I watched my grandma sew garments, and, by the age of seven, I was sewing some of my own clothes. I continued sewing through junior high and high school, but put sewing aside while going to college, majoring in psychology.

KG: What made you want to focus on dance costumes?

DS: I started dancing competitively and needed unique dresses for myself, so I started creating ones for myself. People started asking me to sew them dresses. For one of the first dresses I sewed for a “real” client, I reversed the stretch of lycra so the client couldn’t wear it. If you don’t sew the lycra correctly, it won’t move with you, so it’s useless. I noticed the mistake and fixed it before the client got the dress.

KG: What’s your favorite part of dancewear design?

DS: Ballroom designing is totally different than mainstream fashion design. The fabric we use is different because it needs to move with the dancer and the different types of dance they’re doing. Design is sometimes restricted to work with the specific types of movement, or to not work against different movements. Creating dresses is like sports equipment. It’s functional, besides being beautiful, and needs to show off the different parts while dancing.


Vibrant ballroom dresses in action on the dance floor.

KG: How many collections do you create a year?

DS: My mainstream evening gown collections are done twice a year to coincide with the seasons of spring and fall seasons. The ballroom dancing costumes are all customized and created specifically for the dancer. We create 20 costumes a week, all based on the dancers’ body types and dance styles.

painted flower dress

Hand-painted dresses can be quite expensive and cost up to $8000.

KG: What advice do you have for someone who wants to break into this type of business?

DS: This is an extremely expensive industry. You’ll need a large amount of startup funds. There is a lot of overhead and inventory with costumes, textiles, crystals, and other supplies. There are also many fees charged just to show at each dance competition. Prepare to be majorly subsidized. Also, you’re almost never home. The whole summer, I’m only home 12 days, which doesn’t leave time for much.

KG: Tell me about Dore Designs Inc.

DS: I started creating ballroom dresses in 1990, and bought Dore Designs in 2007. Dresses start at $3900 and go up to about $8000. For some of the dresses, I work with an artist who handpaints designs on them. After they’re handpainted, they’re stoned (crystals are applied), which takes about three days. (Author’s note: I looked through some of the handpainted dresses and saw prices ranging from $5395 to $5995.)

Dancers of all ages, shapes and sizes compete. Dancing changes your figure and can change your life. It’s very hard work, but rewarding.

0 thoughts on “Threads: Q&A with Dawn Smart, ballroom dancewear designer”

  1. Anonymous says:

    […] The end of April afforded Milwaukee the opportunity to view competitive ballroom dancing at the Wisconsin State Dancesport Competition. This isn’t some little local get together. This is a major competition that dancers from all over the country come to compete in. I got to interview Dawn Smart of Dore Designs, who creates some of the beautiful costumes the dancers wear. You can read my interview here: […]

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