The Spark behind “Dancing with the Stars” -1

by moviestar couture on March 12, 2009

Last week I was lucky enough to have a conversation with Emmy Award winner, Randall Christensen on the eve of his now 7th season as costume designer of ABC’s, television show, “Dancing with The Stars”.

Here is a little blurb about the inspiring career of Randall Christensen.
A real Hollywood story.

Randall Christensen

A native of South Carolina, Randall Christensen, started as a competitive dancer.
In 1979 he moved to Phoenix, Arizona, where he continued dancing, teaching, and started designing costumes for his students.
In 1986 he incorporated his company Randall Designs, and formally crossed from dancing to designing competitive dancewear, that caters to ballroom dancers, ice skaters and a variety of shows in Las Vegas and on the Princess Cruise lines.

He has created and manufactured glamorous costumes for television, and films, and contributed gowns for Jennifer Lopez in Shall We Dance and Mary Steenbergen in Charm School, and designed for the hit TV show So You Think You Can Dance, and for the films “Take the Lead” and “Dance with Me.”
In 2005, Randall, became the sole costume designer for ABC’s hit television show “Dancing with the Stars” and in 2006 was awarded with an Emmy for Outstanding Costumes for a Variety or Music Program
The list of celebrities that he has dressed, is endless and include: George Hamilton, Jane Seymour, Denise Richards, Jewel, Lil’ Kim, Antonio Banderas, Toni Braxton, and many more.

As a costume designer myself, I admire Randall’s work so much, and wonder how he manages to keep it all going, in such a short amount of time?  You’ll soon find out.
In the 8th season of “Dancing with the Stars”, Randall is one of the busiest costume designers as you will see, yet he found the time for this conversation.
I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

MM – I heard that your week is like a costume marathon?
RC – I work 6 days a week, and my crew 5. We only have 4 days to make the costumes, sometimes even less than that, our week starts on Tuesday, and it goes like this:

  • Tuesday: –Evening after the results show, the couples get their music assignment and come to the wardrobe, where I get only like 15 min per couple to nail the concept.
  • Wednesday: –We shop the entire show all day and then deliver the fabrics, to the cutter/fitters so they can start immediately.
  • Thursday: -All day is cutting and sewing, and sometimes fittings
  • Friday: -All day Fittings
  • Saturday: -Beading, stitching, finishing
  • Sunday: -Final fittings and camera blockings, Final adjustments are done, and final trims are put on.
  • Monday: -Show Day, and dress rehearsal. This is the first time the couples have tried on their costumes and danced in them. This is only two hours before the show goes live. All the last minute alterations are done while the show is going on. It’s pretty crazy.

MM- Wow, that is quite a ride.
RC- Absolutely and luckily there is such a fantastic energy that feeds and sustains you.

MM – It must be very stressful
RC -But very rewarding to see all the effort comes to fruition. It’s 100% team effort. And it all happens Live.

MM – How do you go from concept to reality in such a short period of time?
RC - We do a lot of research during prep, and we build a database of visuals. We use tear sheets, magazines, you tube, google; you name it, anything to communicate the idea.
Then when the couples come to me, we go through the research and pick items from that.
A lot of them have very specific ideas, or looks maybe that they have done before in their professional careers, so there is a lot of collaboration, and we only get 10 to 15 minutes to lock in that idea and I have to send them on their way because I have to get the next couple designed. There is no time to convince them, no time to try to make them wear it, they have to be totally drawn to that look, or we move to something else, because there is just no time.

MM – What is the most challenging part of the process?
RC- Tuesdays, after the Results Show we get the couples, when they’re exhausted, and their energy is low, and everyone just wants to go home, and they need to recuperate for the next day, for their dance lesson and they just got the music 10 minutes before I see them, and we’re trying to lock in the number – Is it a Carmen Miranda number? Is it a Ginger Rogers number? Is it a Rita Hayworth feeling? Is it a edgy Bon Jovi feel? After 30 years in the business, I have seen a lot of history, and history repeats itself, just like dance repeats itself so we can relate it to something that someone has worn that I know, and it really helps me get to the point of what the dancer is trying to create for his or her celebrity. And then I have to turn to the celebrity after that and translate in practical English what we just said in dance language. And make sure that she or he is comfortable wearing and have an idea of the look. So between tear sheets, and the research, I can give them an idea of what they are generally wearing.

MM- Wow, talk about trust and collaboration
RC -Absolutely, it’s all about mutual trust and collaboration. I have to trust the dancers, just like they have to trust me. They have very specific ideas, and dynamic personalities, and you really have to take a lot of direction from them. They are interpreting the music, and they are celebrities, and they have to do it on the fly too. I respect those dance professionals as a director, because they really have to take in a lot of elements, and the dance ability of their celebrities at that given week. Each week they improve, each week there are certain techniques that they are not getting movement wise that we need to either enhance or hide, so it’s really important that I listen to everything they have to say, and from there guide them.
So there is a lot of trust and I think it helps that I’m form the dance world because I speak the language, and I understand.

MM -It must be really helpful to be a dancer to keep in mind all the practicalities and avoid the things that could go wrong.
RC - It helps a lot to be a point of reference, to be related to that world, of course and you have to keep in mind, certain things, like problems and movement,
Like -her back is her best feature, so we need to plunge it there, but the sides need to be taken in, or he has a problem with the shoulders so the shoulder line needs to be altered, so the jacket doesn’t pull, or the hip movement is not quite right, so what can we do to make her hips and movement more pronounced, and there is a lot that we can save time on because, I instantly get it I understand where they are coming from, being a dancer, so I come with the solutions like: we need to make her hips seem like they are doing more, -ok then. we need to add on more beads, or throw another ruffle – it’s mind boggling all the minute details we have to go through to think off.

Costume Designer Randall Christensen, Copyright ©ABC

MM –Is there a method to the madness?
RC – I used to panic, before those nine sessions because I thought I have to have something in mind, then you try to get something in mind, and the moment the couple arrives and start speaking, then that idea went out of the window, so what I’ve learned is actually to keep a blank mind. Because I have years of experience as far of the different technical styles of the costumes for dance, but until they start talking I just relax, and I try not to overdo it until they come in. I keep a blank mind, the minute the professionals start talking the image starts coming. I’m very thankful that they do.

MM – Was it like that since the start?
RC – I was somewhat clueless, at the beginning, because I had not done this kind of show, but I have the dancer on my side, and it really helps to convey that confidence. That’s what I grew up doing, so I feel like I have been training for all these years, to be doing what I do today. So it’s the perfect fit. And the costumes are absolutely over the top and sometimes can be. They are always fun and borderline risqué, and that’s the fun glamour of Hollywood from the old days, and I love those days.
This is a magnificent show, and by some magic, we are all pulling it together.
I had the executive producer tell me at the wrap party last season, that he has never seen my sketches, he has never wanted, so he lets the other producers look at them because he wants to be thrilled just like the audience is, and that he has never, not even once has been disappointed.

MM – What an amazing compliment
RC – Yes, and he says when they try to show him my sketches, ‘no, I want to see them on Monday when the world sees them”, I’m like – what? you have to be kidding, but I’m thrilled, and it’s pretty exciting to have that level trust from your producers. It’s really humbling.

Continue to part 2

Pictures Copyright©ABC


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