Nevada Ballet Theatre’s Betsy Lucas stays busy designing clothing for dancers

Betsy Lucas performs in ‘The Current,’ choreographed by Krista Baker, at the Smith Center stage, wearing her own designs.
Photo: Virginia Trudeau / Courtesy

Which came first: dancing or sewing? Betsy Lucas doesn’t quite know. She’s been dancing and sewing about as long as she can remember. “Both have been a part of my life since like the beginning of time,” Lucas says.

Career-wise, dancing has been primary. Lucas just completed her 10th season performing with Nevada Ballet Theatre, one sadly cut short by COVID-19. Before that, she danced with Oregon Ballet Theatre.

Over the years, Lucas has performed many lead roles, including Odette/Odile in Swan Lake, Wendy in Peter Pan and Clara in The Nutcracker. “She is such a strong dancer,” says colleague Krista Baker. “Even though she is petite, she is super powerful.”

As a company artist, Lucas is always wearing skirts and leotards. Dancing with NBT is a full-time job, so she spends hours moving and stretching in the typical uniform of tights, leotard and skirt.

As a third-generation stitcher, Lucas learned how to sew from her mother and grandmother. One day, she wondered if she could combine her talents. Lucas invested in a serger, a type of sewing machine that can do a “four-way stretch” and can best handle the special needs of dancer fabrics such as chiffon.

“I would wear my skirts in rehearsal, and I had friends that would say, ‘Hey, I want to wear that one, too,” Lucas says. “So that’s kind of how it all got started.”

In 2017, she launched her own venture called Style En Pointe. She sells rehearsal skirts and sometimes tights and leotards via the Instagram page @style.en.pointe. Skirts are $25 and face masks, a new addition for the pandemic, are $5.

Even those with two left feet might find inspiration in scrolling through posts featuring gauzy skirts, ombre tights and more. One shows a dancer wearing a delicate, green Style En Pointe outfit. Thanks to the magic of the internet, she spins back and forth eternally, like a dancer in a jewelry box.

“Dance, especially ballet, is all about the extension of lines that we create with our bodies and how can we make these lines look never-ending and effortless,” Lucas says. “I think that fashion and costume design does the same thing. They’re both pushing the extension of the human body and both showing [its] expression.”

Lucas finds inspiration from current fashion trends, high-fashion designers like Christian Dior and, most importantly, her own movement. “I have the advantage of getting to wear the product quite often,” she says.

She has learned what she likes: comfort and quality. And, of course, she loves the traditional aesthetics of ballet, which combines athleticism and femininity. “I think it really celebrates the beauty of a woman,” Lucas says.

In addition to rehearsal gear, Lucas creates and designs costumes. She has created them for the NBT’s annual collaboration with Cirque du Soleil, A Choreographers’ Showcase. Most recently, she made them for the world premiere of The Current at the Smith Center for the Performing Arts. That ballet was written by fellow NBT dancer Baker.

“I wanted Betsy to have artistic freedom when it came to designing the looks,” Baker says. Lucas also performed in the premiere, so she had intimate knowledge of the dance. “She knew the inspiration of the piece and how the movement felt on her own body, so she drew from that—along with my approval—and created the silhouette and design.

“They turned out so beautiful and helped bring my new ballet to life onstage. It was so fun to watch Betsy’s process and how much she seemed to enjoy it.”

Baker estimates that every woman in NBT’s company has at least one Lucas creation, and some men even have tights or shorts designed by her.

NBT’s performance venue, the Smith Center, is closed indefinitely due to the global pandemic, but Lucas is staying busy. She takes Zoom and Instagram Live dance classes at home. She cross-trains, walks her two German Shepherd mixes, works in her garden and bikes around Downtown. She’s also using the time to experiment with new ideas for Style En Pointe.

“I fully believe that if you enjoy the hobbies and you express yourself through different mediums of art, it can be really enjoyable and fulfilling,” she says.

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