When preparing for a recital, a ballet dancer pours hundreds of hours into perfecting technique and memorizing choreography before she can don the crisp tutus, the embellished bodices, and the sparkling headpieces. The dancer is beautiful and skilled and you may not have noticed, but so are the costumes. How many long hours, how much painstaking work went into the making of these outfits? Ask Erica Johnston and she'll tell you.
- Brittany Broderick
- Erica Johnston, 21, carefully crafts one of her newest dance costume pieces for her business, Pointe Creations, a venture she started at the age of 11.
The 21-year-old is a professional artist, a senior in the Butler Ballet and an independent business owner of Pointe Creations, an Etsy shop devoted to all things dance. Appliqued pointe shoes and hair clips, ornate and crystal-encrusted headpieces, and masterfully crafted leotards are just some of the examples of her handiwork. From Houston to Cincinnati, Johnston's creations have been worn for productions and competitions all across the country. And, of course, they have made the rounds in the Butler Ballet.
Johnston began crafting ballet accessories as a child, though admittedly she had no training and only limited skills. But now she turns out professional quality pieces time after time. Having grown up in the world of dance, she learned to sew, and do beadwork, and all the other intricate jobs necessary to make costuming adjustments in a pinch. She landed her first big job as a 12-year-old, when the director at her dance company at the time gave her the project of making 28 headpieces for the production of Swan Lake. After more than 100 tedious hours into the project, she felt a sense of acumen and confidence. What seemed almost like an apprenticeship to her, this was the start of her business.
- Brittany Broderick
- This is more than just bedazzling. Exquisite and vibrant tiaras are scattered in the Pointe Creations work space.
Since then, Johnston has contributed her work for fundraisers such as the Soirée du Ballet at her home ballet company, Champaign Urbana Ballet, and received accolades, such as Tutu.com's Nutcracker Headpiece Contest Winner, for her most lavish headpiece yet, which was specially designed for the Nutcracker's Snow Queen. Its frame is made of silver corded 20-gauge wire, and it is decorated with silver trim and more than 100 Swarovski crystals.
"It's my favorite project yet, mainly because I've never given myself as much freedom to use such expensive materials," says Johnston.
This dancer-turned-crafter certainly knows her materials--those costly and otherwise--seeing how her studio workshop resembles an ad from of a Jo-Ann Fabric and Craft Store's catalog. But her creative spirit is not limited to the stock of a craft supply shop. She loves using unique materials, from yard sale finds to old scraps of materials. She can put together leotards in hours and whip up headpieces under a deadline, and all her creations function as great gifts for dancers, elegant pieces of costume and ambitious artistic endeavors.
At 5 feet 10 inches, Johnston is a self-proclaimed "tall dancer." So she's no stranger to the awkward, not to mention uncomfortable, experience with ill-fitting leotards. She recalls how some were made with torso sections that were too short and aggravating to dance in. As a rule, generic, catalog-ordered costumes don't bother her as long as they move well, but they can lack a certain essence.
"There's something about the investment that [an original] designer puts into his or her work that gives the piece a soul of sorts," explains Johnson. "It has an individual complexity and beauty that becomes a part of the dance, rather than something superficially layered on top."
- Brittany Broderick
- Erica Johnston creates headpieces, leotards and other ballet accessories as part of her Pointe Creations business.
Johnson's own creations often start out as materials on the floor or sketches in her notebook, but inspiration doesn't adhere to Johnston's busy schedule. "I can remember one night when I was trying to fall asleep and I kept having ideas completely at random," she says. "I finally had to turn the light on and draw everything I'd been picturing; one of those ideas turned into a Bollywood-inspired Russian headpiece that I keep with me wherever I work."
Her designs are influenced by all manner of things, including fences, tea boxes and just about anything with a pattern. "All of these can translate to a wire framework [for headpieces]," she says.
One of her first creative adventures at Butler was to produce a series of 25 headpieces for a dance motivated by the movements of birds. For inspiration, she says, "I would attend rehearsals and sketch, taking into account things like each dancer's bone structure, movement quality, and hair color. I also had to make headpieces for the men in the piece, so I took into account that male birds are often more extravagantly feathered than the females. And I made theirs even more severe."
Coming upon a 10-year anniversary of her work, Johnston loves performing choreography just as much as she loves costume creations. But she's also aware of the importance of downtime. And though the detail-oriented business remains her baby, she maintains a perfectly age-appropriate fun side and keen sense of balance between the two.