Where do ballroom dancers get their fancy gowns? This lady’s basement.

Welcome to Julie Wilson’s sparkly suburban Virginia kingdom of consignment frocks worn by ballroom champions and reality-show rivals, the place each gown has a narrative — and a reputation

Julie Wilson owns Encore Ballroom Couture, one of many nation’s premier locations to get consignment robes for ballroom dancing competitions. (Marvin Joseph/The Washington Submit)

It may very well be any home in suburban Annandale, Va., among the many split-level Colonials with manicured boxwood shrubs — besides, round again, previous the statue of the purple fox and down some steppingstones, there’s an indication on the basement door to greet guests: “You’re about to enter a sparkle splash zone. Twirling encouraged.”

Inside, Julie Wilson runs a enterprise right here within the household dwelling, recognized by those that have to know as Encore Ballroom Couture. It’s thought of the ballroom dance business’s main consignment and consignment-rental gown firm. Aggressive dancers come right here from far and broad, as do the frocks. The abiding aesthetic is extra is extra: feathers, sequins, fringe, crystals. (Rhinestones, you’re tempted so as to add, however don’t ever say that phrase in right here. It’s verboten.) In Wilson’s world, there isn’t a such factor as an excessive amount of embellishment — even within the visitor rest room, the place each free floor, together with the bathroom lid, is bedazzled.

Ballroom dancing! What’s to not like? It’s dramatic, attractive and, relying in your style degree, glamorous. Is it again once more, or is it simply at all times with us, on the market on the fanciest fringe of human artwork kind, twirling away? “Dancing With the Stars” is scheduled to return to ABC’s prime-time schedule with its thirty second season this fall (after a sidestep to Disney Plus for a season); Bravo, in its limitless hunt for reality-based drama and battle amongst formidable girls and sure males, concluded its first season this summer season of “Dancing Queens,” which got here with its personal Bravo-style slogan: “All is fair in war and ballroom.” Some observers suppose there’s a ballroom dancing growth afoot, a resurgent curiosity.

“Shows like these have been game-changers in our industry,” says Mary Murphy, who spent 14 seasons as a decide and choreographer on Fox’s “So You Think You Can Dance.” “Seeing athletes of the highest levels struggling with a routine, watching someone’s journey on a dance show — going from a beginner to a perfect score — gives viewers a true appreciation for what it means to be a dancer.”

Followers of those reveals, or simply of the scene itself, might marvel the place the robes come from, or the place they go after they’ve been worn. A superb place to start out is right here in Wilson’s basement empire.

Wilson danced competitively for 20 years, which included a decade as an teacher. She was a pageant queen, too. (Ms. Virginia; Ms. Eire USA.) The years glided by, and her closets bulged with the glimmering proof of moments within the highlight. There was no place for the household to maintain winter coats. Wilson remembers when her mom, Brenda, had sufficient: “She said, ‘Julie, you need to do something about this.’”

Wilson, 44, says it was onerous to half along with her ladies. (Robes, on this neighborhood, are all feminine.) “I didn’t trust eBay to take care of my dresses,” she says. Plus, the resale area for aggressive ballroom dancing clothes was “a black hole.”

Brenda Wilson, a retired OB/GYN nurse, and Julie, a authorities contractor, determined to open Encore, remodeling the basement of the house they shared with husband and pa Walter right into a dance vacation spot. Chandeliers simulate the lighting of competitors dance flooring, white ostrich feathers are organized in vases and a small refurbishing station stands prepared for clothes that want a little bit of first assist. As an alternative of nails and screws, small drawers include a colour spectrum of crystals.

At first, Julie offered her personal clothes. Then she offered her buddies’ clothes. Fourteen years later, Encore has a list of round 450 clothes, consigned by dancers who retired, overhauled their picture or whose closets wanted some respiration room. Consignors get 60 p.c of the sale worth, which may be fairly appreciable; clothes right here begin round $4,000. Costume leases start at $300.

One of many first ladies Wilson resold that wasn’t her personal belonged to Rose-Ann Lynch, a lieutenant colonel within the U.S. Marine Corps.

The gown, Lynch recollects, appeared like a glittery purple disco ball. She liked it, she says, sounding apologetic, but it surely was time to let it go. “In ballroom, you do wear dresses over and over again,” she explains, till you evolve as a dancer. You then want one thing much less traditional and extra on the market. “Your dress has to look the way you dance,” she says, however “my dress deserved to be danced in, even if I wasn’t dancing in it.”

Lynch, now retired from the navy, remains to be dancing at 61. She has returned to Wilson’s basement on a current Thursday afternoon along with her husband and aggressive dancing accomplice, Mike, 63, who can be a retired Marine lieutenant colonel.

The Lynches, who reside in Fredericksburg, Va., met after they each labored on the Pentagon. At their first Marine Corps ball, Rose-Ann says, Mike “was uncomfortable.” Each have been longtime athletes and aggressive by nature. Stumbling across the dance ground simply wouldn’t do. When Mike ready to retire in 2005, Rose-Ann handed him a honey-do listing, which included dance classes. “I told him, ‘I don’t want you to lead if you don’t know where you’re going,’” she says.

The duo competed for the primary time that very same yr and are presently the 23-time USA Dance Senior Beginner nationwide champions, a class for individuals ages 55-64. Tight as drums, Mike and Rose-Ann make a compelling case that the fountain of youth may be discovered on the dance ground. A logistician by coaching, Mike possesses rational, chess-like methods that turn out to be useful on the dance ground. With a number of {couples} whirling and twirling on the identical time, avoiding a collision is significant when the judges decide their closing scores.

At present, the Lynches have come to Encore Ballroom Couture looking for an American Clean gown for Rose-Ann. A primer, for individuals who want one: Aggressive ballroom dancing consists of each American and Worldwide classes. American model consists of Clean (waltz, tango, fox trot, Viennese waltz) and Rhythm (cha-cha, rumba, swing, bolero, mambo); Worldwide is separated into Commonplace (waltz, tango, Viennese waltz, gradual fox trot, quickstep) and Latin (cha-cha, samba, rumba, paso doble, jive).

American Clean and Worldwide Commonplace kinds name for clothes with floats (suppose fluttery silks that transfer behind the dancer like wisps of steam), and Rhythm and Latin necessitate one thing shorter and sexier.

In American Clean, companions separate and dance aspect by aspect, a la Fred and Ginger, so clothes should look good each coming and going. In Worldwide Commonplace, the {couples} dance carefully, so clothes want look superb solely from the again.

If Rose-Ann finds a gown in the present day, it is going to seem in one of the vital vital dance competitions of the yr: the Beginner Nationwide Championship, subsequent March in Pittsburgh.

“I always like to be prepared for Nationals,” she explains, heading to the dressing room, the place Wilson’s intern, Dounia Arafa, stands able to zip and unzip.

“Ballroom women are always open to finding the next look, the next dress, the next image,” says Wilson, who’s herself decked out in a sequined black ball cap and an off-the-shoulder white shirt edged with black pompoms, accessorized with a necklace with black beads the scale of golf balls.

Wilson has prospects scattered throughout the nation. They’ll “fly in just to get a dress,” she says, whereas describing one buyer from Texas who sends forward a listing of clothes she desires to attempt on when she will get there. Some purchase so many frocks that they need to hold monitor of them by spreadsheet. One lady, Wilson stage-whispers, known as to get a valuation of her clothes — a divorce settlement. “We have women who call and ask ‘How’s my dress doing?’” Ballroom individuals, she affirms, “are next-level.”

When Wilson isn’t maintaining tabs on the women, she and her employees (in the present day, there are two readily available) unpack shipments, spiff up robes that want consideration and deal with no less than two appointments a day. Generally, Hollywood calls: A personality in a TV present wants a ballgown. (“The Good Doctor” is a current instance.) “We’ve had our dresses on the red carpet,” Wilson says, with out naming the our bodies in them.

Rose-Ann sweeps again into the studio carrying the primary robe into consideration, a crystal-encrusted cheetah-print gown with a excessive slit and feathers hanging off the skirt like a Seventies-era roach clip. It prices $3,800 and beforehand belonged to a champion dancer down South. She does just a few fast turns, setting the gown in movement. Her hair, tinted purple and pulled tight in a ballerina’s bun, stays put.

Earlier than her loss of life in 2021, Wilson’s mom, Brenda, would give every gown within the store’s stock a identify. The duty now falls to buy supervisor Callie Maginnis, who, maybe impressed by the cheetah sample, has known as this gown “Zulu.” Maginnis additionally writes the aspirational gown descriptions for the web site. (“Exotic prints like cheetah print bring out our desire for wanderlust and adventure to faraway lands.”)

“What do you think?” Rose-Ann asks Mike.

She strikes just a few “ta-dah” poses, an arm raised over her head, whereas Mike research her like a cat. “It’s a lot of animal print,” he lastly permits. “Just in my opinion.”

As his spouse goes again to the drafting board, he leans in confidingly and says: “Dresses are critical in competition. It’s all about attracting the judges’ attention.” Sporting black, he stated, is a no-no. “You want to stand out, not blend in.”

The subsequent contender, a cloud-gray confection named Internet Price ($4,300), is rapidly rejected, principally for its overlay of fabric that conjures up concepts of trawling nets. “My concern would be the catching,” Mike says.

Although she’s right here to discover a Clean gown, Rose-Ann can’t resist a brand new arrival from the Rhythm class. “This is very me,” she stated, placing a pose in a brief “Moulin Rouge!”-ish woman that has been dubbed Petal to the Steel ($4,100). She shakes the gold-beaded fringe in entrance of Mike like a burlesque dancer.

“Do you like this dress?” she asks.

“I like the idea,” he replies.

There isn’t any arguing. The selections are much more cut-and-dried when a dancer brings in her coach. “Coaches have strong opinions,” Wilson says. “The husband could like it, the wife could like it, but if the coach says no, the wife will turn right back around.”

Rose-Ann’s subsequent candidate, a two-piece pirate ensemble that appears extra appropriate for a Renaissance faire, is vetoed throughout the board. As soon as worn by “Dancing With the Stars” coach Edyta Śliwińska, the outfit is a part of Wilson’s archival costume assortment from Seasons 2 by 12 of the present. Due to her friendship with the late Randall Christensen, as soon as a lead designer on the present and the proprietor of Randall Designs, Wilson was capable of buy a few of the stock.

Followers of the present can personal, amongst others, Lil’ Kim’s two-piece cop outfit (together with her police badge and unique mic pack sewn contained in the bust); Nicole Scherzinger’s homage to “Purple Rain”-era Prince; and Donny Osmond’s diamond-studded railroad conductor’s pants, matching cap and bandanna.

After three hours (the size of a typical appointment), Rose-Ann thinks she has discovered a winner. Although it’s black, Pleats & Thank You ($3,900) is a standout, with a excessive cut up up every leg. “There’s definitely enough stuff to attract the judges,” she determined. Rose-Ann envisions carrying it with black fishnets and a de rigueur spray tan.

“Tanning,” Mike notes, “is hugely important.”

Nonetheless, he’s not completely satisfied that Pleats Please “can dance.” Earlier, Mike described himself because the body round his spouse’s image. The gown should look good on them each.

Needing to get dwelling to their two papillons, the couple go away empty-handed. Maginnis is satisfied they’ll return earlier than lengthy. “She was in the dressing room talking about the bracelets she was going to wear with it.”

With the store now quiet, Wilson stands in entrance of a framed {photograph} of her mom. On this one, Brenda poses with Maksim Chmerkovskiy, her favourite coach from “Dancing With the Stars.”

Mom and daughter have been true companions. It was Brenda who picked out each gown Julie competed in. After they opened their store, the pair traveled to occasions and arrange as distributors. “Mom was just so good with the ladies,” Wilson recollects. “There was no icing on the cake with her. She was a real straight shooter. If they had back fat hanging out, Mom would let them know.” As a nurse, Brenda was good at discovering robes that would assist prospects disguise surgical scars from pacemakers or mastectomies. After they gained a charity public sale in 2019 to go behind the scenes of a taping of TLC’s “Say Yes to the Dress” (Brenda’s favourite present), mom and daughter made such an impression that the producers questioned whether or not they hadn’t discovered their subsequent stars.

When Brenda died, Wilson didn’t take into account closing the store. Her mom would by no means need that. It’s about saying sure to the clothes, all these attractive ladies. The mirror ball spins on.

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