Four dancers from the Broadway hit “42nd Street” tell us what hosiery keeps them happy.
This story first appeared in the August 26, 2002 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
When your legs are your lifeline, it’s worth taking some time to invest in a good pair of hose. And no one knows how to keep her gams happy like a Broadway dancer. Take the principal dancers in the current smash revival of “42nd Street.” Meredith Patterson, Mylinda Hull, Nadine Isenegger and Megan Schenck perform eight times in six days. Every show, each girl taps her way through at least 13 numbers in 2 1/2 hours.
Each dancer wears one pair of nude pantyhose throughout the entire show. “I call our hosiery ‘disposable,’” says Isenegger. “Putting holes and snags in them is so easy with all the quick costume changes.” Nadine, who plays Lorraine in the show, also has to wear tap mikes, long wires that snake down the back of her legs to her ankles from a sound pack at her waist. All the leads wear them.
On top of that, these dancers have to double up in some numbers. For “Dames,” a Thirties-style sing-and-sway routine, the ladies wear colored thigh-highs, too. “We get used to the layers,” says Schenck. “They kind of become a second skin.” Prior to her casting as Phyllis, she was a Rockette for four years.
Kenn Hamilton, the wardrobe supervisor, is the Oz-like figure who keeps everything together and running smoothly costume-wise. After every performance, he and a staff of six make sure everything gets cleaned, repaired and stored perfectly for the next show. With 33 women in the cast, 30 of them dancers, that’s a lot of hosiery. “I order 30 dozen new pairs of Blue Heaven’s Sheer Support hose every two weeks,” he says. He estimates that each dancer goes through one pair per show, although sometimes they get lucky and a pair lasts for two performances. If there’s a run, there’s nothing to be done about it. “Once they go,” he says, “they’re gone. And no amount of Run Rescue or nail polish or hairspray is going to help.”
After years of dancing, these girls know what fibers make their legs feel — and look — great. The consensus: The more spandex the better. Patterson, who plays Peggie Sawyer, a small-town girl who comes to the big city to make it big on stage, says it’s all about support. “If you don’t have support, you can get spider veins from the pressure of all the tapping.” Hull agrees, adding, “Spandex sucks your legs in and makes them thinner.” In “Keep Young and Beautiful,” the show’s homage to Busby Berkeley, a giant suspended mirror descends from the ceiling reflecting the chorines laying flat on the stage floor, creating intricate patterns with leg lifts and hand-held mirrors. They’re wearing skimpy silver bodysuits and have their legs and derrieres waving — and reflected — in the air for the entire audience. Needless to say, the dancers are conscious of how they look. “It’s nice to have some suction on stage when you’re in front of hundreds of people,” admits Hull.
Recently, the ladies took time out of their busy schedules to test-drive some of the latest hosiery products for WWD. Patterson loved Berkshire’s black fishnets. “As a kid growing up, most dancers wore fishnets, and they were always thicker, but these new ones are so much lighter,” she says. “They still have the support in them, but they don’t give you waffle leg when you peel them off.” Later, she also slipped into a pair of Wolford Twenties fishnets. “These are fierce!” she gushed at the time. Schenck thinks the extended control-top pair she wore from Spanx were extra-comfortable.
The girls also approved of the newest thigh-highs. “Dancers have real-person thighs,” says Patterson, “so it’s good that the new elastic is almost like double-stick tape holding up the hose.” Nadine, who’s main complaint about thigh-highs is that “they pinch and leave weird line marks on my thighs,” liked the Givenchy Passion Privee and Hillard & Hanson pairs because of their thick bands.
But in the end, the dancers favored the novelty pairs over all the rest. Schenck liked Givenchy’s vine-embroidered white hose, and Hull didn’t want to get out of the tulle-dotted Hues she wore: “They are so darling.” After all, when you’ve got legs like a dancer, wouldn’t you want to draw a little extra attention to them, too?