BY LIBBY PETERSON
Paula Chambers opened The Dance Circus, Bloomington’s only professional dancewear store, in Fountain Square Mall in November 2012—just in time for the IU Opera and Ballet Theater production of The Nutcracker. But the timing wasn’t as great as she thought; one month later, a fire broke out in a tailor shop two doors down.
“Nothing of mine was destroyed, but everything was covered in soot, and unsafe to sell,” Chambers laments. The shop closed for a month while she reordered inventory and consulted dance schools and troupes on what products they would be needing. She also dry cleaned her vintage clothing collection, including a 1920s dance jacket, a 1960s flapper-style wedding dress, and a 1970s leotard/tutu ensemble.
The spruced-up store reopened in late January 2013 with more boutique touches, such as padded hangers, 1948 vintage pinup circus-calendar pages, historic circus posters, and her father’s 1950s travel trunk. Today, people go to The Dance Circus for the basics—shoes, tights, and leotards—but customers can find anything from burlesque fishnet tights to eye shadow.
As the founder of the Dance Network Alliance, co-founder of Bloomington’s hoop-dancing troupe The Hudsucker Posse, and the dance representative for the Arts Alliance of Greater Bloomington, Chambers has a strong connection with dance. But selling dancewear began serendipitously when Costume Delights, the venerable costume shop on South Walnut, closed in 2012 and the owner offered to sell Chambers her stock of dancewear. “I just thought, ‘Okay, Paula, this is what you’re supposed to do next.’”
Chambers has been involved with dance and theater since childhood, coming from what she calls “that family—the one where everyone is musical and artsy.” Her father sang in a barbershop quartet, her mother taught piano, and her sister is a historical costumer. Chambers learned to dance at age 5 and to sew as soon as she was “old enough to sit at a sewing machine,” she says. And that comes in handy at The Dance Circus.
“When people come in, I know their needs. I know the simple safety- pin trick for a broken shoe or the quick sewing solution. I’ve been there.”
For more information, visit The Dance Circus’ Facebook page.