I am not the spotlight type. Put me in the wings and I soar. Put a microphone in my hand center stage and I stammer.
But last week, standing in front of a studio mirror wearing one of Alicia Zenobia’s holographic Astral Dance Party body suits – this one a silver and blue graphic print in Spandex – I was ready to hit the streets.
I was ready to dance in the streets.
Costumes do that – allow us to shed inner inhibitions for external exuberance. Great costumes excel at it.
Zenobia’s bodysuits reach another plane altogether.
“Transformative,” is the adjective the fashion designer uses for the sparkly, stretchable, reflective, metallic head-to-toe suits. “I call it transient body enhancement. They allow you to continually reinvent yourself, to explore different aspects of yourself and those around you.”
The suits have become hot-ticket items in this party-hearty season, with Astral Dance Party enthusiasts making a rash of pop-up appearances, flash mob gatherings and parade crashing.
“A dozen Astral Dance Partyers jumped into the Krewe du Vieux parade and marched two blocks before we got kicked out,” said Zenobia. “People loved it.”
Zenobia came up with the Astral Dance Party concept last fall, when NolaVie asked her to create some new looks for an 11.11.11 party at Studio 3, a Carnival warehouse in Mid-City. The space’s giant papier mache figures and soaring ceiling immediately conjured celestial imagery, Zenobie says.
“I was in more of a party planning than fashion mode,” she recalls. “I thought, how do I get people moving?”
She came up with 10 of the stretchy, cover-all bodysuits, which include tight, monk-like hoods – pop on a pair of sunglasses and any Astral Dance Party persona becomes instantly incognito.
But the magic of the suit goes beyond the anonymity of it.
They beg for motion. Slinky, light, tight, sparkly, they are liberating, sexy and instantly comfortable.
And they do. At the NolaVie event, the Astral Dance Partyers merged into the crowd and quickly had 200 people on the dance floor gyrating wildly.
Word of the Astral Dance Project frolics quickly spread, and Zenobia was soon asked to take her dancers to fundraisers, parades, private parties. She’s talking to at least one bride about a wedding appearance, and is even making the Astral Dance Party phenomenon available for corporate events.
At a recent event at the House Of Blues Foundation Room, she says, “the manager told me he had never seen people there move like that.”
She has made about 20 of the suits so far, and has a list of 40 or so friends and acquaintances who jump at the chance to join one of her Astral Dance Party appearances.
“Everyone seems to get attached to a particular suit,” she says. “They develop a character almost, even give the suits names. Sparkle Shadow. Flitz Blitz. Sparkle Butt.”
Zenobia’s ultimate goal is to make 112 of the Astral Dance Party suits, in order to create some kind of giant, flash-mob, 112-person apocalyptic event for 12.21.12 – the day the Mayan calendar (and therefore allegedly the world) will come to a close.
To that end, she is throwing a party this week to raise funds for the fabric needed to make so many suits. Benefit Blitzkreig, from 10 p.m. ‘til on Thursday at the Allways Lounge, 2240 St. Claude Ave., will feature not only a room full of Astral Dance Party dancers, but also Ratty Scurvics and the Black Market Butchers, DJ Frontier, and a promise of prizes and surprises (a marching band?). Cover charge is $15 at the door.
Those who want to join the Astral Dance Party at local events are invited to sign up for it at the event; you don’t have to buy a suit to sign up to wear one, although there will be suits for sale. If you can’t make the benefit, you can email Zenobia at firstname.lastname@example.org to join her list of Astral Dance Party volunteers.
Currently, Zenobia’s Astral Dance Party suits run to sparkly gunmetal grays and metallic blues, all made from fabrics secured from Spandex World in New York. She plans to branch out into other colors – reds will be next – as she builds her inventory. She makes the suits in three sizes, which have fit “everyone from a large child to a humongous adult.”
She’ll create the suits to order, too, and has sold three of them along the way (at $125 per) to people who just had to own one.” For Fashion Week in March, she’s showing an Astral Dance Party-inspired line of ready to wear, featuring the same holographic effects.
“I don’t draw a fine line between costume and fashion,” says Zenobia, whose innovative looks took first place at the 2011 Fashion Week. Hers is “more reactive fashion.”
“The bodysuits are versatile, too. You may not be able to wear one to a business meeting – well, in New Orleans you probably could, some days – but they make a great go-to costume for the closet. It’s such a simple concept.”
And, for wallflowers like me, so very transformative.
Renee Peck, a former feature editor and writer at The Times-Picayune, is editor of NolaVie.