When I was little, I thought my mom’s closet was the coolest in the world. My sister and I would always sneak in there whenever we could, at any opportunity, to try on her coats or her shoes or her bags. So, my first memory of the silver sequined leotard was just seeing it there. I must have been eight or nine. I had never really seen the leotard except in her music video for "Running Back To You." She’s wearing it so differently: It’s kind of a classic mom jean, and the leotard is underneath a jean jacket. You only see a hint of it.
It was a piece that I knew for a long time, but the first time I put it on, I had just moved in to Manhattan, where I studied dance at the New School. I had grabbed the leotard—the idea of going to New York, I was trying to get my Carrie Bradshaw on—but I hadn’t used it yet. One night, one of my friends was over, and we were drinking wine and sorting through my closet. I put it on, just to try it. It fit me like a glove. I was not expecting that at all—when I was little, I wasn’t crazy chubby, but I was a round little girl. Now that I can wear my mom’s clothes, I recognize I’ve come a long way.
About two years later, I decided to wear it for my senior thesis piece. I hadn’t done much personal choreography prior but I wanted this piece to be a collection of memories and different parts of my identity. The leotard was the first thing you saw on stage—the piece started in pitch black, and I was singing an excerpt of a James Blake song, “The Wilhelm Scream,” that I had listened to a lot while choreographing.
The first line is “I don’t know about my dreams, I don’t know about my dreaming anymore; All that I know is I’m falling, falling, falling, falling, might as well fall in.” That was a thing I just kept repeating, because that was how I felt—I was going through a breakup and finding myself feeling really excited but also really scared of what was to come. The leotard was a glistening piece, a reflection of how I was feeling—proud, showing it all. Wearing my mom’s leotard meant I was finally embracing her legacy, coming out of the darkness, representing her and myself. At one point, I took off the leotard completely—I was nude on stage—and changed into a gown. Pina Bausch is one of my favorite choreographers, and that was my ode to her.
I was citing a lot of different dance styles, both that I loved growing up and that I learned in college. The same friend that I tried on the leotard with two years prior was also in the piece, because I wanted another body to play off of. It was a piece honoring the people that have influenced me and moving through a journey from where I’d started, as well.
My senior thesis informed a lot. At the end of the piece, I was playing with hair pieces, and I put on this ponytail and crawl to the back of the stage. I had no idea Lion Babe would happen later. It’s funny how it all works, because for our first music video as Lion Babe, the first time you see me, I’m crawling—with much bigger hair—in the wild.
A year after graduating, I did my first solo performance at Pravda, on the Lower East Side. That’s the second time I wore the leotard—for my first solo work as a working dancer. Whenever I want to do something special, that’s the standout piece. I feel comfortable in it; people are going to love it.
Wearing my mom’s stuff makes me feel a little extra special. I’m not wearing my cute little sweater from Topshop—I’m wearing my mom’s old vintage. It ups the ante a little bit. She has a two-piece chocolate-brown Chanel set that makes me feel like I’m Dionne in Clueless. Immediately. If I’m going to a special meeting, I know it’s the jacket to wear.
I’m super visual. A lot of times, people only get to see you, they don’t even get to hear you. The visual is just a way of me expressing myself. Often, when I’m writing, I’ll have my computer open and I’m scrolling through photos I love or watching vintage videos, even if it’s on mute, just to give me inspiration. And sometimes, I look for my mom’s old photos, her old style. With Lion Babe, we want to always reference the vintage, but then give it a new breath or somehow shape it. It’s a way of connecting to my parents.
After the Pravda show, I didn’t wear the leotard until my first show performing on stage as Lion Babe, with Disclosure in London. It’s the look for moments when I want to feel a certain energy. It’s comforting. Clothes can give you comfort; they can give you confidence, especially when you’ve had great experiences with them. So for that Disclosure show, I knew I needed something I know I feel amazing in. That was the last time I’ve worn it—until now.
As told to Katherine Cusumano. Lion Babe's new single "Rockets" featuring Moe Moks is out now.