Lisa Choules’ name may sound familiar if you’ve been attending the Ballet for a while. She is a former Kansas City Ballet company member. Choules danced with KCB from 2000 until retiring at the end of the 2008-2009 season. Flash forward to 2017, Choules is a successful entrepreneur and owner of Elevé Dancewear. This Kansas City-based company employs upwards of 25 employees, most of them full-time.
Elevé has made quite a name for itself among dancers and dance communities. The creative and high-quality leotards and dance skirts definitely capture attention in and out of the studio.
ElevÉ’s Support for KCB School
The company has been a supporter of Kansas City Ballet’s School for the past two years—sponsoring deserving students with Elevé scholarships.
What motivated Choules to make this possible?
“I love performing. I nearly quit dancing when I was young, but then I attended my school’s performance. I realized I wanted to be up there on the stage. That desire is what brought me back to dance. That is why I want to help students have more opportunities to perform, especially those who work hard and need financial assistance,” she said.
In 2015-2016, Elevé became the Official Leotard Provider for Kansas City Ballet School. Why would KCBS choose Elevé as a uniform partner?
“Elevé is a local company with lots of experience and with a love for the art form and especially education. We were able to customize the leotards with the colors they selected,” said Choules. “We have a lot of experience with ballet schools since we make the official uniforms for Ballet West Academy and other dance schools across America.”
How Elevé Began
When asked about her transition from company dancer to business owner, Choules shared a bit about what drives her. She joined Ballet West as a dancer at 18. While there she started making her own ballet skirts. Later she even made her own practice tutu. After her two daughters were born, she began making leotards for herself.
“I had a hard time finding leos that fit my body,” she said. She would get creative by looking for older leotards at thrift shops, breaking them down and making patterns from them. In fact, she was wearing one of her own creations when she auditioned for KCB and even remembers other dancers asking her where she got it. “As a single mother of two, I made custom leotards for my friends as a way to earn some extra side money.”
For a while she even dabbled with costuming. She remembers when the company was performing Paquita, it frustrated her how poorly the rented tutus fit. She had trouble feeling confident about her dancing because she was so concerned about her costume twisting and bouncing funny because it was too big around and falling out on top because it was too short.
The first costuming she did was for KCB dancer Russell Baker’s summer festival and his ballet Cloud Chamber which was choreographed for KCB’s In the Wings and was later preformed as part of the 2001/2002 season. Later, she designed for former KCB Artistic Director William (Bill) Whitener, Quixotic, Owen/Cox, Jessica Lang (for KCB, Ballet San Jose, and her own company), and Nashville Ballet to name a few. “The first piece I did for Whitener was Jaywalk, a jazzy piece with pants. Keelan Whitmore was the lead. Bill thought I had decent taste and I was flattered he trusted me to design the costumes for him.” Choules said.
Another one of Bill’s pieces “I didn’t design, but made the costumes for, was Caprice. The dancers wore nude colored unitards.” Out of frustration, I remade the bodice of the Snow Queen costume from The Nutcracker because it didn’t fit well and was difficult to move in,” Choules remembered. She did design and build the costumes for two more of Bill’s ballets, First Position: A Reminiscence which the company performed during their 50th Anniversary Season and Salute!, a ballet meant to commemorate Christopher Barksdale’s retirement after 20 years in the company.
After retiring in 2009, she received a grant from the Career Transition for Dancers and used it to attend the Fashion Institute of Technology‘s summer session in NYC. Then she started Elevé in the basement of her home. Initially she hired one employee to cut out leotards and help design the look of the website.
Soon after, disaster struck.
Coming back from the Brink
A fire started in her cutting room and she lost a majority of her patterns as well as supplies and even some completed orders. Not to be held back, Choules with the help of other seamstresses, began remaking her patterns based on past leotards and costume designs she’d made for KCB and any unsewn pieces that were not destroyed by the fire.
“It was hard work, but I was determined. There was no plan B. I had to make this work,” she said.
And boy has she made it work. Elevé is now located in the Crossroads in 5,200 square feet of space with orders shipping all over the globe!
This Arizona native has come a long way and there is no end in sight.