The most artistic of sports, figure skating has long had a thing for costumes so glittery and glamorous they'd put Liberace's suits to shame.
So as Caydee Denney prepared for the recent U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Spokane, Wash., she contacted Designs to Shine, a Pinellas Park company known for its stunning ballroom dancewear. Owner Maria McGill made the costumes Denney wore as she and partner Jeremy Barrett won first place in the pairs competition and a trip to the Olympics in Vancouver, British Columbia, next month.
"Maria is absolutely wonderful,'' says Denney, a Pasco County resident who's temporarily back in Florida training at the Ellenton Ice and Sports Complex. "I had such a great time trying on all her dresses.''
The admiration is mutual.
"She's the cutest little thing,'' McGill says of the 16-year-old, 5-foot Denney. "Whenever this child came in here her eyes lit up. It was like a cocoon turning into a butterfly.''
Denney, whose grandmother used to make her costumes, had nothing particular in mind, so McGill took over. Figure skating rules require the skirts to be a certain length, but otherwise McGill was free to design costumes that would visually complement the music — Igor Stravinsky's The Firebird for the short program, Rimsky-Korsakov's Scheherazade for the longer free skate.
"The costumes had to be so dramatic,'' McGill says, "because the music is so dramatic.''
Both outfits began as mesh body suits mixed with spandex for stretchability, allowing unconstrained movement as Denney is flung into the air by her partner and rotates three times on triple-throw jumps.
For the long program — shown live on national TV — McGill dyed one of the suits purple, added gold trim and accented it with dozens of Swarovski crystals. The short-program costume, which Denney also wore in a televised exhibition, was the flaming red of the firebird.
After Denney won the national title Jan. 16, she called McGill and asked for something to wear to the black-tie Olympic sendoff in Spokane. Via FedEx, McGill sent her two gowns — "one red, kind of short and sassy, the other a beautiful long one, all toile on the bottom, all crystaled.''
McGill, who made costumes for ABC's Dancing With the Stars and has an alliance with Fox's So You Think You Can Dance, also designed outfits for Olympic silver medalist Nancy Kerrigan when she appeared on Skating With the Stars.
"She told me, 'Maria, you must understand, I love your gowns,' '' McGill says. "She has told me that never in her career has she had dresses the way we make them.''
(That was quite a compliment, considering Kerrigan is best known fashionwise for her elegantly simple skating costumes created by world-famous designer Vera Wang.)
A native of Hungary, McGill moved to St. Petersburg when she was 16 and became a Fred Astaire dance instructor. In 1996, she and her husband, Steve, opened Designs to Shine, specializing in ballroom gowns that can run as high as $7,000.
As for Denney, she will be wearing the same costumes at the Olympics. That will give McGill a chance to finally see her creations in action since she was too busy to watch the national championships.
And, she says, "I can't wait to see something of this beautiful little child.''
Susan Taylor Martin can be contacted at email@example.com.