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Can you wear a swimsuit to ballet class? Dancer Explains!

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If Summer is just around the corner it means temperatures are on the rise and you are probably looking at cute new bathing suits to wear to the pools or beach. Now if you are a ballerina or dance student, you may be thinking the designs are so pretty that they would look good in class – but is it ok to wear a swimsuit to ballet class?

Yes, you could wear an all-in-one swimsuit that looks like a leotard to dance or ballet class if you had no other alternative. Most dancers choose not to as bathing suit fabric is not very breathable meaning when exercising your sweat isn’t absorbed and heat isn’t released through the swimsuit effectively and you are left feeling hotter, or even slippery or sticky with sweat!

In this blog post, we’ll explain in detail why most dancers and ballerinas choose not to wear bathing suits in their dance and ballet lessons and explain the differences between swimsuits and leotards so it all makes sense! Keep reading for more information!

What is a leotard?

A leotard is a figure-hugging single piece of clothing worn by acrobats, ballet dancers, and gymnasts. Typically made of a stretchy material like lycra or spandex, it covers the body from the chest to the crotch leaving the wearer’s legs and arms free to move around.

Leotards come in a variety of colors and styles, but they all serve the same purpose: to keep dancers’ bodies covered while allowing them a full range of motion. At its most basic a leotard has a scooped neckline and sleeveless arms.

Technological advances in materials have also meant that manufacturers that specialize in making leotards have been able to improve their breathability as well as their ability to wick away moisture from the body when sweating.

Leotards are worn by both male and female dancers and for more information check out our article Do Boys Wear Leotards? And what is a Dance belt? or Leotard vs. Unitard: What’s The Difference & Why Do Dancers Need Both?

Are leotards the same as swimsuits?

No, leotards are not the same as swimsuits. The purpose of a leotard is to cover the body of a dancer in class or on stage. The purpose of a swimsuit is to cover the body of a person when they intend to get wet in a pool or at the beach.

Swimsuits can be either two-piece or a single garment, so when we are comparing a leotard and swimsuit we are generally discussing the single garment that most resembles a leotard.

What are the similarities between leotards and swimsuits?

  • Both swimsuits and leotards are clothing that is worn to cover the body.
  • They follow the same basic design or pattern when being made.
  • Both are made from stretch synthetic fabrics
  • Both have elastic around the leg and armholes

What is the difference between a leotard and a bathing suit?

There are two main differences between a leotard and a swimsuit – their purpose and the fabric they are made from.

The purpose of a bathing suit is for swimming and getting wet. The purpose of a leotard is for exercise or dance in a dry environment.

Although both are made from synthetic stretch fabric, the different fibers used serve different purposes in each garment.

You will however sometimes find leotards and swimsuits that are blends of each other’s base fibers, but the blends should be higher in the percentage of the primary materials used for the purpose of the garment.

Leotards for DanceAll in One Swimsuit
Made primarily of lycra or spandex. Polyester, Elastane, and Nylon
Absorbs water easily when soaked and can stretch when drenchedresistant to shrinking in the water when drenched
Thicker weave to provide support to the body lightweight, thin and quick-drying
Wicks moisture away from the bodyRepels moisture, leaving you sweaty.
Not made to withstand chlorine and sunscreenResistant to fading, chlorine and sunscreen.
Not made to repel the sunProvides SPF factor
Material is soft against the skinMaterial can be scratchy, some swimsuits have linings to make them more comfortable.

Can a bathing suit be used as a leotard?

Yes, you could use a bathing suit as a leotard if you had no alternative because they essentially have the same cut or design.


However, swimsuits are made to withstand chlorine and the sun as well as to repel water to a degree and dry quickly after getting wet. This has meant the material needs different properties than a leotard which is worn for exercising and sweating in over extended periods of time.

Because of the way the fabric is designed and manufactured, bathing suit material is not very breathable and it does not wick away moisture from your skin.

Have you ever been out on a hot day with your bathers on under your clothes getting hotter and hotter and feeling the sweat drip down your back because your swimsuit is not absorbing the sweat? Imagine dancing in that!

Swimsuits can also feel scratchy and cause chaffing and rubbing on that now sweaty skin. The elastic around the leg and armholes of swimsuits can also be made tighter than those on leotards to ensure they stay in place when wet therefore these areas can also rub and chafe and cause irritation to a dancer.

Can I wear a swimsuit to gymnastics?

Yes, you can wear a swimsuit to gymnastics training, although it is not recommended. As I wrote previously swimsuits trap in heat and sweat which could be dangerous for a gymnast,

Gymnastic leotards although generally made from shiny materials that look similar to swimsuits, are mostly made from lycra and spandex just like dance leotards and not nylon like swimsuits.

Do you have to wear a leotard in ballet class?

If your dance studio or teacher requires you to wear a leotard to ballet class then yes you will need to wear one. Most dance teachers would not approve of you wearing a bathing suit unless it was for a special dress-up week of lessons or free dress day, as most dance studios have uniforms or dancewear requirements.

Generally, formal ballet training requires that you wear a leotard for tradition, for getting you into the right frame of mind for your class, for uniformity amongst students, and because it is the best clothing that covers a dancer’s body whilst also allowing both them and their teacher to see their form.

However, to be able to do ballet you do not need to wear a leotard and many adults who go back to ballet or who do classes such as barre fit opt to wear gym or activewear instead to their classes

What can I use instead of a leotard?

When you are not able to wear a leotard, you can substitute it with an all-in-one swimsuit if that is all you have – it should be fine for one class – just let your teacher know the reason why!

Other options are:

  • all in one swimsuit
  • wearing a unitard
  • leggings and a tight singlet top or t-shirt
  • bike shorts worn over dance tights and a tight singlet top or t-shirt
  • bather bottoms or bloomers worn over dance tights with a tight singlet top or t-shirt

Can I wear a bodysuit instead of a leotard?

No, you cannot wear a bodysuit instead of a leotard.

To clarify in dance a bodysuit is a sheer leotard worn under a regular leotard to provide an extra layer of modesty and is mainly worn when dancers need to change in front of others for example during a recital. Because it is virtually see-through it should not be worn instead of a leotard.

The other type of bodysuit is one of those tight-fitting garments women wear tucked into their pants that have clasps at the crutch. This type of bodysuit should also not be worn in place of a leotard as they generally have no elastic around the leg holes to hold them down and the clasps can be uncomfortable when moving in various dance positions.

What do you wear under a leotard?

Females will generally pair tights and a bodysuit under their leotard. Tights act as underwear and a bodysuit adds another layer of modesty for those who do not need or want to wear a bra.

A female dancer can also wear briefs or a thong under their tights and a bra under their leotard if they wish. Leotards can come in different styles to hide bra straps for those who need to wear them.

Undergarments should always be the same tone as your skin so they are not noticeable – nobody needs to see your favorite Fluro orange panties hanging out the bottom of your leotard!

For more information, you can read Teen’s & dance school underwear rules under dance leotards & costumes

Male dancers wear jocks or a dance belt under their leotards. They wear thick tights, bike shorts or leggings over the top of their leotards which can be full seat or thong is style!

For more information on leotards and dance belts and how to wear them check out the article Do Boys Wear Leotards? And what is a Dance belt?

Can you wear a leotard into the ocean or a pool?

I would not advise you to wear your leotard into the ocean or pool because just like regular clothes a leotard would tend to absorb all the water and become heavy.

A drenched leotard could then start to stretch, hang and pull and not cover your body in all the places you want it to cover.

After spending a considerable time in the water, especially chlorine, you could also then find the quality and integrity of the material to have degraded considerably or even stretched and lost its shape, therefore, making the leotard unwearable for dance or ballet class as well.