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What Every Contemporary Dancer Needs! Plus recital & Christmas gift ideas

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By Becky Dimock / Edited by Samantha BelleroseB.Ed, Dip.Dance(Performing Arts)

Need a great gift for your contemporary dancer, but have no idea what they need, or even want?  They can be especially hard to buy for since they definitely don’t want something with a pointe shoe or a tutu on it! But don’t worry, I’m here to take the guesswork out of it! 

Contemporary dancers need things such as dance socks or foot thongs, tape for their feet, and warm-up gear. As most contemporary dancers typically start the style at an older age, the standard little kid dancer gift ideas are out.  

Thankfully, I have a lot of wonderful contemporary dancers in my life; either dancing professionally, teaching, or dancing in college, and they gave me the inside scoop on what they absolutely need to get them through class, rehearsal, and shows! They also gave me a lot of fun things that they love, or would have loved, as a dancer.

18 Things Every Contemporary Dancer Needs!

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1. Really good socks.

Contemporary dancers generally dance barefoot, but it is also common for them to wear socks, to protect the skin on their feet, to provide more slide for their movement, and sometimes even because their feet are cold. Dancewear suppliers have caught on to this and have started making socks with specific technology to support contemporary dancers’ feet.

This brand of sock was mentioned by almost every dancer I spoke to.  One told me “I hate wearing socks, but I actually love these, I don’t feel like I’m falling over because they give me stability”.  You can get a “barefoot” version (with no heels or toes)

or the full-foot version:

And for after class, nothing soothes your sore feet like these moisturizing socks with vitamin E and lavender:

2. Warmups

Warmups – including pants for sliding, for warming up during class, keeping warm before you perform, or to help protect an injured area. 

For warming up and staying warm, these “garbage bag” pants are my top choice.  You can get them as full pants (Note that these are going to seem huge when you get them.  Dancers like to roll down the waist and roll up the ankles to achieve the desired fit):

Alternatively, you can get shorts.  When my daughter injured her groin muscle, these were perfect, since they kept the injured area warm, but she didn’t overheat:

If you just need to warm the lower portion, you can’t go wrong with these leg warmers:

If your dancer needs to roll around on the floor, they might prefer some with a little more padding:

3. Tape for your feet

This was another absolute “must” from everyone I spoke to.  Plan ahead and have some really good tape on hand.  It can also be used to protect an injured joint, or to cover a wounded area.  Believe me, a regular adhesive bandage on your foot will not survive a contemporary dance class!  

This brand was the top choice because it’s not sticky, but it stays on better than other brands, so you end up using less of it: 

If you prefer something in fun colors, you can also get a giant pack with a ton of options:

4. Water bottle

OK, your dancer definitely already has a water bottle, but does your dancer have THIS water bottle?  If not, you’re about to meet the new love of your life.  This bottle is aluminum, so it keeps water cold longer, but it’s also straw-less.  No straw means nothing to lose and less to clean.  Additionally, I find that ALL straw-lidded water bottles become leaky at some point.  But I know water bottles with screw-off lids can be annoying to open and close when you just want a quick drink.  That’s why this bottle is so special!  The lid screws off, but once it’s unscrewed, it’s held in place (closed or open) by a magnet, so it doesn’t open too easily (like if it tips over) and it also doesn’t flop in your face when drinking – bonus!  When you’re done with class, just screw the lid down tight and it’s dribble-proof forever.  Of course, there’s plenty of room for fun stickers, too. 

5. Extra ponytail holders

If your dancer has long hair, they are probably dripping with ponytail elastics, but so many of them break easily, get stretched out quickly, are too tight or are too loose, and how can you tell whose are whose when you all just put a handful on the makeup shelf backstage? 

Several dancers I spoke to told me that they only use this kind.  They have the perfect amount of elasticity to pull up hair and they don’t cut off the circulation when you put them on your wrist.  They also last a long time, so you end up buying fewer (and are being less wasteful – you’re welcome, Mother Earth!)  It’s also nice that they have a unique look, so you never have to worry about your dancer’s elastics getting mixed up with others.

And who doesn’t love a cute scrunchie?  These fun hair holders have zippers! Yep.  Tiny pockets to hide keys or cash.  So even if your dancer doesn’t wear them, they can be a great place to hide extra money without it floating around in their dance bag where it’s easily lost or stolen.

6. Proper nutrition

Contemporary dancers expend a LOT of energy.  It’s important that they have they have good food that will keep them going all day and help with recovery after dancing. 

These powdered greens are a great way to get all the vitamins and minerals they need – in a form that is quick and easy to access.

Don’t forget recipes!  Here’s a great collection of quick fix recipes specifically for athletes.

And to start the day out right with a fast, healthy breakfast, you can’t beat smoothies, but no one wants the same smoothie every day, so how about a whole book of ideas?

7. Muscle recovery tools

After a hard day, dancers need to stretch and roll out their muscles.  Contemporary dancers use their muscles in unique ways, so they’ll need proper tools to reach anything that’s extra sore.

The number one favorite roller at my daughter’s studio.The Stick – It’s firm enough to help with deep massage, but has some give so it won’t damage muscles.  It’s also narrow enough to help your dancer access hard-to-reach areas. The individual rollers make sure it slides smoothly and never pinches.

This set of balls makes sure your dancer always has the right tool to roll out feet, or anything that needs a circular motion.

If your dancer doesn’t have a foam roller yet, this one is a great choice.  It’s small enough to carry to class, competitions, and shows.  The texturized areas help give a deep massage to your dancer’s back and feet.  And they are also useful helpers for stretching and strengthening.

8. Muscle recovery rubs, creams, and scrubs

Do you see a theme here?  Dancing is hard work and it can be hard on muscles and joints.  When your dancer is stiff and sore, a soothing, healing rub can make all the difference.

Pain relieving ointment.  A little of this goes a long way!  I love it because it’s not messy and it comes in small, strong containers that are easy to toss in a dance bag, but won’t break if they’re stepped on.

Arnica is another of my favorite pain relievers.

Epsom salts are a tried-and-true muscle relaxer.  Before my daughter headed out for an intensive a couple of years ago, her dance teacher recommended this body scrub with Epsom salts and we’ve kept some on hand ever since.

If you do have a tub to soak in, you won’t go wrong with this bubble bath that contains Epsom salts as well as lavender.  I’m getting more relaxed just thinking about it!

One more way to relax – at the end of the night, after rolling out and taking a warm shower, smooth on some lotion that has pain reliving menthol as well as soothing eucalyptus.  I love using this before bed because it doesn’t leave me feeling greasy; just light and clean.

Or skip the menthol and just bask in the soothing scent of eucalyptus

9. Self-awareness

Contemporary dance is all about learning to connect your mind and body.  This guided journal helps your dancer grow as a performer, as a choreographer, and as a person.

For more ideas on journals check out our resource page here!

10. Inspiration

Every dancer needs some inspiration to remind them that there’s always room for new ideas in contemporary dance.  Of course, understanding the past can help them find the way forward.

A poster of Martha Graham, the mother of modern dance.

A fascinating book of interviews where contemporary choreographers talk about their work.

A book of gorgeous photographs of contemporary dancers.

Images of Alvin Ailey dancers.

Matisse’s famous painting “The Dance”.

11. Does your dancer already have everything he or she needs?

Does your dancer already have everything he or she needs?  Take a favorite photo of your dancer and turn it into a paint-by-numbers.  It even comes with the paint! 

12. If your dancer is like mine, they get plenty of bouquets of cut flowers.

A nice vase to put them in makes sure the flowers can be enjoyed by everyone! Of course, there are vases available to fit anyone’s style. Fancy or Rustic or Fun???

13. Framed quotations

Do you think your contemporary dancer could use some wordspiration? Why not buy a printed quote for their room or even DIY one and frame it!

14. Shirts, shirts, shirts!

There are dozens of cute shirts out there, here are some of my favorites for a contemporary dancer

15. Cool hoodies

Dancers always need to have good warmups.  How about something that they’ll love to wear on or off the dance floor?

16. Smoothie maker

This one is great because the blending cup doubles as a travel bottle, so you dirty fewer dishes when packing for breakfast (or lunch or snacks..) on the go!

17. Packable food containers

For long days and evenings at the studio, you need the perfect container that will hold all of your food without letting anything get squashed.

18. Stickers and decals

Everyone loves stickers for their water bottle, laptop, bedroom wall, or car.  Here are a few that any contemporary dancer will love.