Susan Roemer Goes From Dancer to Designer

A dislocated knee and torn ACL lead a dancer into the world of design.


Lance Yamamoto

Susan Roemer spent nine years as a dancer with San Francisco’s Smuin Ballet. Dance was her life, and she hadn’t considered what it would be like post-ballet. 

“It’s kind of like a ledge; you aren’t thinking of an end,” Roemer said.

But then in 2012, she dislocated her knee and tore her anterior cruciate ligament, or ACL, during rehearsal. “It was really bad,” Roemer said. She was completely out for nine months and, while she away from dancing, a new career came to her.

“I had just begun making leotards for myself before that happened,” Roemer said. As a dancer, “you’re wearing at least one or two or even three leotards a day, depending on how sweaty you are. So I bought a used sewing machine off of Craigslist and thought, ‘I can make a leotard.’”

Her colleagues took note and started placing orders. Eventually, she was hand-sewing leotards for dancers across the country.

When she was able to dance again, she shifted to costume design. Former dancers who’d become choreographers started to ask for her designer’s eye. 

“At that point, I just really liked making things,” Roemer said. 

She continued to dance for three more years but now knew what her post-dance passion would be. 

After she retired (at the ripe old age of 32), Roemer began costume-designing full time, under the name S-Curve Apparel and Design, But when she asked to manage professional costume crews as they constructed her designs, she realized she needed to up her technical skills. 

“Being self taught, you have a lot of creative freedom,” she said, “but you don’t know the rules.” 

She turned to Apparel Arts, thinking it would be the perfect place to hone her craft. Classes in draping let her break away from over-reliance on spandex and Lycra. Roemer still has the binder from her Apparel Arts manufacturing practices class on the desk at her San Francisco design studio.

Learning to make patterns the “right” way was revelatory. “That patternmaking course was career-altering,” she said.

The school also let her find a new community. “As a dancer, everyone has the same goals,” Roemer said. “I didn’t go to college, so I didn’t have that social experience of meeting people with different backgrounds. Then, when you’re not in it” — meaning the ballet world —“it can be daunting to feel, ‘How do I fit in?’”

Roemer still works at designing dance costumes, sometimes for Smuin but also for choreographers across the country, but she is also launching a new line of in-studio apparel, Tangentfit,, to be launched in late 2020. 

“Tangentfit is for professional ballet dancers for everyday,” she says. Through careful thought for line, fit, and embellishment, Roemer hopes to help the dancer wearing her garments feel closer to the stage during rehearsals. “I’d really like for Tangentfit to not just be another place where people shop, but a community for professional dancers.”

Tangentfit is her first manufactured line; the costumes are bespoke, and she’s currently working with a factory in San Francisco, though some of the styles may be made in her studio, with a few extra hands brought in, probably through her Apparel Arts connections.

Roemer plans to start with a handful of designs and grow from there. “Ideally, Tangentfit would become the bread and butter and then I can take more risks with the costume design,” she said.   n

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