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What a feeling! Leg warmers & warm memories

| Thursday, Dec. 27, 2012, 9:03 p.m.
Just in time for December's ice age, the Triceratops at PPG Place was outfitted with leg warmers. Courtesy of the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust
The Tyrannosaurus Rex, who lurks outside The Art Institute of Pittsburgh, sports '80s-style leg warmers. Courtesy of the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust
The mirror-scaled stegosaurus at PPG Place can face winter weather with its cozy leg warmers. Courtesy of the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust

Leg warmers on dinosaurs is the latest fashion fad to hit Pittsburgh.

The mirror-scaled stegosaurus and ketchup-red triceratops who make their home outside the Wintergarden at PPG Place, as well as the tyrannosaurus who lurks outside The Art Institute of Pittsburgh, are sporting these retro-chic accessories.

And if Emily Balawejder has her way, the trio of fashionistas is just the leading edge of a trend that will spread across the region and then the nation.

Balawejder is the art director for the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust and an avid knitter.

Last August, she suggested outfitting local statues and other stationary objects with leg warmers as a way to promote “Flashdance — The Musical,” which is having its world premiere Tuesday through

Jan. 6 at Heinz Hall, Downtown, as a presentation of the PNC Broadway Across America — Pittsburgh series.

The musical is set in the 1980s, an era when leg warmers were a must-have fashion accessory.

“I thought it was the perfect way to get the (theater and knitting) communities together, and it worked,” Balawejder says.

It also caught the attention of the promoters for the national tour, who are encouraging other cities where the show will travel to follow Balawejder's lead.

To help her make the project a reality, Balawejder approached local knitting-supply stores to recruit knitters, including Natural Stitches, a store in East Liberty that offers knitting, crochet and spinning supplies and classes.

When Balawejder outlined her plan, store manager Yvonne Spencer replied with an enthusiastic yes.

“I'm a child of the '80s,” says Spencer, who graduated from Conneaut High School in Ohio in 1985. “I said, ‘Let's put leg warmers on everything.' I want to leg-warmer the city.”

Spencer persuaded Cascade Yarns of Tukwila, Wash., to donate yarn for the project.

The store recruited volunteer knitters and crocheters to create the custom leg warmers from measurements supplied by Balawejder.

Every two rows of knitting or crocheting earned volunteers a ticket for a drawing of prizes such as tickets to the opening night of “Flashdance — The Musical” or gift cards.

At times, as many as six people could be found working on the project at the store at any given time.

“It was a lot of fun getting people involved,” says Spencer, who estimates about 40 people took part.

When the leg warmers — basically large, colorful rectangles — were completed, Spencer and Annie Valdes, a customer, wrapped the dinosaurs' legs and stitched together the back seams.

They also decorated lampposts outside Heinz Hall with the brightly colored cylinders.

Not everyone was enthusiastic about the project, says Balawejder.

Her offers to outfit statues of sports figures, politicians and others were declined, she says.

Balawejder hasn't given up hope that others with suitable statues might want to join the fun.

Anyone interested in creating leg warmers for personal use or to garb a statue of their own can find directions at www.trustart.org/knit.

The leg warmers will continue on display at least until “Flashdance — the Musical” leaves town on Jan. 6.

“But if it stays cold and funny, they will stay up longer,” Balawejder says.

Alice T. Carter is the theater critic for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-320-7808 or acarter@tribweb.com.

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