Introduction: Dancing Skeletons

A dancing skeletons "costume".... this turned into a fall pandemic project.... there were several factors converging....

First, we live too far away from our kids and grandkids for me to help with Halloween costumes.

Second, I found an instructable that showed me how to make a skeleton in a way that appealed to me.

Finally for someone who NEVER forgot to bring her own grocery bags to any store in which I was going to need them, I had a crazy and pandemicly-huge pile of white grocery bags.

Before I go any further, thanks very much to CuriousTangles who gave permission for me to use her instructables directions for Halloween Skeleton made of Plastic Shopping Bags (10/16/2011) here:

Using plastic grocery bags for this project, she is a recycler and creator after my own heart. Like CuriousTangles, my budget for this project is $0.00. Not only is this a thrifty and great way to keep plastic bags from the landfill, but using the grocery bags make the dancing skeletons light for their dancing partner in the middle to easily keep them upright.

I love how forgiving in looks the plastic bags, tape and bamboo supports are for this project. What follows are the ways I decided to build it. If you decide to try it, I hope you'll share your ideas!

Step 1: Tools and Supplies/Materials

For the two skeletons, I used twice the materials that CuriousTangles used of course, but I followed her directions with just a few modifications which I'll explain soon.

Supplies for two separate skeletons:

About 60 white plastic grocery bags

4 wire coat hangers

Lots of clear packing tape and narrow clear tape

Thread and a black permanent marker

Supplies/Materials for making the two skeletons dance with me:

16 bamboo garden stakes

White spray paint

2 more wire coat hangers for building skeletons

2 more wire coat hangers helped hanging skeletons

4 feet of inch-wide and sticky-backed black velcro

Small roll of white duct tape, some silver duct tape.

More clear packing tape

2 scrap, foot-long 3/4" or 1" pvc pipe

white embroidery floss

About 6 of each- white 4 inch and 8 inch cable ties

Hooks, string and strips of cloth to suspend the contraption while you work on it

Black shirt, pants and shoes to wear while in the costume (or just dedicated clothes of your design)


Very common hand tools like needles for floss/thread, pliers and scissors.

Tried a hand saw to cut bamboo but had much better luck with loppers (pictured above)

Step 2: Step 1: Make Skeletons (Actually, CuriousTangles Does This in 7 Steps)

I used CuriousTangles' excellent instructions:

Pictures 1 and 2 followed CuriousTangles' methods.

MODIFICATIONS from CuriousTangles methods are shown in pictures 3, 4 and 5 above.

The CuriousTangles' plan is for a skeleton that is fairly flimsy so it will hang freely. On the other hand, Dancing Skeletons will stand on their own somewhat, with help from their live dancing partner in the middle. They need to be sturdier to do this.

So the 3rd picture shows the finished shoulders of the skeleton and the base for the hips before fashioning the rib cage with plastic bags. Using pliers and twisting the "hip" hanger together with "shoulders' " hanger formed the beginnings of a solid spine. I wrapped the intersection tightly with silver duct tape.

The 4th picture shows a couple of things: first I needed a way to keep the head sagging down below the chest. I chose to use a small (10") piece of pvc pipe which I simply taped with packing tape to the head and the upper shoulders piece. This piece of pvc proved to be a good choice and I'll show you why in the next picture. Finally in this pic you see a hanger which I used to gently hold up the skeleton so I could work on it.

The fifth and final picture shows the last of modifications to the plastic bag body. I flattened a hanger and then folded it up into two equal pieces. Then I threaded it through the firmly taped pvc pipe to improve the spine even more. If you look below the pipe near the back of the spine you can see uncovered hanger wire. It extends down to the hips and I attached it and covered it with white duct tape. I'll explain about the cloth tied around the neck in this picture in the next step.

Step 3: Step 2: Hang Skeletons to Work on Them

In order to make the skeletons dance, it was essential that I hang them up someplace.

It was not hard in my old house to find a fairly low ceiling to put a couple of hooks up where I could hang these guys to work on them. I liked working on the screened porch.

How far apart to make them? I experimented with several distances, finally settling on about 37 inches apart. You don't want them too far apart because they start to take on their own movement and you need to show them who is boss. The first picture shows that distance.

The 2nd picture shows my first attempt at hanging them using wire coat hangers and plastic bag "hooks". This did not work for long as you can easily see in picture 3.

Picture 4 shows much progress and is the way they are hanging today. I took a piece of cloth, wrapped it gently around both neck and pvc pipe and tied it with overhand knots that would be easy to undo when I was "in" the costume.

Step 4: Step 3: the Bamboo Supports

I used bamboo stakes for the support mechanism because they didn't add much weight at all to the costume. But honestly they were in a leftover bag from another project and that helped keep costs low.

I painted them all with white spray paint. (pic 1) Not sure whether it was necessary or not but they looked good.

You will need 10 support pieces. If you look at my primitive drawing in photo #2, I've marked in pink the spots where you are going to attach the supports.

They were 36 inch stakes, but I cut pieces (using the loppers) from some of the extra stakes and taped pieces together by wrapping white duct tape to make them each 38 inches long.

Picture 3 shows all the supports just taped in place for starters.

Eventually, needing these connections to be trustworthy made me sew them with floss (picture #4 shows that on the bottom/side of the foot) to be secure. I taped them again with packing tape. I also used small cable ties at some critical stress points- armpits and hands. This is probably due to the fact that when I'm dancing with them, the arms are the most moveable body part.

Step 5: Step 4: Attaching the Live Middle Dancer

Now you will work out a way to attach your clothes to the bamboo and thus to the skeletons. You have 10 places on your body where you will be "attached". Attaching hands is the easy part because you'll just hold those bamboo stakes with your free hands in the middle. Except for hands, I liked using sticky-backed velcro. I dedicated three clothing items to the length of time I was going to display the dancing skeletons.

Shoes were the one clothing item that was just easier for me to leave on the costume. The first thing I did when getting into the costume was slip them on and tie them up. I might need to adjust velcro straps. One side of velcro stays on shoe, one side goes over the bamboo and gets velcro-ed on either side of bamboo. This is picture 1.

Sticky-backed velcro comes with a light tape layer on the non-velcro side. I left that side's tape on so that it didn't gum up anything else.

For pants and top I put 8 inch pieces at my knees. Picture 2 shows pants at the knees. For the top, you'll have two attachments on either side. On top of your shoulders and at your hips. In Picture 3, the diagram shows all velcro attachments.

The velcro has held up really well. One problem I was having though was that the velcro which is not actually attached to the bamboo but velcro-ed on either side makes it easy for the bamboo to slide around a little. This is especially a problem at the knees and hips. So I tried to solve that by taking strips of cloth, tying two of those tightly near the middle of that piece of bamboo and then clamping the cloth down with a cable tie. This is the fourth picture. I aim the velcro to close in on the bamboo between the two pieces of cloth.

To get into the costume:

1. put on pants and top with velcro ready

2. duck under hand and hip bamboo supports on one side

3. step into your shoes and secure them

4. velcro knees

5. velcro hips, shoulders

6. untie the top of skeletons from how ever they are hanging (it would be handy to have a helper at this point to untie skeleton behind you

7. grab the arms/hands bamboo and be on your way to the show

As I said earlier, this is not a project that requires precision.The bags, tape and bamboo make them very forgiving and hopefully you'll make you and others really happy with your dance! Find some music and get started!

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