How to: Ballroom Hair

Doing a proper hairstyle for competitive ballroom dancing is an important part of the aesthetic package, and really adds polish to your look. Wearing a blingy dress, shiny jewelry, and lots of makeup just doesn’t have the same effect when they’re paired with a floppy, messy, stringy hairstyle. Also there’s a practical element to it – when your hair is neat and out of your face, it’s not distracting to you or the audience.

Messy hair – chic and cool for everyday life and all, not so much for ballroom dancing.

Classic low ballroom bun on Anna Melnikova.

Ladies, learn to tame your hair into an immovable (but pretty!) sort of helmet. The ubiquitous and simplest style to do is a low bun, one that comes out just about at the nape of your neck.  Start with relatively clean hair.  You might find that leaving it a bit dirty (not washing it for a day or two) helps it be more tameable, and not as slippery.  Brush it out to make it as smooth as possible.  If you have normal hair (unlike my baby-fine, thin strands that require an artificial boost, i.e. fake hair), all you have to do is smooth it back into a tight, neat, low ponytail, and twist it up into a bun.

Part it neatly however you like with a center part, side part, or no part.  Just make sure the part is razor-sharp and precise – a tail of a comb can be useful for accomplishing this.  Use lots of hair gel (I like Aussie’s Instant Freeze Sculpting Gel , and another good one is got2B Ultra Glued Gel) and a very fine-toothed comb or boar-bristle brush to smooth it back, tie it back tightly, and spray the whole thing copiously with a strong-hold hairspray.  Use a hand mirror and larger mirror to look at the back of your head to make sure it looks good.

I use minimal gel and only hairspray for the most part, because gel makes my fine, thin hair stick/cling together, which allows my scalp shows through. No good.  A “freezing” type of hairspray is the best. I recommend Aussie Instant Freeze for a good drugstore brand, and also Tresemme Tres Two. Lots of people swear by the got2b glued brand in the yellow can.  It has a slight tendency to flake, however.  Make sure to tame any loose bits or flyaways.  You can use a hairdryer with high heat to speed up the drying process and really set things in place.  You may need multiple coats of hairspray…it’s really hard to use too much.  Secure all the little baby hairs and flyaways with bobby pins, gel, and spray.  Give your head a good hard shake once everything has set to make sure nothing will come loose.

While making a bun, you twist the ponytail and roll it around the base, sort of like a cinnamon bun, then tuck the ends in behind and pin around the circumference, poking the pins through the middle. I like using hair pins for this, but bobby pins work as well. Use pins that match your hair color, so that they are less visible.  Use more pins than you think you need, and make sure they’re very secure. One trick is to insert them in one direction, twist them about a quarter or a half a turn, then push them all the way in.  See this if you need a visual (keep in mind, you probably need closer to at least 10 pins at minimum, 2 will not suffice for a competition). Give your head a good shake to make sure it’s secure, after spraying some more.

Then, wrap a hairnet (one that matches your hair color) around the whole thing, twice if you need to make it tight, tucking in the edges underneath your bun so that they are invisible. Secure the hairnet with a couple of pins as well. I’ve had a hairnet somehow hook itself to something while on the dance floor and get pulled off.  I still have no idea how that happened!  Spray the whole thing some more once you’re done, taking care to not get product in your eyes/face. Stay in a decently ventilated area and be mindful of who is around you!  So many toxic fumes.

Option: a sock bun or a bun form, to fill it out and make it a perfect doughnut shape.  I haven’t tried this personally, but I think a lot of dancers use these.

Add a flower or crystals as accents, and you’re done! Those crystal lacy appliqué things are great and only require a few bobby pins to keep secure.

What to do if you have:

Short hair: You can gel it back, similar to a men’s style, but with a bit more flair (but not straight back, that would look kind of weird. Maybe with a part?). For smooth/standard, finger waves look awesome.  (I have no idea how to do them though, sorry!). Alternatively, a bit of teasing and spraying might do the trick.  You can also experiment with curls and various pins/decorations. If it’s super short you probably don’t need to do much other than spray a bit to keep it relatively neat.  Here are some short hair styles I’ve tried personally.

A few of short hairstyles:

Joanna Leunis with a more voluminous/teased short hair look

A cool wavy style on Maria Nikoloshina

Finger waves. Obviously, Halle Berry and not a ballroom dancer.

Natalie Paramonov’s awesome hair. I don’t understand how it works, though.

A short bob: leave it down for Latin/rhythm and controlled with some product, but slick it back with tons of product or tie it back into a ponytail and add a hairpiece (fake hair) for smooth/standard, whichever works better for your length. Style the fake hair into a bun as above, or use one that is already in a bun/chignon form.

Curly hair: straighten it first with a straightening iron. Or find some way to make the texture work for you.

Bangs: slick them back with some gel and/or hairspray, or leave them loose (but still sprayed) if they don’t stick to your face and you don’t mind them moving around. Longer side bangs are good for a styled swoopy thing.

For open-level standard/smooth fancy hair, experiment with knot-style buns and swirling your hair into designs. I’m still getting the hang of this, but practice helps a lot!  Looking at high-level competitors for inspiration is great.

Swirly fancy standard hair

Kat has a lot of cool hair experiments documented here. I find that using a bunch of strong-hold gel (the Aussie gel mentioned earlier) and working quickly is key.  If you do a normal bun, just leave some of your bangs separated out while you do the ponytail.  You can loosely pin swirly designs in place and let them dry, then take the pins out and use extra-strong gel (got2b Glued Spiking Gel) to glue them to the rest of your hair.  Strategic use of a hairdryer will speed up the process.  Using eyelash glue or washable Elmers (yes, the white glue you used in elementary school) to glue crystals on top of the designs is a great look, especially if you have darker hair that shows up less on the floor.  With both glues, let it dry for about 30 seconds to get tacky. Here is a fantastic video on how to do a swirly low bun with decorative bits.  I’d recommend using Elmers on your hair and eyelash glue if you want to glue any stones to your skin/scalp.  The eyelash glue is a bitch to get out of your hair and requires a lot of conditioner to slide it out.  Elmers will just dissolve in hot water pretty quickly.

Here’s my first successful attempt at doing swirly hair! I can’t do anything super complicated cause I don’t have enough hair…or coordination.  (Sorry the picture’s blurry.)Image

I had help with the crystals.  You can also glue the crystals in your part, on your scalp, or wherever really.

If you don’t want to do the standard low ballroom bun look (which is nice because it works for all styles), you can experiment with different heights of buns, French twists, and French braids.  For Latin/rhythm, you can do a long ponytail (only for those with very long hair, like mid-back or longer) or a braid, but make sure it doesn’t whip your partner or yourself painfully in the face, and make sure it stays neat. Some people like this sort of high genie bun/cone look, but I’m not a huge fan, personally, especially when it’s super pointy and severe looking. If you’re adventurous you can try a half-up half-down look, but generally people don’t leave their hair loose because it flies around and obscures the neckline.  Also it gets sweaty (ick).

Men: Unless you have a buzz cut, use some product! You don’t want your hair flopping around and being distracting. The most common “ballroom” haircut is short on the sides and a bit longer on top, so you can slick it straight back and close to your scalp. A side part may work as well. If your hair tends to move around even with product in it, set the whole thing with a hairdryer on “hot.” A combination of hair gel and spray seems to be best for this (gel & comb first, then dry, then spray, then let that dry), unless you want to go for a softer look, then pomade or hair wax should do the job. If you use a lighter product, keep in mind that sweating on the dance floor has the potential to undo the whole thing.  You may also want to do a couple cycles of gel/dry/spray/dry, or whichever products work for you.

If you have long hair, pull it back into a neat ponytail and use all of the advice for pulling hair back listed above for women.  Longer hair is more acceptable for Latin/rhythm than standard/smooth, generally.

Former professional standard world champ Mirko Gozzoli with slicked back hair.

World professional finalist Victor Fung with similar hair. And Anna Mikhed looking classy as usual.

I hope that helps! In the meantime, I’ll be experimenting with swirly bun things in attempt to jazz up my usual look.

12 thoughts on “How to: Ballroom Hair

  1. The way I always teach girls to pin their buns using bobby pins (and the way my ballet mistress taught me) is to open the pin, catch the edge of your bun, push the pin straight into your head until it touches your skull, then push the end of the pin that is not touching your skull away from the center and slide the end that is touching your skull towards the center of your bun (under your ponytail binder). You can also do the same thing with hairpins (I also prefer them).

    If you’re having issues with pins not going all the way in, catch less hair.

    If you’re worried about pins flying out, you can also ring your ponytail with a “wreath” of pins before you start twisting your bun into place, then, when you push the end inwards, they have something to catch on.

    If your hair is very thick, you can create a split bun to give the same effect. Put your hair in a ponytail, then take half of your hair and put it into a bun like described above. Then take the second section of hair lay it over your first bun, pin it on the outside of your bun, then twist and wrap it around the first bun you created.

    If your hair is very long (like mine) and can make more than one rotation, pin the first one, then wrap the second rotation and finish like normal. (You can also play with wrapping the second rotation separate from the first one, this is how I create my figure eight twist)

    If you want to create a very flat (potentially very) large bun, put your hair in your ponytail, loosely twist into a bun and look towards the ground (so that your bun is sitting on top of the back of your head), wrap your bun in your hairnet (yes, without any pins in it). Once its trapped in its net, you can manipulate it into the size and flatness you want, then pin like normal. (This is a great time to use the “wreath of pins” under your bun)

    Last notes on products, the best thing in the world to get the mini whispies by your face under control is clear mascara (just don’t get your hair tangled in the wand). I also prefer Elmers glue both for gluing stones in my hair and also even in place of the strong gel to create swirls. (Just make sure you “set” it using hairspray) Also, beauty supply stores have giant bobby pins, if your hair is longer than shoulder length or thicker than normal GO GET THEM! They’re amazing!

    If that was confusing I’ll gladly try to explain further!

  2. Pingback: Preparing for Competitions | Ballroom On My Mind

  3. Pingback: Short Hair in Standard/Smooth | Ballroom On My Mind

  4. All websites, and videos I have watched advise to have A LOT of the products: e.g. gel + hair spray.
    Having short hair myself, I used a lot of firm hold gel, let it dry for 15 minutes. Then applied a lot of hair spray. The gel started dissolving in the spray and running down my neck and ears. What am I not doing right?

    • I’m not sure…I’ve never had that specific problem before! Maybe you could try using a hair dryer? Or perhaps thin, multiple coats of hair spray, making sure you spray from a 10-15 inch distance so that it’s a finer coat? If you allow time in between coats of spray to let it dry, perhaps that might help.

  5. I also have thin hair and will enter my first competition in late November. My hair is now layered, chin length, and has bangs. What is my best strategy for hair (and no scalp) for samba/rumba dances?

    • I would just give it a nice blowout and some strong hold hairspray! Should be easy enough! Another option is to slick it back with a little gel and a lot of hairspray.

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