Shopping for Your First Competition

For your handy-dandy convenience, I’ve done some research on the Internet in search of some affordable essential ballroom dance competition items for a first-time competitor.

Below is a list of some of my finds that total of under $250 for your first competition!  I suppose it might sound like a lot for a typical college student or first-time dancer in general, but once you have all of this stuff, you’re pretty set for the next few comps until you want to upgrade items or get a second pair of ballroom shoes.  It also assumes that you don’t have some essential things most people already have, such as makeup, a short party dress (for women, obviously), and a white shirt, black dress pants, and black socks (for men).  Click here for more information on ballroom attire, here for more information on makeup, or here for more information on shoes.

Women:

Grand Total: Approximately $232 – $280

A couple tips – colorwise, I’d suggest avoiding black and red for Latin outfits, since those are super common on the floor.  Go for neutral (shades of brown, gold, gray, or black) but dramatic eyeshadow if you’re not practiced in applying it, paired with a bright lip color like a dark pink or red.

Men:

Grand Total: Approximately $228 – $247

Experienced dancers, if you have any links to awesome online finds, please comment and share!

The Power of Mindset

Success is all about your mindset.  The struggle is just in your head.  Mindset matters.   These are all variants on a cliché we’ve heard plenty of times, probably a lot in sports especially.  But this is one of those cases in which the cliché reflects the truth, at least when it comes to one particular distinction between two types of mindsets: fixed mindsets versus growth mindsets.  This distinction was found by Carol Dweck and her colleagues, and dozens and dozens of correlational studies and experiments have found evidence that mindset matters.

Dweck’s book. Haven’t read it personally, but I’ve heard it’s good.

Basically, a fixed mindset is the idea that each person has a fixed trait that determines their ability.  This most often applies to intelligence, but it can be about any skill – so this is the idea that we each have innate talents that determine how good we are at a given activity.  Most people think of IQ this way, as something we are born with that cannot be changed, no matter how hard we try.  On the flip side, growth mindsets are the idea that we can improve our abilities over time with practice, dedication, and hard work, and that we are not limited by innate talents but instead can nurture them over time.   Going with our IQ example, this would be the idea that we can change someone’s IQ with things like education, nutrition, or other environmental factors.

Interestingly, fixed mindsets are tied to performance goals, in other words, trying to demonstrate your ability either to yourself or others, while growth mindsets focus more on improvement and learning, honing that ability over time.  Growth mindsets tend to be better for people both in the short and long term, particularly when they are not very skilled at something to begin with.  Why?  Because if you have a fixed mindset and fail, you are more likely to give up because you think, “I’ll never be better at this.”  On the other hand, if you have a growth mindset and fail, you are more likely to think about how you can improve and do better next time.  Fixed mindsets for people who initially succeed are nice and all (probably ego-boosting, in fact), but the key difference lies in when people fail, which they inevitably will at some point.

People tend to lean towards having a more fixed or growth mindset as a default, at least when  it comes to specific domains such as intelligence or sports performance or just about anything.  However, research has also shown that mindsets can be manipulated – if we learn about benefits of growth versus fixed mindsets, then people can shift their perspectives and benefit from the good things that come with growth mindsets.

Why am I telling you all of this? Well, I think it’s inherently really interesting and challenges a lot of people’s naïve theories on how people work, but it’s also super relevant to ballroom dancing.  Some people have the idea that they’ll wander in to a class, take a lesson or two, and immediately be able to dance, but us ballroom dancers know it’s not remotely that easy.  I would say it takes a year of regular instruction for most people to feel really comfortable with a full repertoire of ballroom styles, and of course many, many more to master them.

For some people, particularly those with a lot of previous dancers (you know who you are, having danced ballet/jazz/tap/etc. basically since being able to walk), ballroom comes very naturally and without much effort or struggle.  Sure, you have to correct a few habits, but learning steps is extremely easy.  For others, ballroom is fun but much more of a challenge!  The pesky alignment thing in standard, learning the difference between all the subtypes of styles, simply remembering what foot goes where.  Feeling like a total clod and thinking that it’s near impossible.  I was there, back in the day.  I had no idea what was happening half of the time, but it was still fun and after a while of mucking around, I realized I would have to put effort, money, and a lot of practice time into learning these skills.  Having a growth mindset is really much more conducive to learning and improving, compared to a fixed mindset.  Yes, _______ is hard, but once you get it, it’s all that much more rewarding.   I do have one caveat – I do think most of us have some innate ability to learn particular skills.  There’s no denying that some people are more “natural” at things than others.   In dance, some people are more flexible or have a more ideal body shape for a particular style or learn steps faster than others do.  However, each of us can make the most of what we have, and sometimes being not so natural at something can produce passion and drive to improve that many of the “naturals” lack.

Anecdotally, one of my friends was better at standard than Latin when he started, placing quite well at competitions in standard.  But he decided, I want to be a Latin dancer.  That’s what he really enjoyed and aspired to be, so he worked hard at it over time, practiced a lot, and got to be a pretty good Latin dancer.   If he had had more of a fixed mindset, thinking he couldn’t get much better at Latin, he might have just stuck to standard or maybe even given up dancing at all.

Every time we advertise the club in effort to recruit new members, I inevitably encounter the same sorts of reasons to not join.  “I have two left feet,” “I don’t know how to dance,” “I could never dance like that,” and so on.  Very fixed mindset, wouldn’t you say?  Hey, that’s where I and 95% of the people in the club started!  People have this idea that ballroom dancing’s some magical power that we just have, but we all start as beginners.  For those who have been dancing some time and can’t imagine ever reaching some level, be patient with yourself.  People tell me, “I could never be as good as you!”  Not true.  A few years ago, I never would’ve imagined myself competing at pre-champ or champ levels, but here I am (at least, in some styles).  It took quite a few years, but it happened.  So, if you ever feel like “ugh, I could never do that,” check yourself and remember that with enough hard work and dedication, you totally could.  Just keep chugging along.

Short Hair in Standard/Smooth

Well, I had written the post on ballroom hair and discussed short hair before having personal experience with it.  I’ve had about shoulder-length hair more or less all my life, until last summer, during which I chopped it all off into a pixie.  Why not, right?  For dance, it’s been a mix of experimentation and struggle with regards to how to deal with it.  So, here are some things I’ve tried and also some other options I have yet to attempt.

Option 1: Gel/slick it back with a comb, then a boar-bristle brush, spray the everloving crap out of it, and stick on IMG_1721something shiny.  Use a hairdryer on hot to seal everything in place, in between layers of product.  It’s relatively safe, but I run the risk of those scalp lines cause I have such thin hair.  It is basically the same as a normal ballroom bun without the bun part, I suppose.  Then stick on one of those stoned ornament things for ballroom.  I pinned it with mini bobby pins for this comp over my side part, but found out later than I really should just glue it onto my head with WASHABLE white glue (Elmer’s, the stuff kindergarteners use for crafts).  Don’t worry, it just kind of dissolves in a hot shower.  Please excuse my slightly crazy facial expression.

Option 2: No gel, just lots of spraying in place.  Leaves more volume, but less control. This worked for one of the days at my last competition, but then the second day, because I had not washed my hair that morning and was attempting to tame bedhead, the hair got a little wild in the back, at least by the end of the day.  Ick.  I think with more attention, this could have worked alright.  It’s less shiny, however.  Same deal with the hair ornament.  You could also stone your part or put in designs manually, but I’m lazy.

Credit: Dance to Eternity

Option 3: Add lots of product and texture.  Waves/curls/whatever, which in this case was achieved with hair wax (TIGI Bed Head for Men Matte Separation, which I usually use every day for texture) and a small-barrel IMG_1823curling iron, then tons of freezing spray (I recommend Aussie, Tresemme, or got2B, and these are relevant to all of the above styles).  Got a lot of compliments with this one, even though I thought it was just okay.  It’ll need some more practice. Pinned-in shiny hair ornament did not stay put, and I actually had to toss it off in the middle of a round because it was just swinging around.

Other options not yet explored (personally)

Champ girl (who won) at the MAC had a cool hairdo.  She had like a long pixie or short bob, I think, and slicked it all back and wrapped a wide headband with a flower on it around her whole head.  It matched her dress and was surprisingly cute.

Grow out into a short bob, long enough to gel back and create a stubby ponytail, then stick on a hairpiece/fake hair.  Will probably have to go this route soon-ish, as I’m planning on growing my hair out this summer.

Pin curls or something along those lines? I think you’d need a long pixie for that though.

I would loooove to try finger waves, but am incapable of doing it myself, and I think only some hairdressers have that skill.

For rhythm/Latin you could do the same styles, or just have a lighter touch of spray, because it’s fine to have your hair moving around for those dances.  A spiky look could also be fun, and cool asymmetrical cuts are also popular.

Ballroom Bargains, January 2015

I frequent various dance apparel and shoe websites in my free time (or to procrastinate…ahem), and was inspired by my good friend’s Lululemon blog (old dance friend, actually!) to pass on those deals to you.  I don’t know if this will become a regular feature or what, but we’ll see how it goes.  Please let me know if you have any luck with these, or insider knowledge about other websites!  Also, shop responsibly 😉

Women’s Dance Shoes:

Freed Holly Latin shoes at Danceshopper. Marked down to $59 from $119, in a wide variety of sizes. I have never tried these, personally, but my first two pairs of Latin shoes were Freed, and they were pretty good and cheaper for the UK brands.  This seems like a steal!

Capezio Lorelei Latin/social shoes at Danceshopper.  Marked down to $70-ish from $250.  They’re kind of crazy, but maybe you want them for a performance or social dancing.  Not generally recommended for competition purposes, but if you’re a unique person, do you!

Capezio Jemma Latin/social shoes at Danceshopper.  Marked down to $70-ish from $209.  I think the white/silver ones are pretty nice for social dancing or maybe even for competitions if you are super super pale.

IDS Tanya Latin shoes at Danceshopper. Marked down to $77 from $119. I think this is a solid brand, though I’ve never tried them.  Very basic but pretty criss-cross-strap Latin shoe, works for competition.

Supadance 1029 from Danceshopper. T-strap Latin shoe, comes in a variety of colors, sizes, and heel heights, priced from $87-$115.

Ray Rose Monsoon in size 8 (UK), 3-inch heel, from Back Bay Dancewear.  $60.  Very specific, but an awesome deal on a great shoe. Normally 2.5-3-times in price.

Freed Valencia practice shoes, slip-on style, 1.5-inch Cuban heel, from Danceshopper.  Marked down to $59 from $118.  I have a similar model that laces up instead, Roma, that I like a lot! I’m on my second pair of those.

Supadance 1227 oxford-style practice shoes.  $104- $118 from $139. Some really nifty patterns!  I’ve never seen stingray patterns on ballroom shoes.  Hmmm really tempted to get these myself!….but, poor grad student who spends too much money on ballroom already 😦

Werner Kern Laura standard court shoes from Back Bay Dancewear, $79.  Haven’t tried this brand, but I’ve heard good things.

Supadance 1012 standard court shoes with instep strap, from Danceshopper.  $104-$126 from $149. These are pretty popular, but I prefer the diagonal strap of the 1004s. The security of the strap is really nice.

Supadance 1008 standard elasticized court shoes with round toe, from Danceshopper. $110-ish from $149, only comes in smaller sizes.  I had a pair of these and they were nice, just weren’t the right fit for my foot.  They’re quite popular.

Supadance 2003 standard pointed-toe court shoes with wraparound strap, from Danceshopper. $110-ish from $149, smaller sizes. These are a newer model, I think.

Women’s Dance Clothing (prices aren’t all listed because they are highly variable):

Zdenka Arko slitted smooth/standard skirt, M/L and red or yellow, from Danceshopper

Espen Salberg long-sleeved ruched crossover top, from Danceshopper

Espen Salberg halter-ish top, from Danceshopper

Lulu Couture Black Swan long-sleeved drapey top, from Danceshopper

Santoria Kinanu black and white top, from Danceshopper

Arc Crystal Halter Top from e.K.Clothing, $19, L turquoise color only

Sheer Overlay Halter Top from e.K.Clothing, $18, comes in larger sizes but runs small

Boy short dance pants from e.K.Clothing, $5!!! ESSENTIAL and they come in all sorts of colors to match your dresses

Santoria Miolenae Buckle practice trousers, from Danceshopper

Gaucho pant from e.K.Clothing, $18 in a variety of sizes and colors

Chula ruffled Latin skirt from e.K.Clothing, $23 in fringe sizes

Embossed lace dress from e.K.Clothing, $27, medium in black/jade.  Good syllabus USA Dance-friendly option with no sparkles.

Tulle Standard/Smooth Dress from Light in the Box, $62 from $155, variety of colors and sizes.

Men’s Stuff! (I don’t know much about these, but here are some links anyway.)

Freed Latin Competition Shoes, from Danceshopper.  Marked down to $69-80 from $138. Wide variety of sizes, though it looks like most of them are wide-width as opposed to regular-width.

Freed Standard Practice Shoes, from Danceshopper.  $69 from $138.  Lots of sizes.

Satin tie from e.K.Clothing, $4, in a variety of colors, to match your partner’s outfit or just add some general schnaz.

General site links:

Danceshopper.com sale section. US site that should have quick shipping on in-stock stuff and I believe you can still return sale items just kidding, clearance is FINAL SALE, so make sure you want it.  I ordered some men’s shoes from here recently that got stuck in customs for over a month, but I don’t think that’s normal?

Dance-shop.com clearance (from the UK and limited sizes, but great deals and it doesn’t take as long to get to the US as you might think.  I’ve gotten shoes in a couple of weeks before.  Keep in mind the exchange rate and shipping.)

DuoDance – (UK) They claim that their sales will end, but there is ALWAYS a sale going on.  Also, relatively fast shipping for overseas.

Light in the Box (China?) sells all sorts of stuff. Quality is probably all over the place, but they have some pretty good designs and are very inexpensive.  I bought a bridesmaid’s dress from them recently, and it was of surprisingly high quality and quite cheap.  I think things take a while to get made and ship to the US.  They have some insanely cheap costume dresses (under $100) that you could use for collegiate comps.  I would probably not get shoes from there, though.

VE Dance (US). Vince and Daisy are local, very nice, and have established themselves as makers/importers/makers/whatever of quality bargain dancewear – it’s less expensive than the luxury brands but very nice stuff.  And thus super popular among collegiate dancers and recent graduates.  They also travel quite a bit, so you can try on stuff in person.

Dancesport.co.uk (UK) sale shoe section and sale apparel section. Lots of good stuff, clunky-looking website, but very helpfully organized by size.  Haven’t ordered from here, personally, but I’ve heard they’re good.

Cherry Culture sale makeup – they sell mostly NYX, which is a great bargain brand and has lots of ballroom-y bright colors.

Dancing is more fun stoned. Here’s how to glue rhinestones on practically anything, Part One.

Well, I would’ve done my own post, but this one is so good, I’m just going to pass it on to you. Enjoy!

Against Line of Dance

So! You have some perfectly good piece of clothing, or item of dancewear, or a shoe, or a cat or whatever, and you think, “Self, this really would look a lot better if it sparkled like CRAZY.” Congratulations! I agree with you! Let’s glue some rhinestones on that action!

In this series, I’m going to walk you through an actual recent stoning project and give some general tips on what to do, what not to do, and my own process that I’ve developed over the course of screwing up a lot. As always, questions and your own experience and tips in the comments are greatly appreciated.

All the advice in this post is going to be designed for the At-Home Stoner, but it’s also a good guide to check out if you’re buying a ballroom dress, or something that already has rhinestones on it, so you understand where your pricetag…

View original post 1,671 more words

How to Tan for Competitions

So one odd thing about ballroom culture is that you’re expected to tan.  For whatever reason, pale skin is not “in,” even in the dead of winter.  How this came about originally might have been just the desire to not get washed out by the dance floor lighting, but some, particularly those who dance rhythm and Latin, have taken it to the extreme.  Some people tan so much, their skin color practically looks like that of another race!

My personal opinion on tanning is that no, you don’t absolutely have to do it until you reach the higher levels (open amateur, maybe silver or gold if you’re doing pro-am), and even then, it’s not the most important thing when it comes to grooming.  Looking pale but having your hair and makeup nicely put together is probably fine.  And, if you’re a standard or smooth dancer, you can get away with tanning less (or not at all).  If you’re an open Latin/rhythm dancer, it’s much harder to get around it, and coaches may say that you have to do it.  (Another way around it is to wear costumes that cover up most of your upper body, wear dark fishnets, and plenty of bronzer).   Anyway, it’s a personal decision and ultimately you can decide whether you want to try it out or not.  And, if you decide to do it, please do it correctly.  I have seen many a tanning disaster, and trust me, people notice and will talk about it. And you don’t want to be that person on the dance floor.

Personally, I tried tanning a couple years ago, and have done it a few times this past year, particularly for bigger competitions.  I don’t think it affects my results at all, but it does help me get into ballroom mode.  And I do get relatively pale over the winter, though not nearly as much as some Caucasian people are.

Tanning Option 1: Get a real one.

So, this means tanning bed or hanging out outside and sunbathing.  Not recommended cause of the whole skin cancer risk thing, but it is always an option if you can get darker naturally and easily.  (I would actually prefer to do this because my natural tan color is nice, but again, skin cancer risk thing.)

Tanning Option 2: Spraytan at a salon.

This is a bit pricey, from probably $15-$50 depending on what you get.  I haven’t tried it personally, but basically you can get sprayed down in an automatic booth thing (Mystic Tan), or personally airbrushed by a professional.  They use the same DHA stuff that is in all fake tan products, but this will probably ensure a nicer tan than you doing it yourself, and even a darker one.  Also it’s just more convenient to have someone else do it for you.  Some businesses will even come to you to perform their airbrushing services.  Try checking Groupon or Living Social for discounts on tanning services.

Tanning Option 3: Fake tan at home.

Probably the most viable option for most people.  There’s bazillions of fake tan products on the market that fall under a wide range of prices, but they all work the same way.  DHA (dihydroxacetone) is the active ingredient, and it reacts with the dead skin cells in the top layer of your skin to dye your skin brown/orange.  The higher the DHA content, the stronger the effect.

Within the at-home products, you have lotions, mousses, and sprays.  Lotions are probably the easiest to use for beginners.  My current favorite is a spray product, Body Drench Quick Tan, but it’s a bit trickier to get the hang of.  If you’re especially flexible you might even be able to spray your own back without the help of someone else.

Step 1: Exfoliate.  For a few days before you plan on tanning, make sure to exfoliate really well in the shower, using a body scrub product or a good loofah or exfoliating gloves.  If you have dry skin, those spots will absorb more product than others and become darker and you’ll look blotchy/uneven.  Dry hands in particular are prone to this, but also elbows, knees, and ankles, so make sure to pay special attention to those spots. Afterwards, moisturize well with a good lotion!

Step 2: Prep.  Shave a day before tanning, since shaving afterwards will take off some of your new fake tan and applying tanner immediately after shaving might irritate your skin.  Either shower right before tanning (making sure to dry off completely), or shower and moisturize well ahead of time (like in the morning) so that your skin has plenty of time to absorb the moisturizer.  It’s best to tan right before bed, so you can leave the stuff on overnight to develop fully.

Step 3: Moisturize dry spots – use a light moisturizer on your elbows, knees, and ankles, which will create a barrier and also dilute the product.

Step 4: Apply tanner.  Best to do this naked in the bathroom, or in your underwear.  I’d start from the bottom up, so get your legs, then torso, then arms.  Get a friend to help you with your back, or resort to awkwardly bending around yourself.  Whatever works!  If you use a lotion, really rub it in evenly, more than you’d would with a typical lotion.  Circular motions may help avoid streaks.  They also sell tanning mitts that protect your hands and help the product go on evenly. With a spray tan, make sure to keep the nozzle 8-10 inches away from you, or else you’ll get dark stripes of color, and keep the spray going back and forth, not staying in one place for too long.  Also, if you go the spray route, do it in the bathtub or else spray residue will get everywhere.  Generally you do not rub the product in with sprays, unless you get a weird blotch or runniness.  In that case, blot lightly with a tissue or you can try rubbing it in lightly.

Step 5: Cleaning up – wash your hands.  Repeatedly.  Or else you’ll get the orange-palm effect, which is not pretty.  (Wearing disposable glove is another option.) Hang out while everything dries, and go over any uneven spots with more tanner, with caution.  Once everything is done, put a bit of tanner on the back of your hands and rub them together, making sure not to forget your fingers.

Step 6: Put on some dark, loose-fitting clothes, and go to sleep.  If you have light sheets, you may want to lay down a towel.  I personally haven’t had trouble with tanner rubbing off on my bedding, but it’s a potential issue.

Step 7: Wake up, take a shower.  Don’t worry if it looks like all of the tanner is going down the drain – if it worked, your skin should be a couple of shades darker than it was yesterday.  Just avoid scrubbing too hard.  Out of the shower, keep your skin well-moisturized to prolong the tan.

Some Notes:

You can tan your face or not.  You might want to go with a lighter coat, since you can always darken with makeup, but you can’t really go lighter.  Don’t forget your neck and ears.  I don’t think my face reacts well to tanner, so I prefer to just tan my body and make my face match with darker foundation + bronzer.  Another option is to mix tanner with a face lotion to dilute it, and apply that.  Don’t forget to go all the way to your hairline! Also remember your neck and ears.

Tanner has a very distinctive smell that occurs with the chemical process.  I used to think it was super gross, but have gotten more used to it.  Beware!

If you want to get darker, you can do multiple coats the same night (let dry in between!), or put on another coat the following night.  Some products are also designed to get you darker (those advertised as a dark shade rather than a medium shade), but that carries more risk of streaking/unevenness if you haven’t done this much before.

If you use lotion, wearing plastic/latex gloves are a good option to protect your hands from getting dark.  Another option is to use a tanning mitt.

Recommended Products:

Body Drench Quick Tan Mist – smells like vanilla or chocolate or something, which helps a lot with the icky fake tanner smell.  I think you can just spray it on the competition day too, if you wanted a boost, since it has a nice dark instant color.  It’s relatively rub-resistant once it’s fully dry, but I don’t know how sweat-resistant it is.  I’ve gotten good results from it each time, so long as I am careful about applying it evenly.

L’Oreal Sublime Bronze Self-Tanning Lotion – available in most drugstores and very popular with my team.  Easy to use, smells alright (sort of fake lemon-y).  One weird thing about it is that it is super glittery, so it’s not advisable for application day of, particularly for men.

I haven’t tried the following products personally, but have heard/read good things about them.

Jergens Natural Glow – another good option for first timers, this is a gradual self-tanner that you apply like a regular lotion over multiple days.  It’s much more subtle and buildable.  Might not be enough for a competition, though.

St. Tropez Mousse –It’s supposed to be a very good product, and even has some kind of odor-neutralizer.  Disadvantage – much pricier.

Protan – super intense liquid that you use to paint yourself, with a sponge brush.  This stuff will get you super dark, so I’ve heard, and is favored by pro ballroom dancers and bodybuilders.  I think it also can be pretty drying, however.

Sex Symbol Aerotan – instant tint (does not dye your skin) that is good as a last-minute boost to whatever you already have. It is also shimmery.

Sally Hansen Airbrush Legs – another instant tint available in drugstores, that is kind of a paint that you can use all over, either in addition to or instead of self-tanner.

AeryJo – super shimmery makeup that will get you instantly dark.  Favored by a lot of Latin dancers.  It’s pretty pricey, though.