New Year, Pre-MAC Thoughts

Literally just tanned in preparation for the Manhattan Amateur Classic happening this weekend! (Also treated myself to a gel French manicure this morning, cause why not.) I’m super pumped.  It’s a great competition, a USA Dance amateur one with way more open-level couples than we ever encounter elsewhere, and we have time to hang out in New York City afterwards!  My partner Jesse and I didn’t dance together at all over the holidays, since we were several hundred miles apart, so I was a bit worried about getting in enough practice in the week that we had back at school.  Over break, I did get a couple of rare solo practices in, which were useful and hopefully beneficial. So, once I got back, we practiced every day we could (three consecutive days), even with two sessions in one day, and ran a few sets of smooth and standard rounds.  It’s death, but so necessary for endurance, which is sometimes often our biggest problem at competitions.

But, good news, practice went pretty well and I feel good about dancing this weekend.  We’ll see how it all works out, but we are hoping to qualify for Nationals, which requires that you are in the top 65% of your event.  A good heuristic (rule of thumb) is that if you make the first callback, you’re in.  Though because of the way the numbers work, you might even qualify for Nationals without even getting a callback.  Weird, right?  Last year, we qualified for prechamp standard but not novice standard, oddly enough.  We chose to just compete in novice and prechamp smooth, since entries at Nationals are pretty expensive, and it worked out pretty well and wasn’t too stressful physically nor mentally.  Hopefully we qualify for more events this year (novice/prechamp standard and prechamp/champ smooth), but we’ll see how it shakes out.  We’ll also be dancing Masters of Syllabus standard, which is a special event at MAC that is open to people of any level, from newcomer through championship.  The only stipulation is that you stick to the syllabus, meaning Bronze, Silver, and Gold figures.  It’s a fun challenge and you get to dance with people against whom you wouldn’t normally compete.  Also a good opportunity to brush up on your basics.

I’ll also be doing silver rhythm for fun with my boyfriend and former dance partner.  This should be…interesting.  I don’t compete rhythm anymore and he hadn’t really danced any rhythm in five or six years, so literally it’s just for fun and because we had an extra event.

Champ smooth is the biggest who-knows?! situation, because it’s the first time we’ll be competing in it for real, against legit champ smooth dancers.  It starts at a semi, so if we get called back into the final (which is a BIG if), I’ll freak out from joy and disbelief.  Either way, I’ll be happy to be in the final or get to watch really good dancers, if we don’t make it.

Really looking forward to seeing dance friends from all over the place!  Some of my ballroom teammates from the University of Virginia (where I went for undergrad, MBL!) will be there, as well as a healthy number from the Midwest, some Midwest people who have since relocated to the East Coast, and then random other dance friends whom I’ve met through competitions.  I’m also hopefully hanging out with my brother, who lives in Manhattan, aka far away.

In other unrelated news, grad school life has been super busy, but in a good way.  Currently working on my first real manuscript in grad school to be submitted for publication, with three studies that make sense together and worked (believe me, it can be very difficult to get this to happen).  Taking one class and teaching another one.  And supervising a senior thesis student and taking one three new research assistants.  Busy busy!  Getting re-inspired and motivated to do research.  It really comes and goes.

Oh, I almost forgot.  I volunteered at Yuletide Ball, a DC-area competition, and got to watch Mirko and Edita do some shows and as well as take a workshop with them.  World champions, man (at least according to WDSF).  Fantastic stuff!  I even got my picture taken with them, which I normally don’t do with celebrities.  Not sure when I would’ve gotten another opportunity, so of course I just had to go for it.  Also, social dancing with open standard dancers was great.  DC has a much bigger standard scene than does Columbus, or at least Ohio State, so I got my fix. Woot.

Lastly, go Bucks!  National Champions of the first college football playoffs and whatnot.  I’m not used to my sports teams being very good, so this was a nice refreshing change.

Looking forward to the rest of 2015!

Commence OSB Freakout!

Just kidding, it’s already been happening for the past couple of weeks.  And OSB, I mean Ohio Star Ball, one of the biggest ballroom competitions/galas/shindigs/extravaganzas in the United States.  Very technically, I am competing this weekend in the US National Collegiate Dancesport Championships, one of the few collegiate-only comps, that happens to share a space with the Ohio Star Ball, which has amateur, pro-am, and professional competitors.

Anyway, it’s a big to-do, and also my regular partner’s and my first and only competition this academic year.  And we’re doing champ smooth for the first time (admittedly, by ourselves, but that’s a different sort of scary.) Pressure’s on, but I’m also trying to remind myself to just have fun.  And to try and survive quickstep.  Oh yeah, and I am also leading bronze and silver Latin for the first time, which is another source of excitement and terror. Will I spontaneously fall back into the follower’s version of the jive basic or do what I’m actually supposed to do as a lead? Will I blank out and do ten thousand New Yorkers on default mode? We shall see.  I forgot how boring bronze is, with the limited number of things you can do.  But I guess that will be working in my favor.  Also, it’s been a while since I’ve had to be a part of an event that has like 6+ heats. Oy.

Also, this year, PBS is filming the pro events as part of America’s Ballroom Challenge again! Exciting stuff, as this was cancelled a few years back.  Maybe it’ll lure the world champions out to OSB? Fingers crossed.  I’m also looking forward to checking out all the sparkly stuff, since a bazillion vendors come to prey on our vanity and love of shiny things (well, and to make a living, of course).

Here are a few awesome showdances from years past for your enjoyment. Sorry if they’re repeats.  Also, holy low resolution!

Teaching Psychology and Teaching Dance

This past year or so, I’ve gotten a decent amount of experience in teaching, both in the area of social psychology and in dance.  In fact, it’s easy to mix up the two when people ask me, “How is teaching going?” and I have to clarify what they’re asking about.  I’m on my third semester of teaching introduction to social psychology (in various forms) and in my second semester of teaching dance at a beginner level (specifically the beginner class last spring and the intermediate class right now).

It’s really interesting to me, seeing the parallels between an academic course and a dance class.  Certainly many differences (hopefully no one is falling asleep during dance class, but you do see that happen now and again!), but also some common themes and similarities.  For one, attendance drops off after the first class.  The first day of the semester (also known as reading-the-syllabus day) is when you’ll actually see all of your students in one place, at least until exams roll around and suddenly students you don’t recognize at all show up to take the final.  “Hmmm, I’ve never seen you before.  I guess you’re in my class, or taking this exam for fun?” Similarly, the very first day of dance class tends to also be the biggest, as people are trying things out and seeing if this is something they want to do, seeing if they’re in the right level, etc.  After that, class size shrinks noticeably, which can be somewhat discouraging, but at least it means the people who are coming actually want to be there!  Another similarity is the lack of facial feedback you get from people.  So many blank stares.  Give me smiles, confusion, something to work with!

The other major parallel between the two is how when teaching, you have to boil down everything you know to the core ideas and essentials.  If I were to throw every nuance I know at people new to some concept, it would just go way over their heads and confuse them.  It’s tempting to just give a big ol’ information dump because we want people to know a lot right away, but it’s better for everyone to keep things simple.  I have all this knowledge and want to share it with you!  But I have to hold back consciously.  For example, for every dance, we just have to start with the basic steps, described in only basic terms.  We’re just working on getting people to have some semblance of a frame/connection and putting their feet in the approximately correct places.  Adding in nuances of posture, proper body contact/connection, hip action, rotation, swing, sway, and so on, would just be too much for someone just starting out.  Once they get the basic idea, then we can add these technical ideas on top, one layer at a time.

In social psychology, it would be lovely if I could discuss ideas on a higher level with my students, but they clearly do not have the knowledge base and understanding that I do, given that I have about 6 additional years of focused experience.  We instead just have to focus on essential concepts and theories.  We can’t get into advanced technical models with mediation and moderation, which would just make no sense to most students (I didn’t know what mediation was until grad school, and you probably don’t either, and that is fine!  In a nutshell, it means X caused Y through Z.  Like, making a powerful pose with your body leads to increased volume of speaking because it increased confidence. I just made that up, but it sounds plausible, right?)  What are the most important ideas for this topic, and how best can I convey them to my students?  How do I make some topic interesting, easy to digest, and personally relevant to them?  Real-life examples seem to be the best way to illustrate concepts, I’ve found.  Particularly in funny videos.  Students LOVE videos.  Cognitive dissonance is a fun topic, but since it’s been around for a long time, there have been more detailed breakdowns of when it does and doesn’t happen, and apparently some of the “classic” cognitive dissonance study effects aren’t so easy to achieve, as one of my colleagues has found.  But we can’t go into all these details yet.  We just have to communicate the basic theory and how people discovered it, first.

Another thing involved with all types of teaching is learning to be really patient. Really, really, really, really patient. Sometimes, even if you tell people the same things over and over, it will just take them a lot of time to listen, understand, and be able to use what you’ve told them from the beginning.  In the social psychology writing class, I give them what I perceive to be simple instructions about how to include citations.  But to those who are not used to in-text citations and APA (American Psychological Association) format/standards for scientific writing, they forget to cite, or try to cite but do it completely wrongly, and might continue to do so for multiple papers, despite multiple corrections.  Another writing example is passive voice.  We teach students to favor active voice over passive voice (for example, “I did this” rather than “something was done to me”), but it’s another concept that takes a while to sink in and become a habit.  Some students still mix up correlation and causation, even though it’s a basic, super essential idea in science.  Basically, just because one variable correlates with (or predicts) another variable, it does not mean that it causes it!  See here for some good examples.

In dancing, we might repeatedly tell newer dancers to turn their feet in/out, keep their elbows up, not look at their partners/their feet/the floor, stand up straight, straighten their legs (or keep them flexed) and so on and so forth, but everyone develops some bad habit of some kind (or ten, or twenty).  Or they incorporate it once, but then go back to whatever incorrect thing they were doing before.  But I have to keep in mind that dancing is really, really hard (well, at least for most people, superstars aside)!  Learning the basic change step/natural turn/change step/reverse turn pattern in international waltz made no sense to me whatsoever when I first started.  It took a while!  Similarly, the now-basic-seeming fan in international rumba and cha cha was totally confusing at first, but relatively easy now, with years of dance education and experience.  Given all these difficulties, it is all the more rewarding when students have that “Aha!” moment and really get some new move or concept.  Or correct some issue that they’ve been struggling with.  Or within a few months, take dance more seriously, practice a lot, educate themselves, and improve vastly.  That’s such a fantastic thing to witness, whether I had a small or bigger role to play in the improvement.

Probably the best aspect of teaching things I love is being able to share that love with others.  I love social psychology and I love dance, and it’s fantastic to help other people fall in love with them as well (or minimum, develop some level of appreciation for them).  One difficulty in that process for me is communicating that very thing – I am generally a very mellow person and it’s rare for me to convey outward excitement about things, even if I feel that way about them internally. (Exceptions: food when I’m hungry and getting to sleep more. Also shiny pretty things.)  Sometimes it feels forced to show that enthusiasm more on the outside, but it’s something I’d like to work on.

Life Updates

Quick life/dance/etc. update, in case you’re interested.  If not, too bad 😛

I’m currently last-minute preparing for the first competition of the season, Purdue, with a different partner (!).  My normal partner couldn’t make it to this competition, so I asked a good friend if he was willing to dance with me, and it’s been pretty fun so far! Some last-minute choreography, some quick re-learning of old choreography, and good amount of oh-well-let’s-just-do-lead-follow.  Fortunately, he’s good at picking up new choreography (unlike me), so that helps a lot.  But because I’m not amazing at remembering choreography, I often depend on my partner to help me out on the floor in case I have a brain spasm.  The tables have turned a bit and now I’m the one who might need to help him out on the floor, since I’m more familiar with the routines.  We’ll see how it turns out!  As I told him, when in doubt (during smooth), just do an explosion!

Another fun thing to navigate is that for the first time in years, I’m competing with a partner who is about my height and the same size as me.  One of my first partners from like….6 or 7 years ago was about that build, but since then, I’ve been dancing with guys who are over 6 feet (I’m 5’5-ish and about 5’8 in heels).

One advantage of competing with someone you don’t normally compete with is the lack of expectations.  We’re just going for fun and if we place well, great! and if not, oh well.  No pressure of maintaining or bettering our placements from previous competitions.  Cause there isn’t anything with which to compare.  Also, I’m better than him at smooth/standard, but he’s better than me at rhythm/Latin.  So, with our powers combined…who knows what will happen.  We’re dancing gold standard, gold Latin, and novice/pre-champ smooth.  Cause I’m not about to do open rhythm.  The furthest I’ve ever gotten with rhythm is silver, and placed a handful of times in that.

In other news, I’ve been co-teaching the intermediate class for my college team, which has been pretty fun.  It’s a step up from the beginner class, so we review the basic steps they have learned, add in some technique details, and give them a couple more bronze-ish moves to learn.  I’m currently drafting a more detailed entry about teaching psychology and teaching dance, which will go up eventually.  While the class size has shrunken a bit as the semester goes on – midterms galore, colder weather, and finding other clubs/activities all contributing to this – we have a pretty consistent group who comes weekly and who seems to be having fun and improving steadily (at least, I hope they are!).  And a good number of our newbies will be going to their first competition this week.  Good luck, everyone!

In non-dance life, I’ve been teaching an intro social psych class, doing research, and indoor rock climbing.  That’s about it, I guess.  Research is a tumultuous relationship as usual – studies not working, or maybe-kind-of-working-but-what-does-this-really-mean???, but that just comes with the territory.  Rock climbing is going well.  It’s nice to see steady improvement – I’m working on 5.8/5.9-ish routes right now, if that means anything to you.  The accomplishment you feel after conquering a route that stymied you previously is fantastic. What else…I read Gone Girl a couple of weeks ago.  Still undecided on how I feel about it, but it’s worth checking out.

Edited to add: I cut off all my hair into a short pixie style this summer and now I’m in the stage of “WTF do I do with it for ballroom?”.  I’m incapable of doing finger waves and teasing does absolutely nothing.  So….I think the current solution is to put some gel and spray it in to make sure it doesn’t move around, and then either add a headband or rhinestones in some sort of pattern.  We’ll see what ends up happening.

Body Modification

Hadn’t really thought to write a post on the topic of body modifications in ballroom until I recently got the upper part of my left ear cartilage (more specifically, the helix) pierced with a ring.  (P.S. If you’re thinking of piercing anything, go to a reputable shop and get pierced under sterile conditions with a needle, NOT with a piercing gun at Claire’s and the like!) This is not extreme body modification by any means, since nowadays many women (and some men) are piercing parts of their ears other than their ear lobes, but it made me a little more conscious of such things.  So, I’ll be talking about tattoos and more unusual piercings and how they fit in (or don’t) with the ballroom culture.  First of all, ballroom is a very aesthetically-focused sport/endeavor, in which even having the wrong hair, makeup, or clothing can lead to disapproval.  Thus it makes sense that there are some strong opinions and norms regarding body modification as well.

Let’s start with standard/smooth.  Very classic, elegant, proper sorts of dances, since they have a more old school and traditional influence.  I think competitors in these dances in particular are less likely to have visible tattoos and unconventional piercings.  Perhaps in part because of personality (people who like the traditional dances more might also be more traditional themselves), but more often because it is generally frowned upon by judges and even other members of the ballroom community.  It’s hard to really say for men, since they are covered up from neck to wrist to feet, but you never see visible neck/hand tattoos on gentlemen doing these dances.  Who knows what they’re sporting underneath their tailsuits/smooth suits, though? (Ow ow!) I don’t think I’ve ever seen a male standard or smooth dancer with ear jewelry, either.  Of course, that may mean that they wear such subtle jewelry that it’s hardly noticeable.  Women, on the other hand, often wear dresses that reveal at least some part of their body – hands, arms, back, chest, legs for smooth dresses with high slits.  Torso if they’re wearing a two-piece dress in smooth.  Rarely do you see competitive dancers with visible tattoos in these revealed areas, right?  Those who do have visible tattoos are often advised to cover them up with makeup.  In fact, on a rather informal poll on Dance Forums, an overwhelming 81.7% of forum members who answered said that piercings and tattoos should not be seen on the competition floor.  Some thought they were trashy, which is very counter to the desired image in ballroom.  Many people mentioned that even if they don’t think of tattoos and such as a bad thing, they can be distracting, and make the audience pay more attention to that rather than someone’s dancing.  Others were concerned that judges might mark them worse for having such body modifications.

For Latin/rhythm, I think tattoos and piercings are a little more acceptable, but still uncommon, even when they might be revealed with skimpier shirts and dresses.  I know that Slavik Kryklyvyy has a visible chest tattoo that shows with low-cut Latin shirts, but it’s hard to think of many examples of professional dancers who have really noticeable tattoos.  Victor da Silva has a pretty large back tattoo, but does theatre arts/exhibition stuff, so a tattoo kind of fits with that I’m-so-manly-let-me-throw-a-woman-around-with-my-pinky vibe.  Multiple piercings and belly button rings are also not surprising to see on female Latin/rhythm dancers, I think.  Still, large visible tattoos on women aren’t really commonplace.  I’ve seen a couple of tattoos on collegiate competitors, and they can be distracting if they are larger/more noticeable.  I can also think of an example from Dancing with the Stars, in which makeup artists blinged up Melissa Rycroft’s lower back tattoo to match her costume and to make it a little more ballroom-appropriate.  But you never see full sleeve tattoos and the like.

I’ve entertained the idea of a tattoo casually, but have kept in mind this limitation.  I have to think, “Where could I even have one that wouldn’t show with ballroom dresses?”  It’s interesting that tattoos and piercings have become more accepted in mainstream culture, but the ballroom culture lags behind.  Then again, the ballroom culture does tend to trend older and more traditional, so maybe this isn’t a surprise at all.  Men are leaders and women are followers, and there is the traditional etiquette aspect of the whole endeavor, so perhaps old-fashioned notions of what is acceptable on bodies also tracks these ideals.

I haven’t seen any relatively more unusual or extreme body modifications at ballroom events in recent memory, such as ear stretching (or gauging), sleeve tattoos (though of course those can be covered up by long sleeves), scarification, or many prominent facial piercings.  Again, this could be due to the people ballroom attracts (probably not the most fringe-y, alternative types) or because they hesitate to do such things in fear that it will impact their dancing results in a negative way.  One of my coaches has a labret piercing (meaning, right below the center of her lower lip), which is a bit more unusual, but it’s very subtle and tasteful.

Naturally, this is all subjective and dependent on the perceiver (as we often talk about in social psychology).  Some coaches and judges might frown upon piercings and tattoos while others have no problem with it.  Until the overall culture changes, however, it seems prudent to take these norms into consideration when thinking about body modifications.  Do you value fitting in with ballroom culture more, or care more about self-expression using jewelry and adornment on your body?  Ultimately it’s a personal decision.

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.

Other Fitness Activity Ideas

So, sometimes you might want to do things other than ballroom dance.  Shocking, right? So, here are some ideas for other fitness stuff you might consider.  Some could benefit your dancing, some might just be fun random things to try out.  Any and all could be good for general physical health, weight loss, mental health, having fun and relaxing.  Doing the same physical activity over and over simply isn’t as much of a challenge anymore because your body wants to be lazy and adapts to it, so throwing in new activities can be really beneficial. 

More Related to Ballroom Dancing:

Any other type of dance.  Duh. Keep in mind, the technique is often quite different, so don’t let it interfere with your ballroom technique too much, but moving in different ways might inspire your ballroom dancing.  Ballet, jazz, contemporary, and Broadway styles might be particularly useful for American Smooth dancers, to work on arm extensions, getting waltz and foxtrot character inspiration, and flexibility.  Other styles to consider: hip-hop, belly dance, tap, Bollywood. 

Zumba. Super popular nowadays, and can be pretty fun and high-energy.  It claims to be based on Latin dances, but keep in mind this is a super loose interpretation – for example, their version of cha cha goes “1, 2, cha cha cha” rather than the normal counting, so you just have to kind of forget your normal technique and go with it.  Can be good for cardio, some endurance, and just letting loose!

Yoga. I love yoga! It just suits my strengths – being fairly flexible, mostly.  It’s great for developing/increasing flexibility, balance, some muscle strength, and also being more aware of your breathing, which can be important for dancing. Lots of different styles of yoga – vinayasa, hatha, power yoga, hot yoga (literally hot, in a heated room), relaxation, etc. 

Aerial arts. I just tried this out briefly recently, but it seems fun and I have a couple of friends who are really into it.  It’s sort of dancing/posing/acrobatics on various apparatuses while suspended in the air.  The most commonly known variant is aerial silks (pieces of fabric hanging from the ceiling), but there’s also trapeze, hoop, and other stuff. Seems good for flexibility and very good for upper body strength. Related: Pole dancing. Big fitness trend lately and has some of the stripper-esque associations removed, at least a bit. (This video elicited a lot of “What the crap?!!!” and “What are you doing?” reactions from me, in a good way.)

Less Related to Ballroom But Still Fun: 

Rock climbing! My campus has a climbing wall in one of the gyms and one of my former partners introduced me to it.  I’ve been doing it on and off for the past few years.  Good for strength (physical and mental), and surprisingly requires flexibility as well.  You’d think it requires a ton of upper body strength, but it’s really more of a whole-body activity.  Not for those who have fear of heights, obviously.  Unless you want to try and conquer that fear; in that case, go for it!

Weightlifting.  Correct me if I’m wrong, but I think strength training is probably underrated among dancers.  I like it waaaay more than cardio – it’s not boring and you get to see steady progress if you keep at it.  And women especially should try it – I can assure you that you’re not going to get huge unless you take steroids or have really particular genetics.  Go heavy! Don’t just use those little 1-to-5 lb colored “Barbie” weights.  And I suppose skinny men should consider adding it to their fitness routines if they’re self-conscious about baring their chests in Latin/rhythm costumes.  Ballroom dancing doesn’t really do a ton for your upper body strength, so this is a good way to work on it (if it’s something you want).  Crossfit is an especially popular circuit-style training program nowadays that combines cardio and weightlifting. 

Of course there are plenty of other countless possibilities: running (ew, personally), biking, hiking, basketball, bowling, swimming, gymnastics, rowing, martial arts, spinning, ice skating, skiing/snowboarding, tennis, Pilates.  Find whatever floats your boat and have at it 🙂  Or just dance a lot; that’s fine too. 

Internal Monologue During Competition

Days before:

Ugh, I have to tan. When do I have time to do that…after practicing, maybe?  Oh, and shave my legs, I guess.  And do my nails.  Why do I do this again? *spray tans self*  Hmm, am I even enough?  Nope, time to spray some more.  Damn it, now I have a huge dark blotch on my arm.  *blots with a tissue*  And now there’s a huge white spot.  Time to spray some more and hope that it all evens out.  I hope no one notices how oddly tan I look tomorrow in the middle of winter… *runs back and forth from bathroom to bedroom, hoping roommate does not pop out while I am mostly nude*

Night before:

Oh right, I guess I should pack.  That’ll be easy, right?  Oh shoot I have laundry to do.  *manages to forget something anyway, despite having been to dozens of competitions before*

Traveling/Arrival:

Woohoo Disney singalong time!  Or passing out time, depending on who else is carpooling.  Practice party time…good lord, it is sweaty in here.  Hmm, those dancers look really good, I wonder if I’ll be competing against them? I hope not.  Lots of cute beginners doing their thing.  Time to run through a few practice rounds and maybe even social dance!

Arrival at hotel, or someone’s apartment or dorm.  No matter what… 3 a.m. rolls around. OMG WHY CAN’T I FALL ASLEEP.   This is a comfy bed yet I am rolling around anyway, even though I have to get up in a few hours.  Why is everyone else asleep but me.  This is the worst.

Morning of:

Freakishly early wakeup time.  Snooze, more sleep time.  Roommates, go back to sleep already.  *struggle to get up in the dark* Wow, I look like a zombie.  Thank god for all the pretty crap I’ll be putting on my face.  Hair first.  *struggle to get a nice ponytail for about 15 minutes while checking the back of my head in a double-mirror setup*  I hate my hair.  This is the worst.  Okay, that’s semi acceptable.  *sprays head with  noxious hairspray cloud*  Time to make it fancy.  *struggles with hairnets and pins and gel, wrestling hair into some sort of ornate sculpture*  Why do I do this instead of a simple bun again?  More hairspray!  Alright, makeup time.  *proceed to put on drag queen level makeup* Fake eyelashes, please cooperate today!  Well, at least I look awake now and ready to go clubbing or something.  At 6 am!  *grabs stuff and waits for everyone else*  Still waiting…some of you are dancing in like 15 minutes and really should have left by now!

At the comp:

Waiting. Waiting. How many freaking rounds of bronze are there?  Waiting.  Waiting.  Munch on breakfast.  Oh, they’re so cute!  Damn, she has better technique than I do.  Newcomer rounds. Huh, I have no idea what they’re doing and I’m pretty sure they don’t either.  Is that kid wearing jeans?  Why.  Oh well, newcomers are adorable anyway.  *cheers on random couples from my team*  Oh crap, we’re dancing soon?!  *runs off to change*  Partner, where are you?  Time to warm up very quickly.  Oh god, I’m going to slip and die on this floor.  Lining up after this event… and of course now my mouth decides to become super parched when there’s no water around.  Oh shoot, have to give my phone to someone who’s competent at recording and knows that you should hold the thing horizontally and use zoom.  Hmm, who haven’t I bothered lately?  *thrusts phone at them* Lining up…oh geez there’s a lot of couples in our event.  What are the chances that they’ll split us up into smaller heats?  Oh, no? I guess we’re all dancing at once. Time to go right now, okay.  Walk briskly and force a smile.  Yay I’m feeling pumped.  Or something.  Wait, you want us to go where now?  Oh, ok.  *music starts*  Alright, I hear the beat…now when are you starting?  Pose pose pose…and…go! Time to look pretty and stuff.  Ugh I always feel awkward during this intro part.  Please let me not fall over.  Whee, looking pretty and stuff.  Oh crap there’s someone in the way and I hope you saw.  Yay for floorcraft!  Now we’re dancing…. *collide* Oops, sorry, random couple.  And I guess we’re doing lead-follow now cause that’s not the routine at all.  Alright.

During jive and quickstep:  Yay, this is fun, right?  30 seconds later… Oh please just make it stop alright.  Why did someone invent this dance?!  This is the worst and I want to die and I never do that conditioning I’m supposed to do.  Look happy look happy ugh!

And now I’m super sweaty and my mouth is all dried out…WHERE IS WATER! Yay it’s over.  Time to catch my breath and wait around impatiently for callbacks.  Hmm, when was the last time I ate today?  Whoops.

Callbacks:  Woohoo we made it! (Alternatively, huh, guess we’re done! Or, oh crap, we have to dance again?!  How is that possible?)

Results:  Lining up, gotta find my team jacket.  Standing with the team…yay clapping for random people I don’t know.  Still clapping.  Time for our event.  Notlastnotlastnotlast.  Woohoo, not last!  (I know, finaling means you’re far from last, in reality.)  Sixth…fifth…still not us…what are we going to get?!  Fourth?  Not bad, yay!  Next event… seventh….sixth….fifth…fourth….third… holy crap!….second….first! No freaking way! Squee! *squish partner and try not to look like an idiot while getting ribbon/whatever from judge*  And… everyone whips out their phones to take pictures.  Selfie time thrown in there as well.  Time to take a team picture.  People keep being missing or not paying attention.  Rando, please be decent at taking pictures.  Obligatory goofy picture!

End of day:

Yes, time to take off some of my makeup, woohoo.  *peels off fake eyelashes*  I’m exhausted and I just want to go hooooome.  Let’s goooo, car!  Why do dance people take forever to go anywhere?  Team dinner, yay!  FOOD.  Better yet, MILKSHAKE.  And of course more dance talk.  This restaurant must hate us because we’re such a big group.  Alright, this was fun and all, but I gotta get home already.  *either drives or passes out promptly*

When to Move Up to the Next Level

So assuming you’ve been dancing competitively for some time, this question may arise: when do you leave your current level and move up to the next one, which presumably is more difficult, with new material and better dancers?  If you don’t compete, I think this still could be relevant for deciding when you should move up and take more difficult classes.

In the end, it’s a personal decision and there’s no real right or wrong answer (unless you have to move up due to a specific competition’s rules.)  That being said, here are my thoughts on when you should move up.

Definitely move up to the next level if you have pointed out of your current one.  If you have pointed out, it’s probably because you have won several (or many!) competitions in a particular level/style and it’s time to just accept your awesomeness and go up already! The YCN point system is rarely used anymore, but it’s easy to figure out.  USA Dance’s system is horridly complicated, but also useful if you frequent that circuit.  Just be prepared to spend some time figuring it all out.  You earn points in both cases for placing well in a competition, and the better you do, the more points you get.  Once over a certain threshold of points, you have “pointed out” and now should be competing in a higher level (newcomer -> bronze, bronze -> silver, silver -> gold, gold -> novice, etc.).  Don’t be that couple that dances down to win.  It’s pretty unsportsmanlike and unfair to others, and keeps you from challenging yourself at the next level.

If you dancing in newcomer, you should follow the rules of a competition – usually after 6 months or 1 year of dancing, you can no longer dance as a newcomer.  Some people stick around in newcomer longer than they’re supposed to, perhaps if they have an actual newcomer partner, but others will notice and judge you for it, particularly if you win a lot.  Related, even if you have been dancing within the specified time and are winning lots of newcomer events, it’s time to move on to bronze.  You’ve earned it!

If you consistently final in your events (even if you don’t always win), this is also time to think about moving up, or at the very least to consider double-registering in your level and the one above, if there’s some goal you just want to achieve before “graduating” from your current one.

If you dance pretty well but are getting bored and unmotivated with your current level.  Learning new material can be really motivating, fun, and encourages you to learn the necessary technique for particular figures.  It might make dancing exciting again, which fuels your drive to practice and improve.  This might be another double-registering situation, particularly if your results have been inconsistent in your current level.

If your (amateur) partner is significantly better/more experienced than you – you should try to meet in between,  but eventually go for his or her current level.  Having only one half of the partnership needing to learn new steps/technique significantly speeds up progress, and you should aim higher rather than lower.

However, I would strongly advise against moving up if you simply feel uncomfortable dancing up to the next level.  Well, if both you and your partner feel uncomfortable.  If one is ready, perhaps you both are, in reality.  If you truly believe you will stick out like a sore thumb because you are so much worse than everyone else, perhaps you should not take that next step yet.  However, this fear that many of us have is usually unfounded.  If it is grounded in reality, however, concentrate on improving your technique and doing the figures you are allowed to do to the best of your abilities so you can do well in your current level and prepare for the next.

The solution is often to double-register in your current level and the one above.  Caveats though – this can be more expensive if you have to pay by event.  It can also be exhausting, if you dance well and attend large competitions, because you are dancing twice as much!  Sometimes you might burn out before the day is over.

To share some personal experience, a previous partner and I were dancing gold standard and doing alright, but had an entire summer to work on things before the competition season started up again.  I wanted to learn open material but was hesitant about jumping in with both feet, but my partner and coach were confident that we should just go for it, especially since we had a lot of time to learn our open routines.  Having two sets of routines for standard was pretty hard to remember, so eventually we dropped gold and just did novice/prechamp, and didn’t do too badly in our first competitions, getting a few unexpected callbacks, which was validating.  Take-home message? Sometimes you just have to go for it!

Good luck dancing, competing, and improving!

End-of-the-Year Thoughts

As 2013 comes to a close, I’d like to reflect on what I’ve done/accomplished this year when it comes to dance and contemplate my goals for 2014. Winter break hasn’t been great for that, since I haven’t practiced for a good three weeks now, but oh well! I did have  a lesson on my own with my old coach from home, which was great.

In 2013, I have:

  • Gotten back into open smooth and standard (novice/pre-champ) with pretty good results
  • Graduated from syllabus smooth/standard (again)
  • Learned 8 new routines
  • Danced with one regular partner and competed with 4+ others TBA
  • Found a new awesome smooth coach, thanks to friends’ recommendations
  • Sold my first ballroom dress 😦 but got two new ones 😀
  • Started my first big dress stoning project
  • Mentored quite a few people in dance, including newbies, who are the most fun (but also sometimes the toughest) to work with
  • Got an iPhone, which means I can now record lots of video

For 2014, I’d like to:

  • Place in the top three in standard
  • Move up to pre-champ/champ in smooth (daunting, but doable, I think)
  • Attend USA Dance Nationals, maybe aim to win Novice Smooth? *fingers crossed*
  • Dance more consistently
  • Survive Viennese and quickstep (also daunting)
  • Work on teaching – I might be co-teaching my team’s beginner classes this semester
  • Compete in Latin more consistently, maybe moving up to learning some open routines eventually, but we’ll see
  • Do another dress stoning project perhaps – totally unnecessary but so fun!
  • Make my own jewelry
  • Run rounds more consistently – they suck but they’re so necessary for improving endurance
  • Have a very productive summer – maybe attend Independence Day Ball?
  • Update this blog more regularly

As you perhaps can tell, I love lists. What are your dance goals for next year, and how do you plan on tackling them?