How to Properly Film Ballroom Dance (and What NOT to Do)

In the era of YouTube and ubiquitous smartphones, it’s pretty easy nowadays for people to record video of themselves dancing, whether at practice or in competition. If you have never had someone take a video of your dancing, I highly recommend doing so at least once. You’ll see a lot of things that you can’t see when watching yourself in the mirror. It might be rather painful in the short run (“I had no idea I made those faces!” “What the *$()%@* am I doing?!”), but it will be good for your dancing in the long run.

There are many, many ways to go about recording video that are not optimal, and I see people doing this All. The. Time. Luckily, there are also many ways to do it right. Lots of credit goes to WBRoth11 for providing me with sage advice and some edits, as well as ES for input.

Here are some rules, roughly in order of importance.

1)      Hold your phone horizontally.

DO NOT, I repeat, DO NOT hold your phone vertically like you typically would while using apps and scrolling through Facebook. Okay, so maybe you’ll have to use both hands, but vertical video is literally the worst. If you play back the video on a computer or upload it to YouTube, you’ll have those awful black bars on each side of the video. Vertical video is a cardinal sin – don’t ever do it!

Image result for vertical phone filming

  • “But I’m going to watch it on my phone later!” Well, you can also easily rotate your phone to watch it, but you can’t magically change a video to be horizontal without cropping out the vast majority of the frame. And sometimes, rotating your phone while watching a vertical video just makes the video extra extra small, with a whole thick black frame around the whole thing. Awful.
  • If you accidentally start recording vertically, just stop and start over vertically rather than rotating the phone mid-video. It’ll be difficult to edit and totally unviewable without some awkward neck-craning.


2)      Know how the video function works.

This is especially important if you are using a phone/camcorder that is different from your own. Once, one of my friends had video of the breaks in between their dancing, rather than the actual rounds, because of a misunderstanding of the indicator symbol on the phone. Hint: if there’s a stopwatch-like set of numbers on the screen and the numbers are going up, it is probably recording.


3)      Film from a high point.

Things just look better from above rather than from waist height or below. So, do not take a seat right next to the dance floor and record – it’ll just look weird. If there are risers, go to the highest back row. Another good option is finding some place around the dance floor where you’re not in anyone’s way and standing up while you record. In especially crowded events, standing up on a chair all the way in the back works well.

  • As a bonus, filming from a high point helps you avoid filming any people’s heads or judges that might block the dancing. (See next point.)


4)      Don’t film the audience members’ heads.

No one wants to see that. It’s hella distracting, and worse, it might block the dance couple from view. This is where strategic framing, positioning, and zooming can help you avoid this issue. If you have a judge standing in front of you, either move your arms or your whole body to avoid the same issue.


5)      Use the zoom feature.

Probably by putting two fingers on the touchscreen and moving them away from each other. If you are focusing on one particular couple, you can’t see squat if they are tiny little figures at the opposite end of the dance floor. If they happen to move closer to you, zoom back out. A dancing head is equally unhelpful.


6)      Follow the intended couple with your video frame.

If you are zooming properly, this will be a necessity. You can’t just float about aimlessly, or you will miss the dancing you’re trying to film. This means that you need to watch the video you are taking. Don’t get distracted by other dancers and sort of hold the phone/camera loosely and then realize you’re missing the couple you should be filming and scramble to reframe. Keep your eyes on the frame and the frame on your couple. (If you are recording the whole heat and no one in particular, then this doesn’t apply.)


7)      Record each heat, rather than each full event.

This means making separate videos for, say, waltz, tango, and foxtrot. This makes finding a specific dance easier and minimizes random time between heats that no one cares about.


8)      Be aware of your surroundings.

Don’t stand up where you would block people behind you. Don’t be in a place where lots of people are walking by. Don’t be right next to a group of loudly gossiping people. [Loudly gossiping people, also be aware if someone is filming in your vicinity!]


9)      Position yourself in an ideal location around the dance floor.

For standard/smooth videos, a great position is about 2/3 down a long wall (so dancers are coming toward you for most of the wall when following line of dance). You get a better view of the routines there rather than at a short wall.

For rhythm/Latin, ideally you would have the couple dance right near where you are. But, since they move around, the best option is to be in the middle of a long wall – then, you have a good chance of being able to capture them anywhere they go.


10)      Use a tripod if you have one, to steady the camera. This is also ideal if you plan on filming many heats and don’t want your arms to fall off. (Relatedly, try to avoid using an iPad or other tablet to record – they’re heavy and also likely to block other people’s views.)


11)      If using a phone, switch it to airplane mode to avoid texts, phone calls, and other notifications from popping up. Calls are actually dangerous, because they will stop the record.


12)      Bring an extra battery/power bank/etc. Videoing can drain a lot of power.


13)      This next one is for when you are archiving / uploading the videos. Label the videos with as much as detail as possible – the event, the year, the level, the dance, the round (semi/final), etc. “Silver rumba” is not going to tell you much a few months from now, unless you only have one set of videos. “MVI 2049” is even worse.


14)      If you want to put videos online, don’t use Facebook. I repeat, DO NOT use Facebook for video hosting. It’s super difficult to locate them again, particularly if you just post a single video on your wall. It’ll just get lost. Upload on YouTube, then link it on Facebook and get all the likes.


15)      Finally, if you want to get some decent video of yourself, then make sure you have a trusted friend/team member/family member who knows all of the above information and is attentive regarding when you are dancing. Don’t just hand it off to a random person who you can’t trust to do a good job or someone who will space out and miss your first two dances.


Here’s an example of not-great video, graciously provided by my friend (who has much better videos nowadays):

First, it’s vertical. Cardinal sin! It’s filmed from the short side, with no zoom, so you often can’t see the intended couple clearly at all during the dance, and when you can, they look like dancing ants. People’s heads are distracting. And even when the couple is not super tiny or obscured, it’s still pretty vague regarding whom is even being followed due to the framing floating around. Also, vague video title.

Here’s an example of a much better one:

Watch it until about 1:00 in for a fun surprise!

This one’s horizontal, filmed from above (standing on a chair, on the back riser) and about 2/3 down a long wall, zoomed appropriately, and has relatively minimal shots of audience heads. The frame follows the intended couple. Very specific labeling so that it’s easy to search for later, if you are so inclined.

I hope those two examples show you a clear distinction between good and bad video. Happy filming! Please comment if you have any other thoughts or suggestions.

Help Me Pick a New Latin Outfit!

I’m currently thinking about looking for a new Latin dress/ensemble!

I’ve had the same blue halter dress from eKclothing for the past three years or so for Latin (and occasionally rhythm), so I figured it was time to change things up soon.  It has to be syllabus-friendly (no sparkles/stones/glitter/shiny, sadly), and something interesting.  Basic black is not for this girl, at least not at this time.  So….I figured I’d turn to the Internet for input! Budget is flexible-ish.  Ideally I’d like to spend less, but am willing to fork over a bit more for something really awesome.

Here are some contenders, but I am open to suggestions!

Danceshopper Banded Box Dress not in this blue, but oxblood, a deep red.

Santoria Kardia Dress in purple rather than pink.  Then again, I have a LOT of purple already, including my Latin costume that a friend has borrowed for a while, as well as my syllabus standard/smooth outfit that occasionally comes out to play.  On the other hand, purple works on me.

Dance America Asymmetric Full Flounced Latin Skirt in “Bright Print.” I’d probably pair this with a black tank top or leotard…the full-on print outfit would be a little much, methinks.

Chrisanne Moonlight Latin Dress in Hot Magenta or Fuchsia Pink.  Side note: according to their chart, I am supposed to order this in a size large.  If you know me, I am probably not a typical large size – more along the small/medium spectrum.  Silly Europeans.  Unless they’re trying to imply that us Americans are too fat.  Hmm.

Star Dance Shop Turquoise Skirt – would probably pair this with a black top, but it could go with lots of things like my purple off-the-shoulder top, maybe even white or a black-and-white print top.

VE Dance Carla Skirt in…I have no idea what color! There’s lots of good options.

VE Dance Julia Skirt in Violet or Salmon.  Definitely the most economic option at $45 and the only one I’ve tried on in person (it fits).

Light in the Box Dress in Black with Red accent.  (There’s a red with black belt one, but it  reminds me too much of Mrs. Claus.)  Quality is slightly suspect, but this website has insanely cheap ballroom stuff!

Light in the Box lacy dress in purple…looks more like burgundy to me.  Poor model…that is the derpiest pose ever.

My favorite option at the moment:

Just kidding.  I don’t think I could or would want to pull that off…

I guess I tend to like things with clean lines with some interesting details but not too too much going on.   And generally just above or at the knee, or longer asymmetrical hems.  Color-wise, I tend to gravitate towards blue/purple/red/pink, but am open to others.  I think at my level (gold) you see a mix of colors, but sometimes there’s a LOT of black and red.  I do also like black and white in a print/pattern, but it’s harder to find good options with that.

So…opinions? Please comment with your thoughts!  Also, If you know of other sites with good options, please comment below!

Help Support Vincent and Daisy!

I found out recently that a fellow ballroom dancer, Vincent, has been diagnosed with a cancerous tumor.  The collegiate (and formerly collegiate) ballroom community is very tight-knit and many dance friends have been super supportive of Vincent and his fiancee Daisy during this difficult time.  One of their friends started a crowdfunding campaign to help Vincent and Daisy with medical costs that are not covered by insurance, which has quickly surpassed its initial goal in just a matter of hours!  This is just proof of how  dancers are so generous and take care of one another!

Even if you don’t know them personally, you might have been a customer of theirs or seen them vend as VE Dance, as they have been travelling quite a bit to different dance competitions and events.

Their situation especially hits home for me, as I had a good friend and suitemate in college, Lauren, who lost her fight with cancer at a young age.  Like anyone else, I have known too many people who have had to deal with cancer – some won their fight, others did not, and others are still living with illness.  Any support – monetary, emotional, physical, whatever – is so meaningful to anyone fighting this tough battle.

Please, please consider donating, or passing on this link to others if you cannot do so at this time: Indiegogo: Medical funding for Vincent and Daisy.

Relatedly, Beata, a world champion dancer, is also fighting against cancer, and a page has been set up for her support as well: Partner with Beata.

Dress Stoning – Final Product

So I finished stoning this pink/fuchsia smooth dress ages ago, but never shared the final product.

Here’s how it started:


Stage 1: Stoning the lace with volcano and heliotrope 16ss stones (both are special effects stones)


Stage 2: Added fuchsia Czech stones to the ruched areas and a bunch more heliotrope in different sizes to the bust/back, as well as a few large fancy stones.  Also some hyacinth AB to flower centers/swirly lacy bits.

IMG_0642     IMG_0645

It’s about 20-24 gross worth of stones, I think? Which translates to a couple of thousand. A whole lot of shiny, pretty much (though honestly, not that much compared to designer dresses.)  I didn’t keep track of how much time it took, but probably 10-20 hours? But, it’s fun! Kind of a relaxing activity.  You can just put on some music or some tv show you don’t mind half-watching and the time goes by.

In action:

Photo Credit: Don Moser

A couple things I figured out while doing this – if you have mesh layered over another fabric, put a plastic bag in between the layers so that the glue doesn’t seep all the way through.  Especially if there’s ruching involved with the mesh.  I ended up just readjusting the ruching and stoning most of the surface to make sure there was enough coverage.  Also, don’t let the glue dry completely before peeling the plastic bag away, or else you could get bits of plastic glued to the dress.  Another lesson – again, with double layered fabric, it might be better to sew large sew-on stones only on one layer instead of going all the way through both, mostly so it looks nicer on the inside.  Not a huge deal, but something I would keep in mind for the future.

Ballroom Competition Packing List

What to remember to bring to ballroom competitions.

Absolute essentials: Costume(s), dance shoes, wallet.

Basically everything else you can borrow or manage to do without, but these you really cannot forget. (I do suppose you can borrow a costume/shoes, but obviously pretty tricky.)

Everything else:

  • Clothing
  • Men: shirts, pants, vest, BLACK socks, tie(s), underwear
  • Women: dress, top, skirt, hosiery, undergarments, dance pants
  • Pajamas
  • Warm-up clothes, team jacket if applicable
  • Travel clothes (t-shirt, jeans, sweats, shoes & socks, outerwear)
  • Extra backup costume, backup shoes
  • Hair products: gel, spray, pins, decorations, comb, hairbrush, hair ties, hair net
  • Jewelry: earrings, bracelet, necklace, hair jewelry
  • Tanner
  • Towel if not staying in a hotel
  • Toiletries: toothbrush, toothpaste, moisturizer, face wash, soap, shampoo, conditioner, lotion, antiperspirant/deodorant, razor, shaving cream
  • Medications (Advil/Tylenol especially), athletic tape if you need it
  • Makeup: foundation, powder, concealer, sponge, brushes, primer, eyeshadow, eyeliner, mascara, fake lashes, lash glue, blush, lipstick, lipliner, bronzer, highlighter, makeup remover, nail polish, glitter
  • Random supplies: band-aids, body/clothing tape, sewing kit, safety pins, superglue, clear nail polish
  • Snacks, water

If you are NOT staying in a hotel:

  • Bedding (sleeping bag, pillow, comforter)
  • Towel

New Dress!

I ordered a new standard/smooth dress (more for smooth) a little over a month ago and it finally arrived! It fits great.  Almost…other than the crotch area being both extra roomy and extra-high-cut (awkward) and the dress being an entire two and a half inches too long in length.  My partner and I took it for a test run and managed okay, but the length is a little too risky for comfort, particularly for smooth, so I’m looking into fixing that.

In the meantime, these will serve as “before” pictures of the plain dress.  I ordered it unstoned because I don’t like plastic-y Korean stones and I could probably do a nicer job for cheaper if I stone it myself with Swarovski and Preciosa crystals.


The front!


The back! Kind of looks exactly like the front…it’s a bit more asymmetrical.

I plan to stone the lacy flower bits in a mixture of heliotrope and volcano Swarovskis (basically, purple, plus this cool color-changing stone that shifts from orange to pink to purple), and then scatter fuchsia Preciosas on the rest of the bodice.  Maybe later put some larger sew-on crystal shapes on the bust area, mixed with fuchsia ABs or something. Soon the cost of the stones will be equal to the cost of the dress… Anyway, I’ll post updates when this stoning actually happens.  Should be fun! And incredibly time-consuming, involving gluing over 4000 stones individually by hand.


Hi, my name is Elise, and I am a ballroom dancer.

I’ve been ballroom dancing for about 8 years, competing seriously for about 4 or 5, and am currently dancing novice/pre-champ standard and smooth.  (I’d do gold Latin if I had a partner in it, but alas, that’s taken a hiatus for now.)

I love dancing!  I got started by doing some swing dance casually in high school (and a bit of jazz/hip hop, but trust me, that went absolutely nowhere).  I then got hooked on ballroom and dancesport in college, even serving as president of my undergrad school club.  From then on, there was no turning back.  As a grad student in a psychology PhD program, it’s pretty much the one hobby I afford to have right now (well, when it comes to time, anyway. Still not entirely sure I can afford it money-wise, heh).  I started this blog as an outlet for anything and everything ballroom (or tangentially ballroom) related and hopefully to share what I have learned from my experience in dancing and competing.  I hope to throw in some social psychology-ballroom connections, which are entirely nonscientific but might offer an interesting viewpoint.  I’d also like to use it to share other online resources that I have found to be helpful. 

So, as a disclaimer, I wouldn’t make any claims about being an expert, but I’ve been around the block and am very familiar with the collegiate and amateur competitive scene on the East Coast and now the Midwest.  Hopefully you’ll get something out of this!  Please feel free to comment or message me.