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.

Good and Bad Practices

Well, with regard to my last post and talking about not having enough time to update, I suppose I spoke too soon. Time to use my insomnia for productive things such as blogging instead of doing actual work like I’m supposed to…  Anyway, I wanted to share some thoughts I had about practicing.

If you’re dancing regularly and have a partner, I’m going to assume that you practice fairly regularly.  Perhaps more often if you’re a competitive couple, though social dance couples and partners practice together all the time as well.  You can also regard social dancing a type of practice, too.  I’m sure you’ve all experienced awesome practices and disastrous ones.  So why is there this variability? Why can’t we have awesome practices every single time?   (That would be amazing, right?)  I don’t know if I can answer that, but maybe at least I can discuss what goes on in a good versus a bad practice.   Two of my partners would have these idealized perfect practices in their heads and be pretty disappointed that we couldn’t dance like that each and every time.  My response would be, well, things can’t always be perfect (though of course this is what we strive for).  Nerdy side note: I proposed that practice/dancing can go towards the asymptote of perfection.  It can steadily approach it but never quite get there…

The best practices tend to include these qualities:

  • Things seem to be working.  The dance just flows well, sometimes without putting a ton of effort into it.  You feel very “on” and it’s a magical feeling.
  • You get along with your partner.  If there’s any critique, it’s respectful and well-received.  Lots of statements such as “I feel” such and such and “I think” such and such seem to help with this (well, unless it’s something like “I think you suck!”), rather than things like “You aren’t” doing something good or “Why do you keep” doing something wrong.
  • Concepts you learned in your lessons (private or group) make sense and you can apply them to your dancing.
  • Being in a good mood!
  • Feeling productive – that you got a lot of work done, efficiently.
  • It’s fun! Pretty simple.

The worst practices, on the other hand, are the exact opposite:

  • Things are sucking.  No matter how hard you try, you can’t get X figure or Y concept to work, and you can’t figure out why at all.  It’s super frustrating.
  • You are not getting along well with your partner.  I’ve been through this, with a cycle of criticism-overemotional reaction-frustration-anger, etc.   The very very bad practices end with drama, someone storming off in a huff, or people refusing to talk to each other.  Or even worse, screaming matches, crying, etc.  This is clearly an exaggeration, but not unheard of.  I’ve been both a participant and an observer for these kinds of practices.  Yikes.  (No screaming for me though, but perhaps everything else…)
  • Using lots of “you” language in criticism certainly doesn’t help with the above. “You aren’t dancing well,” “why aren’t you moving?”, “you keep doing this wrong.”  Bad bad bad. AVOID.
  • You try your best to apply new concepts from lessons but for whatever reason it just doesn’t make sense or you can’t make it work.
  • Coming in with a bad mood or ending with a bad mood.
  • Maybe not being productive – especially when you feel like you’re trying your best.  But things just aren’t feeling any better, or they feel even worse.
  • It’s not fun.  It feels like work.  Or worse, torture.

These are clearly polarized examples of good and bad practices.  There’s of course everything in between, but that’s not nearly as interesting to write about, right?  I think something to keep in mind is that you can’t always have that perfect practice.  Sometimes you’re in a good mood coming in, sometimes you’re in a bad mood.  Dancing could cheer you up or worsen your mood, depending on how it goes.  Sometimes you’re “on,” and sometimes you just can’t get it.  And that’s okay!  The point of practicing is that over time, we’ll be more “on” and consistently good all the time, but that takes a LOT of practice to get there.  And by the time you feel that you’re good at something, you’ll learn about something else you need to work on to get better.  Asymptote, like I said.

Personally, I think it’s best to accept the ebb and flow of practice and be conscious of what you can do to maximize the positive aspects.  It’s perhaps easiest to apply this to interpersonal interactions with your partner – being respectful, being nice, being considerate, but still offering positive critiques when appropriate.  Also, being partners, there should always be that element of equality – both of you have something to bring to the table, even if perhaps one partner has more skill than the other, or is better at this particular thing than the other.  It’s a partnership, not a dictatorship.  (Pro-am has a different dynamic entirely, so this applies more to am-am partnerships.)

Disclaimer: none of this is based on psychology research, just my own experience and intuition.  I can think about it in a psych way though, just give me some time 😉

Basic Ballroom Wear

One of the first questions new competitors have is, “What do I wear?”

Ballroom is a very image- and aesthetics-focused art/sport/hobby, and what you wear while you dance, particularly when you compete, can be quite important.  While attire does not trump quality dancing, it can have a big impact on the impression you project on the floor, to other dancers, the audience, and judges.  Essentially, don’t wear anything that says “I don’t care” or “I put 10 seconds of thought/effort into this” or “I have no idea what I’m doing.”  Be clean and presentable and your dancing and performance can shine through, without any obstructions!  I’ll focus on what to wear in this post, and discuss grooming, makeup, and hair in future posts.

Standard/Smooth

Men: Undershirt, white dress shirt, black vest, black dress pants (or proper ballroom pants), black socks, black or white tie (normal or bowtie), standard/smooth shoes. This is your basic “ballroom waiter” look. You can vary it a little by color (e.g. throw in a colored or striped tie), but this depends on the dress code rules of the competition.

standardmenswear1standardmenswear2

More details:

  • Black socks are really important! Don’t be stuck wearing white athletic socks, they look awful.
  • Tuck your shirt in and make sure your vest is long enough to overlap with your pants’ waistband, so no white shirt poofs out in the back.
  • Also make sure your dress shirt is fitted enough, we don’t want any huge poofy sleeves obscuring your beautiful strong frame. Make sure everything is fitted and tailored to your body – not tight, but fitted.

Women: long (somewhere between calf and bottom-of-ankle-length) dress or skirt, coordinating top if it’s a skirt, closed-toe shoes (open-toe sandals are ok at the lower levels).  Pantyhose/tights if you want. Proper undergarments that are safely hidden under your clothes. Avoid wearing a strapless bra if you can. So, if your dress is a halter, wear a halter-style bra as well.

More details:

  • Aim for a flowy skirt that is big enough for you to take large steps in.  A medium-weight fabric is probably best, one that goes with you but moves and doesn’t just hang there stiffly. Lightweight fabrics like chiffon can also be pretty, but more delicate.
  • Make sure you won’t step on the hem when you move backwards, because that is a recipe for disaster.
  • Something that shows off your shoulder lines, like a halter or a tank top, is great, or you can go for a flowy shawl-type look as well.
  • If you do smooth, especially, go for something that allows for a lot of free movement – e.g., nothing that will fall down or restrict your arm and torso.

Latin/Rhythm

Men: black dress shirt or fitted stretchy long-sleeve shirt, black dress pants (preferably Latin pants), black socks, black Latin shoes (standard shoes are ok at the lower levels).

 

Sorry, you don’t get much variation here.

  • Occasionally guys will wear a white shirt or a vest for a slightly different look.
  • Higher level Latin shirts include stretch fabric, sheer panels, lace, ruffles, and/or cutouts. And an awesome attached-shorts onesie.  
  • Tuck your shirt in and make sure it stays there! A well-fitted dress shirt is especially important here, because you’re unlikely to have a vest to keep it under control. One option is to safety pin it (carefully!) to your pants.
  • Please make sure your pants are properly hemmed for your shoes, whether you’re using standard shoes (0.5-1-inch heels) or Latin shoes (1+ inch heels).  The hem should be about a quarter to half an inch off the ground when you’re standing.  Absolutely do not wear pants so short that they’re flapping around your ankles.  It’s just awkward.
  • Fun potential accessories: suspenders, untied bowtie, necklaces with pendants.

Women: Knee-length or shorter “going-out” or party dress (or top and skirt).  These tend to be more sexy or body-conscious/revealing than standard/smooth dresses.

  • Something with a lot of movement, like a ruffly skirt that twirls when you spin, or fringe, is ideal.
  • Again, appropriate undergarments, in particular dance pants/shorts for adequate butt coverage when you do said spinning (preferably in black or in a matching color to your dress). No one wants to see cheeks.
  • If you go for a fitted skirt, there should be some movement elsewhere in the dress, and keep in mind that those skirts tend to creep up while you dance.
  • Fishnets are pretty popular for these styles.  Skin-colored is ideal (you can use a darker fishnet to cheat a tanner look), unless you’re going for an all-black look with black fishnets and black shoes.

Santoria Dress EK Clothing - I actually have this in blue! Fringe dress from Edressme.com

Colors: What you see most commonly are bright solid-color dresses, in whatever shade looks best on you. You can go for an unusual color to “pop,” but make sure it looks good on you! Basic black is ok, too, but you might want to avoid that if it’s a particularly big competition with a crowded floor. There’s a chance you might get lost in the midst of everyone (but not if your dancing is good enough). I personally like tasteful patterns, particularly black and white florals, but in general simple, body-conscious, flattering cuts are better than super frilly designs.  Try to avoid colors that wash you out or that are kind of bland.

Test your clothes out before you actually wear them in a competition! This is very important, for performances and social dancing as well.  Something that fits fine and seems fine when you’re just standing there is nice and all, but you won’t know how it moves and allows (or doesn’t allow) for movement until you try it out.  Importantly, some clothes may fall down or move around while you dance, which could lead to seriously awkward issues on the floor! (I know this from personal experience with a slightly-too-large Latin skirt that steadily creeped downwards in the middle of dancing…)

Where to find all of these items? Dance-dedicated brands are your best bet (found online, in dance stores, and at competitions), but you can certainly find clothes that work from mall stores and department stores.  Forever 21, Charlotte Russe, Wet Seal, and perhaps H&M are good for finding inexpensive women’s Latin dresses and separates. For men’s fitted shirts, I’m told Express makes a good relatively inexpensive dress shirt.

Do NOT:

  • Forget about well-fitting, comfortable undergarments
  • Wear wrinkled or stained clothes
  • Forget to get your clothes cleaned regularly
  • Wear anything too long (or too short, for that matter)
  • Wear worn-down, hole-y, stained shoes (more on this in another post)
  • Wear an outfit to a competition that you have never danced in before
  • Wear anything too revealing (more specifically, more revealing than you are comfortable with)
  • Wear something you cannot move in

Any other pointers on what to wear/not wear? Your input is very welcome and encouraged!

Images from: DSI, Dance America, ekClothing, Dance Shopper, edressme.com.

How to Improve

First of all, I’ll start with a bit of personal history, so you can see things from my perspective for a second.  I’ve been dancing ballroom for about eight years.  I could have been super-crazy-awesome by now, but I’m just getting back into competing open standard and smooth (with my awesome current partner who’s just been dancing three years).  I’ve witnessed some people shooting up into the championship-level ranks after just a couple of years, yet I haven’t gotten to that exponential trajectory myself.  Which is okay by me.  When I started, I sucked.  There’s no denying that.  And now, I’d like to say I’m a pretty good dancer, if not awe-inspiring.

How did I get to this point?  I danced very casually my first couple of years.   Showed up to ballroom lessons a couple times a week, learned some steps, done.  Didn’t have a lick of technique and wasn’t even aware of how bad I really was, but I was still having lots of fun!  No one expects you to “get it” right away.  I did my first competition the spring of my first year in college and was hooked from that point on.  Even competing, it was still a casual thing – find a partner a few weeks before the comp, practice a couple times, and go.  No wonder I didn’t do all that well!

Fast forward a year or two – compete regularly with a partner, practice a little more regularly.  We started taking lessons with our school team’s coach and looking more respectable on the silver-level floor.  Graduated, moved back home to the DC area, and started taking lessons with another coach, one who really kick-started our improvement.  We took private lessons about once a week, attended practices weekly, and continued to take group lessons.  We also took lessons with other coaches as well.  We were dancing at least 3-4 times a week.  Boom, started getting placements in silver, eventually callbacks in gold and decided to take a leap into open material.  I wasn’t quite ready (or so I thought), but my partner was ambitious and our primary coach supported that goal.  Those two years led to a LOT of improvement.  Finally I could feel like I was actually a pretty good dancer, not just okay.

So, how do you get good fast?

1. Find a regular, committed partnership.  More on this in another post.

2. Practice a lot.  Probably obsessively, even.  Establish a regular practice schedule, go as often as you can stand, just do it. Also, practice efficiently, don’t just run through things and decide that they’re “good enough.”  Practice to improve.  Some people claim that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to become an expert at something, so you probably have a long way to go, even if your goal is to be very good and stops short of expert.

3. Take private lessons.  Group lessons and figuring out stuff on your own can get you relatively far, even in gold if you are a talented natural dancer, but you need private lessons to get to that next level.  Lots of times coaches can correct some major issue you have that can transform all of your dancing.  Consider traveling to really excellent coaches, to find the best you can.  If you think the idea of taking private dance lessons is weird, what about taking private music lessons? Isn’t that the same thing?

4. Be dedicated.  Really enjoy what you’re doing, and practice will be fun, not exhausting.

5. Seek as much knowledge from as many resources as you can. Take classes with different people, watch lots of videos, read up on technique.  Find what works for you and use it!

6. To get really good really fast, specialize.  This entails focusing on one or two particular styles out of the four (Standard/Smooth/Latin/Rhythm), or even stop doing whatever is weakest or the one you like the least.  I would recommend learning and competing in all four styles at least through silver if possible, but this is really a personal decision.  The few championship-level people I know who got there in a couple of years only dance standard.

7. Always look ahead. Dance up a level and enjoy the challenge.  You might do better than you think and find that you should be competing at a higher level.  That being said, don’t feel pressure to dance up until you feel like you’re ready. Unless you’re winning every single competition, then just move up already! 😛

8. How to be competitive without suffering disappointment when things don’t go your way: Focus more on personal performance than competition placements.  You can only control how well you dance, you have no say in how everyone else dances.  So if you felt like you danced your best but got last place, don’t get discouraged! Be proud of how you danced!

9. Set realistic but ambitious goals for yourself.  What do you want to be doing in 6 months, a year?  How do you want to perform at the next competition?  How do you want to push yourself?

10. Go outside your comfort zone and consider taking some classes in different styles.  Whether that’s jazz, ballet, yoga, salsa, a ballroom style you don’t specialize in, doesn’t matter.  It might give you some ideas or help you work on things from a different perspective, which could help your main style of dancing improve.  It might also help keep you from burning out or getting bored.