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.


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.


Grand Total: Approximately $228 – $247

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

Dancing on a Budget

This one’s a bit tricky. Doing ballroom seriously can be a big time and money investment, and definitely not something you take on casually if you want to do it well.  Though if you want to learn some ballroom for fun, it doesn’t necessarily have to break the bank!

For someone primarily interested in starting out/social dancing:

Group lessons are your best bet for getting started.  Look up local studios and see what they have to offer.  When it comes to cheap group lessons, college/university clubs and teams are likely the best bargain.  So if you’re a current student, you’re in luck, but often non-students can join these teams as well.  It just depends on the school team’s  individual policy, so it can’t hurt to ask.  Dues can range from something like $15 to about $100 per semester.  These lessons might be taught by advanced dancers on the team or professionals, just depends.

Social dances themselves often have a group lesson or two included in the admission, so that’s another way to get the most out of your money.   Just about every ballroom studio has a weekly or biweekly social dance on the weekend, and sometimes multiple ones! Also look at other local clubs and USA Dance chapters for dance opportunities.

For competitive dancers:

You’ll still get a lot out of group lessons (see above), but you probably want to find someone who will teach you some technique. Not just what steps to do, but how to do them correctly.  One option if you want more individual attention is to get a couple of couples together to split up a private lesson, so that it’s a semi-private session.  This way, it’s inexpensive and you still get to address some of your individual questions/problems/issues.

Private Lessons:

Lots of coaches offer a student discount, so don’t hesitate to ask if this applies to you! One alternative is to take lessons with advanced open-level amateurs, who usually charge less than pros.  Another way to save money is to take lessons just every once in a while, and make sure that you really take all of the information to heart and incorporate it into your dancing, so that each subsequent lesson can focus on a new concept for you to work on.  Obviously, taking a lesson with your partner will split the cost in half.

Ballroom Dance Camps/Workshops:

The workshops at these events tend to be very technique-focused and are often taught by extremely accomplished professionals, at a decent price.  Independence Day Ball, for example, offers dozens of workshops over the course of 5 days, for a steal (if you attend all the sessions and sign up early, it can be well under $10 per workshop).  You could take all of the information you learned in one week and take months or years to actually incorporate it into your dancing successfully.  Big competitions often offer workshops as well, and often with very well-known professionals.


I don’t have a ton of experience using instructional videos, but these can be a good alternative to lessons if that’s not very feasible for you, or if you want an easily accessible source of information.  DVDs with full programs are not super cheap but might save you money in the long run. Then there’s quite a few free ones on youtube, which can be a great resource to visualize how steps and sequences are supposed to look like.  Some are better in quality than others.

Practice Space:

If you’re in college, take advantage of the FREE practice space you get in student unions and gyms. You won’t ever have access to that so readily again, so appreciate it, even if it’s sometimes hard to find times when they are available.  Floor space at studios can get quite expensive, on the order of $25/hour/couple.  Some studios offer supervised practices with music, which can be a good deal, especially if you can get some input from a coach.  Certain gym memberships might give you access to a multipurpose room when it’s not in use by group classes, so this could be a good bargain if you also use a gym regularly.  Some studios might let you practice for free if you’re there for a lesson already, just depends on their individual policies.


It’s pretty easy to find dresses, skirts, and tops for Latin//rhythm – any trendy mall store should have stuff you can use.  One site with great budget stuff is eKclothing. I’ve heard that Men’s Dance Pants is good for relatively inexpensive Latin pants.  For upper-level costumes (ones with sparklies!), you can buy plain dresses and costumes and stone them yourself, purchasing stones online in bulk (Dance Shopper, Rhinestone Guy). Requires some crafting skills but it can save you hundred or thousands of dollars!  (If you’re really good at sewing, you can try making your own costumes from scratch, but I think it can be quite a challenge.) You can make your own jewelry as well – I’ve made a few simple stoned bracelets that end up costing much less than the ones they sell at comps.  Ebay has a number of overseas tailors (from China and Vietnam) who can custom-make decent budget dresses for collegiate competitors.

For higher-quality costumes, used ones are the way to go.  These are often offered on consignment or on websites with classified ads (, Kat’s Gowns, Art Rhythms, Dreamgowns, Dance Forums)  Online purchasing from individuals of course carries some risk, but just be smart about it – if anything looks sketchy (for example, “you should pay me extra and I’ll send you some checks I’m expecting to make up the difference!”), don’t go through with it.  Other options can include borrowing costumes from your team, coach, or a friend, or even renting one for competitions.  There are a few companies that specialize in rentals and have some really nice dresses – not cheap, but premium gowns at an affordable price (Kat’s Gowns, Rhythmic Rentals, Encore Ballroom Couture).


It may be tempting to buy cheapo shoes, but honestly I think buying nicer shoes that last longer will save you money in the long run.  I’ve had a cheaper-made shoe fray and fall apart on me in much shorter time compared to a more expensive one, which meant I just had to buy yet another pair.  If you order British-made shoes from the UK (e.g. Supadance, Ray Rose), you can save substantially – something like $30-50 per pair (, DuoDance, DancesportUK).  But that approach does require that you know which brand/size fits you, because it’s such a pain to return them overseas.  There are some pretty decent bargain brands though, which would suit beginners who don’t know how much they want to invest into a new hobby yet.  Very Fine and Stephanie seem to be pretty good.


You can use drugstore products for everything and be just fine.  Check out reviews on Makeup Alley and see how people like them. I recommend: NYX and L’Oreal HIP for eyeshadows, L’Oreal HIP creme eyeliner, Revlon lipstick/lipgloss, Ardell eyelashes, Duo eyelash glue, Aussie hair gel and hairspray, and L’Oreal Sublime Bronze tanning gel.

Volunteering at Competitions:

You can volunteer at competitions to get to attend for free, or even save on competition registration fees.  It’s a great way to watch awesome dancing or dance yourself while saving some dough.

How to spend a LOT of money on ballroom:

  • Do pro-am.  If you want to practice with your partner, you have to pay him/her.  Pro-am competitions can also rack up a huge bill, because you can enter so many heats and have to pay your pro’s costs.
  • Buy packages from chain studios that commit you to dozens of lessons.
  • Take private lessons from expensive pros. (This is probably worth it though, I can’t deny that.)
  • Well, I’ll amend that – take lots of expensive private lessons and not practice in between – then, it would be a waste.
  • Buy premium custom-made dance costumes, and get a new one every couple of competitions.
  • Fly across the country/world to compete.
  • Pay someone to do your hair/makeup.
  • Pay someone to take pictures and video of you.
  • Buy lots of nice dance clothing to practice in.
  • Pay to use practice space.

To sum up, ballroom can cost basically as much or as little as you want it to (well, up to a certain point).  It’s up to you how much you want to invest in it.

Here’s a list of ballpark estimates of costs for various things.

  • Ballroom Dress: $30 for a party dress, $200 for a Chinese-made ballroom dress with Korean stones, $1000 to $6000+ for a nicer one with Swarovski
  • Tailsuit: $300 for a Chinese-made one, $1200 to $2500 for custom tailored high-quality one
  • Men’s Latin shirt: $80 to $800+, depending on design, stoning, etc.
  • Group Lessons: $10 to $20 per
  • Private Lessons: $50 to $100 is typical, up to $250 or more for premium coaches
  • Collegiate Competition Registration: Free to $45 per person (some colleges offer free registration to open dancers)
  • USA Dance Competition Registration: $45 to $90
  • USA Dance Membership: $25 to $60
  • Dance shoes: $45 to $180, to be replaced about once or twice a year, depending on frequency of use
  • Hotel for the Weekend: depends on the location/how many people are splitting it. $20 to $200?
  • Practice Space: Free to $25/couple/hour

Any other money-saving tips?