Ballroom in a Few Gifs #6 – First Comp of the Season Edition

Purdue is in three weeks! Woot!  For all those prepping for their first big competitions this fall:
Trying to meet all the newbies before the competition

via MTV

Learning difficult new steps and panicking about making them work in competition

via giphy

The two stages of realizing how soon the first competition is

via The Odyssey Online

via The Odyssey Online

The prospect of doing rounds

via tumblr

Not being done with routines two weeks before the comp


Trying to find a partner at the last minute

via The Odyssey Online

Trying to remember how to do ballroom makeup


Cram practicing. All. The. Time.

via The Odyssey Online

Deciding to go shopping for new ballroom stuff

via The Odyssey Online

via giphy

America’s Ballroom Challenge Episode 3 Review

The grand finale!  You can see it here.  So this is the ultimate showdown between the representatives from all four styles.  I still don’t get how this is judged (Compare each to the best in the world?  Look at entertainment value? Toss a few coins?), but we’ll go with it.  They will start with a short program, which is supposed to be a more traditional piece that features a typical dance and steps from their respective category, and then a long program that can be more freeform in style.  I don’t think they actually stuck with these guidelines very much, as the long programs seemed to be more thematically traditional.

We start with the Perzhus performing a pretty smooth waltz to a popular song that I hear in competition all the time, “Song for Viola,” which had a sad/ethereal vibe.  It was very pretty but a little sleepy.  Next were Emmanuel and Liana representing rhythm, dancing a fun mambo.   Girl rocks the feathers in a way that most people can’t.  In person, it took three attempts for this performance to work out, due to various technical issues.  Great performance, though I did notice that parts of this routine were exactly the same as from their competition mambo.

Brief break with a super cute mother and son couple dancing a cha-cha.  This kid was ridiculously good, with a lot of star power.

Artem and Inna, the standard couple, gave a kind of bizarre quickstep performance.  They had Inna with lots of extra bust and butt padding, playing a Chiquita banana lady sort of character.  They incorporated some samba steps into their quickstep, to go along with the tropical theme.  I was not crazy about the costuming choice – kind of unnecessary.

Roman and Anna finished up the set of short program routines with an okay cha cha.  Roman entered the floor prancing around in a boa, which I don’t think men should do in general, while Anna rocked a pinstripe jumpsuit overall thing.  Overall, with the short program, I think the American style dancers did the best, which was reflected in their placements:  Emmanuel in Liana in first, Peter and Alexandra in second, Roman and Anna in third, and Artem and Inna in fourth.

Carlos and Dora’s Exorcist piece

We then move on to some theatre arts, woot!  Theatre arts at Ohio Star Ball is great to watch.  It’s definitely acrobatic and lots of stuff that make you go, “what just happened” and “how the hell did they just do that?!” and you don’t often see it in general.  Never at the collegiate level, that’s for sure.  This was actually a competition, but ABC didn’t mention that aspect.  The first performance from Carlos and DOra was an awesome Exorcist-themed dance, which was definitely out there.  I loved it!  Very well performed, creepy, and had good tricks and dancing incorporated into it.  Usually theatre arts stuff just comes in two varieties: romantic flowy themes and intense warrior/tribal pieces, so this was very refreshing.  Justin and Kimalee went next – they’re here every single year and always have a good performance.  They did a romantic piece to Sam Smith that was lovely, with awesome lifts, great transitions, and nicely portrayed emotions.    Third was Shane and Shannon Jensen, a rhythm couple who had some ridiculous transitions.  I think they ultimately won.

Now, the long program!  The Perzhus opened with a fantastic smooth tango, one of my favorites.  It had a flirty, passionate, classic, yet soft feel to it that really worked.  They also had really great musicality.  As a standard dancer, I also really appreciated the inclusion of substantial closed-hold choreography.  The costuming was also fantastic, a nice balance of classic/simple and adorned.  Definitely my favorite out of the bunch.

Emmanuel and Liana went next with a bolero that was very pretty.  I wasn’t sure how to feel about her outfit, which resembled an old curtain/doily.  Artem and Inna followed with a gorgeous foxtrot to Amelie music, which was so much better than their first piece.  Super smooth, ethereal, and technically sound.  Inna is super elegant.  Roman and Anna closed with a pretty traditional paso doble that was great, but lost a bit of steam at the end.

In the end, Emmanuel and Liana took the overall win by placing 2nd in the long program to Roman and Anna’s 1st.  The Perzhus somehow got fourth for their tango, which I thought was b.s.  It was nice for rhythm to have its moment, though.  In the past, I think International style was heavily favored in this all-star competition, so it’s great to see American style becoming more popular and appreciated.

Looking back, some of my favorite performances were:  Max and Michelle’s VW to Sam Smith’s “Not in That Way.”  It might not have been the best dance, but the song and simple feel were lovely, as were the emotional but not overwrought performance.   Artem and Inna’s foxtrot in this episode, as well as the Perzhus’ tango and the Exorcist cabaret/theatre arts (does anyone know the actual difference between the two categories?).  I also really liked the Perzhus’ mambo from episode 1.

Overall, ABC did a nice job of showcasing showcases, not so much of showing typical competitive ballroom.  However, given a general audience, watching showdances is probably more popular and understandable.  I appreciated having two knowledgeable commentators, but wished they could have provided more useful information about how judges might distinguish among the different couples and how things are scored.  From the competitors, I would’ve liked to have seen more creative pieces, but most of them were very nice, generally.  For the whole show, I’d give it a B/B+.

Here are my reviews of Episode 1 & Episode 2

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!

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!

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

Preparing for Competitions

How to prepare for ballroom competitions – a guide for beginners and a refresher for those who haven’t gone in a while.

Months Ahead:

  • Figure out who you’re dancing with, whether it’s a long-term committed partnership or a one-comp deal.
  • Figure out what categories you’d like to compete in. Are you registering in all styles? Only some? Are you double-registering in multiple levels or just one?
  • PRACTICE (duh) – know what routines you’re doing, or at least have practiced lots of lead-follow. Do this with and without music.  Concentrate on improving technique.
  • Consider running rounds – 4 or 5 dances in a row, in competition order, for at least 90 seconds each.  Good for stamina! They suck while you’re doing them, but you’ll be thankful the day of the competition.
  • Have competition shoes and costumes/outfit/accessories ready – either bought or borrowed. Preferably not stolen.

Weeks Ahead:

  • Register – you or your partner, or perhaps your college team’s captain, should register for your desired styles/levels.  Pay attention to the due dates and don’t forget to pay.
  • Run your routines. A lot. Now focus more on just being able to get through them, and last for 90+ seconds for each dance.  When it gets down to the wire, it’s more important that you can survive on the dance floor, rather than nitpicking technical details.
  • Break in your competition shoes if you haven’t already.  If you like to dance in practice shoes, now would be a good time to switch to comp shoes so you get used to the different feel.
  • Figure out logistics – hotel, who will drive, how many nights you will stay, when you’re leaving, etc.
  • Consider doing a dress rehearsal in your competition clothes, if you haven’t worn them before.  This will ward off any wardrobe malfunctions and give you a better sense of how you’ll feel on the dance floor.
  • Consider filming yourself dancing (finding a friend or coach to film you, essentially).  It’ll open your eyes to what you look like to others.  Mirrors just aren’t the same.
  • Get your competition clothes cleaned if necessary.
  • Practice doing hair and makeup, if you haven’t before. Youtube videos are great for ideas.

Days Ahead:

  • Practice regularly, but don’t overdo it so that you injure yourself or find yourself sore.
  • Relatedly, don’t do any super intense workouts for a few days before the comp.  Dancing’s enough of a workout and you don’t want residual soreness from some other workout interfering with your performance.
  • Take care of yourself, healthwise! Eat enough, drink lots of water, get some sleep.
  • If you’re a student, take care of any homework or studying before you head out for a competition.  Unless you have superhuman concentration abilities, it’s highly unlikely that you’ll be able to get any work done, either in transit or at the competition itself.
  • Fake tan, if you do that for competitions.
  • Do your nails/get them done. Don’t forget toes if you’re doing Latin or rhythm!
  • Pack.

Day Of:

  • Get up early.  Unless you’re dancing later, but let’s just say that most people have to get up earlier than they want to.
  • Do all your primping – hair/makeup/etc.  Don’t forget deodorant!
  • Have a good breakfast!  Super important!  If I dance on an empty stomach I am both unhappy and lightheaded and don’t dance to my abilities.  It’s probably best to have something relatively light and nutritious, but sometimes you don’t have many options. I’d suggest having something with both carbs and protein, so that you have energy now and some reserved for later – maybe an egg sandwich, bagel and cream cheese, or yogurt and cereal.  Unless you know it works for you, avoid having a large heavy breakfast (eggs, huge omelets, bacon, hash browns, that sort of deal). Drink coffee if you need it (you probably will, that early).
  • Arrive to the venue at least an hour before you expect to dance, and earlier if you have any other prepping to do.
  • Warm up about half an hour before dancing, to get your muscles prepared and the early kinks out of the way.
  • Keep snacking throughout the day (granola bars, fruit snacks, fruit, and that sort of thing are great), drink lots of water.  If you tend to get cramps, I think eating bananas and/or having sports drinks is supposed to help.
  • Don’t forget to eat lunch and dinner.  It can be easy to do that when you’re dancing the whole day, but try not to forget.  Get a friend to pick up lunch for you, if you really can’t escape for half an hour.
  • Most importantly, try to dance your best and have fun!

Please comment if you have any other suggestions or if I’ve left out any gaping holes.

How-to: Ballroom Makeup

The general take-home message for how to apply dance makeup is: go bold or go home! I always feel like an idiot when I leave the ballroom and go someplace “normal” during a competition weekend. In ballroom, if you look kind of like a drag queen, it means you’re doing something right.  We’re talking crazy bright colors, big fake eyelashes, shimmer, glitter, the whole shebang. What is the point, anyway? Well, if you think of ballroom dancing as being similar to performing on a stage, you want to be able to see your features clearly from across the floor. This means, highlighting your eyes (make ‘em look as big as humanly possible), accenting your mouth with a colorful lipstick, and rouging your cheeks. I won’t be able to explain makeup application as well as the Youtube makeup guru gals, so I’ll just go over things briefly and you can spend a few hours watching videos and filling in the rest.

Foundation: I hate it. But I wear it for ballroom comps, using a sliiiiightly darker color than my natural skintone so that I don’t look washed out. In fact, I probably go lighter than most girls in terms of coverage – I like to mix a tinted moisturizer with a darker foundation, then apply it with either a makeup sponge or a dual-fiber brush for a stippled effect. Blend blend blend, making sure you don’t have that foundation line that ends at your chin (trust me, not a good look). Bring your foundation down to your neck. Concealer under the eyes and over any flaws, more blending, then set everything with a matching powder and a big fluffy brush.  If you’re particularly oily, you might want to stick with a powder foundation, so long as it has adequate coverage.  Or a liquid/cream that is supposed to have a matte finish.  Also, applying a primer before foundation is an option – I’ve tried it a couple times, but don’t see a huge difference though, personally. If you feel comfortable contouring (which, of course, is all the rage right now), then go ahead and do that with darker and lighter cream colors.


First, Urban Decay Primer Potion or your primer of choice (I’ve heard Too Faced is another good one). In lieu of primer, use concealer and powder over your lids.  Primer makes your eyeshadow pop and keeps it from fading or moving throughout the day, which is super important especially if you sweat a lot.  You can also use a cream eyeshadow as a second base, particularly a white one if you are using bright colors – this will keep the color bright. Lots of white pearly highlight below the browbone (really pack it on), then I usually do a smoky eye in either a neutral color combination (gold/brown, or silver/black) or purple, depending on my mood.  Neutral is a little harder to make dramatic, so really pack on the colors and shimmer, and be sure to use a dark color in the crease, like a dark brown or black.  Use a heavier hand than you’re used to – this is even beyond nighttime “going out” makeup. Then I add a thick line of cream, gel, or liquid eyeliner in black, in a cat-eye shape with a flick/wing in the outside corner.  Doing this with a pencil first might help for precision. Also, I just discovered that going over this with a really dark black powder eyeshadow makes it even more dramatic. Add lower-lid color and/or liner if you want.  You can really go crazy with eye makeup here in ways you can’t in everyday life, so take advantage of it!

Curl lashes, add some mascara, then plop on some fake eyelashes. The biggest Ardell-brand ones at CVS are great along with Duo glue in white (it dries clear), and I can re-use them a bunch of times, so long as I peel off the gunky glue off of the lash strip. (P.S. Peeling off my fake lashes at the end of the day is SUCH a good feeling!!)  Fake lashes are really pretty essential to making my smaller Asian eyes pop.  If you’re blessed with huge natural lashes you might be able to go without, but otherwise, I strongly recommend them. They just add a ton of drama and open your eye up, which especially helps with a more neutral, subdued eyeshadow look.  Please do practice putting them on ahead of time, because there’s a learning curve with using them.

Other options: glitter eyeliner or glitter eyeshadow, fake eyelashes with little rhinestones at the base, multiple liner colors, slightly wacky color combinations (cause, why not? So long as they’re somewhat tasteful).  Ballroom is one place where matching your eyeshadow to your dress is not a faux pas, but actually commonplace.   One thing that really helps with intensifying color is applying eyeshadow wet and packing it on with sort of tapping motions instead of brushing or sweeping across the lid.

Edited to add: fill in your eyebrows! I recently started doing this and I think it makes a really big difference.  It’ll look a bit intense up close, but really adds to the polished made-up look.

Awesome purple eye:

How to apply false eyelashes:

Liquid eyeliner:


Cheeks: Any bright powder or cream blush should do, so long that it works with your skin tone. For extra contouring, use bronzer in the hollows of your cheeks and a highlighting powder on top of your cheekbones and forehead. I haven’t really gotten the hang of contouring yet, but if you want to try it, check these videos/guides out:

Lips: This is the easiest part. Line your lips with a neutral liner (one that is close to your natural lip color), then fill in with a shade of your choice. I like to do a pink berry-ish color for standard/smooth, and a Snow White true red for Latin/rhythm.  One is softer, and the other is more bold/in-your-face.  Lipliner can help define your lips and keep bright colors from spreading beyond your lipline. Personally, lipstick is all I need, but some people might like to add a lipgloss for extra shine (but don’t do this if your hair is loose, because it will stick to your lips and drive you nuts).  You might want to blot so that it’s less likely to smudge or get on your teeth.  Some girls like to do a dark liner with a lighter lipstick, but I’m not a fan of this, personally.  I don’t recommend using a nude color, so we’re going to break the normal emphasize-eyes-or-mouth-but-not-both rule.  Your mouth will just disappear from a distance, and it’s probably the most expressive part of your face.

For products, you can get by perfectly fine with drugstore products, so long as they are sufficiently pigmented.  A light, sheer, natural look is not what we’re going for.  I recommend NYX, L’Oreal, and Revlon, which are all available at drugstores and/or Ulta. I’ve also heard great things about Morphe and Makeup Geek eyeshadows, which you can order online. Maybelline makes awesome mascaras.  If your skin is finicky, you might want to go for nicer higher-end foundations. Ulta and Sephora will have basically anything you could ever want/need.

Nails: Nice nails are a bonus, but not a necessity. The classic ballroom look is a French manicure on long nails. But, colors are fun too! A classic red or a subtle pink are both great, or maybe something that goes well with your costumes.  Some girls like having those long acrylic nails, but those are a little intense for me. I started growing my nails out for ballroom, but short nails are perfectly okay, too.  The key here is good grooming.  I’ve recently ventured into glue-ones and love using them! They’re so much faster than painting your nails with polish, and look perfect.  They’ll make doing everyday things a bit harder, though, so keep that in mind.  Also, file off the rough edges to avoid scratching your partner or snagging them on things. The point of long nails is to extend your lines and complete the whole done-up look.

Do you need to do different makeup for different dance styles? Well, no, not really, but there is a general trend for Latin/rhythm makeup to be stronger and standard/smooth makeup to be softer.  A lot of people like this sort of “exotic” look for Latin/rhythm, whatever that means.  A bit heavier on the liner, a darker lipstick, maybe extra black eyeshadow in the crease.  You might also want to add some more bronzer as well.

A few good full-ballroom-makeup videos:

Products I Recommend:

  • Revlon Colorstay Liquid Liner
  • L’Oreal HIP Cream Liner Discontinued…but it looks like L’Oreal Infallible Lacquer Liner is its replacement?
  • Urban Decay liners
  • Maybelline Full ‘n’ Soft Mascara and Lash Sensational Mascara
  • L’Oreal Voluminous Mascara
  • Shu Uemura Eyelash Curler (it’s seriously the best, at least for my eye shape)
  • Revlon Super Lustrous lipstick
  • NYX powder eyeshadows and Jumbo Eye Pencils (especially the shade Milk)
  • Urban Decay eyeshadows (especially the Naked palettes)
  • L’Oreal Infallible eyeshadows
  • Maybelline Color Tattoo cream shadows as a base
  • Urban Decay Primer Potion
  • Urban Decay Heavy Metal Glitter Liner
  • NYX Brow Gel
  • NYX powder blushes (normal and mosaic)
  • NARS powder blush in Orgasm (classic)
  • Urbam Decay All Nighter Setting Spray
  • Kiss Everlasting French glue-on nails
  • Essie and Revlon nail polishes
  • Seche Vite Dry Fast Top Coat
  • Ardell false eyelashes
  • Duo lash glue

How to: Ballroom Hair

Doing a proper hairstyle for competitive ballroom dancing is an important part of the aesthetic package, and really adds polish to your look. Wearing a blingy dress, shiny jewelry, and lots of makeup just doesn’t have the same effect when they’re paired with a floppy, messy, stringy hairstyle. Also there’s a practical element to it – when your hair is neat and out of your face, it’s not distracting to you or the audience.

Messy hair – chic and cool for everyday life and all, not so much for ballroom dancing.

Classic low ballroom bun on Anna Melnikova.

Ladies, learn to tame your hair into an immovable (but pretty!) sort of helmet. The ubiquitous and simplest style to do is a low bun, one that comes out just about at the nape of your neck.  Start with relatively clean hair.  You might find that leaving it a bit dirty (not washing it for a day or two) helps it be more tameable, and not as slippery.  Brush it out to make it as smooth as possible.  If you have normal hair (unlike my baby-fine, thin strands that require an artificial boost, i.e. fake hair), all you have to do is smooth it back into a tight, neat, low ponytail, and twist it up into a bun.

Part it neatly however you like with a center part, side part, or no part.  Just make sure the part is razor-sharp and precise – a tail of a comb can be useful for accomplishing this.  Use lots of hair gel (I like Aussie’s Instant Freeze Sculpting Gel , and another good one is got2B Ultra Glued Gel) and a very fine-toothed comb or boar-bristle brush to smooth it back, tie it back tightly, and spray the whole thing copiously with a strong-hold hairspray.  Use a hand mirror and larger mirror to look at the back of your head to make sure it looks good.

I use minimal gel and only hairspray for the most part, because gel makes my fine, thin hair stick/cling together, which allows my scalp shows through. No good.  A “freezing” type of hairspray is the best. I recommend Aussie Instant Freeze for a good drugstore brand, and also Tresemme Tres Two. Lots of people swear by the got2b glued brand in the yellow can.  It has a slight tendency to flake, however.  Make sure to tame any loose bits or flyaways.  You can use a hairdryer with high heat to speed up the drying process and really set things in place.  You may need multiple coats of hairspray…it’s really hard to use too much.  Secure all the little baby hairs and flyaways with bobby pins, gel, and spray.  Give your head a good hard shake once everything has set to make sure nothing will come loose.

While making a bun, you twist the ponytail and roll it around the base, sort of like a cinnamon bun, then tuck the ends in behind and pin around the circumference, poking the pins through the middle. I like using hair pins for this, but bobby pins work as well. Use pins that match your hair color, so that they are less visible.  Use more pins than you think you need, and make sure they’re very secure. One trick is to insert them in one direction, twist them about a quarter or a half a turn, then push them all the way in.  See this if you need a visual (keep in mind, you probably need closer to at least 10 pins at minimum, 2 will not suffice for a competition). Give your head a good shake to make sure it’s secure, after spraying some more.

Then, wrap a hairnet (one that matches your hair color) around the whole thing, twice if you need to make it tight, tucking in the edges underneath your bun so that they are invisible. Secure the hairnet with a couple of pins as well. I’ve had a hairnet somehow hook itself to something while on the dance floor and get pulled off.  I still have no idea how that happened!  Spray the whole thing some more once you’re done, taking care to not get product in your eyes/face. Stay in a decently ventilated area and be mindful of who is around you!  So many toxic fumes.

Option: a sock bun or a bun form, to fill it out and make it a perfect doughnut shape.  I haven’t tried this personally, but I think a lot of dancers use these.

Add a flower or crystals as accents, and you’re done! Those crystal lacy appliqué things are great and only require a few bobby pins to keep secure.

What to do if you have:

Short hair: You can gel it back, similar to a men’s style, but with a bit more flair (but not straight back, that would look kind of weird. Maybe with a part?). For smooth/standard, finger waves look awesome.  (I have no idea how to do them though, sorry!). Alternatively, a bit of teasing and spraying might do the trick.  You can also experiment with curls and various pins/decorations. If it’s super short you probably don’t need to do much other than spray a bit to keep it relatively neat.  Here are some short hair styles I’ve tried personally.

A few of short hairstyles:

Joanna Leunis with a more voluminous/teased short hair look

A cool wavy style on Maria Nikoloshina

Finger waves. Obviously, Halle Berry and not a ballroom dancer.

Natalie Paramonov’s awesome hair. I don’t understand how it works, though.

A short bob: leave it down for Latin/rhythm and controlled with some product, but slick it back with tons of product or tie it back into a ponytail and add a hairpiece (fake hair) for smooth/standard, whichever works better for your length. Style the fake hair into a bun as above, or use one that is already in a bun/chignon form.

Curly hair: straighten it first with a straightening iron. Or find some way to make the texture work for you.

Bangs: slick them back with some gel and/or hairspray, or leave them loose (but still sprayed) if they don’t stick to your face and you don’t mind them moving around. Longer side bangs are good for a styled swoopy thing.

For open-level standard/smooth fancy hair, experiment with knot-style buns and swirling your hair into designs. I’m still getting the hang of this, but practice helps a lot!  Looking at high-level competitors for inspiration is great.

Swirly fancy standard hair

Kat has a lot of cool hair experiments documented here. I find that using a bunch of strong-hold gel (the Aussie gel mentioned earlier) and working quickly is key.  If you do a normal bun, just leave some of your bangs separated out while you do the ponytail.  You can loosely pin swirly designs in place and let them dry, then take the pins out and use extra-strong gel (got2b Glued Spiking Gel) to glue them to the rest of your hair.  Strategic use of a hairdryer will speed up the process.  Using eyelash glue or washable Elmers (yes, the white glue you used in elementary school) to glue crystals on top of the designs is a great look, especially if you have darker hair that shows up less on the floor.  With both glues, let it dry for about 30 seconds to get tacky. Here is a fantastic video on how to do a swirly low bun with decorative bits.  I’d recommend using Elmers on your hair and eyelash glue if you want to glue any stones to your skin/scalp.  The eyelash glue is a bitch to get out of your hair and requires a lot of conditioner to slide it out.  Elmers will just dissolve in hot water pretty quickly.

Here’s my first successful attempt at doing swirly hair! I can’t do anything super complicated cause I don’t have enough hair…or coordination.  (Sorry the picture’s blurry.)Image

I had help with the crystals.  You can also glue the crystals in your part, on your scalp, or wherever really.

If you don’t want to do the standard low ballroom bun look (which is nice because it works for all styles), you can experiment with different heights of buns, French twists, and French braids.  For Latin/rhythm, you can do a long ponytail (only for those with very long hair, like mid-back or longer) or a braid, but make sure it doesn’t whip your partner or yourself painfully in the face, and make sure it stays neat. Some people like this sort of high genie bun/cone look, but I’m not a huge fan, personally, especially when it’s super pointy and severe looking. If you’re adventurous you can try a half-up half-down look, but generally people don’t leave their hair loose because it flies around and obscures the neckline.  Also it gets sweaty (ick).

Men: Unless you have a buzz cut, use some product! You don’t want your hair flopping around and being distracting. The most common “ballroom” haircut is short on the sides and a bit longer on top, so you can slick it straight back and close to your scalp. A side part may work as well. If your hair tends to move around even with product in it, set the whole thing with a hairdryer on “hot.” A combination of hair gel and spray seems to be best for this (gel & comb first, then dry, then spray, then let that dry), unless you want to go for a softer look, then pomade or hair wax should do the job. If you use a lighter product, keep in mind that sweating on the dance floor has the potential to undo the whole thing.  You may also want to do a couple cycles of gel/dry/spray/dry, or whichever products work for you.

If you have long hair, pull it back into a neat ponytail and use all of the advice for pulling hair back listed above for women.  Longer hair is more acceptable for Latin/rhythm than standard/smooth, generally.

Former professional standard world champ Mirko Gozzoli with slicked back hair.

World professional finalist Victor Fung with similar hair. And Anna Mikhed looking classy as usual.

I hope that helps! In the meantime, I’ll be experimenting with swirly bun things in attempt to jazz up my usual look.

On Self-Related Motivations and Ballroom Dancing

Motivation in the conventional everyday sense refers to what drives people to do the things they do, which corresponds pretty well to the psychological study of motivation.  But motivation in the psychology sense not only refers to what underlies people’s behavior, but also how they seek out information, interpret information, and encode it in memory.  Specifically, self-related motivations underlie much of our everyday doings and thoughts, and there are a few that psychologists study in particular.  These scientists might even go so far to dub them the fundamental motives.  And, surprise surprise, these can all relate to dancing and how we learn how to dance!


Basically, people like to do things and think things and find out information that makes them feel good about themselves.  They prefer to read positive feedback to negative feedback and remember it better.  Some argue that this motive overpowers all other ones and is the automatic one, the one that kicks in without us even trying (Sedikides).  Most people think they are better than average at any given thing (driving, social skills, and so on), which is statistically impossible (Svenson, 1970).  People are very accepting of positive feedback and more critical of negative feedback.  Self-serving bias makes us take credit for success and blame outside factors for failure.

How self-enhancement relates to ballroom: Well, who doesn’t like getting a compliment?  Whether it’s from our longtime coach or a complete stranger, getting complimented on our dancing is a fantastic feeling.  Getting a compliment on hair or makeup or an outfit will more than suffice as well.  Particularly when we have put ourselves out there in front of a bunch of strangers, getting confirmation that we don’t look like idiots is indeed a nice feeling.  I would say most people think they are better than the average person in their lesson/class, unless they are anxious and particularly clumsy-feeling.  In competition, most people probably think they danced better than the average person, and therefore deserve a callback – that’s why not getting a callback is so disappointing.  It’s probably easier to remember competition successes than to remember failures, for the most part…or at least we spend more time trying to think about the successes.  When we get negative feedback from a coach, we probably automatically think, “What? I don’t do that” and then have to override that impulse to fix whatever problem it is.  Also, self-serving bias can definitely play a role in how we understand competition results.  When we win, it’s because we danced great! When we didn’t do so well, it’s because the floor was slippery or our partner did something wrong or people kept bumping into us or the judges didn’t like our outfits.  Also, even if we do badly, we socially compare downwards to make ourselves feel better, finding a standard of comparison to whom we can feel superior. “At least we were on time, unlike couple X.”


We like to find out things that confirm what we already know about ourselves.  We like to think we have a good sense of who we are and seek out information that supports that idea, because we like consistency and predictability (Swann, 1985).

How self-consistency relates to ballroom:  This might sound directly counter to self-enhancement, but if someone thinks they are an awful dancer, they (at least on a conscious controlled level) would prefer to hear negative feedback to positive feedback.  “I’m terrible, and these people agree.”  People with low self-esteem prefer negative feedback, because then they have a consistent view of themselves and get confirmation from others about their view.  What’s interesting is the cognitive-affective crossfire situation – people with a negative self-view emotionally (affect = emotion) prefer positive feedback, but cognitively prefer negative feedback (Swann et al., 1987).  I know, it’s twisted, but it makes sense – they have both the self-enhancement and self-consistency motives going on at the same time. Haven’t you encountered this social exchange before? “You did a great job dancing out there!” “Ugh no, I did horribly!”  I’m not saying that dancers who are self-critical (which might just mean they have high standards for themselves) necessarily have low self-esteem, but perhaps they had a low evaluation of their dancing at the time, and at the time would like a compliment on one level but prefer criticism on another.


Basically this just means that we want more information about ourselves, to see where we stand.  An accuracy motivation, to see if what information we have about ourselves seems to be correct.  Often this ties in with the motivation of self-improvement, which I think is pretty self-explanatory.  You have to know what you’re good and bad at before you can take steps to improve.

This motive I think plays the most into the learning process – we take lessons, seek feedback from more advanced dancers, and pay professionals lots of $$ to tell us how we are doing now and how we can get better.  Looking at judges’ scores and scouring YouTube videos of our performance help to fulfill this motivation, to see where we stand.  Practicing and staring at ourselves in the mirror for hours on end definitely help to fulfill this drive (though staring at the mirror and convincing ourselves of our innate, undeniable hotness is more in the lines of self-enhancement 😉 ).

Overall, I think the most interesting motive is self-enhancement.  There are so many ways that people make themselves feel better, even if they are deluding themselves just a little bit (or sometimes a lot!).  As someone studying psychology, it’s interesting when I catch myself or someone else using one of these self-enhancement strategies.  Hell, it feels really good to have my dancing or my dress complimented by a rando.  Didn’t get a callback? Judges didn’t see us.  Or the music was weird.  Or my shoes were super slippery. Obviously.

But hey, on the plus side, having these slightly positive illusions about yourself is good for happiness, mental health, and well-being in the long run, so they can’t be all that bad (Taylor & Brown, 1988).  Being ever-so-slightly arrogant (or confident, self-assured, positive, whichever word you’d like to use) about yourself seems to work out well for people in the ballroom world and everywhere else.

Having Fun on the Dance Floor!

I want to write a whole post on this because I totally understand the performance-anxiety thing.  As a kid I used to perform in piano recitals and would literally be shaking in fear as I approached the front of the room.  Once I screwed up so badly I had to start the whole piece over again.  Somehow though, the prospect of dancing in front of people no longer makes me nervous – at least in the competition setting.  If my heart is pumping faster than normal, it feels more like positive adrenaline that will help me perform my best.

Remember that you are not alone. Your partner is there to support you and will (hopefully) fill in the blanks of your routine if you suddenly forget what comes next. (By the way, this happens to me more than it should…whoops.)  Even if something happens, your lead and following abilities should kick it and it’ll work out fine.

If you forget your routine completely, you can always fall back on lead-follow.  That is the essence of ballroom dancing, isn’t it? Good technique and practice should take care of it.

There are tons of other couples on the floor! No one will notice if you screw up. And even if you do mess up, no biggie. No one is perfect. I’ve even seen a video where Riccardo and Yulia had to do a balance check.

Even if you screw up and fall on your face, it’s okay. Really, it is. Trust me, I’ve wiped out at least twice on the floor (literally, my butt was on the floor, dress flying up all around me, and I had to find my shoe that had popped off) and it’s okay! You get back up, you start where you left off, and often the audience applauds you.  It happens.  And if and when it happens, you know that probably the worst possible thing happened, and you moved on with your dancing and your life.

I don’t do this as much as I should, but just really feeling the music and translating it into movement of your body is really part of the essence of dancing, isn’t it? So really get into it, feel the music in your bones, and the rest of your body will take care of itself – that’s what those hours and hours of practice are for.  Don’t overanalyze your technique and worry about what your feet and arms are doing.  Just think about being big and showing the music in all that you do.

Play with your partner and the audience!  Easier to do when you’re apart, but you can still do this in standard, even. You can catch his eye and slip him a coy smile when you shift from closed position to promenade.  In a corner, flirt with the audience. Find someone to connect with and try to make them smile.  If you’re ballsy you can even play with the judges, but tread with extreme caution.

Express each dance’s character. That means, don’t just plaster a smile on your face.  Let your face be expressive but not cartoonish.  Be romantic in waltz and rumba, sassy in samba and smooth foxtrot, and cold and bitchy in tango.  Reflect these characters in your movement as well, and your performance will be that much better for it.  Figure out what story you want to tell for each dance and narrate it with your body and face.  Sometimes the music is atypical and has a different feel from what is typical – the best couples can embody that.

Just letting go can do wonders for enjoying yourself, and often it makes your dancing even better than when you’re thinking about everything you’re doing. Good luck!