USA Dance Nationals 2015

So, here’s a quick update on USA Dance Nationals, which took place in Baltimore at the end of March.  (There’s another NDCA Nationals that occurred in Utah a few weeks earlier – I haven’t been to that but it looks awesome.)  We danced novice and pre-champ standard and pre-champ/champ smooth.  Similarly to MAC, we had one event on Saturday and the other three on Sunday. Yikes…fortunately, they were spread out between 8 am and around 8 pm, thereby reducing the chance of dance-exhaustion, which is never fun.  However, dancing pre-champ standard at 8 in the morning was also not fun…part of the reason to move up to open is so that you don’t have to dance first event of the day!

Our results were pretty good and unsurprising – made the semis of novice standard out of a quarter, didn’t get a callback for pre-champ standard (which also started at a quarter), got 4th (!) in pre-champ smooth, and didn’t get into the final for champ smooth (which started at a semi).  It was similar to MAC, which I feel is very comparable in terms of the level of competition.  We got one place better than last year in pre-champ smooth, so we met our goal of performing the same or better, placement-wise.  But, more importantly, our dancing felt better than ever, which is always an “I’m the king of the world!!!” sort of feeling.

From workingatanonprofit.tumblr.com

I had worked on my shaped turns being more upward (be a shark chasing its fin rather than a dog chasing its tail! Weird but effective advice) and fully extending my arms.  I have a long-ingrained fear of hyperextending them, but Alexandra Perzhu and Izabella Jundzill, two top professional smooth dancers, have the same deal with their freakishly long arms, so I just went for it. What was also really nice was cheering on and hanging out with various dance friends from all over.  The open smooth crowd is fairly small, so many of us have gotten to know each other over the years.  I was pleased to see a large group of competitors in novice and prechamp smooth – these fields have grown a lot and have become really competitive!

I was fortunate enough to be sponsored by Next Level Dancing and got to use a fantastic Dore blue peacock smooth dress, which got tons of compliments.  Loved it! Even though it was sized a bit off – a little small in the bust (hello, side-boob) and a touch too long.  Whatever, it was awesome and I was very sad I had to give it back.

Also, this happened and makes me so happy (photographer credit to Brandon): 

Also this of most of the pre-champ smooth finalists (not sure who took the picture):

I volunteered most of Friday at registration and had to deal with a ton of people failing to bring proper residency documentation (which, FYI, entailed photo ID + either a passport or birth certificate.  Or green card/visa, etc.).  Oh my goodness.  Despite this information being on the website, probably a third to half of the competitors forgot it or said they didn’t know they had to bring it in the first place.  Part of it was miscommunication from last year, but a lot was just competitor ignorance (“But I didn’t know! We’ve never had to do this before!”).  Well, do your research, read all of the rules and regulations, and you save all of us some time and energy.  Nationals is not just any competition, because a lucky few get to represent the US at world championships.  People were obviously upset, particularly with the fear that they wouldn’t be able to compete, but the organizers found some workarounds.  One competitor was so dedicated/intense that she asked a friend to break into her house to photograph her paperwork!  Other fun volunteer activities involved dealing with (mostly eastern European) families.  Some were extremely on top of things, being very familiar with competition procedures, while others just could not get their act (nor their children) together.  Some plusses of volunteering: seeing some elite competitors in normal-person mode (“oh, you’re him/her?! huh.”), meeting people, hanging out.

Spectating was awesome as usual.  I have a new favorite ten-dancer Junior II couple, and we saw lots of really excellent young dancers.  My favorites from the MAC, Earle and Charlotte, won adult champ standard. This is why (watch for the awesome body roll!):

I caught the end of the adult Latin final, which was also great.  It’s fun to predict who the finalists will be and also to try to figure out the ultimate placings.  I can’t get it 100% right, but I think I can usually figure out the first, middle, and bottom third of the finalists, usually.

Some complaints: Friday night ended early, around 9 or 10 pm, while Saturday started at 8 am and ended at about 1:45 am.  Yup.  Ridiculous.  Someone didn’t calculate the heat list correctly and/or they didn’t speed up the evening session enough.  I know you want to give the champ couples their due recognition and whatnot, but everyone wants to get back to bed at a reasonable time!  Other than that, it was a very nice event and I look forward to attending again next year, as it is supposedly in Baltimore indefinitely (a somewhat controversial topic for a different blog post, perhaps).

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:

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

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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.

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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.

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.

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The front!

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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.

Stoning Party

So I’ve been super busy since the semester started, and unfortunately haven’t had much time to post anything. This is not a particularly interesting post, so sorry about that. I’ve been doing lots of stoning recently! By that, I mean gluing shiny things on things. One reason for that is that the girl who rented my Latin dress dry-cleaned it, so it’s cleaner, which is great, but the dry cleaning solvents affected the glue somehow and some of the stones have been coming loose :/ .

On a more positive note, I finally got some dress floats made for my standard/smooth dress.  It had floats originally, but I lost one of them at the Manhattan Amateur Classic a couple years ago, because sometimes I’m dumb like that.  The floats aren’t 100% what I had in mind, particularly with how the armbands were sewn, but they’ll function fine, I think.  Importantly, they needed some bling, so I took care of that.

Pictures below:

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Yes, that is just random stuff I stretched the bands over, so that they’d stay stretched out while I worked. If you stone stretchy fabrics while they’re not taut, then the stones might pop off when you stretch the fabric to put them on.  So I hear.

5-second stoning tutorial: For my method, I use Gem-tac glue, make dots wherever I want them to go, let them dry for a few minutes so they get tacky, then use this rhinestone picker-upper tool with some kind of wax on the end to pick up stones and stick them on.  A little glue should spill out from underneath, once you press the stone down, so it forms a little rim and secures the stone better.  Let dry, and voila!  I found that this fabric soaks up the glue quite a bit, so I used more glue than what I’m used to.

I ordered a new unstoned standard/smooth dress recently, which is due to arrive any week now (that sounds like it’s a baby, ha).  I plan to get a bunch of nice stones for it, so the before and after pictures of that project will soon follow! And be more exciting! Potentially.

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.

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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.