Dancing is more fun stoned. Here’s how to glue rhinestones on practically anything, Part One.

Well, I would’ve done my own post, but this one is so good, I’m just going to pass it on to you. Enjoy!

Against Line of Dance

So! You have some perfectly good piece of clothing, or item of dancewear, or a shoe, or a cat or whatever, and you think, “Self, this really would look a lot better if it sparkled like CRAZY.” Congratulations! I agree with you! Let’s glue some rhinestones on that action!

In this series, I’m going to walk you through an actual recent stoning project and give some general tips on what to do, what not to do, and my own process that I’ve developed over the course of screwing up a lot. As always, questions and your own experience and tips in the comments are greatly appreciated.

All the advice in this post is going to be designed for the At-Home Stoner, but it’s also a good guide to check out if you’re buying a ballroom dress, or something that already has rhinestones on it, so you understand where your pricetag…

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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.

Ballroom Shoes

Here is a quick overview on how to choose a shoe (or multiple pairs), and a few examples of the many ones available out there.  These are just some basic principles/guidelines for finding a shoe, but if you have unusually-shaped/sized feet or any foot problems, you should probably consult someone much more expert than me to find the right fit for you.  I know more about women’s shoes (obviously), but will write a bit about men’s shoes at the end.

First of all, if you want to dance regularly, you should really invest in a pair of decent ballroom dance shoes!  You’ll find everything much easier to do compared to dancing in street shoes, socks, or other dance shoes.  Other dance shoes like jazz shoes, character shoes, or ballet slippers can substitute for a while if you happen to already have them, but they are (obviously) designed for different kinds of dance. They are cheaper, but not as well-suited for ballroom as ballroom shoes are.

For Women

Beginner women should start with a Latin/rhythm sandal, because it is a bit more versatile than a standard/smooth shoe.  You can dance standard/smooth alright while wearing a Latin shoe, but it’s just really awkward to do Latin in a standard shoe. (Oddly enough, it’s the opposite for men, but I’ll get to that later).  Your basic Latin shoe looks like this:

Supadance 1403

Latin shoes are generally strappy, open-toed, with a 2.5 inch flared heel, enclosed heel cup, suede bottoms, and some sort of strap that goes around the ankle and/or the instep to secure it to your foot.  For competitive dancers, you should get tan satin shoes for competition.  The idea behind this norm is that they blend into your foot and extend your leg line (like nude-colored pumps do) and don’t show footwork flaws as readily as flashy or contrasting shoe colors.  (If you don’t care about using them in competition, you can get them in leather and all kinds of colors. Black is particularly popular.)  They should fit more snugly than your average street shoe, with your toes just barely hanging over the edge of the shoe when you’re standing up.  It’s a little weird-feeling at first, but it’s so that you can point your feet and have a nice line.  The shoes will also stretch out over time, so if you buy them to fit more comfortably, then soon they will be too loose and unsupportive.  Latin shoes also often come in 3”, but these aren’t advisable unless you are more advanced.

Women’s standard shoes generally look like this:

Supadance 1002 Court Shoe

Women’s standard shoes generally are a court style, basically like a pump.  They also have a suede bottom, but have closed toes unlike a Latin sandal.  The heels are generally narrower, either a contour (kind of a mini-flare) or a straight-up-and-down “slim” heel.  The most common heel height for standard shoes is 2.5”, but many ladies also like the lower 2” ones.  Some come with a strap across the instep to secure them, like this (my go-to shoe):

Supadance 1004

I highly recommend getting ones with straps, because I used to have a pair without them and they fell off my feet in competition a few times.  No good. You can buy clear straps to keep them on, but these just look prettier 🙂

Like Latin shoes, Standard ones should hug your feet pretty closely.  They should be snug but not painful.  They come in round and pointed toes, so you should try different variations to see which fit best on your feet.  Importantly, they should be snug enough on your feet so that they stay on! When you rise up on the balls of your feet, the heel cups of the shoe should stay on the heels of your foot, and not be loose at all.  I will warn you, Standard shoes are harder to get used to because of the restricted fit, but they make dancing Standard so much better, compared to Latin shoes!  Similarly, competition standard shoes are usually tan-colored to blend in with your foot/leg.  Unless you wear a white dress – then, your shoes should be white to match.

Tips for Women’s Shoe Care:

  • Get heel protectors that fit your shoe heels and put them on ASAP! These keep the plastic heel tips from wearing down, which is almost inevitable.  Most are clear plastic, but you can also get them with suede bottoms.  Some people also use suede stars, which you kind of wrap around the bottom and secure with tape.
  • Brush the suede soles of your shoes regularly with a shoe brush to get dirt out of the nap.  This gives them some of the original grip that the suede had when new and will make your shoes last much longer.
  • For standard shoes, spray them with a fabric protector before you wear them.  I use Scotchguard (though I can’t find it in stores anymore)  or Kiwi Protect-All.  This makes them a little more dirt-resistant and easier to clean later. Don’t spray this on the suede soles though.
  • Cleaning shoes: you can use a sponge dampened with Woolite or regular detergent in warm water to gently scrub out scuffs.  Just make sure to get the whole satin surface damp so that you don’t get water marks.  Then let dry overnight.  I’m not sure how effective this is without having sprayed fabric protector first, though.

Smooth Shoes

I haven’t owned a pair of smooth shoes, since I just use my standard ones for both, but am considering getting a pair.  They’re sort of a Latin/standard shoe hybrid – they have closed toes but are often open on the sides, so that you can point your foot more easily and make a nice line.  So, they are more flexible than Standard shoes, but also less supportive as a result.  They come in more design variations than do standard shoes.

Practice Shoes

I don’t like wearing my Standard shoes all the time because they’re not super comfy for long practices and get dirty easily, so I like to wear practice shoes for everyday.  These come in all sorts of designs, but many are leather oxfords that are similar to a man’s Latin shoe (see below).  If you want to wear them with socks, you can buy them a little bit looser than your other shoes.  Bonus: they seem to last a lot longer!

Freed Roma

Men’s Shoes

Beginner men should get a Standard oxford in black leather, like this:

Freed Modern Ballroom Shoe

They look a lot like jazz shoes, but have much more support on the bottom, with suede soles.  The shoes should fit snugly but not painfully while wearing thin dress socks.  So, your toes should come to the end of the toe box, or very close to it.  These will work for both Standard/Smooth and Latin/Rhythm.

Latin/rhythm shoes have a higher “Cuban” heel, about 1”. (They’re awkward to take heel leads in, so I guess that’s why Standard shoes work for both at first.)

Ray Rose Thunder

They’re basically the same as Standard/smooth shoes, other than the higher heel, which helps you stay more forward-weighted.  Might feel a little weird at first, since most men haven’t worn heels before.  They’re also more likely to come in split soles or with shorter shanks (the metal part in the sole that supports your foot), which help with flexibility.

Keep the suede soles brushed and the leather polished regularly, and they should last you quite a while!  I’ve also seen guys keep shoe trees in the shoe when they’re not wearing them, to maintain the shape.   Lots of guys like to buy the shiny patent leather shoes later on, which require some more care and some petroleum jelly rubbed on the inside to keep them from sticking together.  Patent shoes in particular are vulnerable to cracking, so keeping them stuffed while not worn is even more important.

Finding YOUR Shoe:

The best way to find the perfect shoe is to try them on in person, either at a dance shoe store or at a competition/event.  Unfortunately, your average dance supply store is unlikely to have many ballroom shoes to try on, so an event is your best bet.  The vendors should also be fairly knowledgeable and give you advice about what models seem to suit your feet better.  If you can’t go anywhere to try them on in person, then you’ll have to resort to buying shoes online.  Find a place with a good return policy!  Once you find the right shoe for you and are sure it works well, you can find it online for cheaper, especially directly from the UK.  Personally, I think the more expensive brands (usually European brands like Ray Rose, Supadance, International, Freed) really are higher in quality, fit better, and last longer than cheaper ones.  I had a pair of Capezio Standard shoes that weren’t as comfortable and started falling apart, with the fabric shredding, while that’s never happened with my Supadances.  Though if you’re just starting out and don’t want to invest too much, it’s fine to start with whatever you can afford (I’ve heard that Very Fine and Stephanie are good cheaper brands).  Sometimes one shoe seems to work fine, but then you might find another model that’s even better, so if you get to the point that you’re wearing shoes out left and right (get it?), you can try lots of different ones to find the perfect fit.

Some Websites:



Backbay Dancewear

Duodance (the cheapest prices I can find)


VE Dance

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.