Shopping for Your First Competition

For your handy-dandy convenience, I’ve done some research on the Internet in search of some affordable essential ballroom dance competition items for a first-time competitor.

Below is a list of some of my finds that total of under $250 for your first competition!  I suppose it might sound like a lot for a typical college student or first-time dancer in general, but once you have all of this stuff, you’re pretty set for the next few comps until you want to upgrade items or get a second pair of ballroom shoes.  It also assumes that you don’t have some essential things most people already have, such as makeup, a short party dress (for women, obviously), and a white shirt, black dress pants, and black socks (for men).  Click here for more information on ballroom attire, here for more information on makeup, or here for more information on shoes.

Women:

Grand Total: Approximately $232 – $280

A couple tips – colorwise, I’d suggest avoiding black and red for Latin outfits, since those are super common on the floor.  Go for neutral (shades of brown, gold, gray, or black) but dramatic eyeshadow if you’re not practiced in applying it, paired with a bright lip color like a dark pink or red.

Men:

Grand Total: Approximately $228 – $247

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

Blackpool 2015 Video Highlights

The Blackpool Dance Festival just finished up in England!  The biggest and most prestigious ballroom dance competition and event in the world.  Each round starts from something like 200 couples.  It would be awesome to attend one day, even if just to spectate.  Some people I know have been able to spectate and/or dance there.  Jealous. Here are some video highlights for your enjoyment!

Slavik and Karina’s Rumba Showcase

Obsessed.  This is one of my favorite rumbas ever and it’s still so, so good, even 10+ years later.  They were the best when they danced together.

Team USA

Note Arunas doing cha cha and being an overall goof.  You never see this side of him! Also, Riccardo and Anastasia dancing standard.

Professional Latin Final Rumba

Michael and Joanna retire after their 8th Blackpool win!  I appreciate them, but am a diehard Yulia and Riccardo fan.  Also, Troels and Ina, WDC amateur Latin champions, went pro and made the finals for a couple of dances.  Should be interesting to see how they do in pro!  That standing spin thing that Maurizio and Andra did was sick.  Also, literally everyone is wearing black or white or a neutral color.

American Smooth Exhibition

For the first time ever, they featured American Smooth at Blackpool!  Historic stuff.  They invited the top pro smooth couples to do a full round exhibition, which was received with a standing ovation.  Maybe dancers will compete smooth at Blackpool one day.  I wonder where rhythm was…

DSI London has graciously posted the first rounds from all the events on YouTube for free!  If you have a lot of time to kill, check ’em out.  There were tons of competitors from China and Japan this year.

America’s Ballroom Challenge Episode 2 Review

Episode 2 of America’s Ballroom Challenge: International Style!  I was surprised to find out that Mary was an Austrian (random) standard champion.  I pictured her as a rhythm dancer or something, but it turns out she did a bit of everything.  They played the everyone-on-the-floor-at-the-same-time mini-round of waltz, which was kinda cool.  In person, it’s pretty chaotic, but visually very cool, with 30-40+ couples on the floor simultaneously.  First were the “group rounds” of foxtrot and quickstep.  At least these were in order this time, as opposed to last week’s smooth dances.  Loved the bit of mini-formation team feather, reverse turn, three step sequence.  I timed it and they only showed about 50 seconds of each dance, which was really not enough to make anything of them.  Boo.  Would another 40 seconds really hurt?  Next was quickstep.

Showdances next.  Standard showdances can be kinda boring at times, so I was intrigued to see what these couples came up with.  These were more varied in dance style/theme than the smooth dances, so that was at least somewhat refreshing.  My favorite thematically was probably Andrey and Anna’s Marilyn Monroe piece, but the hair and costuming were a bit distracting, with her wig flopping around a lot.  A lot of hairspray would’ve helped with that.  Also slightly cringed when Anna overshot the lift and almost fell behind Andrey.  I’m pretty sure they’re one of the most attractive couples on the floor, especially when he doesn’t wear a shirt (from past years).  But I digress.  Oscar and Lenka had an awkward boy-themed foxtrot, with juvenile outfits, that I just didn’t get.  The cowboy-themed quickstep from Canadian couple Anton and Anna was cute.  Artem and Inna, the frontrunners, did a lovely emotionally expressive and technically sound foxtrot to My Heart Will Go On.  I giggled when he kissed her ear at the end (they’re married).  Loved her eye makeup.  Girl rocks the flowy dresses.  Denis and Lesya’s lyrical foxtrot was nice, but not very memorable.  Loved her green dress and loose hair.  Interestingly, she’s Max Sinitsa’s niece and used to dance with him.  The hosts might have mentioned that briefly at some point.  A quick search on Dancesport Info showed that Igor and Ekaterina had danced together way longer than the five and a half years reported by Mary.  They danced together, broke up, and then re-partnered and went pro together.  Their French-themed quickstep was solid but not super interesting.  In general, I found that the women were more expressive than the men, which is especially the case in standard, I think.  You tend to find a lot of tall stoic standard men.

Denis & Lesya

Anton & Anna

Ultimately, in the show dance, Denis and Lesya placed first, Andrey and Anna second, and Anton and Anna third, which surprised me.  Artem and Inna were in fourth, but will represent the standard style anyway, since they were first for the five other dances, I believe.

Brief featurette with the DJ Brent Mills, which was nice, I guess.  On to Latin!  They were gracious enough to show us one entire round of jive.  I wasn’t really familiar with any of these people except for Roman and Anna.  Was hoping that Riccardo and Yulia would show up this year, but no dice, alas.  I liked the plain leopard dress.  It’s nice when people go unconventionally simple and unadorned.  On the other hand, one male dancer decided to wear glittery pants.  No.

Showdances!  Lots of rumbas, of course.   Lots of rumbas in silky shirt-type outfits.  Kamil and Anna’s was nice, but I was confused by her wet-looking shirtdress.  Maybe it was on purpose, based on the storm noises in the music?  Or she was just really sweaty?  Also, they continued the Barbra Streisand theme from last week.  We had definitely heard this exact song, “Don’t Go Away”, during smooth for Mazen and Izabella’s showdance.  On another note, Kamil’s facial hair is an example of a goatee that really works for ballroom, at least in Latin/rhythm.  Roman and Anna did another version of angsty silky-shirt rumba.  A little too much running around for my taste, but they had a really cute moment together at the end.  Also, she is so freaking tan!  She made him look super pale in comparison, even though he’s not particularly white.  Dmitry and Olena did a jive to “Happy” with awkward NYC-themed outfits that I didn’t get.  For once, the hosts had some critique to offer about their side-by-side choreo and costuming.  Evgeny and Maria did a very traditional but good paso…at least it was to a song other than Spanish Gypsy Dance.  Vitaliy and Eugenia’s cha cha, with her in a catsuit, finished off the set.  Pretty fun, and the catsuit worked for the Michael Jackson theme.  The all-black look unfortunately led them to blend into the background a bit, though.  The slower music choice also made them look a bit sluggish at times.

Roman & super-tan Anna

I didn’t have any particular favorite out of the Latin showdances.  Top three showdance placements (at least, based on the lineups):  Roman and Anna, Andrey and Yulia, Kamil and Anna.  Which were, coincidentally (not really), the exact same rankings for the group dances. Side note, all 6 ladies’ names ended in “a”, and three of the men’s names ended in “I” or “y”.  Eastern Europeans!

Overall, solid.  Nothing especially stood out to me, but it was all great dancing and solid performances.  Definitely the best ballroom dancing you’ll see on TV.  In past years, I think people have been more creative in their choices, but it’s not something to expect on a regular basis.

To come soon: a review of Episode 3, the grand finale!  I still don’t understand how they can judge and compare dancers in completely different styles, but we’ll keep chugging along.

Click here for my review of Episode 1, which featured American style pros.

Basic Ballroom Wear

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

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

Standard/Smooth

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

standardmenswear1standardmenswear2

More details:

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

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

More details:

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

Latin/Rhythm

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

 

Sorry, you don’t get much variation here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do NOT:

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

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

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