Basic Technique How-to: Frame!

It’s an ever-constant struggle to get a better frame in standard and smooth. Just when you think you get the hang of it, you try something difficult or switch to promenade position or outside partner position and the whole thing falls apart. Or you get tired during that very last round of quickstep and it’s all downhill (been there, done that).  Just remember, having a good frame is just about the most important thing you can do in standard (and it definitely doesn’t hurt in smooth, either!). Good posture and a good frame will get you very far in competition, particularly in the lower levels.

Posture: Will be discussed later, but very generally, stand up straight and have your spine very central, with weight over the balls of your feet. Do not get backweighted, even if you are a follow. This means, your weight should not go backwards, over the heels of your feet. This will cause balance issues and make the center of the partnership go out of wack. (That’s a technical term 😉 ) Shoulders are wide and pulled down and slightly back. Key difficulty is keeping the shoulders low – just be as conscious of what they’re doing as possible so you can correct when necessary.

Five points of connection: leader’s left hand to follow’s right hand, leader’s right wrist/forearm to follow’s underarm area, leader’s right hand to follow’s left shoulder blade, follow’s left hand on leader’s deltoid, right side of body to right side of body.

There will be more body contact than what you are probably used to, but this is essential for good leading and following. Be touching each other but not pressing into one another, and try to keep your own space.  You want to have enough contact that you can be aware of your connection, but not so much that it’s uncomfortable. Your legs should have some free movement, not smush against each other.  Leader should not be “hugging” the follow so much that it is uncomfortable, nor should you have a foot of space between each other. Too much squeezing or tenseness just gets uncomfortable and makes it harder to maintain a good frame and shape.

Men are relatively vertical, while women shape leftward. Do not lean backwards, rather think of “spiraling” your body right, which requires you to counterbalance this weight leftward with your head.  Even though you are shaped “back” and left, your weight should still be neutral or forward. Being backweighted is uncomfortable and probably bad for your back, and it also disturbs the center of gravity of the partnership (that is, the shared center of gravity between the two of you).

Key tips for beginners: everyone should keep their elbows as wide as possible, and approximately even with each other. Do not pull the elbows behind your back. Rather, they should be just barely in front of you. Don’t let the arms droop. Don’t interpret this as having a lot of tension in the arms to keep them up, rather think of your back muscles keeping your arms up. Ladies, avoid clinging onto the man and being “heavy.” Dragging you around on the floor when you do this is exhausting for him!

Men adjust their arms to fit with the lady’s arms. Your frame will be slightly different depending on how tall your partner is. Her arms should be about parallel to the ground, and you should adjust your arms to allow for this to happen. More adjustments will have to be made if there is a big height difference, but it’s manageable! Bend your knees more, but don’t take smaller steps – if she’s good, she should be able to keep up with you. If the lady is a taller than the man, she should bend her knees a bit more and can shape more to the left to balance out the partnership.

Very briefly, promenade position:

Keeping a good frame in promenade position is the worst! You get all separated from each other, sometimes get in each other’s way, and your arms go all wonky. A very common problem is for the man’s right shoulder and lady’s left shoulder to creep up. How do you prevent this from happening, you ask?

Try to think of promenade position as not all that different from closed hold. The only things that should change, for the most part, are your foot position and head. Lady’s nose and toes turn right. Other parts of your body shift a bit to let this happen, but otherwise the frame should be exactly the same as before! Ladies (particularly their legs) should be a little bit “behind” the man, so you can stay out of each other’s way. Importantly, ladies should still shape left and away from the man. Ideally, the man’s profile should be visible behind the lady’s profile, so she doesn’t cover his face with hers.

Disclaimer: this is my interpretation of some building blocks of good frame. But, other people’s tips might work better for you or make more sense. Use what works for you!


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.


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.


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.


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

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.


  • 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,