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!

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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.

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).

MAC Part 2

Going back to the MAC!  It was so great that we need to re-experience it!  Just kidding. We’re competing at the Mid-Atlantic Championships this weekend, which conveniently has the same acronym.  Not much to say here…we’ve practiced a few times since the (other) MAC two weeks ago, run some rounds, and tweaked some styling in our smooth foxtrot routine.  It’s mostly a smaller competition than the MAC, so I’m going to be lazy and skip the tanning.  Our smooth events only have three couples each, though our standard events are more substantial in terms of numbers of competitors, both starting at a quarterfinal.

One thing that will be nice about this comp is my dad will be attending and plans to take lots of pictures.  He’s been very into his new hobby of photography and took some excellent shots at a recent competition.  Hopefully he will recognize me….he does not seem to register my identity (as his own daughter) very quickly when I am in full ballroom-glam mode.  It’s both sad and hilarious.

I will also be attending another collegiate competition next week, but dancing with various other people on the team and not my regular partner.  Mixing it up a bit! And even doing rhythm. Crazy, right?

Short Hair in Standard/Smooth

Well, I had written the post on ballroom hair and discussed short hair before having personal experience with it.  I’ve had about shoulder-length hair more or less all my life, until last summer, during which I chopped it all off into a pixie.  Why not, right?  For dance, it’s been a mix of experimentation and struggle with regards to how to deal with it.  So, here are some things I’ve tried and also some other options I have yet to attempt.

Option 1: Gel/slick it back with a comb, then a boar-bristle brush, spray the everloving crap out of it, and stick on IMG_1721something shiny.  Use a hairdryer on hot to seal everything in place, in between layers of product.  It’s relatively safe, but I run the risk of those scalp lines cause I have such thin hair.  It is basically the same as a normal ballroom bun without the bun part, I suppose.  Then stick on one of those stoned ornament things for ballroom.  I pinned it with mini bobby pins for this comp over my side part, but found out later than I really should just glue it onto my head with WASHABLE white glue (Elmer’s, the stuff kindergarteners use for crafts).  Don’t worry, it just kind of dissolves in a hot shower.  Please excuse my slightly crazy facial expression.

Option 2: No gel, just lots of spraying in place.  Leaves more volume, but less control. This worked for one of the days at my last competition, but then the second day, because I had not washed my hair that morning and was attempting to tame bedhead, the hair got a little wild in the back, at least by the end of the day.  Ick.  I think with more attention, this could have worked alright.  It’s less shiny, however.  Same deal with the hair ornament.  You could also stone your part or put in designs manually, but I’m lazy.

Credit: Dance to Eternity

Option 3: Add lots of product and texture.  Waves/curls/whatever, which in this case was achieved with hair wax (TIGI Bed Head for Men Matte Separation, which I usually use every day for texture) and a small-barrel IMG_1823curling iron, then tons of freezing spray (I recommend Aussie, Tresemme, or got2B, and these are relevant to all of the above styles).  Got a lot of compliments with this one, even though I thought it was just okay.  It’ll need some more practice. Pinned-in shiny hair ornament did not stay put, and I actually had to toss it off in the middle of a round because it was just swinging around.

Other options not yet explored (personally)

Champ girl (who won) at the MAC had a cool hairdo.  She had like a long pixie or short bob, I think, and slicked it all back and wrapped a wide headband with a flower on it around her whole head.  It matched her dress and was surprisingly cute.

Grow out into a short bob, long enough to gel back and create a stubby ponytail, then stick on a hairpiece/fake hair.  Will probably have to go this route soon-ish, as I’m planning on growing my hair out this summer.

Pin curls or something along those lines? I think you’d need a long pixie for that though.

I would loooove to try finger waves, but am incapable of doing it myself, and I think only some hairdressers have that skill.

For rhythm/Latin you could do the same styles, or just have a lighter touch of spray, because it’s fine to have your hair moving around for those dances.  A spiky look could also be fun, and cool asymmetrical cuts are also popular.

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!