Copy of My favorite things-2

When you first take up ballroom dancing, a regular night at the studio sort of looks like a bunch of normal people doing sort of similar things to what you're doing.  Maybe the instructors are a little bit more ... Technicolor than you are, but everyone is speaking the same language and doing the same crossover breaks and basic steps, more or less.

Then you go to your first ballroom dance competition.  

As you walk through the vendors on the way into the actual ballroom, you already notice things are very different from than your usual visits to the studio.  

There's enough rhinestones to pay your mortgage, and maybe even your whole blocks' worth (although you probably called them sequins because you don't know the ways yet and that's okay).

Studio friends walk by on their way to the on-deck area with makeup and hair that is intimidating and sculptural, but you don't recognize them until 15 seconds after they said "hi" because #hairandmakeup.

You finally get in the ballroom, to find, NOT a refined and polite gallery that compliments the elegant dancing with hushed applause, but a loud, and often raucous crowd of loyal enthusiasts with obvious favorites who cheer constantly from 7am until 1am.  

In case you're new to the ballroom scene, or inviting friends, here's a primer for the uninitiated:


What you see: If you're a fan of neutrals or like to blend in with the crowd, you might find the dance costumes a force to be reckoned with.  Bright colors, lots and lots of insanely sparkly rhinestones (finely cut crystals), and form-fitting lycra or spandex are the norm.  Unless you're a guy, in which case you usually don't get bright colors, but you do get everything else, just in black.

What it is: As in most parts of competitive ballroom dance, the point is to stick out and look good, especially under the stage lighting that most competitions use.  Hence, earth tones (which blend in with the floor, the background, and your skin color) usually lose out to neons and jewel tones and shiny shiny rhinestones.

Takeaway: If you're looking through the racks or just at the floor, you might think, "I could never wear that." But under the fantastic lights, often with a fake tan, and with the help of any of the amazing designers, you can find a dress or suit that you will LOVE.  Many of the dresses on the rack are made for pros (and made to fit pros, if you know what I mean).  Don't be discouraged if you find something pretty, take it from the rack and wonder if it was made for a child.  The majority of dress vendors' business is from making dresses for students JUST LIKE YOU.  They are very good at designing something that will a) look great on the floor b) feel comfortable on you.  


What you see: It is not for the faint of heart.  There are dramatic colors, and lots of it, on dancers' face. 

What it is: Likewise to the costumes, stage makeup is a must.  In other words, the makeup INCLUDING TANNER that both girls and guys don is meant to enhance features that often flatten under stage lights and stay in place for hours even while everyone is sweating their eyeballs off.

Takeaway: It is heavy and dramatic and wonderful.  Once you get used to it.  And there are professionals that can do it for you!  Just like the amazing dressmakers, there are wonderful makeup artists that specialize in the theatrical makeup that will make you look great on the floor, especially if you don't know an eyeliner from a highlighter.


What you see: Beyond any "classic updo" or "date night" hair you've ever seen, are the creations that ladies' heads are donning as they walk on the floor.  The intricate, sculptural, and amazingly stationary hairdos of ballroom dancers is worth the price of a day ticket alone.

What it is: Again, everyone's hair has to look the same at the beginning of the day as it does at the end of the day.  That requires gel, hairspray, a multitude of bobby pins, and often an expert in ballroom hair to produce. 

There's certain hairstyles that come into fashion (there were a few years when many Rhythm dancers had short, flingy hair; Smooth dancers threw long locks around untethered, male Latin dancers rocked ponytails, now crimping is back!, etc.), but generally, slicked back and unmovable is a great rule. 

Takeaway: No matter what your head is rocking, the ballroom hair crew can style your tresses (or lack thereof) to a) look great on the floor b) last all day and night... and another day, if needed.


What you see: Once you've figured out who your friends are underneath their competition finery, you might be surprised by their dancing prowess.  

Your favorite partner at the studio socials is looking SHARP dancing with their teacher and doing stuff way beyond the casual Waltz you usually share.  

Especially if you've had a couple lessons of your own, you might be looking for a move you recognize. But often, even the basic sneaks in under your radar because of all the extra styling and technique your friends have practiced.  

What it is: While competition and non-competition dancers are usually learning the same steps, the focus on execution can differ.  Dancers preparing for comps often spend much of their lesson time making things look good and adding technique at a level surpassing their syllabus figures.  So while you are watching a "beginner" dance, they have an excellent grasp of rise and fall/Cuban motion/arm styling/what-have-you.  

Takeaway: There's A LOT going on on a competition floor.  If you're looking at the program online and wondering what's up, this post might help. But if you're watching a daytime session, it's usually single dance heats (think track and field events) danced back to back and often there's more than one competition on the floor (there's one competition of 3 lady students with their pros who are between 36-45 years old and another competition of 6 gentlemen who are 46-55 dancing with their pros, and they're all on the floor dancing a Foxtrot at the same time; the judges are watching the two competitions and scoring them separately) .  When the awards come up, the blessed MC reads off all those results very quickly, so you gotta listen up if you're interested in those results.  The evening sessions are usually multi-dance events (like a triathlon or all-around in gymnastics), when the judges score 2-5 dances and the score for all of those dances is averaged to find the winner. 


What you see: Watching the evening session, you are excited to see your pro dance.  

If you haven't seen them dance professionally, you might be shocked.

First, your unassuming, down-to-earth, delightful instructor, who patiently tells you "your other right foot" 17 times a week and dances basics with you for weeks at a time, is UNRECOGNIZABLE when you first see them hit the floor.  11/10 on the hair, makeup, costume, dancing scale.

What it is: You will be impressed, in other words.

Takeaway: But it's no time to feel intimidated!  Pros love dancing their professional events, but generally love their pro-am events and teaching hours just as much.  (Okay, usually a little bit less, but it's still a really really great job.). Gush if needs be, or just be really proud that you have such an awesome dancer as your awesome teacher.  

Or cheer really loudly...


What you hear: One of the funniest parts of ballroom competitions for many people is realizing it's not a polite group of people sitting calmly and watching the arts unfold in front of them in a reverent and genteel way, applauding at the end of each dance while nodding in appreciation.  

What it is: It is a ballroom full of formally dressed people who are hollering, yelling, and whistling for their favorite couple (even if all of the couples are their favorites) from dawn until midnight.  And apparently ballroom dancing is great for one's lung capacity, because these fans are LOUD.

Takeaway: While the ballroom crowd loves a chance to dress up and look fancy as heck, they are also not shy about telling their friends (and the judges) on the floor that they're doing a great job by shouting out the guy's number, the couple's names, and general yelps of encouragement, often while holding an adult beverage in their hand.  Feel free to join in or wear earplugs.


Ballroom dancing often comes across to the uninitiated as an outdated, overly-refined diversion.  Hopefully, after a day at a ballroom dance competition, the neophytes will experience some of the fun and want to join in.