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Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Things To Consider Before Signing Your Child Up For Ballroom Dance Lessons

Last week I published a post on costuming rules for children, so while I am on the topic of kids, which is a rarity here on Ballroom Bitch, I want to focus on a few other child-related topics that might be particularly helpful for parents who have no experience in Ballroom and/or Latin dancing.

As children have become more aware of ballroom dancing, thanks largely to television shows like So You Think You Can Dance and Dancing With The Stars, and have begun to express interest in learning to dance themselves, many parents feel lost when it comes to getting their child involved in the DanceSport. For those of you who have children who have expressed an interest in Ballroom and/or Latin dancing (DanceSport), this post will walk you through a few things you need to know before you sign your little would-be dancer up for lessons at your local studio.

Above all, before you get your child excited about the prospect of learning to ballroom dance, you need to seriously consider whether you can afford to be a DanceSport family. Unfortunately, in the United States and increasingly throughout Europe ballroom dance is expensive. For example, where I live in the Mid-Atlantic, ballet classes are an average of $100 per month for 90 minutes of instruction per week, whereas group ballroom classes are $30 per 40-minute session. Keep in mind, these are children’s prices – adult prices are higher. If your child is actually going to learn how to dance, they’ll need at minimum two 40-minute group sessions per week at the beginning. Dance related expenses will only increase the older, more accomplished, and more competitive your child becomes.

As you consider whether your family can afford to be a ballroom family, you also want to consider how seriously involved your child will be and what are your goals for your child. In addition to helping you select the best studio and teacher for your child, understanding your child’s drive and your goals for your child can also help you determine if you can afford ballroom dancing. In my experience, ballroom is somewhat of an all-or-nothing sport, meaning that either you’re just there “to have fun” or you’re really competitive. Here is what you can expect with those extremes:

Just for Fun: Pretty much any reputable studio will work for your child if the only goal is to have fun and build confidence. If you don’t see your child becoming a serious competitor, I recommend looking for a larger studio that, although offers children’s classes, focuses primarily on adults. For example, your local Fred Astaire that offers children’s classes will do just fine. Although there are exceptions, these studios tend to be more focused on building confidence and having fun rather than producing serious competitors. If you don’t see your child as a competitor, you can probably plan your financial investment on the base cost of lessons and perhaps 2-3 small competitions per year.
Potential Competitor: If you think your child is likely to become involved in the sport long-term, your investment is going to be much higher. I’ll talk about what you should look for in a studio/teacher in an upcoming post, but for now I want to emphasize the investment you need to consider before you promise your kid that she can be the best Katusha Demidova. In addition to the estimated weekly pricing I mentioned (which will probably be more than just two lessons per week), you’ll need to consider that your child will need private lessons as he/she becomes a stronger dancer. These lessons range anywhere $70 to $180 per lesson, depending on your studio and where you live. On top of this your child and his/her partner will need outside coaching as they become more competitive – these sessions can range from $150 to $500 per lesson, depending on the particular coach, where you live, etc. Likewise, you’ll need to calculate in the costs for competitions and costumes. The more advanced your child becomes, the more expensive competitions and costumes will become. Likewise, you'll need to consider the time investment involved in traveling to competitions, coaching sessions, and carting kids to and from the studio on a regular basis. 

Finally, you’ll want to consider whether you have a partner in mind for your child. This is especially important if you have a daughter, because realistically there are many more girls interested in ballroom dancing than boys. If your son wants to dance, you’re golden as far as partners go. However, if you have a daughter you may want to go ahead and evaluate who might be a good partner for her, as it is difficult to advance in ballroom dancing without a partner. She can, of course, participate in both group and private lessons without a partner, but realistically she won’t make competitive progress without a partner. Although the studio may have a partner available, or one may come along after your child has started taking lessons, having someone in mind beforehand is always helpful. You’ll also want to consider whether your child’s partner can afford his/her share of the financial burden and if his/her family will make the time-related sacrifices necessary, and if not, you need to consider whether you’re willing to cover his/her share.

Now that I've likely scared you off, I do want to emphasize that becoming a reasonably good (albeit probably not champion) ballroom dancer is totally financially attainable for most middle-class families. In general, you'll split most of the steepest expenses (private lessons, coachings, comps) with your child's partner.

Thursday, October 4, 2018

DanceSport Costumes for Kids: What Is and Is Not Allowed

As most of my readers will know, I very rarely speak about children in Ballroom Bitch. My reluctance to speak about kids in DanceSport is driven by a number of factors, not the least of which being that the content on this site isn’t exactly child appropriate. However, the increasing number of little girls in wildly inappropriate costumes has prompted me to address one of the most under-discussed topics in American DanceSport: Costuming Rules.

As a dancer, I love our over-the-top and overtly provocative costumes. However, I am absolutely sick of seeing little girls (i.e. under 16) dressed like pocket-sized prosti-tots on Facebook, Instragram, and YouTube when we all know damn well those costumes would get them immediately disqualified from competition. I would even venture to argue that these costumes (not to mention the patterns outside of their competition level!) alienate parents from getting their children involved in DanceSport. Even as a dancer myself, I would NOT allow my hypothetical daughter to wear these costumes or dance the provocative patterns I am starting to see become popular on social media. So, for those of you with kids in the sport, or interested in getting into the sport, I want to dive into the actual costuming rules for children competing in the juvenile categories (under 13).

Unlike what social media would lead you to believe, DanceSport’s governing body has pretty strict rules on what child competitors can and cannot wear on the competition floor. And unlike their youth and adult counterparts, the guidelines are pretty darn conservative!

Girls’ Dress Code:
First and foremost, many of the cutouts we are seeing online are NOT allowed! The dress bodice may not include any cutouts or illusions thereof. Further, any transparent fabric must be lined with an opaque fabric in the same color, except on the sleeves. This means there will be no mistaking that these little ones are fully covered.

In addition, necklines must not be lower than the top of child’s armpit and lined sleeves must extend to at least the shoulder line (i.e. no décolletage and no spaghetti/tank straps). To be safe, order a dress with short, cap, long, or elbow sleeves. Sleeveless dresses are typically not allowed. Likewise, open backs are prohibited for juvenile competitors. However, dresses may have a keyhole back, provided it does not extend below the top of the child’s armpit.

Short skirts are also not permitted. Skirts may not exceed 10cm above the knee, and most competitions require skirts to be knee-length. Likewise, skirts must not be longer than below the kneecap for WDSF. However, the British Dance Council (BDC) (which sets the example for most comps) allows dancers competing Standard to wear skirts up to 5cm above their ankle sock (yes, juvenile competitors must wear ankle socks with their shoes – we’ll get to that).

In addition to regulations on skirt length, there are firm guidelines for skirt construction. As you might expect, sheer material is not allowed and skirts must be made from a single material. Any panels must extend the full length of the dress, so godets are out. Additionally, juveniles are not allowed to have frills, boning, or fishing line inside the hem of their skirt. The BDC allows wire in the hem, but I would recommend avoiding it, as some competitions do not allow it. However, up to two underskirts and up to 8cm of crinoline (aka horsehair) is allowed in the hem, but they may not be exposed!

No jewelry, aside from personal/religious items (i.e. a crucifix) is allowed in the juvenile category. Earrings must be simple (i.e. small studs). Further, headbands, neckbands, and armbands are not permitted. Likewise dresses are not allowed to have ANY stoning! 

Finally, children must wear a block heel no higher than 3.5cm, which means no stilettos for these little ladies! Also, girls must wear white ankle socks with their shoes.

There are additional detailed guidelines for girls’ costumes that you can access here and here, depending on your governing body, but the rules outlined above should give you a general idea for how your child’s dress should look.

Boys’ Dress Code:
Because boys’ costumes are generally simpler, their rules are also more straightforward.

All boys must wear black block trousers (no velvet or velour), and black satin is only permitted at the waistband and for full-length stripes.

White long-sleeved shirts are required, with the neckline not extending below the top of the child’s armpit. The shirt must be tucked into the trousers. Sheer fabric, wing collars, and shiny material are not permitted. Sleeves may not be rolled and no detail is allowed on the shirt. Cufflinks are allowed.

All male juvenile competitors must wear a black tie (bowtie or regular) and black leather (or similar material) belt. No decorative belt buckles are permitted.

Boys must wear black leather, patent, or nubuck shoes.

As you can see, these rules set a pretty conservative group of standards for how child competitors can dress at competitions, and I think rightfully so! Before you order costumes for your child, be sure to check out these links from the British Dance Council to get an idea of how your little competitor should dress: Rules and Photo Appendix. Additionally, make sure you speak with your child’s coach, and most importantly, review the specific rules for your selected competition(s) before you arrive. You can also check out these videos to see how acceptably-dressed child competitors look in action: Standard and Latin.

Hopefully this helps clarify some of the more confusing aspects of costuming rules for juveniles (under 13s) in DanceSport and helps people feel relieved about the appropriateness of costuming. Keep an eye out for a few more posts on issues related to Under 18 competitors coming up soon!

Monday, January 29, 2018

How to Make Rhinestoned/Crystal Dance Shoes

Rhinestoned shoes have become increasingly popular among DanceSport competitors over the past couple of years. Admittedly, I was hesitant at first, because while they are undeniably fabulous, sparkly shoes do draw extra attention to your footwork, which leaves added room for critique. However, as rhinestoned, dyed, and otherwise decorated shoes have become more common, I eventually jumped onto the bandwagon. Despite their increasing popularity, however, I have found it fairly difficult to purchase a pair of pre-stoned shoes. If you want something simple (i.e. a few lines of Crystal AB) you can pick up a pair of shoes from almost any company you like. However, if you want heavily stoned shoes, shoes in a specific color (i.e. anything other than plain Crystal or maybe Crystal AB, if you’re lucky), or a cool pattern, you’re probably SOL when it comes to purchasing a pair. The exception to this is Aida, who do offer a custom stoning service; however, when I reached out to them about a pair, I never received a response (apparently they don’t need the business…). Anyway, the point is, if you want sparkly shoes, you’re probably going to need to do it yourself, and this post will walk you through the step-by-step of how to accomplish that.

Here’s what you’ll need:
25-30 Gross of Stones (if you want to cover the entire shoe)
Tinfoil or a Plastic Palette
Small Synthetic Paintbrush (you may want more than one)
A Pen or Eyeliner Pencil
E6000 (optional – if you want to stone your heel protectors or if your shoes aren’t fabric)
Heel Protectors (optional)

Let’s talk about the stones…
You’ll want to use a minimum of two different sizes, but three or more is ideal. I personally recommend using SS16, SS12, and SS8. Also, while Swarovski is generally regarded as the industry standard, I would recommend using a less-expensive (but equally shiny!) alternative like Preciosa or STAR BRIGHT since the shoes won’t have any resale value once you wear them.

Now that you have all of your materials, we can get started (I recommend reading all of the steps before you actually begin):

Step 1:
Choose your design and map it out with our pen or eyeliner. Personally, I wanted to cover the entire shoe (for both pairs pictured), so I skipped this step. You can check out this post for more details on drawing a design pre-stoning.

Step 2:
Pour GemTac onto your tinfoil or plastic palette. NEVER use GemTac out of the nozzle – it comes out too fast and you can’t control it. Instead, use your synthetic paintbrush to paint a small area with a generous, but not excessive, amount of GemTac. As I mentioned in my previous post about stoning, you want to make sure a little bit of glue comes around the edges of each stone. I recommend being a bit more generous with glue when you’re shoes, as you’ll want to ensure a strong hold. The glue dries clear, so don’t worry about it showing on the finished product.

Step 3:
Using your Crystal Katana place your rhinestone onto the shoe and press firmly into place. Repeat this process throughout your entire shoe. KEEP IN MIND, you need to put the heel protectors on BEFORE you start stoning, if you plan to use heel protectors. DO NOT stone your heel protectors using GemTac (it won’t stick!). – we’ll get to that later. Check out the next step for how to stone the straps…

Step 4:
For straps and strappy areas (such as the vamp pictured above), you’ll probably want to use a combination of SS12 and SS16, as those together general cover the strap perfectly. I tend to alternate the sizes, which you can kind of see in the photo below. BEFORE you begin placing the stones onto the straps, use a pen or eyeliner to mark the areas you need to leave stone-free for your buckle and any sliding mechanisms. Don’t worry that these won’t match the rest of the shoe – no one is going to notice and you need these areas to function properly. To measure how much strap to leave, I recommend buckling the shoe on your foot and giving yourself an extra notch or two beyond what you typically need (feet tend to vary a bit due to swelling, so it’d be a shame not to have flexibility in your newly-stoned shoes!). Once you’ve got the areas marked, you can continue stoning as described in Steps 2 and 3.

Step 5 (optional):
I’ve you’ve chosen to use heel protectors (which I did, since I’ll mostly be using my shoes for practice rather than competing), you’ll want to switch from GemTac to E6000, as the GemTac won’t stick to plastic. Using the same paintbrush process, paint the E6000 onto the heel protectors and press the stones into place. I recommend against using E6000 all over the shoe (unless your shoes are leather or patent), because it’s a gooey, stringy mess.

Step 6:
Let dry for at least 48 hours before wearing. I let both of my pairs dry for 3-4 days before wearing, but you’d probably be good to go in 48 hours.

While stoning shoes looks like a big project, it’s actually remarkably easy. If you’re willing to put in an hour or two every night for 3-5 days, you’ll have no problem making your very own pair of rhinestoned dance shoes. I recommend working in small sections (i.e. just the vamp, just the straps, etc.) and letting each section dry overnight before moving on, as you’ll need to eventually hold the shoe in places you’ve already stoned and you don’t want to move the stones if the glue is still wet.

In my red pair pictured throughout the post I used STAR BRIGHT crystals in Light Siam. The other pair uses Preciosa stones in Crystal Honey. 

Good luck with your stoning projects and feel free to email me with any questions! Also, keep an eye out, as Ballroom Bitch may be adding a shoe-stoning service in the future, for those of you who don’t feel crafty enough to take on the project yourself – again, feel free to email me with any inquiries! Tag us on Instagram with your stoned shoes and let us know how your project went!

Monday, June 12, 2017

Ballroom Dress on a Budget: Swarovski vs. Preciosa vs. STAR BRIGHT

If you’ve been keeping up with my recent posts, you’ve probably noticed that I’ve recently spent a lot of time talking about what you should expect to spend on a ballroom dress, where the money goes, and how to save on a top-quality dress. In this post, I want to focus on one of the most expensive components of a dancesport dress: stones!

One of the most expensive parts of a dress can be the stoning, especially if you’re having your designer stone the dress for you. When you have a designer do the stone work for you, cost adds up quickly since the designers not only charge for labor, but most designers work exclusively with Swarovski and they tend to add some mark-up to the price-per-stone/gross in addition to their labor rate. Thus, one of the best ways to get a top-quality dress on a budget is to do the stoning yourself!

Doing the stoning yourself isn’t as daunting as it may seem, and I’ve already done a post on the basic step-by-step process for adding crystals to a dance dress. Plus, if you’re willing to attach the crystals yourself, you have more options for which crystals you want to use, which means you can save more money!

Even though most designers refuse to work with any stones other than Swarovski, there are actually three brands of crystals I would whole-heartedly recommend for any ballroom dress. While Swarovski is my favorite, as it often helps achieve a higher resale value on the dress, they come with a high price tag that is not longer justified by quality. Though Swarovski’s quality used to be unparalleled in the world of flatback crystals, there are now two other brands that I think are comparable: Preciosa and STAR BRIGHT.

Undeniably, Swarovski is the gold standard for decorative crystals in DanceSport. While I do love Swarovski, and use them on most of my own dresses, the reality is that a lot of Swarovski’s high price tag is simply good marketing. Thus, if you’re trying to get a high-quality gown on a tight budget, I strongly advise looking into using either Preciosa or STAR BRIGHT. Since Swarovski patents various aspects of their crystal-making process, there are slight differences between Swarovski, Preciosa, and STAR BRIGHT, though I think considering the price difference these differences are negligible. So what are the differences and how much less expensive are Preciosa and STAR BRIGHT?

First, let’s start with the price difference:
All the prices listed are for 1 Gross (144 pack) of SS12 Crystal AB stones -
Swarovski: $3.44 to $4.89+
Preciosa: $2.63 to $3.89+

The price varies some based on retailer, stone size, and color. However, Preciosa and STAR BRIGHT are always less expensive than Swarovski. While a price difference of around $1 doesn’t sound like much, when you consider that most Ballroom and Latin dresses have over 50 gross of stones, the price difference adds up quickly. This becomes especially true when you take into account that if you have a designer/seamstress stone your costume you’ll only be able to use Swarovski and you will be paying far above wholesale for each gross.

Other than price, what are the other differences?

Price aside, one of the primary differences between Swarovski and competitors is the specific cut of flatback stones. Since most companies trademark the specific cutting technique, or at least patent their cutting machines, the cut varies slightly between companies. That being said, I personally don’t see a huge difference in brilliance (shine quality) between the different cuts (except maybe with jewelry). 
Left to Right: STAR BRIGHT, Swarovski, Preciosa
While there can be some variations in color, the colors are pretty comparable in general. While I wouldn’t recommend replacing Swarovski stones on an existing dress with Preciosa or STAR BRIGHT, as it may look inconsistent, there’s no issue with the colors in Preciosa or STAR BRIGHT. In my opinion, the colors are equally vivid and often match exactly. That being said, Swarovski has a wider range of colors and special finishes.

In my opinion, ballroom dresses should always include some AB or Shimmer effect stones. While the AB coating often alters the original color of the stone, the coating really kicks the shimmer up a notch. However, not all AB coatings are created equally. This doesn’t necessarily mean one coating is worse than another – they’re just different. AB effect is created by putting a thin layer of a metallic coating (originally gold) over the stone to create extra shine. The variance in AB stones between brands generally has to do with how much coating is put on the stone. Swarovski tend to use a pretty thick coating, which STAR BRIGHT also does, which makes STAR BRIGHT AB stones a better dupe for Swarovski than Preciosa. Preciosa, on the other hand, use a thinner coating, so with Preciosa you tend to get an effect more similar to Swarovski’s Shimmer Effect stones rather than Swarovski’s AB stones. All this being said, I want to reiterate that the difference between AB aren’t bad, they’re just different.
Right: Swarovski
At the end of the day, if you’re trying to save money on your dress, I’d use either START BRIGHT or Preciosa stones. Realistically, I think the biggest thing you’re paying for with Swarovski is the name. I’ve got dresses with both Swarovski and Preciosa (STAR BRIGHT wasn’t released at the time) and not a single person was able to tell that the stones weren’t Swarovski. Likewise, people who argue that Preciosa and STAR BRIGHT don’t stick to the fabric as well as Swarovski are, frankly, full of shit. If you use the proper glue and proper gluing technique, the stones stick just fine! When it comes to deciding if you want to use Preciosa or STAR BRIGHT, I’d order color cards for both, so you can see in person which colors you prefer – especially if you’re looking at using AB stones. And if you’re happy with the colors from both companies, I’d go with whichever brand is less expensive.

Another thing to keep in mind when you’re trying to save money on a dress is it’s important to shop around for stone prices. Always buy from a certified reseller, as you want to make sure you’re getting authentic stones at a good price. STAR BRIGHT Austrian crystals are sold exclusively through Har-Man Importing Corp., so you can rest assured that you’re getting authentic STAR BRIGHT stones at the best price through them. While they typically don’t sell to the public, if you’re interested in buying STAR BRIGHT crystals, you can drop a line to Alisa, the company’s owner here, and if you mention that Ballroom Bitch sent you, she’ll be more than happy to help you out. Preciosa can be purchased through a number of online retailers, including Har-Man, so as long as you ensure your retailer is a recognized Preciosa reseller, you're good to go. Regardless of which brand you choose, never buy your stones from Amazon, eBay, or similar retailers, as they are not certified distributers, so there’s a good chance you’ll be paying a premium for fake stones.

*I have not been compensated for for this review/post. Har-Man Importing Corp. did provide sample stones for the purpose of review.