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Monday, March 25, 2019

Finding a Studio and Teacher For Your Child

In my last post I wrote about things you should consider before you commit to becoming a ballroom family. I mentioned that understanding the goals you and your child have for his/her dancing, and your child's commitment to said goals, is one of the most important components of understanding if you want to be a ballroom family, and if so, what type of family you want to be. Without knowing your goals, it can be difficult to select the right studio and instructor for your child. If you are still unsure, I would recommend starting at a competitive studio. The more involved you become, the more likely you and your child are to want to become competitive, so best to start out on the right foot. 

Regardless of the decision you've made, you are probably curious about how to select the best studio/instructor for your child. Keep in mind there is no sure-fire formula for choosing the right studio. In the United States, geographic location might be a determining factor over which studio you select. However, if you've got options, ask yourself these questions as you browse studios, as they are helpful when you're just getting started.

What is their competitive record?
Something you will want to keep in mind when selecting an instructor for your child is that the instructor’s personal competition history isn’t super important. While having some credentials is important, knowing how their students have preformed in the past is a better indicator of success. The saying is "he who can do, does; he who cannot, teaches," however it is important to remember that not all those who can do make good teachers. In other words, being a great competitor does not indicate that you are a great instructor. Remember that just because you’ve found a teacher with a great personal competition record doesn’t necessarily mean that/he she can successfully mold his/her students into top competitors.

Do They Push Pro-Am?
I want to be clear that I have no problem with pro-am.  Pro-am is a spectacular option for many teens and adults looking to get into DanceSport. However, I do not think pro-am is a good choice for young children. Making sure you child learns the syllabus on his/her own is an important part of becoming a strong competitor, and I know painfully few pro-am amateur dancers who can dance any steps, let alone the entire syllabus, on their own. Plus, the height difference is ridiculous and teaches bad form. If the studio only wants your child to dance pro-am with an adult, they are probably out to make money, not strong dancers. This doesn’t mean that pro-am studios can’t produce champions – I have seen it done regularly. The secret is not pushing the children to dance pro-am. If your local studio doesn’t have kids classes, but they have strong teachers, try finding an age-appropriate partner for your child. Having a partner for your child makes the private lessons more effective than a pro-am setup, in my opinion. This is usually not true for adults. Until you can find your child a suitable partner, you might want to ask the instructor to work on teaching your child to dance the syllabus alone and learn technique. Each teacher will have his/her own lesson plan, and that’s totally fine; listen to your teacher. However, I recommend against paying for pro-am comps and showcases for under-12s, at least early on, if your goal is to be a competitor. 

Do They Play Favorites?
Often, studios will become more serious about offering kids’ classes when the studio owner’s own child reaches dancing age. Although studios may offer group classes or discounted private lessons for under-18s, American studios frequently get more serious about their kids’ classes once the owner has a kid of his/her own. Usually, this is great, because the quality and frequency of classes often improves since the owner is more personally invested. However, do keep your eye out for fairness. While it is extremely rare, I have seen studio owners sabotage other kids when their child dances in the same category. For example, they refuse to help other children with hairstyles, dresses, and pay less attention to them during classes. Again, this is rare, but you’ll want to be aware that this can happen. Every child dances at a different level and has a different level of natural talent, so I would not necessarily be worried if personalized instruction is not spread equally thought the class. However, if the owner’s child gets all of the attention and you see that other children are left behind, that’s probably not a great sign. Use your best judgment: your child shouldn’t be the class pet, but they also shouldn’t be neglected.

How Does the Instructor Speak to Children?
Much like the above suggestion, this recommendation might take you some time to observe after you’ve signed your child up for lessons. Although most studios do not allow parents to sit in on lessons (it's often too distracting), you should be able to see enough of the lessons to see how the instructor treats your kids(s). While you don’t want a bullshitter who only provides positive feedback, you also don’t want an asshole. Teachers should be firm, but kind. Telling your child when he/she is wrong and sometimes scolding them is appropriate and necessary. Name-calling, screaming, and demeaning is not. You child needs thick skin to be great, so don’t freak out if he/she receives negative feedback. However, if the instructor bullies any child in the class, it is time to find a new instructor.

Keep in mind that many European teachers primarily taught children before relocating to the United States, so they know what they’re doing. Aside from making sure children are being treated appropriately, themost important thing is trust your child’s instructor. They know what’s best for your child, so always consider their advice seriously. Good teachers with proven competitive records usually have your child’s best interest at heart, so trust their advice and direction.

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!