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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. For those of you who have already decided that you're ready to dive into the investment involved in becoming a DanceSport family or for those of you still interested in learning more before you decide, I'll be posting an interview with the President of Ukraine's (read: the best) DanceSport Federation where we discuss what you need to look for when selecting a studio for your child soon! He's trained multiple Ukrainian Champions himself, so he'll know exactly what you need to look for when trying to select the best teacher for your child.

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!

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

10 Rules for Making Social Dancing More Pleasant

Throughout my years of being involved in the ballroom dance community I have come to realize that social dancing is a divisive topic. Regardless of competitive level, dancers seem to have strong opinions on social dancing, with some dancers dismissing social dancing entirely, while other dancers can’t get enough. In all honesty, I very rarely social dance. When I first began my DanceSport journey I was more open to social dancing and I routinely went to local dance events. As I became a better dancer and more interested in competition and performing, my interest in social dancing waned, which lead me to only attend social events within my own studio, and ultimately I stopped social dancing entirely. Recently, however, I attended a number of social events as a means to a) distract myself from some personal bullshit and b) to convince myself that I’ve had enough exercise to avoid my daily hour on the treadmill. These recent social dancing adventures have lead me to the realization that social dancing would be a far more pleasant experience if everyone had a crash course in dance etiquette. In other words, I’ve realized that I don’t hate social dancing – I just hate assholes.

While it seems like a lot of social danced etiquette should be obvious, that doesn’t seem to be the case, so I’ve devised the Ballroom Bitch Guide On Social Dancing:

1. “Yes, Yes, Yes!” A good rule of thumb is to realize that in social dance circles it’s incredibly rude to turn down a dance when someone asks you. There are, of course, situations in which you may have a valid reason to turn someone down – if you have one of those situations then you should never dance with someone else for that dance. In other words, if you turn down a dance, you’re benched until the next round.

2. Respect the line of dance! One of my (and many others’) pet peeves is a leader who goes against the line of dance. The GENTLEMAN’S job is to lead his partner safely and respectfully through the minefield of other dancers, which means it’s vitally important that the leader respects the line of dance. In addition to avoiding collisions, following the line of dance demonstrates that you respect the other couples around you. Put simply, you’re a total asshole if you don’t respect the line of dance. If you’re unsure about the line(s) of dance, here’s a chart that explains where you should and shouldn’t dance.

3. Never insult or teach a partner! People don’t go social dancing to get feedback on their dance abilities, and frankly, you’re probably not qualified to give feedback. Social dancing is meant to be a fun opportunity to practice skills with a verity of partners, all of whom dance at different levels. Your job as a partner is to be encouraging. If you can't manage to say something encouraging don't say anything at all. In other words, shut the fuck up and leave the critiquing to the professionals.

4. Be prepared to share! If you bring a date to a social dance you need to be prepared to share. Dancing only with your date is a huge faux pas and a major insult to the other dancers at a social event. We get that you’re probably aiming to get laid at the end of the night, but that’s really not our problem. If you’re not OK dancing with someone other than your date, then a social dance isn’t the place for you.

5. Gentlemen, don’t hold a lady’s wrist/forearm in lieu of her hand! This is just insulting! Holding a lady’s hand or forearm is a teaching technique, and since you’re not a teacher and she’s not your student you’re being a dick by not respecting her enough to dance in a proper hold. If she can’t keep up with your lead, you should tone your steps down for that particular partner.

6. Don't stop mid-dance. Unless you’re injured, it’s incredibly rude to give up on your partner mid-dance. I’ve only seen this a couple of times, but giving up on someone because you don’t dance well together is hurtful and uncalled for. At max, you’re giving up 3 minutes of your life, so don’t be an asshole and quit halfway though.

7. Be aware! This sort of goes with respecting the movement of other dancers, but it applies to both ladies and gentlemen. Gentlemen, in addition to following the line of dance, be aware of where you are leading and don’t cut other couples off. Ladies, your lead can’t see everything, so try to keep an eye out and give him a subtle signal if he’s about to cause a collision.

8. Avoid crazy arms. I get that everyone wants to look like a ballroom superstar, but social dances often aren’t the place to show off your wicked arm styling. Scan the environment to see if there’s space before you whip out your sickest arm styling. If there’s room, feel free to go for it. However, social dances tend to be crowded, so the chances of you accidentally slapping someone are pretty high. If things seem crowded, save your skills for lessons, personal practice, etc.

9. Leave the floor if you don’t want to dance. This rule is especially for the gentlemen out there who opt to socialize rather than dance. Often, women far out number men at social dances, which makes it rude for guys to mill around the floor without dancing. I totally understand and respect that you might need a break or might not know a dance, but if that’s the case, you should step away from the floor until that dance is over. Simply milling around subtly sends the message that the available women aren’t good enough for you. That said, ladies should also follow this rule. If there's a dance your don't know/don't like and you want to avoid it, try step away from the floor before someone asks you to dance. 

10. Don’t be a letch. While it is possible to meet the love of your live at a social dance, finding a mate isn’t most people’s goal when they go social dancing. While it’s perfectly fine to ask an attractive partner to grab a drink, don’t be a creep about it. Save your best come-on moves for the club or another situation. And don’t get your jollies by being inappropriate on the floor. Respect that people go to social dances to have fun and practice their skills, not to lock down a lay.

I’m sure I’ve missed some rules that could help improve social dances, but hopefully these 10 give you a good start. The main thing to keep in mind is that people go social dancing to have fun, so as a participant it’s your responsibility to respect that and be kind, welcoming, and encouraging. As long as you act like a reasonably decent person, you should be good. If you have any other rules that you think could make social dancing a more pleasant experience sound off in the comments below!