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Wednesday, June 18, 2014

The Difference Between International and American Style Dresses

In my last post, I mentioned that before you buy a new ballroom dress it’s important to know which style of ballroom you dance, American or International, as there can be some pretty major differences between American and International style dresses.  Also, it’s important to keep in mind that the region in which you live isn’t always indicative of which style you dance, so if you’re not 100 percent sure, head over to my post explaining the style differences to help you figure out syllabus you follow. In this post I’ll give you a run-down of how to tell the difference between an International and American style dresses, and try to explain why these differences exist.

The most noticeable differences between the two styles and their respective dress designs are between the dress styles of International Standard and American Smooth. As mentioned in my post explaining the differences between American and International styles, International Standard is danced using closed figures exclusively, while American Smooth includes both closed and open figures (i.e. any figure not danced in frame) which is the primary reason for the differences in dress styles.

Perhaps the most noticeable difference between International Standard dresses and American Smooth dresses are floats, or the lack thereof. For those of you who don’t know, floats are bits of fabric (or feathers, beading, etc.) that hang from the sleeves of an International Standard dress like wings. Because International Standard is danced using only closed positions, floats create a bit of movement otherwise missing in the upper portion of the body; they’re great for adding softness and making the upper potion of the body a bit more interesting. However, floats aren’t so great for American Smooth dancers, due to the open patterns included in American Smooth. The open patterns included in American Smooth make floats a hazard for entanglement, as it’s easy for both the female and her partner to become wrapped up in the floats. Additionally, because American Smooth includes open patterns, there is more upper body movement, which means you don’t really need the added movement floats provide.

Another notable difference between American Smooth and International Standard gowns is the size, shape, and design details of the skirt. Similar to the case with floats, the open positions in American Smooth provide a better opportunity for skirt movement, as the frequent turns give more opportunities to generate wind/momentum to move the skirt a bit, which means slimmer, less voluminous skirts work well for American Smooth. Additionally, since American Smooth includes more open movements, you’re more likely to see skirts with slits up the side, as this help increase mobility. Conversely, International Standard dresses tend to be much fuller, including many layers of underskirts, which help create more movement while dancing closed positions; as such, the skirts tend to be much wider, and never include slits.

Another design difference between American Smooth and International Standard dresses is the overall sex-appeal of the dress. American Smooth dresses tend to be a bit more revealing (think Latin inspired) than International Standard dresses. Again, the reasoning for this comes from the inclusion of open positions in Smooth. Because you virtually never see the front of the dress while dancing International Standard, Standard dresses tend to have higher backs and lack the cutouts that are popular in American Smooth dresses. Essentially, if you’re going to have a highly-crystalized dress, you want the audience and judges to see the decoration, and if you’re dancing only closed positions, you need to include decorations on the back, which means higher backs and less cutouts. In American Smooth, however, the open positions make the front of the dress frequently visible, so it’s less important for the back of the dress to be highly decorated.

Left: International Standard
Right: American Smooth

Unfortunately, the differences between International Latin and American Rhythm aren’t quite as distinct, and sometimes it’s tough to tell the differences. In most cases, you’ll probably be OK wearing a Latin dress for Rhythm, or vice versa, but if you’re worried there are a few subtle differences to keep in mind. Rhythm dresses are sometimes a bit more revealing than Latin dresses – not that the sex appeal of Latin dresses is anything to scoff at. Also, Latin dresses tend to be a bit longer than Rhythm dresses, and/or include an asymmetrical hem with one long side and one short side. That said, these aren’t hard and fast rules, and there tends to be a lot of cross over. If you’re concerned that a dress is too Latin or too Rhythm, run it past your instructor and they’ll let you know, but in most cases you can get away with wearing an International style dress for Rhythm or an American style dress for Latin (just remember this isn’t the case for Standard and Smooth!).

Just remember, anytime you question the appropriateness of a dress, show a photo to your instructor. Also feel free to comment below with a link to the dress and/or email me, and I’ll be happy to help you out.

13 comments:

  1. I dance American Smooth but love the fullness of the International gowns! I make my own costumes because I can't afford to pay thousands on a dress. I am tall - 5'8" w/o shoes, so some of those American Smooth dresses look skimpy on me When looking at dresses on websites, there is no mention of whether they are American or International..

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    1. You’re correct, many dress retailers do not mention if the dress is for American Smooth or International Standard, but there is a difference between the two dress styles – I assume most retailers probably assume most of their clients already know the difference between the two dress styles. That said, some retailers, Doré for example, do differentiate between the dress styles. Likely another reason some sites don’t note if the dress is American or International styles is because American style is not widely danced outside of North America, so many international retailers may not have American style dresses readily available.

      In regards to American Smooth dresses being too skimpy due to your height, I can’t understand that. I’m around 5’8’’/5’9’’ and I have no problem with American Smooth dresses being too skimpy based on my height. While I know both styles, I dance primarily International, but I have worn American style dresses in the past when performing American Smooth, and I’ve had no problem with dresses looking too skimpy because of my height. If you’re uncomfortable with a skimpy dress, that’s a different issue, but don’t use your height as an excuse; if you want to wear a skimpy dress, you should, regardless of your height. Keep in mind that American Smooth dresses are not shorter than International Standard dresses; the skirt should still be about ankle length. The big difference, as mentioned in this post, are the more frequent appearance of large cutouts in the bodice, lower backs, and slimmer skirts, as well as an increased frequency of high slits in the skirts – overall, American style dresses tend to be a bit more revealing, but they don’t have to be. A good way to think of American Smooth dresses is as a fusion of Latin and Standard dresses, as American Smooth itself is somewhat a fusion of Latin and Standard (that’s why International Ten Dance competitors make such amazing American Smooth competitors when they move stateside). I really encourage you to check out my Pinterest boards, as I think that will help you get a better feel for American Smooth dresses that you may find flattering. Also, just keep in mind these aren’t hard and fast rules – there’s nothing that says you can’t have a fuller skirt in American Style, it’s just that the slimmer skirts are typically more flattering for American style dancing.

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  2. I'm all new to this and this was one of the clearest comparisons I've read. About to buy my first American Smooth competition dress(es) and in a bit of a panic. Thank you!

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    1. No need to panic! This should be fun! Feel free to email me if you want some help with the process. Also, your coach and other experienced dancers around your studio can probably offer you a lot of help. Good luck!

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  3. Wow. So glad I found this when I did, as I'm days away from ordering my first dress, and I think the one I had picked out is way more Standard than Smooth. Thank you for such a clear and concise comparison. Off to find a better option for Smooth!

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    1. I'm glad you found it helpful, Amanda! Recently, trends have started moving towards fuller skirts showing up in Smooth as well! I still don't think they're as full as Standard, but they're fuller than they used to be. You'll be pretty safe going with either at this point, but I still personally prefer the slimmer skirts in Smooth. I also think slimmer skirts will stay in fashion longer, because that's historically been the style. It's all about personal preference and what makes you feel comfortable. The only hard and fast rule with Smooth dresses is to avoid floats. Good luck finding your new dress! I hope you love it!

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  4. It was very helpful. First I never knew there were differences until I noticed that dresses on You Tube I was watching had so much less fullness than the one I rented. I thought that was the current style and mine was outdated. Glad to find this website!

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    1. I'm glad you found this helpful! There's definitely a difference in the volume between American and International style skirts, with many American skits having less fullness. That said, I have noticed that some American style dancers are starting to have fuller skirts, but this trend hasn't made its way up to the top level Smooth dancers.

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  5. Great information! I'm wondering if there is a standard distance from the floor for an American smooth address? I have a dress but it's too long and I need to get it hemmed, and I'm not sure exactly how much. From what I understand it should be at about ankle height when wearing my dance shoes. Thanks for any help!

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    1. Hi Karen! Yes, ankle length is standard for both American and International styles. Any longer and you'll trip over it. I think a shorter hem would look funny on an American-style dress. I like to hem my dresses directly at the center of my ankle bone - some people like them just above, but I think centered over the bone looks nicer.

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  6. Are floats in American smooth an absolute "no?"

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    1. In my opinion, they should be an absolute no. While I have seen people wear floats while competing American Smooth, they almost always get themselves tangled in the floats (which means they're going to score lower). If you have floats on your dress and you dance Smooth, you WILL find yourself tangled in your floats at some point. Because Smooth incorporates open steps, you can't do many steps with floats, particularly as you advance into higher levels. In addition to the issue of floats just not working with open steps, I worry about how the judges perceive floats. There is a "uniform" of sorts for DanceSport and the various styles within - I think it's important to wear the appropriate "uniform" out of respect, and I know most judges share that opinion. If you're dead set on having floats, I'd recommend looking into detachable options; many floats are attached to gloves rather than the dress itself, so that may be a good option for you.

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