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Friday, September 9, 2016

Tattoos in DanceSport

We’ve talked a lot in the past about the appropriate ballroom “uniform” and what it takes to look the part. There’s an undeniable distinctive look to which most ballroom dancers conform, and the degree to which you conform to that look can affect your scores. It’s controversial and it’s a topic most people want to avoid, but it is an unspoken reality of which all dancers need to be aware. One of the most controversial topics in DanceSport is tattoos. While tattoos are becoming more commonly accepted in general, that hasn’t yet extended to DanceSport. If you pay attention, you almost never see high-level competitors with visible tattoos. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a top-tier competitor with a tattoo! That’s not to say dancers don’t have their fair share of tats (in fact, I know one professional with a full sleeve), but they keep them covered.

The reason why dancers keep their tattoos covered is pretty controversial, as I mentioned above. Most judges despise tattoos and even judge couples with tattoos lower than their competitors regardless of their ability! I know this isn’t fair, but it is the reality. I don’t know exactly why judges hate tattoos, but I do have a few ideas. First, I think tattoos can be distracting. Much like decorated shoes, tattoos may draw the judge’s attention away from your dancing, which could lead to lower marks. More likely, however, I think it has to do with conforming to the look. Ballroom has a fairly clean-cut look and tattoos don’t fit with that, so it sort of goes back to wearing the uniform for the sport you’re in, and that definitely matters to the judges.

Judges themselves are pretty open about their distain for tattoos and other body art. One judge openly admitted that “they all hate them” and routinely bitch and moan between themselves about competitors with body art during comps. Further, one competitor remembers causally chatting with a judge following a competition, who after noticing her tattoo jested “good thing I didn’t see that earlier when you were dancing.”  While she may have been joking, there’s probably some truth in her statement.

Realistically, judging dance is somewhat subjective and involves evaluating more that just syllabus fluency. In addition to syllabus fluency, judges are also evaluating for interpretation of the dance, styling, and overall performance. This is especially true as you progress into higher levels of competition. In other words, sometimes who places where depends as much on the judges’ personal tastes/preferences as the dancers’ ability. Think of world-class couples like Yulia and Riccardo compared to Joanna and Michael; both couples have comparative talent, so often the competition winner comes down to which couple the judges prefer on that particular day. Thus, your look matters just as much as your dance ability. And if you’re dancing is on par with another couple without tattoos, the judges may prefer watching them. It’s not politically correct, but it’s the reality.

Luckily, there’s a relatively easy solution to this problem (if you’re willing to compromise!). Covering your tattoos is an easy solution to preventing them from biasing your results at competition. This could mean selecting costumes that cover your tattoo or simply applying body makeup over your tattoo. If you opt to take the makeup route, Kat Von D makes a high-coverage concealer specifically designed to cover tattoos. Similarly, DERMABLEND has two concealers specifically designed to cover tattoos. You can check them out here and here.

Like I said, it may not be a pleasant reality, but it’s important to know. While you may love your tattoos, when its time to compete you have to evaluate if showing your tats is worth lowering your score, especially after you’ve invested time and money into costuming, make up, lessons, coaching, and entry fees. In my opinion, it would be worth covering them, but that’s something only you can decide.

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