Monthly Archives: June 2012

For the dads.

I want to write about two outstanding fathers – my own father, and the father of one of my students. First, the latter.

This week I got to coach a kids’ ballroom team – if you’ve seen Mad Hot Ballroom, this is exactly that. They had a 10-week program  that culminated in a semi-final for their area of the school district, which they won, but then there was a several week hiatus between the semi and the actual city-wide final. And since the funding for the program only ran for 10 weeks, it fell entirely on the shoulders of their classroom teacher to get them ready. He is a truly wonderful guy, and also happens to be the dad of one of my little students. He came to me and asked if I could help out, and I was like, WHERE DO I SIGN UP. I would have done it for free.

(Side note: Although, now, I think maybe I did? Because I was under the impression there was going to be some money but it kind of never materialized and I’m not going to hustle a fifth-grade public school teacher for a check. But I did have to get up crazy early and drive about an hour each way to go do this. Again, also fine. Totally worth it. But it was a good lesson in what my father calls ‘clarify this shit in advance or just fucking volunteer’. See where I get my vocabulary?)

Anyway, it was ridiculous fun and the kids were fantastic; they were excellent little dancers for only having had ten weeks of instruction and they were so committed. They also asked GREAT questions – one kid was all, hey, I noticed that you kind of widened your arms out when you went into promenade, should we do that? And another kid was like, hey, how high up should my hand be when I do this thing?

And the best moment was this: we were in a circle at the very end and I was telling them about competitions.

“Listen, you guys, competitions are crazy,” I said. “You’re being compared to whoever is there that day. You could dance your very best, and if the greatest dancers in the world show up, you lose. You could dance really badly, and if everybody else that day is terrible, you win. You’re being compared to whoever showed up that day, that’s all. What is important is coming off the floor and knowing you danced the best you could and that you did everything you could for your partner. That’s all.”

One boy, who is tall for his age, quiet and pretty reserved, but has just the sweetest smile, kind of shuffled his feet and raised his hand.

“What is it, buddy?” I said.

“I just feel like I get kind of nervous? Sometimes? And I get this kind of feeling in my stomach, and, I don’t know, it’s just kind of weird?”

“I know it!” I said. “Do any of the rest of you get nervous?”

All the kids nodded their heads and laughed a little bit and looked at their partners.

“Me too,” I said. “But you know what? That’s okay! It’s actually kind of a good thing. It means you really care about what you’re doing. If you didn’t care, you wouldn’t be nervous at all!”

So we practiced taking a deep breath and stretching and having a super silly five second dance party and we all agreed that that was probably the best thing to do.

Anyway, so this teacher – he gets up super early to come work with these kids before school to help them get ready for their competition, and he teaches a full day in public school, and he STILL, every Wednesday afternoon, drives across town to bring his own son to his lessons with me, and he sits and watches every time, and every time, he makes sure that his son writes down notes at the end and stays on track. He is just so patient and supportive and lovely. Ballroom, by the way, was entirely his son’s idea – he had seen his dad’s classroom ballroom program and begged and pleaded until he was allowed to take dance lessons.

My student is a hilarious and awesome kid – he flails around a lot and is not overly coordinated because, hello, he’s 9. But he tries really hard and has made massive improvement since he started. One time we were working on cha cha and I was making him say the steps out loud so that he would connect his brain to what his feet were doing.

“Side together side, forward, back, side together side, back forward. Side together side, forward back, side together side—”

And he suddenly stopped and looked at me with a stricken face.

“Wait,” he said.

“What’s wrong?” I said, genuinely concerned.

“I have an itch,” he said solemnly, and scratched his nose. “Okay. Now we can go. Side together side….”

So here’s to you, awesome fifth-grade teacher dad of my awesome student. Thank you for having a wonderful son and thank you for giving all the students in your class the chance to fall crazy in love with dance and thank you for being such a patient and loving guy who somehow manages to stay awake through every lesson. Sir, I am happy that it is summer for you now. You deserve it.

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Accessorize! Making Armbands and Stoning Tips

So here’s the second installment of the costuming post. My Latin dress looks like this, and it’s pretty rad: 

The body of the dress is covered in slung sequin fringe (basically fringes of different length in red and holographic orange made out of sequins). It’s crazy fun to dance in, because the movement is insane, and it makes cool noises. I was dance testing it the other night at the studio and when I was walking back to the teachers’ room to change, one of my co-workers said, “it’s like applause every time you move!” SO TRUE. And who doesn’t want to take their own applause with them?

I bought it used off the interwebs, and it’s been an interesting reclamation project. When it showed up, it was definitely a fixer-upper (and hence cheap, which is why I could afford it!) – there’s a funky sort of nude panel on the left hip that wasn’t fringed, but just left open. I suppose it might look cool on the right person, but it looked weird on me. Clearly it looked weird on the last girl, too, because she had hot-glued these giant orange bird of paradise fake flowers on the hip? It was a very strange choice, and the ass flowers did not enhance anything. The side cutout was also too high in the waist (granny panties height) and the minimal stoning on the dress was cheap plastic shit.

So after I ripped off the ass flowers and most of the cheap-o stones, I sent it to a costume alterations house to be recut (because you have to know how to keep correct tension in the bodysuit as you do it, and you have to be able to sew the right kind of elastic – far beyond my present skill level). But I did the cosmetic alterations myself, including:

  1. adding new fringes and filling in that strange open hip situation (friends, I just typed ‘open hippo’ by mistake which is awesome; the idea of a sparkly fringe-y ballroom dancing hippo reminds me of the hippos in Fantasia who were my FAVORITE*)
  2. Pulling off the ugly cheap plastic “stones” and re-rhinestoning in the only acceptable choice, Swarovski
  3. ACCESSORIZING!
I mostly want to talk about #3, since you can save yourself a LOT of money if you know how to make your own ballroom jewelry and accessories. Last time we talked about how to do those fancy rhinestone bracelets you see all over the place; today we’ll talk about how to do armbands.
Like basically every Latin costume ever (and a lot of the smooth ones, too) comes with armbands. They’re super easy to make – exactly the same premise as costume straps, just with wider elastic and stoning.

Anastasia Trutneva rocking some armbands.

First, go ahead and sew a long piece of one inch elastic inside a lycra casing that matches your dress. (Don’t know how to do that? Learn here!)
Figure out how much you’ll need and then just add like six inches and do the whole damn thing at once, it saves time. After you’ve got your big giant lycra elastic snake, feel good about yourself for a minute. You did it! Yay for you!
Okay, now GET REAL. This is where there is high potential for you to fuck it all up.

Figure out how many armbands you want – I did three. An upper arm, an elbow, and a wrist (the wrist one being essentially a bracelet that does not move). It is important that you figure out how tight to make them: tight enough so that they stay in place when you dance and don’t move BUT not so tight that they cut into your arm and make it look weird and lumpy. Not even rhinestones will fix that.

The way I did it was to guess as closely as I could, leave an extra inch of elastic or so, cut the piece off from the snake, and then just futzed with it on my arm until it stopped looking weird. This is SCIENCE, people. It is SUPER precise. Even with all the futzing, my elbow one still sometimes slipped. But fortunately this costs you like six bucks so if you totally blow it or you need to make different sized ones later, it’s not the end of the world.

When you have the circumference of your arms figured out properly, pin those bitches and then sew them closed. I decided to sew the upper arm and elbow ones closed completely, but to put a hook-and-eye closure on the wrist one. It doesn’t make any difference – I could have sewn that one shut too. But don’t hook and eye the bigger ones; if you need to make them open and closeable, use velcro. (I’ll probably do that next time anyway, since it gives you more flexibility on the sizing. But I was concerned that my stupid dress would get stuck to the velcro, so. We all make life choices.)

Next step, try not to be a huge idiot and sew your hook and eye on backwards.

Oops, is it too late for that?

Well, I guess you can try just leaving it and hoping.

No? That didn’t work? It flew off your stupid arm every time you extended it? Well, then, dumbass, looks like you better re-do it the right way.

Once you’ve done that, stone the shit out of those armbands. You will lose a little elasticity with the stoning, but not too much. If you’re super concerned, stretch it out as you stone and then release it to dry.

I elected not to stone them solid because I felt like it would be too much and take too long and I would run out of stones and I did NOT want to go back to the fashion district and buy more. So I did mine like this:

Then, of course, after they were dry I was like, needs more stones! And I went back and glued more on. Which was obviously the right decision.

And that’s it, really! Not tough – the hardest part with these bitches is sizing them correctly so they don’t look stupid.

* NB the ballet hippos from Fantasia are a future post for sure; it turns out there is all SORTS of interesting shit to be said about them.

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