Category Archives: Advice

Dancing is more fun stoned. Here’s how to glue rhinestones on practically anything, Part One.

So! You have some perfectly good piece of clothing, or item of dancewear, or a shoe, or a cat or whatever, and you think, “Self, this really would look a lot better if it sparkled like CRAZY.” Congratulations! I agree with you! Let’s glue some rhinestones on that action!

In this series, I’m going to walk you through an actual recent stoning project and give some general tips on what to do, what not to do, and my own process that I’ve developed over the course of screwing up a lot. As always, questions and your own experience and tips in the comments are greatly appreciated.

All the advice in this post is going to be designed for the At-Home Stoner, but it’s also a good guide to check out if you’re buying a ballroom dress, or something that already has rhinestones on it, so you understand where your pricetag and your stones come from. (Personally I will only get free-range, locally sourced, organic, gluten-free rhinestones, but we all make our own compromises.) Ready? Then let’s get completely and egregious stoned. (That’s right. There are going to be a LOT of jokes like that in here. Can’t help it, won’t help it. (Rhine)stona 4 life and all that.)

Rhinestone supplies

Part One: Get a Box. Of, um, rhinestoning stuff. Supply list time!

  • Rhinestones (a bucketload of them, way more than you think)
  • Rhinestone Color Chart (optional but useful)
  • Adhesive of your choice (I use Gem-Tac)
  • Application tools
  • Unsparkly thing that you want to make sparkly
  • Some awesome kickin’ jams because this is kind of a boring process (hello, podcasts!)
  • A well-lit and well-ventilated space
  • A good flat surface with plenty of room that you won’t be bummed about spilling glue on

What rhinestones should I choose?

My friends, the first question is, what amazing sparkle are we going to glue onto some unsuspecting and presently insufficiently sparkly surface? If you’re planning to do this kind of thing on the regular, it’s worth investing the $30-$40 into a Rhinestone Color Chart, the equivalent of a Pantone book or a Home Depot wall of paint chips. I purchased mine years ago from Rhinestoneshop.com, and it’s been a fantastic investment. It’s also a great tool for online dress shopping – what color is Amethyst AB really? (Answer: it’s much more blue than it is purple.)

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If you don’t have a color chart, and are buying stones locally, you can always take your fabric with you to the store and check on in there, but it’s been my experience that rhinestone sellers don’t have years of patience for you futzing around with their tiny boxes of expensive stones. Know what you want before you go, or at least have it narrowed down to a few key options. There are a ton of great places to buy stones online, including

If you’re local to the LA or Orange County area, I recommend the following real-life stores – either Bead Source (with locations in Silverlake, Reseda, Valencia, West LA, Thousand Oaks, and DTLA) or Bohemian Crystal (in the fashion district in downtown LA).

How many rhinestones should I buy?

This is a cost-benefit analysis, for sure. Typically you buy rhinestones by the gross (144 of the little suckers), and for a conservative project, let’s say a top, you’ll want three or four gross at a minimum. For an entire Smooth dress, you’re looking at about 20-30 gross when all is said and done.

I buy mine and then immediately dump them into little containers and label those containers with my label maker. I do this because it is deeply gratifying to me and gives me a sense of being an Organized Person in this one, completely pointless, and utterly inconsequential regard. You, um, you can leave them in the bags. Doesn’t matter.

Why do I need so many rhinestones? I’m not in the circus.

It’s true. (Or IS it?) But wearing an unstoned fabric on the floor, under the lights, tends to look washed out and matte and really, really flat. It doesn’t show or accentuate your movement, or draw the eye. Even if you just do a basic scatter of same color sparkle on your fabric, it will light up on the floor and make you look alive and vibrant. If you want to go beyond that to an actual design, you’re looking at even more rhinestones. We’re talking competition and performance here – obviously if you’re headed out social dancing you don’t need to glue on the bling. (Although I will admit that I totally have. No shame!)

What kind of rhinestones should I buy?

Swarovski. I’m really not compromising on this one. Here’s the deal – Swarovski rhinestones are made of actual cut, faceted crystal. They have a bajillion little facets and they sparkle like CRAZY. Other “rhinestones” – especially Korean ones – are either cut glass, or worse, molded plastic or acrylic. They’re the cheap-o jobs that you see on skanky tops from Forever21. Some people like Preciosa stones, which I’ll admit I’ve never used. I have heard rumors that they tend to fall off unless you use E-6000, whereas I can testify from personal experience that Swarovski stones really stay stuck on with Gem-Tac. I have tried ordering rhinestones from Elite Crystals (they use glass instead of crystal), and they’re not as good. If you’re really in a budget crunch, wait and save money or use fewer rhinestones. I think, if you’re going to spend the money anyway, just buy the best ones and be done with it. Swarovski forever!

Also buy extra because you’ll end up needing more rhinestones than you think, and there’s nothing worse than running out the night before you need a costume finished with three damn inches to go and no more rhinestones. You’ll drop a bunch on the floor, and you’ll find them weeks (and even years) later, and think to yourself, you are an expensive, tiny, glittery bit of mess. I love you, but I also hate you.

True story – I have found rhinestones stuck to the soles of my feet, I have woken up with them stuck to my cheek, and I have found them in the parking lot underneath my car. That is what you are signing up for. Once you buy a bag of fabulous elusive sparkle, there’s no going back.

Oh my god. This is really expensive!

Yes, it is. 10 gross of Swarovski Crystal AB size 16ss will run you about $70. (That’s 1440 stones). Definitely take the time to shop around on the internet and see whose prices are the cheapest at the moment. Just wait til you start gluing the little suckers on – you’ll see why those finished ballgowns have such high price tags. There’s a pretty high PITA (pain in the ass) cost factored into that.

What is all this flatback, hotfix, 16ss business?

Okay. So you want to glue on rhinestones, which means you want flatbacks. (The backs, uh, are flat.) Hotfix rhinestones you heat up and attach – nobody likes that. They have an adhesive back that melts onto the fabric when heated. It’s impossible to move them if you mess up, it’s difficult, you need a hotfix tool…just forget it. Glue glue glue.

Flatback rhinestones come in a bunch of different sizes, measured in “ss” (stone size) – all the way from ss5 (1.9mm across) to ss48 (11mm across). My go-to size, like everybody else, is ss16 or ss20 – anything smaller than that, like the ss9 in the picture below, is just way too time-consuming to glue on unless you’re doing a small highlight, and you don’t get that much bang for your buck.

Swarovski also has different cuts, or facet options – from their new “Xirius” cut (2088) to their previous “Rose Xilion” (2058). Unless you’re a dress designer or a huge rhinestone aficianado (in which case you probably do not need this how-to guide even a little bit), there’s no great difference between these. Some people think that the 2088s are sparklier, and they probably are, but I doubt that it’s going to be something that noticeable.

You can also get rhinestones that you can sew on, which is great for highlights, big fancy blingy things. Of course, you can glue those on too, and many people do. It’s just a question of what will be easier and work better once you actually start moving in the garment.

Rhinestone Size Guide

What does AB mean?

It means “Aurora Borealis” – it means that this particular rhinestone, should you choose it, will sparkle and shine like the very Northern Lights draped upon your body, shifting and shimmering in endless fascinating patterns, and causing men throughout the ages to look up to the sky in wonder.

It means they’re extra sparkly.

Swarovski invented this technology about fifty years ago – they coat the crystal with a thin, metallic layer that is extremely iridescent and reflects whatever colors are near it. This is why you can use Crystal AB on pretty much ANYTHING – it will reflect the colors around it.

What kind of glue should I get?

Any vendor that sells rhinestones will also sell adhesive, so pick that up at the same time. You’ll have several options, but I recommend Gem-Tac. It’s less noxious, sticks great, and is pretty forgiving. Plus it’s cheap. You can usually find it at Michael’s or Jo-Ann Fabric, or even Walmart. Some people stone with E-6000, but that stuff is super toxic and dries clear and hard as a rock, so if you have something you really don’t want to move, it’s your guy. (Another true story – Shawn remounted our toilet paper holder in our bathroom into the drywall with E-6000 and it’s been great for years, so, you know, take that into account.)

What is this weird stick with a ball of wax on the end?

It’s a rhinestone applicator. The theory is, you can use the little ball of wax to pick up individual rhinestones and place them on the fabric, thus saving you many years of your life. I have not found that to be true. Some folks like these things, but I’ve never found that they help me that much. I have a very technologically advanced system of glue, my fingers, and some cheap-o straight pins that I use for making dots of glue on my fabric. It’s pretty uncomplicated, but it works! Sometimes if I’m really working in tight quarters or I’m having a rough time, I’ll use a pair of tweezers. That’s about it. We’ll go into this process in more detail in Part Two, so just hang tight.

All right, friends! That’s the end of Part One. Stay tuned for Part Two, where we actually glue some sparkly crap onto some fabric! 

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What’s in your dance bag? Ballet Edition!

Welcome to guest blogger Adult Beginner, who writes about the journey of ballet as a grown-up lady at her blog. If you haven’t checked it out, you SHOULD; she’s funny and smart and insightful and very honest. And she draws fantastic pictures! So thanks, Adult Beginner, for letting us take a peek into your dance bag! This is the second installment of our “What’s in Your Dance Bag?” feature – see the previous post, and read the comments from other savvy dancers talking about their dance must-haves.

Adult Beginner

Huh, pink and black or GTFO, I guess.

From left to right:

1.) Bobby pins. Everywhere. Forever.

2.) Scünci hair band, for keeping it smooooooth.

3.) Sansha Nijinsky full-sole leather ballet slippers, in the mesh bag. That mesh bag is brilliant marketing. I would almost stick with Sansha for life just for the thrill of that mesh bag.

4.) Capezio split-sole canvas ballet slippers. Don’t remember the style name for these. If it was stamped on the bottom somewhere it has long since worn off. The canvas makes a prettier pink color and texture than the leather, but man they get dirty! Gross, sorry for your eyes, you guys.

5.) Sansha Pro 1C split-sole leather ballet slippers, in mesh bag, yay.

6.) Black cotton Motion Wear shortie-shorts, because I constantly worry that I will forget my skirt or shorts or whatever and will be forced to do ballet in just tights and a leotard. That is just way less clothing than I’m interested in. Therefore, shorts in the bag.

7.) The bag itself: just a dumb old cotton tote. Bags with pockets and zippers and compartments and phone holders and magnetic closures and buckles and things seem great for organizing all your business, but in reality they just add weight on the shoulders. A plain old tote is so much easier and lighter. And can be thrown in the washing machine.

What else is usually in there: water bottle. Sometimes a pair of leg warmers. Phone is in my purse. Same for lip balm. That’s all a girl needs.

Stay tuned as we feature more guest bloggers in the coming weeks and look at what’s in THEIR dance bags. Thanks again to Adult Beginner  – seriously, check her out!

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What’s in your dance bag?

Ever wonder what’s in those big ol’ bags dancers carry everywhere? I do! Because I’m unbelievably nosy curious!

So in the spirit of full disclosure, I’m opening up my dance bag. Here’s the essential stuff I drag around every day, that I can’t leave home without.

But what I really want to know is, what’s in YOUR dance bag?

What's in your dance bag?Don’t leave home without a way to send out aweome jams into everyone’s ears! I’m a huge fan of the Mini Jambox by Jawbone – in fact, it’s saved my butt more times than I can count. Usually when I head to a studio to teach, they have a sound system, but sometimes speakers are on the fritz, or the giant tangle of cables is not worth the ten minutes it’ll take to unravel, or there’s just generalized technical difficulty in the air. This little bluetooth speaker packs some serious sound, and it fills up a room without being obnoxious or tinny. Paired with my iPhone, I can pretty much create a mobile dance studio sound system wherever I go. (Also great for travel, teaching on the road, or in clients’ homes!) The battery lasts forever, it pairs flawlessly with any bluetooth device, and it comes in a ton of fun colors.

Don’t leave home without Spotify, either. This app (available for iPhone and Android) is a dancer’s best friend. Instantly stream any music you could possibly think of, right from your phone! The free version is fantastic, but Shawn and I happily pay the $10/month subscription – that lets us stream anything ad-free, forever, and it also gives the option to download files to your device in case you’re in a no-bars situation. Search by artist, song title, album, as well as playlist – seriously, you can search “standard foxtrot” and press play on a pre-made playlist that will have you gliding across the floor in strict tempo. It’s an amazing way to find new music, old favorites, and specialty tunes!

1.) My choreography notebook. I always have this bad boy with me. I like to jot down ideas, keep track of fixes in choreography or routines, write out timing, and generally take notes on lessons. I love using this music notebook by Moleskine; in case I need to write out a little bit of a melody or a rhythm, it makes my life a lot easier. Plus I love seeing a page that reminds me where dancing is coming from – it’s a creative reminder to keep the music in mind!

2.) Apples. You guys, I love apples. They travel well, they’re delicious, they’re crispy and juicy, and I am never without one. I’m at least an apple a day person, but usually more like two or three. It’s a major grocery store emergency at home when we run out of apples – in fact, one of the crisper draws in the fridge is the Apple Drawer. What else would you put in there? Dude. Apples.

3.) KIND bars. Okay, here’s the thing. I get really grumpy when I’m hungry. And I love snacks. (For real, the first question about any party or event I always ask is, “so, what kind of snacks do you think they’ll have?”) Obviously apples are my favorite go-to, but sometimes an apple alone can’t get the job done. Or I’m hungry and I discover that I’ve already eaten the only apple in my bag (DISASTER!). I’m a huge fan of KIND’s bars – they’re made with all natural ingredients, no chemicals, and they’re available in a ton of fun options. I’m not a sweets person, so I really like their savory flavors (honey almond BBQ, jalapeño, sea salt and dark chocolate, etc). I like KIND bars that are low in sugars and high in protein to help keep my energy up between lessons. (All their products are also gluten-free, non-GMO, and kosher.) Plus they survive in my bag, don’t fall apart, and taste great even when I discover one four days later and go, “oooh, hey, snack bonus!”

4.) Burt’s Bees White Tea Extract towlettes. Let’s face it. Sometimes dancing is a sweaty business. Or sometimes you have on a full face of makeup and JUST CAN’T HANDLE IT anymore. I keep these guys in my dance bag to make sure that I can always freshen up after taking class, before a lesson, or after a performance or at the end of a night of dancing. They’re easy on the skin, remove makeup tolerably well (don’t expect too much), and are pretty cheap. That’s a win.

5.) My boy shoes. I have so, so many pairs of shoes. It’s ridiculous. Some I keep for specific reasons (“hey, what if I need to dance outside on concrete in at least a two inch heel but I don’t want to wear a black shoe?”), some I keep because I’m lazy (“hey, I should throw these awa– oh, forget it, I’ll deal with that later”), and some just are…around (“wait, when did I even buy these? I really do not think I have ever seen these shoes before…”). But for most teaching and general purpose practicing, I like to wear a boy’s Cuban heel Latin shoe. (“Boy” because I have small feet and a men’s shoe is still too big.) It gives me enough stability to lead anything, but still enough of a heel to be up off the ground. And, well, usually kids’ shoes are a little cheaper than real ladies’ practice shoes, and boy’s shoes tend to be wider in the toebox which is good for my wide, flat, no-arch-having feet. I love my boy shoes. My go-to shoe of choice in the high heels department is, of course, the unstoppable and unbelievably awesome Ray Rose Drizzle (slim heel in gold).

Not pictured: about a thousand hair ties, my makeup bag, and, three earrings (none of which match), and receipts for about 239842098034234 cups of coffee.

So! What’s in YOUR dance bag? (Tell us in the comments!)

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Ballroom Dress Rental: A User’s Guide

Knock Knock

Who’s there?

Ballroom Dance Dresses.

Ballroom Dance Dresses who — wait, are you kidding me? You cost HOW much? Bwahahahahahaha, NOPE.

(just a joke I hear a lot)

This beauty is a stunning and different ballroom (Standard) gown.

This beauty is a stunning ballroom (Standard) gown. She can be yours for only $3600. (Which is a very fair price.) Dramatic Jewel available at Vanda Dance

Love ballroom dancing but dismayed to find that you can get a used car for the price of a competition or performance dress?*

Thought about gluing rhinestones to crap you already have?

Considered buying a knockoff dress from some shady dressmaker in Hong Kong through EBay?

Honey, we’ve all been there. Don’t feel bad.

Fortunately for dancers ladies**, the world of insanely expensive dresses has experienced a slight improvement in recent years, and that is the emergence of the RENT-A-DRESS. (It’ll pick you up! Hopefully. If the bodysuit fits well.)

So now, rather than spending two grand on a dress you love but might wear three times a year, you can spend two hundred to five hundred dollars to rent a gently-used fancy gown that only a few other ladies have sweated their fake tan into will look great on you.

I’m a huge advocate of ballroom dress rental. Firstly, it’s a super cost-effective way of getting out on the floor in something that makes you look like you belong there, without sinking tons of dough into a dress.

It also lets you change it up a lot more than you would if you had purchased a dress – so if your body changes, or you dance different material, or you dye your hair a really fun shade of fuschia, you aren’t locked into a dress. Plus it’s fun.

* Seriously. On Craigslist right now I could get a pretty solid early 2000s Lincoln Navigator, a tow truck bed, a super nice 2003 Ford Focus, or a creepy 1998 white van to commit all my serial killings in. Each for $3600.

**and honestly, how much does it suck that this is exclusively a lady problem? Dudes can just buy whatever they need and go to town. No big deal. I swear to God, once my partner bought an entire competition outfit AT THE COMP the day we were dancing and had the seller hem the pants. Good to go. About $800 – WITH new shoes! Jesus.

So! Let’s get started! How do you rent a dress?

STEP ONE – Open up a bunch of browser tabs

That’s right, this is an entirely online experience. So get thee to a rental website. I recommend the following (basically in order of my own personal, for-whatever-it’s-worth preference):

  1. Encore Ballroom Couture – I love these guys. Beautiful top end dresses that look up to date and are in great condition, fabulous photos, easy to use, and great service. For my money, they have the top-end-iest dresses (their European collection makes me drool). Not cheap, but worth it. And they have the option to buy many of the dresses.
  2. Vanda Dance – a new venture from Ballroom champ Victor Fung and family (I have a suspicion that the name is V&A, as in Victor and Anastasia, his lovely dance parter and fiancée). They are the nicest folks, and although I haven’t used the rental service yet, I’m planning to! They operate out of Orange County which is super convenient for me, and I have seen the kinds of dresses they rent hanging around (har har har, hanging around) their studio many times. As soon as I’ve rented from them I’ll let you know, but I am confidently recommending them to my own students. You can rent or buy virtually all the dresses, AND they rent accessories! Super cool.
  3. RentBallroomDresses.com – a huge selection. Worth it when you can’t find anything that looks good or that you like. I’ve also found that they have a wider range of dresses for ladies who need a larger size or who want more coverage than you get with a spandex handkerchief and 2394829384902834 rhinestones. Dina, the owner, is a pro-am dancer who wanted more options, and her business partner designs all the “Mimi G” dresses. I’ve had great success having students rent from them in the past, and their customer service has always been just epic.
  4. Rhinestone Dress Rentals – these guys almost didn’t make the list, but I checked them again and they’ve upped their game. They used to have a pretty sad selection but I see a lot more options from actual dress designers, but I’d still go with one of the top three unless you really can’t find anything.
  5. Rhythmic Rentals – I’ve never used them; haven’t ever found anything that I was crazy about. I don’t know about their customer service.

STEP TWO – Go shopping!

But, but, but…what do I pick? Well, first off, narrow it down by style. Are you doing Latin, Smooth, Rhythm, Ballroom, or something else? (If you don’t know, ask your teacher.)

LATIN/RHYTHM

There’s no real difference between Latin and Rhythm costumes. Not really. The big question is, what are you comfortable wearing, and what will enhance or detract from your movement quality? Here are some general guidelines that I’ve found from my own personal experience of looking at people wearing dresses AND trying on a bunch of dresses over the years and going, huh…well, that’s appalling. Please don’t take it personally and don’t believe me too much.

  • Long skirts work for long legs. Shorter skirts work better for shorter legs (which I am the proud owner of).
  • Butt ruffles are rarely a good idea.
  • Midriff-baring costumes require a high degree of confidence in your midriff and the ability to contain your core pretty much 110% of the time.
  • Bare arms are not as bad as you think.
  • Long fringe makes you look slow, short fringe makes you look fast.
  • Big pouffy skirts also make you look slow.
  • Asymmetrical hems can be pretty cool.
  • Unless you’re Yulia in this actual routine, don’t wear fringe pants.

Okay! So you’re looking at what appear to be a bunch of swimsuits with flappy bits and rhinestones sewn on. What size should you get?

Well, ballroom dresses are actually pretty forgiving in the size department. Usually they’ll stretch a good two, sometimes three sizes in either direction. So if, for example, you wear a size 12, you could probably order a medium or a large, or anything in the 8-14 range. (In fact, many sites will give you a range of possible sizes.) It will depend a lot on the dress – sometimes you can get away with a totally ludicrous size, sometimes not. It’s worth emailing the rental site if there’s a dress you love and asking how much flexibility you have. I have done that many times – and they’re usually very forthcoming and honest. They want you to find a dress that fits as much as you do!

The other consideration is cup size, since costumes have built in bodysuits. Not a big surprise here, but if you are boobs-lite, you can order whatever you want. If you are boobs-classic, pay a lot more attention to the cup size indications. Sometimes it may be possible to wear an additional bra underneath your costume, if it’s a really closed in design, but I don’t recommend it. It adds lines and creases and bulk. A well-fitting bodysuit should give you enough support – and I say that having helped many ladies of very generous bosom select dresses.

STANDARD/SMOOTH

To float or not to float? That is the question —

Whether ’tis nobler in the arms to flutter

The chiffon and shine of outrageous ballroom,

Or to take arms as yet by man unfetter’d,

And not, by choreography, get stuck to your partner.

(It’s a work in progress. It was good up to the end there…)

So, yeah, the big difference between Standard and Smooth gowns is, you guessed it, FLOATS. That’s the name for the extra drapey fabric dangling from your arms in a Standard dress – because you’re in closed position for your entire dance, it’s not a problem. But because Smooth can open up, you can just imagine the infinite ways to have costume fails.

Rare anymore are the dresses with full attached floats (like the one above). Instead, most dresses now have removable floats or armbands that you can wear or not wear, so it isn’t a huge deal. Beyond that, Standard dresses tend to have fuller skirts with more layers (more classic ballgown-y) and Smooth dresses tend to be closer to the body and to be sexier (because of all that on-your-own shimmying you do).

The big consideration on Smooth or Standard dresses, besides sizing, is length. You don’t want the hem of your dress dragging on the floor, or up around your calves. Dresses should fall to the top of the foot at their longest – you want them to graze your shoe tops but not to touch the floor. (The judges will have a hard time judging your footwork if they can’t see it, and you’ll step all over the hem and rip it out.) Sometimes the dress site will tell you, other times not. If you’re tall or short (basically outside the 5’3″-5’8″ zone), email before you rent and verify that the dresses you have selected will work for your body.

Okay! So you’ve picked out some dresses! Yay! On to…

STEP THREE – Try that bad boy on

Usually renters will allow you to request one to three dresses for try-on at a time. There’s typically a fee for this, as well as shipping, but honey, it’s WORTH IT. Read the rental agreement at each site to make sure you get the picture, and be aware that you must return the dress undamaged and unaltered. No pinning or hemming or anything. A stone or two might fall off, no big deal, but it better look exactly like it did when you got it.

When your Big Box O’ Dresses arrives, it will be heavy. The dresses will be shoved into bags inside that box, and you’ll think, that seems like a totally crazy way to store them…until you try to fold one. Then you will understand.

Try on your selections with your dance shoes, and a friend. A friend who really likes you. A Dress Buddy.

If everything you ordered looks like total dog vomit, then join the club! That happens a lot! Good thing you did not buy any of these dresses! Ha ha, dresses, you are stupid and now you are going back to dress jail.

STEP FOUR – Find a winner

When you’ve found a dress you like, send it back to the renter and request the rental for whatever future date you’ll need. Obviously, dresses are hard to come by around big competition dates, so if you want something for Emerald or the Ohio Star Ball, think ahead and reserve that dress well in advance. For studio showcases or smaller comps that don’t fall during major events, you should have less trouble.

Typically you’ll get a dress for three to five days, which should cover the getting it, wearing it, and shipping it back. If for some reason you need longer, contact the renter and explain your special circumstances. Again, the same rules apply – don’t damage, stain, alter, or otherwise screw up the dress. If you do, they will happily charge you the full amount and you will own it, which totally defeats the purpose of this whole renting scheme in the first place.

If you DO end up loving your dress, and can’t imagine your life without it, contact the renter to see if you can buy it. Usually, if it is for sale, they will apply the rental and try-on costs (less shipping) towards the purchase of the dress. And when you want to change it up, you may be able to consign it right back to them.

So there you have it! Go forth and rent, my lovelies – and tell me in the comments about your dress renting experiences! (Or disasters. Or ask questions. Or WHATEVER, it is open season down there.)

polar express

Please don’t buy this dress, because I love it and someday it will be MINE. (Polar Express at Encore Ballroom Couture)

Related: The ALOD Guide to Ballroom Practicewear

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Why the comfort zone is and isn’t your friend

comfort zoneWe’ve all seen this picture, right? “Life begins outside your comfort zone,” etc. And man, that’s totally true. But I want to present another side of things today – not staying in your comfort zone, but instead…

The intense benefit of making yourself physically comfortable during challenging situations.

So this idea that we need to push ourselves, to step outside our comfort zones and try new scary things, is absolutely correct. And that process is probably going to be, by default, exciting and intense. It might produce some anxiety, or a wash of other emotions. (Feelings soup.)

But it doesn’t have to suck.

We have this messed up idea that “leaving our comfort zones” means that we have to be miserable the whole time it’s happening, as if suffering lends virtue to the learning process. Untrue!

A few years ago, I was working at a dance studio and having a very challenging conversation with my boss. She and I were not on the same page at all, and we were both genuinely trying to make things better, but it wasn’t going very well.

After about forty minutes of frustration, we agreed to take a break and re-convene. I walked into another part of the studio, blowing into my cupped hands and searching for a sweater, because the room we had been using for our meeting was the temperature of a walk-in meat locker. I was freezing!

I ran into my partner, and he said, “How’s it going?”

“Kind of like crap,” I said. “Plus I’m a ice cube. That room sucks.”

“Why don’t you take a space heater with you when you go back in?” he asked. “I bet [your boss] is cold, too. You guys will probably get further if you’re comfy.”

So I dragged a little electric space heater in, set it up, and within about ten minutes, we were able to resolve matters and move forward with energy that was about twenty degrees warmer (in temperature and in spirit).

Thus I learned my first and most important lesson about comfort zones: Push yourself, be better, all the time. But get comfy in your own body.

How often do we run into this when we are learning something new in dance? I know that learning new movement can be hard, can feel weird, can be a little funky. But how different would that learning process be if I breathed deeply and continuously, if I relaxed my neck and shoulders, if I released the tension I was holding, and the fear about looking stupid or doing things wrong?

Answer: um, a bunch, actually. I have been working on it. It’s crazy how much of a difference the comfiness of your actual physical body makes. That sounds stupid and obvious until you realize how often during an average day we disconnect from our bodies and forget to feel good and move harmoniously and easily. Having a tough conversation? Learning something new? Doing something that causes you anxiety? Deliberately choose to relax. Put your body into a position, a configuration, that’s actually physically comfortable. Change your environment, if you can, to make yourself more comfy. Keep breathing (the good big deep breaths, not just “I am continuing human respiration on a technicality” breaths). It’s hard  – ha! so step outside your comfort zone! zing. – but worth it.

Pushing outside of your comfort zone and growing as a human is awesome, but it’s tough sometimes. So don’t make it harder than it has to be – get comfy and see how much further you get!

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Ask A Ballroom Dancer: The Unbearable Lameness of Partnering Edition

I am a Masters 2 Lady (meaning I’m over 50 😉 ), married to a non-dancer  and  over the last 2 years have been trying to move up the ranks with relatively minor success, although I can dance, I think, I have been having lessons with a proper dancesport coaches for 4 years now… In addtion to constantly training new partners from beginner to first and only comp as so far they’ve all bailed out on me, I have been doing medals (up to gold now in all 3 styles – we also have so called New Vogue here [Ed: Australia], which is kind of like smooth but same choreo for all couples, dancing in a circle), so I can dance with my coach and keep up the skill level. I have done a few comps but not able to elevate cos have to go back to square 1 every time I find some guy that let’s me talk him into doing a comp – bahahaha!

Just wanted to check with you re: male dancers and their arogance/fragile ego syndrome – is it the same everwhere or is it only here where there are about 4 studios that train people for competitions and they all hate each others guts, which makes it hard for us dancers to find partners as you are considered to be unloyal, teachers constantly worry that you are going to take your money to the other guy…

Example – yesterday whilst I was waiting for my lesson I was observing a male being coached – he was OK but nothing that spectacular. As he was leaving he said good-bye and indicated that he might come in the next day for a group class – this is where my coach jumped in with “Do you want me to tee you up someone?”… well he never “teed up” anyone for me, all my partners so far although not the best were brought to the studio and the lessons by myself.  Getting cheesed off with this nonsense, I am quite a tough cookie myself but very bored with the same old routines that I have been doing with these dudes for 2 years now. I know that reasons is obvious – there isn’t that many dudes that want to do comps, however do the teachers need to encourage it and let their heads grow so big just because they have a penis and at times no musicality or skill for that matter?

Despite my frustration I decided to take this current partner of mine (who cannot keep up the timing for shit) to the nationals in 2 weeks time, who cares, at least I will be able to dance!!

The other issue I am finding that as a married person my chances of finding someone who just wants to dance are even smaller cos the dudes want the whole package most of the time, and only are prepared to dance what you want if you are into them… The gay guys like to dance with each other, there are same sex comps here, there is only a couple of them that I know that they dance with women in the usual dancesport comps. Would love to do coach and student or pro/am but nobody to dance with at my current studio, I think I need  to make some changes – again!

Just venting mainly but if you could reply that would be great 🙂

– todanceornot

Yep. That is definitely some bullshit right there. First things first; change your frame of reference. As you know, BALLROOM IS NOT A MERITOCRACY. People make decisions about partnering for all kinds of emotional or irrational or stupid or just plain batshit crazy reasons that have zero, zip, nada to do with how well someone dances. So you basically have to accept that and decide to play the game anyway.

Is it the same everywhere? Yes. Sorry. The demographics of ballroom mean that you can be a super lousy dude and STILL have way more pull than a lady who is ten times better than you, whether you’re a teacher or a student. It’s some sexist bullshit.

So you basically have a couple issues going on:

  1. It’s really hard for you as an amateur dancer to find a good male partner.
  2. The studios in your town are fraught with petty infighting.
  3. You see men who are not as good as you being handed opportunities you would never get in a million years, and you are cheesed about that.
  4. The partnering issue is complicated by the fact that you don’t want to have to romantic involvement with any of the dudes, which means they either aren’t interested in dancing with you, or aren’t interested in dancing with ladies period.
  5. You feel that these dudebros are being special snowflakes and are way too fragile compared to your tough warrior princess-ness.

All of these suck in different ways. My short answer? This is why pro-am was invented.

Okay, long answer.

(1) It’s really hard for you as an amateur dancer to find a good amateur male partner. Yes. It’s hard for EVERY lady to find a partner, unless you are atypically beautiful or talented, and then you wander around saying dumbass things like, “I can’t understand why it’s so hard for you to find a partner!” which makes everybody want to punch you in the face. It’s even harder for amateurs because unless you are (a) under the age of 16, (b) in college, or (c) in possession of a spouse/girlfriend/boyfriend/whoever also wants to dance with you, you’re basically screwed. Sorry. I know it’s not kosher to say that, but it’s true. Is it possible that you will find a partner who really suits you as a regular amateur lady? Maybe! It is also possible that you will win the lottery or that my dressmaker will decide that my dress will be free this time because I’m so damn charming. Don’t bet on it.

(2) The studios in your town are fraught with petty infighting. Fuck these local bullshit studios; you need to jump up to the next level. Find the absolute best person(s) for what you want to dance (Ballroom, Latin, New Vogue, whatever) in Australia and figure out how to work with that person or people. Create and curate your own team. This is something that is workable if you are willing to put in the time and effort, and if you have the money to do it. You will probably need to travel, and you will certainly need to work with coaches who cost more. But if you are EVER going to find a decent partner, you need the best kind of dude available, and the best coaches out there are more likely to have a lead on that dude. If your coach does not support this, then you need to find someone who does. You should absolutely have a coaching team who encourages and pushes you to get the best instruction and opportunities that will help you meet your goals.

(3) You see men who are not as good as you being handed opportunities you would never get in a million years, and you are cheesed about that. Yes. Yes yes yes yes yes. Do you know how goddamn much money I would make if I were a man in this business? It’s unreal. It is a contributing reason to why I am poor. I hear you. On the other hand, there is a lot to be said for making your own luck and remembering that you love to dance, rather than railing against the Dance Fates.

(4) The partnering issue is complicated by the fact that you don’t want to have to romantic involvement with any of the dudes, which means they either aren’t interested in dancing with you, or aren’t interested in dancing with ladies period. Yeah…that’s one of the big challenge of amateur dancing. It can be difficult to find compatible partners at all, much less compatible partners who are looking for exactly what you are (just dancing, that’s it, thanks so much, go home by yourself at the end of the night). It might help you to be really clear about what your goals are exactly and what you will and won’t accept. By goals I don’t mean, “I want to find a dance partner,” but rather, “I want to place in the top three of my competitive age category at [some significant comp]” or “I want to practice at least three days a week with an acceptable human,” or “I want a warm body to attend coaching sessions with me.” Also, if you are really serious about dancing with a legit partner, prepare to get rejected. A lot. You are going to have to just ask people, cold-call style, “hey, so, you’re an awesome dancer, would you be interested in working with me? I am trying to [your goal].” A bunch of people will say no. Some will be dicks about it. But one of your gay guys out there is your best hope, Obi Wan Kenobi, and one of them may well say yes. But nobody is ever going to approach you and kneel at your feet and beg you to dance with them. Sorry! I wish that would happen, it would be really awesome.

(5) You feel that these dudebros are being special snowflakes and are way too fragile compared to your tough warrior princess-ness. Yeah, well, maybe. Turns out that one of the sacrifices of partner dancing is the necessity of dancing with a goddamn partner. If your current partner can’t count, well, don’t just blow him off. You know the saying – don’t quit your job until you have a better one. Keep your off-time partner and figure out if you guys even have the same goals. You’ll both be happier if you’re clear about what you do and don’t want.

Here’s the reality of the situtation, honey bee: you have to deal with male dancers if you want to compete in straight competitions. They are a huge pain in the ass, they are sensitive as all get-out, the unfair advantage they enjoy has them all convinced that they’re God’s gift to dance, and that’s just how it goes. And hey, guess what? VIRTUALLY THE SAME IS TRUE OF THE WOMEN. You still need a boy. So either deal with the unfair yet constant realities of that situation and put up with some bullshit from an amateur boy, or pay a professional boy to dance with you. (He’ll have the same bullshit, but you won’t have to deal with it; that’s what you’re paying for.)

And don’t give up hope. There are some AWESOME amateur male dancers out there who are awesome solid cool dudes, and there are some great professionals who might work out as well. These dudes are real, and they are great. I’m sorry that the majority of dudes you’re dealing with are tools, but there are some excellent men floating around. You just need to find one. And you will! Start with the pros…they have websites, usually, so it’s easier.

I would recommend that you find a really good pro-am teacher and work with him to see if it’s even a sustainable option for you. There may not be one in your town, but I know that there are some in Australia, somewhere. (That’s specific.) Google that shit and look up the comps and see whose students are placing well. Talk to that dude. Pay him a shit ton of money to dance with you. Be happy that you are finally getting to focus on your own dancing instead of the other BS.

Good luck!

Have a question? Ask a ballroom dancer! Submit your questions in the comments or email to againstlineofdance@gmail.com. I can’t be much help on your taxes, legal problems, or math homework, but anything else should be cool.

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Ask a Ballroom Dancer

There is a saying that goes, “do the thing you love and you will never work a day in your life,” and it makes me wonder how having made dancing your life’s work has affected how you feel about it, overall. Also, do you ever have a chance to just go out and boogie with someone who can keep up with you, and if you do, do you still really dig it? I’ve often wondered how dancing all day long and putting up with the likes of me affects my beloved teachers.

– M. C.

(1) “Do the thing you love and you will never work a day in your life” = bullshit. Of course you will. Because even if you do the thing you love, you probably do not love all the stupid crap associated with it. Do I love teaching dance and making people happy? Totally! Know what I do not love? The shitty hours, the shitty money, the damage to my body, stupid administrative business foolishness that is necessary for the studio to run, the constant ridiculous petty drama with other dancers, etc etc etc etc. Is it worth it? Well, duh, of course it is, or I would leave and go do something else.

Also, I work super super hard. This is by far the hardest job I have ever had, emotionally or physically. I take exception to the idea that if you do something you are passionate about, it isn’t work. Of course it is. I work so much harder at this because I care about it. In fact, I was just having a conversation with my partner on this subject today.

He was like, “You are so intense! I am used to being the super intense person in a partnership, but you totally care about this even more than I do, which is crazy, because I thought I was the most committed person, like, ever.”

And he’s right. I take it super seriously and I work really, really hard. Is it a silly glittery thing? Yes. But I am dead fucking serious about it sometimes. And where my students are concerned, I am as serious as a heart attack. You have to be, because you can damage people SO easily. Folks who are learning how to dance are often in a really vulnerable place and you have to respect that and not fuck it up.

So I think my version of this saying would be, “Do the thing you love and work your ass off doing it, and all the bullshit you have to put up with will be worth it.”

(2) I don’t go out social dancing, like, ever. I would say that I social dance probably once every two months or so, and it’s usually fun? but not fun enough to make me want to do it at the end of a day of work. But this is also down to the fact that I am actually an introvert and after a day of people the last thing I want to do is see more people. I want to sit in my house by myself and not have anybody need anything from me. I don’t think everybody is like that. I have some colleagues who never social dance because they don’t enjoy it and others who go out dancing all the time.

(2a) I do love dancing, though, whether it’s with my partner or with other professionals or with students. That is always fun. Social dancing just means putting up with the socializing bullshit and making of small talk with randoms, and that’s what can be blah about it at the end of the day. (Besides, sometimes it is nice to do something that doesn’t involve me changing my shoes.) But practicing, or social dancing with people I know and like already…that is super fun.

(2b) Plus there’s the issue of what a small world the dance community is and how much I do or don’t feel like dealing with the people I will inevitably encounter. There are a lot of assholes. I went out salsa dancing this one time and there was this douchebag who was running the event, like he taught the class beforehand and it was kind of his thing at this random bar. And he asks me to dance and I am like, eh, I guess? because he seemed like a tool. And he was, because there was this one mirror in the whole bar and he danced right in front of it the whole time and watched himself dance. When he asked me, he was like, yeah, so, have you ever done salsa before? And I was like, sure. And then he figured out I could actually dance. Idiot. So halfway through the song I deliberately overturned something and made it more awesome and then stopped and apologized.

“Oh my gosh,” I said, “I am SO sorry.”

“No, no, no!” he said, “That was cool! You didn’t do it wrong.”

“Oh, I know THAT,” I said. “I just feel terrible that you aren’t facing that mirror anymore. Let’s turn back so you can watch yourself dance for the rest of the song.”

He got kind of stammery and weird and kept facing away from the mirror and led a lot of basics. Douche.

Have a question? Ask a ballroom dancer! Submit your questions in the comments or email to againstlineofdance@gmail.com. I can’t be much help on your taxes, legal problems, or math homework, but anything else should be cool.

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