Category Archives: Ask A Ballroom Dancer

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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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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