Tag Archives: ask a ballroom dancer

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.)

IMG_2400

IMG_2401

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! 

Tagged , , , , , , ,

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!)

Tagged , , , ,

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.

Tagged , , , ,