Tag Archives: competitions

Ask A Ballroom Dancer: The Unbearable Lameness of Partnering Edition

I am a Masters 2 Lady (meaning I’m over 50 ūüėČ ), 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 ūüôā

– 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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Accessorize! Making Armbands and Stoning Tips

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

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

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

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

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

Anastasia Trutneva rocking some armbands.

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

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

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

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

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

Oops, is it too late for that?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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TANSTAAFL

TANSTAAFL – There Ain’t No Such Thing As A Free Lunch

I was talking to my personal trainer this morning at the gym and we were comparing notes like we often do: how many clients do you have this week, do you have any breaks to eat, are you working the weekend too, are any of your clients crazy right now, etc. He and I have similar structures in that we both work as employees of larger enterprises which we do not own (he’s at a big national chain of gyms, I’m at a studio) and we see a variety of clients mostly one-on-one. Both of us are paid a percentage (probably about 30% in his case, closer to 15% in mine) of what the client pays as his or her hourly rate, are expected to keep up with various certifications and professional qualifications, and are in what is essentially a service industry.

The big difference, as far as I can see, is the intense emotional component of teaching and participating in ballroom dance. Not to dismiss the fact that people get very attached to their fitness professionals – I am very fond of my trainer, and I was genuinely upset when the girl I worked with before him was promoted to another gym. But there is absolutely no comparison between that and the intense, visceral, and sometimes uncomfortably intimate situation produced in partner dance.

It is certainly the case that for most people who are not professional dancers, the level of personal contact and physical touch experienced through dance really only ever occurs with regularity in situations of sexual intimacy. It doesn’t help that most of the pretending we do in ballroom is about exactly those sorts of relationships – your brain is pretty much set up to get confused.

It shouldn’t be a surprise, then, that people feel betrayed when you ask them to pay money for that experience. It feels cold, and transactional, and like you’re getting hustled. (And sometimes you are. Please, please, please – ask so many questions and don’t EVER feel like you can’t say no in a given situation; see the brilliant deconstruction of The Spinning Dancer on this topic.)

I think we, as a profession, do a bad job of explaining what people are paying money for. And I think we do a bad job of educating our clients about how the business works. The sticker shock about the cost of ballroom is common – it’s a crazy expensive pursuit, no question about it. Private lessons aren’t cheap, and pro-am Dancesport competition (as an amateur) is, with the exception of really complicated scuba diving or high-level horse related things or yachting, probably the most expensive sport you can pursue.

I get that. I also get why people think it’s worth it. And let’s be SUPER clear – professionals don’t make much money. Yeah, competitions are expensive, but even top independent comps are hardly money factories, and certainly your teachers aren’t seeing that cash. The time away from the studio in teaching, the wear and tear on your body from dancing with a student, being ‘on call’ the whole time you’re there, the costumes, all that jazz – in a best case scenario, any additional money teachers make is from the extra lessons booked in the run up to a competition. I assure you that it is lo, many tens of dollars.

Stefanie, in a recent post about the cost of ballroom, asked the following:

By looking at the bill [for a competition], as a student, you may then wonder at the cost and ponder why, if you are paying so much, your instructor isn’t a millionaire, already? I mean, most professionals can’t demand $75 or more for less than an hour! That is significantly more than I make as a pharmacist!

Sure! I hear that, no question. But think about it this way – the studio may charge you $75/lesson but if the instructor is not teaching independently, then the studio pays him or her probably somewhere between $12-$20/lesson with the rest of that $75 going to overhead, paying for a receptionist, music licenses, insurance, etc etc etc. If a pro IS teaching independently, then of that $75, $10 or $15 goes to floor fees, more is eaten up in transportation (driving all over town to different studios to teach requires gas which is basically a thousand dollars a gallon these days), advertising (putting your name out there is not free) and the sunken time costs of teaching (editing music for wedding couples or showcases, lesson planning, continuing education under whatever syllabus you teach) that happen on your own time. At the end of the day, you probably aren’t netting a whole lot more than a studio staff teacher, plus you are responsible for generating 100% of your own client base. (Which is why I currently teach in a studio rather than independently; until I have a name, it’s a better deal for me by FAR.)

What totally blows about ballroom is that the price point is SO high and the barriers to entry are SO steep that only a small percentage of folks – those who are in possession of the disposable time and income such that they can pursue ballroom and not have to choose between that and, say, eating – can engage with that world. It sucks. I got into competitive dancing in college, when the entry costs were $30 a semester for as many group classes as I could attend, taught by a not-terrible independent teacher, and the chance to partner up with some other amateur college students and go compete. It cost me very little money, and I had a fabulous time, and I really enjoyed it. I had NO IDEA that the real world of ballroom did not function this way.

But the fundamental tension that pervades a lot of ballroom, in my observation, is the tension between the legitimate expenses of the pursuit and the emotional intimacy it generates. For various reasons, we think that associating meaningful and emotionally intimate experiences with money is transactional and tawdry – I’m not convinced that it is, actually, I just think that’s a cultural prejudice. The hard thing for a lot of people to work out in their heads is: what is this relationship that I have with this other person whose time I pay for, who touches me in a very personal way, who generates (on the floor) some pretty emotionally intense sensations? Are they a friend? A teacher? A paid escort?

We don’t have a great social category for this. I think maybe a combination of therapist + trainer + teacher is the best I can come up with. And there’s no question that good teachers feel great personal regard for their students and care about them deeply; honestly, it is not worth the terrible money if you don’t care about your students. But the relationship is always a little fraught. I think as long as both parties are aware of the potential complicating factors, and why it can sometimes feel a little weird, everything will be fine. (Again, a place where we as an industry need to do a better job of educating our students.)

But it is not always fine; sometimes it’s horrible. Another Emerald Ball story: I was meeting some friends for a drink at the bar, and we needed two seats. There was one open, and one with a lady’s bag in it. My friend goes, excuse me, can we take this seat? and an older lady who was clearly a few drinks into her evening told us very high-handedly that NO, another lady was sitting there and she is coming BACK (in the tone of, and you can go fuck yourself very much). This lady, obviously a pro-am student, was there with another student or two and their instructor, a nice guy who looked like he was maybe 28. He jumped in to manage the situation, pointing out gently that they could all move down a few seats and everything would be Totally. Fine. His tone was placating without being irritating, and I thought, this poor boy, he has been on duty all day and here he is still having to cater to these ladies, I bet he is TIRED.

So when they moved down, I looked over at him and he and I locked eyes and he knew that I knew the situation. I just smiled at him and tried to put a whole lot of, hang in there, tiger, you’re almost done for the day in my look and he soundlessly moved his lips and said, thank you and went back to his students.

Look, that’s not the typical experience of pro-am. But it happens. And for every wonderful student that you have (and there are a lot of them, and I am sure I am preaching to the choir because if you are reading this then you are NOT LIKE THAT HORRIBLE LADY) there are those who require higher maintenance and more managing. It is exhausting, for real. And it sure as shit is not worth the bullshit money you get paid.

All of which is to say: there ain’t no such thing as a free lunch, my friends, and I don’t care which side of the student/teacher fence you’re standing on. The question is, is what you’re getting out of it (in whatever form) worth what you’re paying (in whatever form)? If it is (and for me, right now, it is), you keep doing it. If it isn’t, or the bullshit threshold is too high, go do something else.

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Congratulations to me…

…on not buying a $3800 smooth gown even though it looked SO GOOD when I put it on. So, listen to this.

I was at Emerald over the weekend watching some friends dance and of course I was shopping. Now, a year or so ago I was at Emerald and I don’t really remember what I was wearing, it was random, I looked like a normal human. But I got the coldest fucking shoulder from everybody. Here’s one conversation that occurred when I was looking at costumes a co-worker had asked me to check on for her:

Russian Dress Vendor: Vat you are looking for?

Me: Oh, I’m just browsing.

RDV: Ya, zis dress, is too small for you. Much too small.

Me: I know that, I’m looking for a friend of mine.

RDV: Hmpf. Well, ve don’t have in your size.

Fuck you very much! By contrast, this year I rolled in with my ballroom hair and makeup and in I’m-not-competing-today-but-I-could-be evening wear, best defined as a combination of ballet-inspired clothing mixed with slutty accessories. (My boots were really working overtime in the slutty department.) I still got the obligatory look-up-and-down by most of the randoms who rolled by, but this time instead of blowing me off, the Russian girls gave me fake smiles and the dudes at least got out of my way. Which is ballroom for, you belong here.

The nuttiest thing, which actually made me feel a lot of different feelings, was that I was able to pull smooth gowns off the rack and try them on and they FIT. And fit pretty goddamn well, too. (One fit so well that I was on the verge of dropping four grand that I do not have to buy a dress I do not need for a style that I don’t really compete seriously in. Which should tell you how cool it looked.) I think it was more the sheer privilege of being able to try on costumes and not have the dressing room panic of, this will maybe not go over my ass or figuring out what lie I would tell the salesgirl about why I didn’t like the dress when in reality I was just too big to put it on. My feelings, in no particular order:

  1. Holy shit, I have to try on this dress.
  2. Oh wow, I can actually WEAR this dress.
  3. Wait, this dress is actually TOO BIG and that is why it looks a little weird!
  4. It is BULLSHIT that these dresses are so expensive.
  5. It is DOUBLE BULLSHIT that they come in such a small range of sizes.
  6. Oh my god, that little Latin dancer is literally half my size. Like, if you cut me in half in one of those magician’s boxes, one half would be equal to her in both height and mass.
  7. OMBRE OMBRE OMBRE OMBRE SILK IS SOOOOOOOOO PRETTY.
  8. ProTan is the shit, because I shellacked my skin like two weeks ago and I still look hella tan, and it’s faded really evenly.
  9. Should I buy this dress which will be worth more than any other possession I own, including my car? YES IT IS SO PRETTY.

And that’s the deal. Beware excessive fake tanner – it goes to the brain and may cause uncontrollable costume purchase. Thank God I had a buddy who was Rescue Ballroom trained, and she was able to pull me out of the vendors’ area in time and put a drink in my hand, which restored me to reality.

It was pretty much like this.

So I didn’t buy the dress, which is good, because I don’t have the money, but it did feel pretty cool to pull a dress and try it on, to be not blown off by the salespeople, and to have had the option. (The converse of that is, WHAT FUCKING BULLSHIT that I was ever blown off in the first place.)

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Accessorize! How to Make Ballroom Jewelry, Part One

As promised, here’s the next installment on costuming, as I learn to replicate expensive ballroom costume crap in the comfort and fabric-scrap-strewn luxury of my kitchen. Last time, we looked at how to make the straps that hold costumes together – today, it’s bracelets and armbands!

An essential component of any costume is bling. You have to accessorize your dress, or it looks half finished. The costume department on Dancing With The Stars has buckets of them so Karina can stack them up her tiny arms every week.

Trouble is, those accessories can end up costing as much as the dress – mostly because high quality Swarovski rhinestones are expensive, and gluing those little bastards onto things is a time intensive process.

At my most recent competition, I checked the price on regular bangle bracelets with a couple vendors, and the average market price these days is about $50-$60 per bracelet. That seemed pretty steep to me, so I decided to try making my own. I already had to make armbands for my Latin costume, so what the hell, right? I had taken the time to check out the bracelets and it seemed like it was just lycra wrapped around a stiff material to give the thing structure, and then stoned.

I decided to use 1/2 in plastic dress boning (hur, hur, BONING) as the stiff material (I know, I know). I cut it to size in strips and then ran a line of glue down the center of the boning strip so that when I rolled the lycra around it, it would stay put. I did the first one with E6000, but that was a little too much firepower, so for the second bracelet I used Gemtac and that was fine. I only needed enough glue to hold the fabric in place for a bit while I wrapped the lycra, not enough to permanently secure it through the zombie apocalypse.

I hand-sewed through the lycra and the boning along the inside of the strip, just to make sure that it stayed attached.

After I ran the stitches all the way down the strip, I cut off the extra lycra and figured out how to make the strip into a circle.

The first thing I tried was just joining the ends together and whip stitching it closed. But that did not work at all because the boning sat in a teardrop shape instead of the circle that I wanted. So I pulled it all out and figured that I needed to have some overlap of the two ends in order for the circle to stay intact once I sewed it shut.

I overlapped the two ends about 1/4 of an inch and hand sewed (hand shoved my needle – that was a lot of crap to sew through!) the thing closed, which ended up giving me a pretty satisfactory circle. I tried to keep everything as tacked down as possible so that when I was ready to stone the bracelet, there wouldn’t be any extra fabric or thread or loose ends of things fouling up my stoning.

Then I stoned it with Swarovski – I ran a line of Crystal AB 20ss down the center and filled it out with Crystal AB 16ss on either side, which fit just about perfectly. The 20ss go much faster, but the 16ss give more sparkle, and also I had more of them, so that’s what happened.

I’m really happy with the way they came out – they look exactly like the ones the vendors sell (except that mine are slightly different colored lycra and the stoning is better). And God knows I saved some money! It literally came out to about ten percent of the cost. If I had more ambition, I would do some bracelets and sell them. Maybe a summer project?

Total cost for 2 bracelets – $11.95 (versus $110.00)

4 way stretch lycra – $1.05

Plastic boning (ha!) – $0.40

Gemtac, stones, thread – $10.50

Total time – about three hours (but only because I was learning – the second bracelet I did in about an hour start to finish)

The finished product, shown here with Latin fingers so you get the full effect. (You will also note that I have not one but two different kinds of fake tan in the background – that’s ballroom for you, baby. You can also see the plastic boning strips in their raw form on the left – they worked really well, and I have a giant roll of the stuff that only cost $20. It would probably make about 23948290384023 bracelets.)

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Ballroom, Body Image, and Lousy Bargains

[Disclaimer: this is my personal experience and not any kind of representative sample. Also, all the stuff I’m talking about here has been my experience as a professional; my experience as a student was very different, so please don’t anybody think I’m talking about your experience, your situation. I’m really not.]

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Two years ago: I was having coffee with a friend, my competition fake nails (bright orange) wrapped around the white mug which I thought looked cool. 

“If it makes me too crazy, I’ll stop,” I said. “I can keep it straight in my head.”

“I don’t know if you’ll be able to,” she said. “Is it worth it?”

“I think so,” I said. “It’s hard. But I think I can keep it from getting to me, too much.”

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A year ago: a conversation with a coach.

“Take it from me,” he said. “Unless you look the right way, they just don’t take you seriously.”

“I know,” I said.

“The judges won’t even look at your dancing,” he said. “It’s just the way it is.”

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Two weeks ago: a conversation with a student.

“You look amazing,” she said. “Like, you always looked great, but now…”

“Well, thanks,” I said, “I’ve been training pretty hard and I’m happy with where my dancing is.”

“No,” she said, “I mean, sure, your dancing is awesome, but I mean… YOU look great. Like, you’ve lost a lot of weight and, I don’t know, you look like a real ballroom dancer now.”

*     *     *

When I started dancing again three years ago, I was pretty seriously out of shape, for lots of reasons. Still, I had worked hard in my own brain to be okay with who I was and how I looked.

It would take me a long time, but I finally managed to mostly stop that horrible thing where when you feel bad about yourself, you say the worst things you can think of in your brain… why? I don’t know, I think it’s sort of like emotional cutting. It’s really nasty. Anyway, my go-to most horrible thing was always, you’re fat, you’re ugly. Simple, distilled, and unvarnished.

And it worked, until one day I (thanks in no small part to feminism and body acceptance activists’ writing) I said to myself, dude, seriously – you are fat. Relax. It’s fine. It’s just what it is. And you’re not ugly. And even if you were, why is that like the worst thing in the world? Who is it hurting?¬†

And after that, I would still, when I felt horrible, fall into the thought pattern of: you are so disgusting…but then I would think, eh, maybe? But whatever. Not that big a deal.

Changing that thought process and actually appreciating my body for what it could do instead of hating it for being a constant disappointment was no easy task.

Which is why when I started dancing more seriously and getting into better shape, it felt almost like a betrayal.

I hated that I was getting non-stop positive reinforcement from people – you look so great! Yay for you! Oh my gosh, you look amazing!

Which basically just meant, in my brain: you know all that damaging shit you thought about yourself before? Yeah, you were right. And everybody else thought it too.

The problem is, on the floor, your body is your instrument. That’s what you perform with, that’s the site where your art is produced. So you have to be okay with it being the object of other peoples’ regard, with their critical gaze – that’s part of the JOB. But it also sucks because, you know, it’s you. Added to which, the emotional intensity and honesty that dancing requires means that if you ARE separated from your body, if you are not truly engaged with your movement, it doesn’t work. So you have to fully inhabit your body and accept that it will be constantly critiqued.¬†It’s difficult not to take that personally.

I know – I absolutely know – that in many ways, ballroom dancing is a shallow fucking industry. That’s okay. Take it or leave it, right?

But some days, the lack of critical awareness is harder than others. And it’s even tougher when you’re a smart cookie who doesn’t look like a ballroom dancer is supposed to look.

I am not a tiny Russian woman, with legs up to my eyebrows and perfect ballet feet. I never will be. At my highest potential, when I am eventually in the best shape I possibly can be, I will be super strong and powerful, but still short and pretty compact. That’s just how I’m built.

Right now, I’m still Ballroom Fat (TM) – basically like Hollywood Fat. Defined as: actually totally fine and in good shape and in a normal, uncrazy world, not really meriting comment; but in your weird twisted world, so gross.

And you know what sucks about that the most? I see these other girls on the floor, thin and pretty and tan, and I am objectively better than they are. Like, my turns are faster, my footwork is cleaner, my connection is better, my dancing is just of a higher standard. But it does. Not. Matter.

Until I look the right way, I am not going to have an easy time finding a serious partner, and I am not going to be marked well by the judges. It sucks out loud, and I hate it. Because I actually like how I look and my whole situation, but I know that I am in the minority on that one. There is a certain standard, an appearance, A Look – and it’s just the ante you have to throw on the table, your cost of admission. You don’t have to like it, and you don’t have to agree with it, but it’s how the system works.

So now, unlike before, the shit I say to myself is true.

Why doesn’t that dude want to dance with you? Because you’re fat.

Why did you not make the finals? Because you look the wrong way.

I know that it’s shallow and stupid and that’s okay, I guess, because mostly I don’t feel bad about myself, I just feel tired. It is exhausting to know that you are looked at and judged and that you fall short all the time, and even worse to realize that when someone actually takes the time to see you and your dancing, they recognize the quality. Always the tone of surprise – hey, you’re pretty good!

Fuck you.

But really? What I dislike the most is the crazy bargains it makes me deal with, the chock full of nuts ideas it makes me entertain.

*     *     *

A week ago: drinks with another dancer.

“I need the judges to look at me and not say, oh, that fat girl is a pretty decent dancer,” I said.

“Totally,” she replied. “You want them to look at you and say, oh, that girl is a good dancer.”

“Exactly,” I said.

“But you’re doing it, right?” she asked. “I mean, you’re in better shape and you’re eating better, and, like, you must feel better…”

“I am, and I do,” I said. “But how fucked up is it that I don’t really care about any of that? Like, if you said to me: you can dance for the next twenty years and stay pretty much how you are right now, or you can dance for five years, blow your knees completely, but look thin and amazing for that period? I would take the five.”

“And I hate that I think that,” I added.

“Yeah,” she said, thinking for a long moment. “But I’d take the five too.”

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(Semi) Live! Behind the scenes competition blogging, part two

I’m back home again – I really tried to update LIIIIVE, but I’ll tell you the honest-to-God truth:

(1) I was working my tail off.

(2) When I wasn’t working I was out carousing with other dancers.

(3) When I wasn’t carousing or working I was passed out dead asleep so that I could continue to do (1) and (2).

Y’all, it was super fun. The other issue is that until yesterday, I had my competition nails on, and I don’t know about you, but I find it absolutely impossible to type with those stupid bastards. It hurts, and it’s awkward, and I am usually a super fast typist so it irritates the hell out of me.

But! I did keep notes! So for anybody who loves ballroom competitions, who’s considering competing, who just generally finds the whole thing fascinating because it is a tan and sparkly circus sideshow, I present, in no particular order, DO’s and DON’Ts of ballroom competition, followed by some stuff I learned at this comp that was new to me. (I’ve been doing this crap for a while, but this was my first time on the judges’ side, so it was pretty instructive.

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DO dance as many heats as you possibly can. Look, competing (as a student) is expensive, no lie. I get that. All the professionals get that. But if you’re going to do it, I swear to God, you will have infinitely more fun if you dance 80 heats as compared to 15. You’re already there, you’re already looking fabulous, you might as well just do it! There is nothing, NOTHING worse than sitting and watching other people dance and thinking, shit, I should be out on that floor.

DO enjoy yourself! If you’re going to be out on the floor, please be having fun! If you look terrified or bored, it is just a bummer. Just enjoy the hell out of it; the judges will forgive a lot if you smile and take genuine pleasure in your dancing.

DON’T overdo it on the dress. Be sensitive to what flatters your particular body type and your dancing. I know that I always say, it’s ballroom, more is more…but ladies. Seriously. Sometimes, no, it is not. If your dress has feathers and ruffles and stones and netting and gloves and a goddamn cocker spaniel, it’s probably too much. You want people to watch your dancing, not whisper about the dress.

DO own your floor. That part of the floor you’re dancing on? It’s YOURS. It belongs to YOU. You are the Lord High Commander of that part of the floor – own it! Take up space! Do not allow other people to impinge on your sovereign territory! I was watching some friends of mine compete in the pro divisions, and I’m telling you, there were seventeen or eighteen couples out on the floor. I was looking for these friends and couldn’t find them – why? They weren’t owning their floor.

DO show up to the on-deck area. Don’t be an ass about this. If you are a pro and you are dancing with six different ladies, I get it. You can’t line up on deck every time. But if that’s you, it’s YOUR responsibility to be on your shit and not miss a heat. Do not make the deck captain come look for you. Do not make the MC announce your number over the loudspeaker. Embarrassing!

DO be pleasant and courteous to everyone. You know why? Well, number one, it’s decent fucking manners, and what, were you raised in a barn? But if you need a more politic reason – you never know who is behind you, or who is paying attention. People remember. Keep your mouth shut. Be pleasant. If you need to talk shit, roll out of the ballroom and wait until you are in a secure third-party location.

DO get over yourself. At the end of the day, it’s still a damn ballroom dance competition. It’s pretty ridiculous. Don’t take yourself too seriously.

Oh, I almost forgot – this is probably my number one rule:

DO cut the waistband out of your fishnets. Ladies, you look beautiful. You have these amazing dresses, you spent a ton of money on them, your hair and makeup looks great! Please please please please please do not wear fishnets with the waistband cutting you in half like a sausage. I don’t care what kind of shape you are or aren’t in, it’s still visible. And it looks bad. Fishnets are made of elastic. Your dress has a built in bodysuit. Get some scissors, cut the waistband off your fishnets, and they will still stay up and do their job and you will have a smooth line.

*     *     *

And here is some stuff I learned, in no particular order:

‚ÄĘ Being able to haul ass gracefully and still smile at the judges is worth something. Way to not fall down and still BOOK it across the ballroom! One judge said to me, “Girl, you were RUNNING. I was watching you more than I was watching the pros compete. It was more interesting.”

‚ÄĘ The best hair spray (maybe ever?) is got2b glued freezing spray. Seriously, I did my hair Friday afternoon and then worked my tail off Friday evening and then went out and fell into bed around 4 and then I got up and showered around 8 am (I kept it from getting too wet) and MY HAIR STILL LOOKED PERFECT. Awesome.

‚ÄĘ All judges mark differently. Some are done scoring thirty seconds in, some wait until the music stops to write down their order, and some do a rough draft order and then revise it as they watch the heat. The moral of the story is, if anybody tells you stupid things like, oh, all judges do x, they are wrong. Wrong!

‚ÄĘ Smashbox makes this really amazing concealer. If you are, I don’t know, let’s just pick a random example, going out drinking and dancing till five in the morning and kissing a bunch of random boys and girls and then rolling back to your hotel room and trying to look ballroom polished and fabulous for a seven am call, THIS IS YOUR CONCEALER.

‚ÄĘ Always overdress. (That’s one of my rules for living, actually, but I saw it in action this week.) There was a lovely girl, brand new trainee instructor, who showed up to the last evening’s formal banquet and show in what was basically a sun dress. Nobody cared, really, because whatever, but she was uncomfortable. Always bring an extra evening gown, or something that is black tie appropriate. You never know. It’s ballroom, baby. You can’t overdo it. (Except for the feathers + spaniel dress situation, but that’s been covered.)

‚ÄĘ The judges notice and remember bad behavior on the part of professionals. As a student, the event is for YOU. The pros are there to make sure you dance well and have fun, not to be tools. Not only do the judges notice and remember, they tell each other about it and laugh and laugh and laugh and then they do not call you back when you are on the floor with your professional partner. (See above, don’t be an ass.)

‚ÄĘ Students are amazing. Seriously, it is so awesome to see them improving and learning and dancing their hearts out on the floor. It is ABSOLUTELY what makes this the best job in the world. If you are a student – thank you!!!!! You are the best.

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Live! Behind the scenes competition blogging, part one

So I got into town this morning, all ready to go! I think it is going to be really hard to work this competition and know that I am not dancing at all – that completely sucks. There are lots of (bullshit and non-bullshit, but mostly bullshit) reasons why that’s the case, but it still sucks out loud. I predict having several drinks and bitching at length about that situation around Friday or Saturday evening.

I love ballroom competitions. They are weird, and artificial, and bizarre, and AMAZING. There’s something about them that is just so great – I don’t know what it is. Thank God that I have a competition coming up in two weeks that I am dancing in; and dancing a shit ton, as well.¬†Given that I am ALREADY getting bummed out about not dancing, and we haven’t even convened yet, it’s a pretty good sign (and a good heads up in the Making Life Choices division) that next time I do one of these bad boys I better be on the floor at some point.

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I remember my first real competition as a new baby dancer; I had no idea that you could make ladies’ hair do some of the things they did to it. And of course, not knowing ballroom hair from a hole in the ground, I did mine very badly with, like, no hairspray at all, and it fell down into my face during the samba, nearly killing some innocent bystanders with bobby pin shrapnel. Never again!

*      *      *

So at this competition, I am working as a runner – the person who runs around and picks up scoresheets from the judges (who usually stand on the edge of the dance floor) and delivers them to the scrutineer (who inputs those scores and tabulates the placements for a particular heat). I haven’t done this job before, really – I’ve been a deck captain (the person who gets everybody in the next heat lined up – “on deck” – and ready to go so that the competition runs smoothly) and have assisted the judges before, but that was at a much smaller event. This is a big national competition, and it will be very interesting to see how it goes.

So why am I doing this? Couple of reasons:

(1) It’s a great way to get to know the judges and the national-level folks at various studios and organizations.

(2) It pays pretty decently.

(3) If I can’t be on the floor with students or a pro partner, it’s the next best thing.

I am going to be super ballroom about it, though – I want people to see me doing my job and know that I am a DANCER, not just some random flunky who wears a lot of black. The kiss of death question is, “so, do you dance?” You bet your sweet ass I do. So hair, nails, tan (although not so much tan as I would do if I were really competing) and ballroom-business attire… a chimeric hybrid of dancewear and business attire that says, yes, I know how to WORK IT on the floor, but right now I am being professional and organized, excuse me, I know this blazer looks awesome and my skirt is HELLA flippy.

We have our first judges’ meeting tonight at six; I better get my fake nails glued on before then.

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Dress Repair 101 – Strap it on!

So you know those nude straps that hold essentially every ballroom costume together?

Every ballroom costume made after 1989, that is.

I pulled some pink straps off a smooth dress and was trying to replicate them in nude:

 

(The bottom one is the original strap from the dress – the top is one of my failed attempts.)

It was 100% trial and error – I knew that basically, you had to wrap 1/2 inch elastic in 4-way stretch lycra and zig-zag stitch it, but that was about the extent of my knowledge. Here, presented for your entertainment, are some do’s and don’t of how ¬†to sew nude costume straps.

 

(1) DON’T make a sausage casing.¬†

So my first idea was to make a sort of sausage casing/pillowcase for the elastic and just slide it in. This is a terrible idea for a couple reasons. Firstly, lyrcra is a slippery bitch, and trying to get it to stay still while you sew it is ridiculous. Secondly, there’s no way it will be tight enough unless you sew it smaller than the 1/2 inch and then you have to shove the elastic through and it does not stretch properly. Plus, the elastic will slide around inside the lyrcra and just generally look like crap. It’s like a bizarre elastic condom. Nobody wants that.

 

(1a) Don’t use lycra that’s too soft.

I started off with this 4 way stretch that is actually swimsuit lining (I think) because the color was closer to what I wanted. But it was so soft, it kept tearing at the needle puncture sites when I stretched the elastic. There’s no way it would be tough enough to stand up to ballroom wear. So I ended up going with sparkly nude instead that was a little darker, but much more durable. I also experimented with red – it turns out that it doesn’t matter at all if the grain of the lycra lines up with the elastic, it all stretches great no matter how you slap it together. So that’s nice.

 

(2) DON’T just assume that because you cut it wide enough, the edges will meet.¬†

I thought, you know, just fold it and kind of push the edges together as you sew and it will work out! Here’s why that turned out to be a stupid idea: LYCRA IS SLIPPERY AS A MOTHERFUCKER. It slides around and the edge you THOUGHT was attached turns out not to be, so the fabric doesn’t actually wrap all the way around the elastic. It will look good from the front, and then you turn it over and swear a whole lot because that turned out to be a total waste of time.

 

(3) DON’T pull the elastic through the machine.

So I have my mother’s old sewing machine (which incidentally I had NO idea how to thread or do anything with, so thanks internet for helping a sister out) and when I was about ten, she was teaching me how to sew pillowcases and curtains and whatnot. She would always tell me not to pull the fabric through – guide it through from the front of the machine, don’t pull it from the back. And then she would swear like a sailor because she actually hated sewing and it was a pain in her ass and why wouldn’t the motherfucking bobbin sit in the goddamned thing fucking correctly etc etc.¬†

Turns out that lesson (plus the profanity) are still constants in my sewing efforts. I was attempting to pull the lycra tight around the elastic, but in the process of trying to wrap a stretchy slippery fabric around a substance whose entire point of being is to elasticate, I ended up pulling it and the zig zag stitch I was laying in didn’t fall properly – it ended up with this weird warped sort of thing happening, so the strap would not have lain flat once it was attached to the dress. Bummer.

 

(4) DO pretend it’s a burrito.

Cut the lycra a little wider than double the width of the elastic, and fold one side over the elastic so that it’s flush with an edge, and then fold the other side over. Hold that bitch tight and run a quick line of stitches across the top of the elastic so that nothing moves. After that, sort of keep folding it over as you go down, folding one side in to stay close to the edge of the elastic and pulling the other side all the way across. Because it’s wider, the extra fabric will actually go past the elastic – this is totally fine, don’t stress out about that. After you’ve gone all the way down, set a similar line of stitches on the bottom of the elastic. Then trim off the extra fabric close to the zig-zag stitch – this is easy because you can just pull on the lycra and sort of run your scissors along and it comes right off and doesn’t fray.

Finished product:

 Yay! Learning by doing.

Next time: attaching sequin fringe and making armbands.

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Liveblogging a dance competition from the inside!

So next week I will be at a big national dance competition (about 10,000 entries over four days, to give you a sense of scale) working for the judges. I’m going to liveblog the whole process – that’s right, I’m going to be reporting liiiiiiiiiiiiiive from the floor to throw out some thoughts about competitive ballroom.

(I love that even though I am not dancing at this comp, I am still tanning because I’m going to be on the floor under the lights and I don’t want to look un-ballroom and bring shame on my house. Ballroom! It’s weird.)

To all six readers out there – let me know if there’s something you’d really like to know, and I’ll try to find out for you. But don’t get crazy, this isn’t the New York Times.

 

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