Tag Archives: costs

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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