Tag Archives: fashion

Bring a friend.

Pierre Balmain working on a dress for Ruth Ford. I wish that this was the face I made when trying things on 100% of the time.

So you guys, here is some exciting news – I totally bought a dress! I was just sort of browsing and then I found an AWESOME and PERFECT and sort of WEIRD dress that I love. Added bonus? I got a great deal on it, and the designer is going to add a removable underskirt so it can work as a smooth OR a rhythm dress. Fabulous fabulous fabulous.

(Hey, wait! you say. Aren’t you having a dress made? What is up with that, Imelda Marcos Ballroom Dancer? To which I say, I am totally having a dress made, and it is going to be super awesome and amazing BUT it is my professional competitive dress which means that it is going to be not a lot of fabric? It is not really dancing-with-students appropriate, especially when you bear in mind that some of my students are like, eleven years old. Also a lot of people will change dresses between Rising Star and Open divisions, or even between semis and finals, and it would be nice to have that option. So in addition to my super serious professional amazing dress, I need kid-appropriate dresses that are still fun and awesome and could work on the pro floor too. That’s a high bar! But man, thanks for asking.)Yeah, so anyway, the dress-buying process made me think about all the bad choices you see on a regular basis in the ballroom world. It is unreal how many people wear clothes that do not fit or flatter them, or that do not highlight what they do well, or that emphasize the wrong thing, or that simply do not suit the choreography they are doing AT ALL. Like, on any given Sunday in a competition ballroom the bad choices outweigh the good choices by a landslide.

It also made me think about the amount of hot air that gets blown up your skirt…people will tell you that ALL KINDS OF HIDEOUS CRAP looks great, either because they are terrible at looking at things with their eyes, or because they don’t want to hurt your feelings, or because they would really like to sell you said hideous crap.

Oh my gosh, you look awesome! Wow! This ugly ass gray-green-brown is TOTALLY YOUR COLOR! You’re so pretty! (Give me two thousand dollars, please.)

Which brings me to my main point: my darlings, if you are trying to buy a costume, BRING A FRIEND. It is easy to get flustered or upsold or to think that something looks good when it does NOT.

But not just any friend. You need a very specific kind of friend. I am fabulously lucky in that my friend who is my dress buddy is a dancer, so she knows what will and won’t work on the floor, but she is also a brilliant visual artist, so she has just the best eye.

(Me: “Hey, is this the shape dress I am allowed to wear?” Her: “Dude, no, remember what we said about this shape skirt?” Me: “Ohhhhh right. It was yellow and sparkly, so I got confused.”)

Plus she’s been through the hassle of dealing with her own ballgowns and their associated bullshit, and we have worked on a fair number of dresses together, so we can figure out what dress modifications are and aren’t possible given our current level of dress-fu. (Nor is this her first rodeo; she is good at recognizing danger signs and pulling me out of the line of fire so that I do not, for example, drop four grand on a dress I do not really need.)

Another great thing about her is that she does not filter her reactions to dresses AT ALL. They are right there on the face. So I know if I have put on something wacky and awesome or something just wrong. (The moral of this story is that my friend is the greatest person ever and you are all sad that she is not your friend. I know! That sucks for you! She is a lot of fun!)

SO, when I was trying on dresses yesterday, the lady who reps the design house (who is also a friend of mine, and whom I’ve worked with on many occasions) was doing her job really well, which meant she was telling me how great I looked and how slammin’ my bod was and how every damn dress I put on was fabulous and looked amazing and could be altered to look even MORE amazing.

Which was confusing! I am easily confused by people saying nice things to me! Happily my dress buddy was there and could look over and go ‘eh’ or ‘oh, interesting,’ or ‘take that ridiculous fucking shit off right now’ with her face.

And when I put on the good dress, the dress selling lady was right in there telling me how awesome it was BUT THIS TIME my friend was like, oh, oh yes, this dress is a winner. And I believed my friend, because I knew that she was totally right and that she would not let me look stupid.

Thank you, Ballroom Fairy, and thank you, dress selling lady, but most of all, thank you to my dress buddy, who is the shit.

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It’s chickpeas? Shut up.

(presented in no particular order)

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So the potential partner definitely blew me off. That’s par for the course. At least this time I actually danced with the dude before the blow off! Although, of course, this being ballroom, I just haven’t gotten a call back for two weeks. That qualifies as a Not Happening in my book.

I really wish DudeBro McLeaderson would’ve had the cojones to just call me and say, listen, you’re great, it’s not gonna work, thanks so much have a nice liiiiiife…

But no. Instead I am going to have to track his lazy ass down and make him actually say it so that there is closure and it’s not weird the next time I see him which will inevitably happen given that the ballroom community has like twelve people in it, half of whom are mad at/screwing/screwing OVER/have been screwed over by the other half.

It’s fine if you don’t want to dance with me. That’s super valid. But don’t be a tool. Just fucking man up and call me.

But then, if you could do that you could probably show up to a rehearsal on time (or at all) which is also not a strength. So that’s a whole thing. Whatever.

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I made these weird cookies. I don’t know, I kind of like them. But they’re legit weird. So they were a thing I found on the internet (she said with trepidation) and it seemed like a SUPER GOOD IDEA at the time and I just happened to have 100% of the necessary foo-foo gluten free fancy schmancy ass ingredients in my kitchen. And to the credit of the nice lady who put up all the pretty pictures, they seem like a fantastic idea. THIS IS WHY I WAS SUCKED IN.

Do mine look like this? HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA, no.

Right? But, so, yeah. These “cookies” (or whatever, baked good kind of deal) are chickpeas, natural peanut butter, agave syrup, vanilla, and baking powder. You toss all that in a food processor and blend the shit out of it.

So, it turns out I am not really 100% sure how to use my food processor? I bought it once and used it immediately (probably with the benefit of the goddamn instructions, which are now LONG GONE) and so I had to use a lot of trial and error. Mostly error. Because this dough shit is basically cement – at one point there was literally smoke coming out of the motor. This, I thought, was probably not a good sign.

But eventually I figured it out using my ape-brain and opposable thumbs and managed to blend together all the shit into a dough-like substance which was sticky as hell. And in the recipe the internet lady put in chocolate chips but it turned out that all I had were milk chocolate chips which I HATE so I had to find the only dark chocolate in my house which was half a bag of dark chocolate Hershey’s kisses. Right?

So I unwrap some of those bastards and throw them in, thinking (like a dumbass) that if I hit pulse they will get chopped up into chocolate chip type things. Uh, no. That is not how food processors work (see above). Turns out it just blended the shit out of the couple of kisses I did science with and turned the whole chickpea cement kind of chocolatey.

(ALLITERATION! Not just for foods with gluten.)

At which point I said, Fuck this, this whole experiment has ceased to be entertaining plus now I am realizing that I have to clean my goddamn food processor and remembering why I sometimes just give up and buy plastic silverware instead of, you know, doing dishes…. so I slapped those bitches onto a pan and threw a Hershey’s kiss on top of each one, reckoning that even if the cookie things were a total loss, at least I would get a warm Hershey’s kiss out of the operation.

Chocolate chickpea peanut butter goddamn pain in my ass cement cookie things…

And IN THE END, they were actually pretty fucking tasty. For a cement chickpea cookie thing. Don’t get crazy, it’s not foie gras or anything. But still. Fuck food processors and fuck me for occasionally thinking that I can actually do things that I have NO BUSINESS DOING.

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I really want this dress from Espen Salberg. Which is stupid, I have no dollars and no business buying a super cute dress but it is calling to me! It is saying BUY ME YOU KNOW YOU WANT TO MAYBE YOU WILL LOOK LIKE THIS COOL CHICA IN THE PICTURE IF YOU DOOOOO….

Espen Salberg Leopard Cowl Dress

Psssht, dress, you crazy. I don’t even have bangs!

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Maybe I should get BANGS. I need a haircut, for reals.

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FAQs on practicewear.

I recently ended up dropping about $400 in upscale practicewear for a showcase (a lady student and I need to wear the same thing in a two-couple Viennese waltz routine I’m choreographing), and I thought I would offer some thoughts on the subject (pictured below, Dance America’s D7 Short Draped Back Dress, available online through DanceShopper.com).

Q: So what the hell is practicewear?

It’s basically expensive-ass ladies’ clothing (because honestly, the men either wear their Latin pants or they don’t) designed for ballroom dancing, made out of the same expensive-ass materials ballroom costumes are made of. It tends to come in basic, solid colors (black, purple, red, blue, etc.) and is intended to stand up to long wear, travel, washing, getting shoved in the bottom of your dance bag, sweat, and still enhance the shit out of your movement when you wear it.

Q: I am a bronze 2/3/4/silver/open championship level/world ranked dancer. Do I need to buy practicewear?

Nope! You’re cool. You can totally practice in anything you want. When I don’t give a shit, or at the end of the day, my go-to practice outfit is a pair of stretch yoga pants from Old Navy and a tshirt from Target. Total cost something like $30.

Q: Okay. But couldn’t I just buy some flattering separates in black with some spandex or stretch in them at the mall and call it a day?

Sure! You look pretty. Do whatever. It really doesn’t matter.

Q: I still don’t get it. This is confusing.

That’s not really a question, but still. I hear you. Look, this is the situation: ‘practicewear’ is a stupid name. It should be called, “entry-level” or “basic ballroom costume wear”. Because you are not, unless you are absolutely built out of $100 bills, going to be wearing this stuff to practice in every day at the studio. You’re going to wear it (as a student) at a showcase, a fancy ball, a competition, a session with a coach. These are your ballroom church clothes.

Q: Ohhhh. Okay. That makes more sense. But why is it so expensive?

Well, the first issue is the material – most upscale decent practicewear is made out of four-way stretch lycra or poly/spandex or what one manufacturer (Chrisanne) calls ‘dancecrepe’ – basically a high-quality stretch material designed to stand up to the demands of pretty tough usage and still look fabulous. The second issue is the amount of material. If you are buying a short Latin/Rhythm dress, you may think that it’s not a lot of fabric, but odds are that the skirt is cut on the bias to make it twirl better. Check out that DanceAmerica dress on the left – it’s carefully draped, has a three-tiered ruffly skirt, and a cowl back. It’s a lot of fabric for the length dress it is. That fabric usage is only intensified when you get to long skirts for Standard or Smooth – often they are are eight or even twelve panels of fabric, with inset godets or flares. All of which is designed to make you look super cool when you turn (and it does!) but that’s a lot of fabric. You’re also paying for the construction – these garments are designed to not ride up or shift around or look bad the first time you start moving.

Q: Do I have to wear all black all the time?

No. You don’t. But I do. Because it looks nice. Don’t hate.

We all know that dancers wear black INCESSANTLY. There are a couple reasons for this. (1) It really does make you look thinner. It is not magical, okay? It will not somehow convince anybody that you are a size 2 if you are a size 22. But it helps you look your best at the size you are. (2) It unifies your lines. If you are colorblocked out (like you’re wearing a red shirt and black pants or something), that will cut your lines in half and make it tough to see what you’re doing. If you’re wearing all black (or all any color, but see #1) you will present a much more continuous picture and make it easier to focus on how the lines of your body look. (3) If all your clothes are already black (hi!) then you might as well stick with what works. Seriously, you guys, I am looking at my clean laundry, and it’s an entire basket of black. Well, black plus sheets. (4) If you wear all black, you can put any accents you want on top of that for easy changes. Tango? Toss a red flower in your hair. Samba? Get some neon bracelets. Waltz? Wear a floaty scarf. DONE. Practicewear! It is versatile. Do yourself a favor and buy shit that you can wear for multiple things and in multiple incarnations.

Q: I wear a size 16 or up. Can I wear any of this shit?

Maybe! It is a bullshit reality of the world of dancewear that much of it is designed around the body of a relatively small woman (probably in the 5’3″ – 5’6″ range, and between a size 0 to 4). Don’t take that personally. It sucks for tall girls, it sucks for really short girls, it sucks for bigger girls…. basically it sucks for pretty much everybody.

Nevertheless. Here’s the size chart from Dance America for the dress above:


I would say Dance America, because their sizes run a little big anyway, is probably is your best best for larger sizes. And bear in mind that all dancewear is incredibly stretchy. So there’s a lot of give there. But the flip side of stretchy is that, well, it might be stretched pretty tight against your body. So please please please wear correct foundation garments – either dance pants/dance trunks or something similar, and a supportive bra. It will make you look infinitely better and you’ll be able to focus on your movement and not whether your skirt is flipping up too much.

If an XL is too small, then there are some other options. eK clothing is a company that does casual dancewear; their line is aimed at salsa and club dancers, so it’s priced and constructed accordingly. I will say that I have bought pieces from them that are perfectly fine, and I like them – but I would not wear them to a session with a coach or out on the floor to perform. I would wear them for social dancing, which is what they’re intended to do. The super cool thing about eK clothing is that they do offer some of their dresses in plus sizes, up to 2X or 3X in some designs. They also tend to run large and have a lot of stretch. They also have a great returns policy, so the safest thing (because the sizing can be inconsistent) is just to order a whole shit ton of stuff and try it on, and send back what doesn’t work. I have this dress, and I love it. I wear it pretty frequently, and it’s stood up pretty well, although the fabric is quite thin.

Q: Well, shit. I don’t have $200 for practicewear. My lessons are expensive! Can’t I buy the same design on eBay from a shady operator in Hong Kong and save myself some money?

You can. But you’re an idiot if you do. There are a range of good, high-quality designers who retail here and in Europe, and most of them are readily available online. The shit you buy on eBay is half-assed and has no guarantee of quality – you might come out okay or you might come out with something completely horrendous. Not to mention the fact that the eBay retailers are ripping off designs and presenting them as their own. That sucks.

If you want to buy practicewear (and again, you don’t need to!) sink the money into a quality garment that will actually fucking last, flatter your body, enhance your movement, and make you feel like the special fucking snowflake that you are.

Q: Jesus, okay! Relax already. So can you tell me about these companies/designers you like? And how do they fit? I want to buy some practicewear, maybe, but I can’t try it on.

I’m relaxed. I’M RELAXED, GODDAMMIT. Anyway.

If you want to try stuff on, you have two options – order it online from someplace with a generous return policy and keep what fits, or wait until you are at a sizable competition (something along the lines of Emerald or USBC, or maybe even Desert Classic) and then go see the vendors.

Okay, companies – in no particular order, here are some observations on my experiences with major practicewear designers. Bear in mind that most of these companies (with the exception of Dance America, which I don’t think does real costumes, although I could be wrong) also design and sell actual costumes, so you’ll hear their names frequently.

  • Dance America: retails a wide range of practicewear (skirts, tops, dresses, and even a few pairs of pants) in solid colors. They change out their colors seasonally – this spring they have a tangerine that I absolutely love, and a few seasons ago they had a really stunning royal blue. Their line is pretty universally flattering. I have seen it on ladies of all sizes and shapes, and because it is heavy on the draping and the ruching, it generally looks pretty great on everybody. I myself own several pieces by Dance America, and I have been really happy with the quality and longevity of all of them. I wear my clothes hard, and I throw them in the wash on cold with Woolite Black and let them air dry, and they all look just as good as when I bought them. I will say that Dance America’s sizing tends to run big, in my experience – probably buy a size smaller than you normally would UNLESS you are buying a full-length dress, in which case stick to your normal size. They are cut a little short for my tall ladies, which sucks. I have, for example, the skirt at right in black (although I have a slightly older model of that skirt, I think – it used to be called the ‘Orchid skirt’ or something like that) and I am short (5’4″) without heels. If I wear it so that the ruching sits at my hips, the thing comes down right to the ankle (pretty much the same way it fits on the model). For a lady with longer legs or a longer torso, it would be a little short.
  • CHRISANNE: a couture ballroom design house from the UK, Chrisanne sells practicewear but their mainstays are costumes and dance fabrics. If you are ever making your own dress, you really cannot do better than ordering Chrisanne fabric. It is absolutely top end stuff. They have a ton of basics in a limited range of colors (mostly black, white, and purple), and have recently begun bringing in designers to do lines of themed practicewear that can be quite fun. They are a relatively conservative house, design-wise, but their pieces are classic and will never go out of style. Their fabrics are lighter than your standard dance fabrics – a thing they call ‘dancecrepe’ – but don’t let it fool you, that shit wears like IRON. I bought a practice skirt from Chrisanne as my very first ballroom thing, back in college in like 2002, and I still wear that skirt three or four days a week to teach in. It still looks fantastic, it’s lost none of its stretch, and the only issue I have is that Chrisanne doesn’t even make it anymore. But it’s a lot like this:

  • DSI London: Used to be called Hearn & Spencer, Ltd., but changed their name in 2000 to DanceSport International, Ltd. Another UK-based retailer, they do the full range of dance supplies (fabrics, shoes, trimming, accessories, CDs and DVDs, books, and of course practicewear for men and ladies). They do couture and custom costumes, and their practicewear line is not quite as extensive as that of Chrisanne or Dance America, but they do offer some designs that are less commonly found. I just ordered this skirt, which I think is beautiful, and I’ll let you know how it works on the floor. I also ordered it for my student, so I’ll pass along her feedback as well.

Q: Where can I buy all this stuff?

The best place is Danceshopper.com. I can’t say enough about their fantastic customer service! Just awesome. Do be careful to note the in stock availability of what you want, as well as shipping times – not everything is always ready to go all the time. But if you have any uncertainty, just email them and they will get right back to you asap. They offer free shipping on orders over $99 (which, honestly, all dancewear is) and a 30-day return policy. Yay Danceshopper!

Q: A lot of this dancewear looks the same.  And, Christ, it’s ALL BLACK. I know that’s a thing, but seriously. I feel like Morticia Addams. Where should I go if I want to stand out from the crowd a little more?

I would head to Espen Salberg or Santoria, two other design houses (in no way related) whose designs I like but from whom I have yet to buy anything. Espen Salberg’s collections tend to be more adventurous in their cut and construction, while Santoria’s push the envelope by showcasing a lot of bold prints (although, because it’s ballroom dancewear, everything is usually available in black as well). I will say that my impression is that both lines are not necessarily designed for every woman. Many of their pieces will probably work  well if you look like the model, but otherwise, perhaps not so much. A company like Dance America is definitely aimed at a broader demographic, whereas these guys (both in price point and in design) seem less interested in retailing to that wider market. But again, I haven’t worn any of their pieces myself, so this is pure conjecture.

I think that both of these pieces below (halter top by Espen Salberg, dress by Santoria) are super cool – I like that they look different!

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