Choosing your first ballroom competition dress / by Maria Chitul, June 2007 /
Maria is the owner of Ballroom Sparkle studio, offering custom made gowns for ballroom competitions and dance shows. Maria Chitul: "I know how important it is to feel relaxed and certain of your appearance when standing on the dance floor."
Part I: If you haven’t been taking part in dance shows or stage performances before, choosing your first ballroom competition dress might turn to be a challenging task. Most probably you are not ready to spend a fortune on your first competition costume, you are also not sure what color or design to choose, you might not even know where to buy a dress for dance competitions at all. Still, this is your first big show and you want to look great and be the queen of the ball. This article addresses some of the basic questions most of the beginners bump into when looking for their dance costumes for competition.
Pre-owned gowns. If you need a ballroom competition dress quickly you may consider buying a second hand gown from other dancers. The pre-owned gowns come in all shapes and sizes, priced extremely differently. From cheap “home-made” gowns, to brand new “designer sponsored” dresses, which were only worn once and are now offered for sale with a discount. Sponsored gowns are usually beautiful, heavily stoned, but imho quite expensive for a beginner. Still, the range of gowns is very big so you are likely to find something appropriate for your level and your pocket. When buying a pre-worn gown be sure to ask how many times this dress was worn, require a closer picture of the dress and possibly agree on a return in case the dress turns to be not quite as “brand new” as promised.
Question N1. Do I need a dance costume? Some couples decide not to bother with their dance costumes for competition at all. I’ve noticed people wearing their disco party clothes or their evening gowns at ballroom competition. To some extent it makes sense of course. You might not even be sure if you are going to continue dancing at all. Why buy a competition ballroom dress to leave it dust in your closet afterwards? However, I don’t think it’s really a good option. Mainly for the reason you are unlikely to feel comfortable wearing these clothes. Party and evening dresses are often made of a non-stretchy fabric that is not suited for ballroom dancing.
The ballroom competition costumes are specifically designed to show off the ballroom movements and positions to best advantage. Long full skirts in smooth/standard dances accentuate the gliding movements of the dancer, while fringed or ripped skirts show off the hip work and fast movements in latin. The regular evening dress simply wouldn’t make the same impression.
The second reason you should consider your looks seriously is that despite everything the judges and teachers say – ballroom dancing is quite a subjective sport. It’s important for you to stand out on the dance floor. And a good ballroom costume is one of the factors that will help you do so.
So my position here is: if you are a beginning dancer who doesn’t want to spend large sums on dance costumes for competitions - go for professional look at the cheapest cost you can find. You may either rent a costume, or order a simple undecorated dress from a tailor – neither will require a fortune.
Question N.2. Where do I find dance costumes for competition?
Start your quest for ballroom competition costume from your dancing teacher. He is the person who usually knows good tailors or ballroom dance shops in your area and who can recommend you one. He also knows the actual level of the approaching competition and can advice you what kind of gown would be appropriate to wear for it. The dress code may vary from competition to competition - you want to be neither overly dressed nor look too modest compared to other couples.
Ballroom dress seamstress. Having your competition dress custom made is probably the best option, given that you managed to find a good ballroom dress maker . A custom made dress is guaranteed to fit your figure, compliment your face complexion and be adjusted to your budget. By having your dress made – you get much more flexibility in choosing fabric, colors, and ballroom dress design. You will also get some professional advice from the seamstresses who designed many ballroom dresses before and therefore know what ballroom dress design would suit you best. A good ballroom dress tailor will always recommend you how to save on a dress if you have a limited budget. For instance the tailor may design the dress in a way so he could add more decorations or extra floats/feathers/skirts later on. The only possible disadvantage of a custom-made gown is that it takes some time.
Ballroom dress rentals. Renting a ballroom dancing gown is another option you might consider. If you are not sure about what design or color would suit you best, don’t have more than 200 USD to spend and still want a nice professional competition dress – consider a dress rental. The rentals would usually let you choose between two or three dresses, too. And some would even let you buy the dress, if you loved it too much to give it back.
Part II. Style. There isn’t a single answer as to what ballroom dress would suit you best. The first and probably the most important condition is that you have to feel comfortable both emotionally and physically in the dress of your choice. Take some time and think – how do you see yourself on the dance floor? Are you chick? Romantic? Passionate? Flirty? You should choose a design that would appeal to your inner self and to your style of dancing. In my experience the time spent on finding your own style pays off much better than any designer-made dress stuffed with stones from head to toes. Be sure to discuss your preferences with your partner. Ideally you should develop a common image of you as a couple.
A couple where the girl looks like a high-class sophisticated lady while her partner plays a hot Macho man looks somehow weird.
Basic Fit. Take a few simple precautions to ensure you will feel ok in your costumes during the competition. Raise your hands, make a couple of moves in front of the mirror, and observe the skirt motion. For standard dresses – make sure not to choose a very long skirt or you risk catching your heels in it. For latin gowns – its important that your top stays in place while you are dancing. The straps should be elastic and strong enough not to fall off your shoulders, and your bra or the sewed-in bra cups shouldn’t move from your breasts. Take some time to practice dancing together with your partner in your competition costumes. Your skirt should allow enough room for motion for both of you, and your sleeves should not impede your partner to hold your hands or change places. Every competition follows a certain dress code, which might not allow some fabrics or decorations for your dance level. It’s better to learn them in advance not to get banned from the dance floor only for wearing latin competition gown decorated with feathers which were not allowed.
Colors – safe black or blatant pink? Choosing dull colors is probably the commonest mistake a beginning performer makes. Being scared away by the bright colors, he would never wear in the real life, like pink or bright-green he ends up choosing something absolutely plain like grey, charcoal or brown. There’s nothing wrong with choosing dim colors, but any dancing competition - is still a show and it is important to stand out. If all the other dancers are in red, your black dress will look gorgeous.
But if you have no idea what other competitors wear – my suggestion is to bet for brighter colors. Of course this doesn’t cancel the need to choose the colors that suit your complexion and compliment your figure. Not everyone can safely wear bright “electric” colors, like orange or fuchsia. Orange would look great on dark haired tanned girls while a blond girl would look greenish in it. Pink shades suit many skin types and are quite popular, yet they can add you several extra kg’s, so pick the design carefully.
Black always looks elegant and sophisticated, but it usually requires some bright accessories or a lot of sparkling stones to help it stand out. Otherwise, since your partner is usually wearing black it is likely you will blend on his background. Brown and sand colors should be picked carefully for the same reason - they tend to blend you with the floor. White looks great on most people, it gives a fresh and rich impression, yet it is quite impractical.
Summarizing the above said – besides matching your taste and complexion – the color should not be dim or “dusty”, it shouldn’t blend with your face, your partner’s clothes or the dance floor. If you are picking a popular color, which many dancers are likely to wear, such as flame red or pink – try to find an unusual ballroom gown design that would let you stand out. Or, ask your tailor to design a dress just for you.
Stage look. Another little thing you should keep in mind while choosing dress fabric and design. It mostly matters how you look at a distance. You dance for the audience, which sits quite far from you (5-10-15-20 m away). Any small pattern would either go unnoticed or would look silly. And vice-versa: If the dress you are looking at looks vulgar to you - put it on the rack and get a second look at a 10m distance. You might change your mind then. Say no to small dots, little flowers, and the like. The only exception is probably animal print, but again, make sure it’s visible from a 10 m. distance. My personal opinion is that it’s always better to buy a fabric with no patterns and decorate the dress with stones and appliqué work after that: this method leaves you with more space for improvisation.
A final platitude for a summary.
No matter how gorgeous your dress is – it does not guarantee you the finals. But a well chosen dress - one that fits your figure, has an interesting design, right colors, topped with a good makeup – will definitely make you stand out. Wearing it, you will feel comfortable during your performance and will get the biggest prize for any dancer: the audience applauses.
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