All the Sparkles

Hello Everyone! Sorry for this post being so late, this past holiday season has been a little crazy.

So the topic of this weeks post has to do with sparkles, more specifically ballroom dance costumes and when they should be allowed and when they shouldn’t. Now before I step into this someone volatile territory, I will say this: it has nothing to do with judges marks or being seen. That has been argued and I have heard judges and professionals give their opinions. I will let them debate that topic, because they only know what goes on in their heads. In the current trend a lot of syllabus dancers (newcomer through gold) in the collegiate community are starting the wear costumes.

However, I believe that costumes should be reserved for those who have made it in to the open levels of dancing. These levels include Novice, Pre-Championship, and Championship (and of course professional). Now I know I’m going to get a lot of flack for this be hear me out, and remember this is one lowly dancer’s opinion. The reasons I believe that costumes should be reserved for these levels are that many times syllabus dancers aren’t ready to dance in them, and that it is a right of passage of sorts.

The first reason I will address is that many lower level dancers aren’t necessarily ready to wear these goureous gowns. What I mean when I say this is that the gown in a lot of ways can overshadow the dancer. Syllabus dancers, for many reasons, do not have all the proper technique down. And that’s completely fine. There is nothing wrong with that state of being. In fact it’s a good thing, because that means you are dancing at the correct level. Syllabus dancer’s focus should be on learning and improving their techinque on frame, movement, cleanliness, and musicalilty. However, the dresses you see a lot of open dancers wear require a dancer to have a very good understanding of the tenique behind the style to make the dress function as it should. For one, these dresses tend to be much heavier than their plain, syllabus counter parts. First of all, they are covered in rhinestones. And who would think that those little shinies would be so heavy, but when you have a at least 10 gross (1400 stones), which is a minimum for most dresses, it can add a lot of extra weight. Also, at least in a dress that is built for the International Ballroom style of dance, the skirts tend to be much heavier as they have many layers built into them to give them volume. This extra weight requires a dancer to be able to move more to create the same amount of movement in the costume dress than in the basic dress. More movement comes from understanding what standing leg is and how to apply it and use it to move across the floor. The concept of standing leg is not only very hard for lower level dancers to grasp, but it also takes a long time to reach your standing leg’s full potential. I’m still working on making my stride long and powerful! If you don’t have standing leg down, then the dress will not have that nice swoosh to it has you dance and will look rather limp. 😦

Secondly, (some of) these dresses have things dangling of the arms, whether it be large swatches of cloth, ribbons, or balls of feathers attached to chains or ribbons (yikes!). These things are usually called floats or wings and have many variations and styles. Just like the heavy skirts, floats need lots of movement from the dancer to enhance your dancing. Otherwise, they will just hang limply by your sides. This will enhance the fact that you do not have a lot of movement to begin with and could possibly hurt your scores.

My second reason for not liking syllabus dancers wearing open level costumes is that I believe you have to earn them. They are a right of passage. They say, hey you have worked this hard and achieved so much, go wild! It’s one more thing for a dancer to look forward to and work towards when they are in the lower ranks of syllabus. Sure, awesome open level choreography is incentive too, however in no competition I have been to do they allow anyone dancing in newcomer through gold break syllabus. I feel dresses (and tailsuits for that matter) should be the same way.

Let me know in the comment section below if you agree or disagree with my ideas about costumes and whether they should be allowed in the syllabus levels! I would love to hear your ideas!

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6 thoughts on “All the Sparkles

  1. I disagree with the “right of passage” view. Ballroom dance for the vast majority of people is recreational activity, a hobby, and done exclusively for fun. Wearing ridiculously sparkly dresses is FUN. Telling people they can’t wear what they want in their hobby because they haven’t earned it is akin to telling someone they’re not allowed to have as much fun as you want because you aren’t good enough to deserve having maximum fun.

    Regarding the heavy skirts, you can wear a perfectly syllabus legal dress that is just as heavy and cumbersome to dance in as a full blown open costume, as long as it doesn’t have light reflective material, feathers, or floats. As an extreme view, do you think we should start telling people how many circles can be in their syllabus dresses, like the junior costume rules do?

    • Good points! I don’t think we should go as extreme as the junior rules are. Those rules are in place, I believe, to make sure kids remain kids and don’t become sexualized. Although that clearly doesn’t always work as the term prositots is around and well used.

      True, for many people, competiting in amatuer is a hobby and nothing more. However, there are many organizations who create rules against allowing costumes in the syllabus. There is amazing syllabus dresses out there that are just as beautiful (though less sparkly ): ) as full blown costumes.

      And I’m am just speaking competitively here. I have no problem with anyone wearing awesome dresses in showcases, because those are suppose to be fun and loud and ambitious to begin with. However, in competiting you want to highlight your best dancing possible, and for me I can see a costume inhibiting results in certain ways, and that’s not fun! (at least for me).

      But like I said, you bring up some really interesting points!

  2. Interesting topic. I am wondering if your are referring to collegiate competitions or NDCA events or other independent competitions.

    In some ways you make a good point in that it can be a bummer when the costume outshines the dancer. On the other hand, a lot of people do ballroom exactly for the fantasy and glamour it provides, plus costumes are an extension of self expression. Like you, I agree the stringent rules are appropriate for young dancers.

    But for adults I say let them do what they want to do. It is not like wearing pointe shoes where you can injure yourself if you are not ready for them.

    It is interesting to me that you feel a person should earn the right to wear a sparkly costume. Where did this idea come from, I wonder? And why? And even the categories you mentioned as where it should be allowed is somewhat arbitrary. …perhaps you will agree with me that there is a wide variation in skill between dancers in any category, even those who call themselves professional..,not all Gold or Amateur or even Bronze dancers are created equal. Ballroom makes me laugh sometimes with all its categories! Good dancing is good dancing, and poor dancing is poor no matter what steps of the syllabus you know.

    Anyways, interesting topic! Thanks for being courageous enough to speak your truth. _Stef

    • Hi Stef!

      Thanks for your comment! I am talking mostly about collegiate competitions, not NDCA. I think where I am coming from is that people mostly focus on the pretty aspect of dancing, which is fine. However, I have met dancers that believe a dress can care them through, just like fancy choreography. So I guess that’s how I see it.

      I see where you say a dress won’t hurt someone like in poitne shoes, and that secret that no one seems to mention about floats that they are a personal fan during quickstep!! I don’t know, I just feel like it’s part of going along with the syllabus tradition. Sure some of it’s very arbitrary, but there’s a good reason pivots aren’t given to newbies 😛 I think costumes are just one more thing to worry about.

      I agree that there is a wide range in each of the categories and sometimes I look at couples questioningly at why they are dancing a certain level (whether it be dancing up or dancing down). But good dancing is good dancing and I feel like that should be showcased in any sort of dress type.

      I guess I am just a very technical dancer, and looks come second, granted a very close second. I love my dress, but I felt like I needed to work up to it. And I can’t wait to wear it out on the comp floor.

  3. Well, I agree that it’s a mistake to wear a gorgeous, eye-catching dress if one is fairly new to Ballroom. The mismatch between the dress and the dancing is just too incongruous. At Arthur Murray, where I dance, newcomers (beginners) and Bronze 1 dancers are encouraged to wear regular gowns for smooth and short dresses for rhythm. By the time they are established in Bronze 2, though, and certainly by Bronze 3, it’s glitz and glamour all the way! I do not, however, support the idea of having actual rules about who can wear what.

    • I did not know that AM worked that way. One of my reasons is that I see too many dancers in the collegiate arena focusing on all the glitz and glam first and the dancing second. And I guess that’s not the worse thing in the world, but the dancing, in competition, should come first.

      Thanks for sharing your input!

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