Ballroom On A Budget
By Kaylee Anderson
As many of us are headed back to school, the heavy financial burden of tuition looms over us, much like the results of the 2016 presidential election. Unfortunately, this is also when many of us college students are launching into competition season, minus a good portion of our savings accounts. The problem here is that ballroom dancing is a visual sport---if you want to be out on the floor wooing judges, you have to look good. This is especially a problem for follows, who, more often than not, feel as if they have to wear dresses encrusted with Swarovski crystals and shoes that cost way more than they should. So, how can a follow live up to the professionals on a budget?
Here is my mantra: thrift stores are your friend. You would be surprised to know how many articles of clothing would look great in a competition with little or no alterations. I have found some great black skirts that flow perfectly for rhythm, and if you dig hard enough in the dress section, it isn't that difficult to find things that would look great in smooth or standard rounds. Almost all of the things that I've worn in competition have come from a thrift store, and nobody has any idea that they cost less than ten dollars apiece. The most important thing to remember when looking for used dancewear is that you you should be able to move freely in it---otherwise there isn't much of a point in buying it. I would also caution you to look at the washing directions before making a purchase. If it says that dry-cleaning is the only option, it's usually best to skip it.
For those of us who are more adept at alterations and the like, we have even more options available. Sometimes it's just a matter of adding straps to a dress or raising the hem. If you find two articles of clothing that would look great combined, you could end up with a unique outfit that won't break your bank. You could even add some rhinestones if you can spare the extra cash, and those can really make you stand out. If you consider yourself relatively skilled with a needle and thread, there's always the option of creating your own costumes from scratch. Obviously if you don't have a lot of experience with garment construction, you won't be able to create a designer dress right off the bat, but there are simpler ways to make durable dancewear. There are plenty of tutorials for circle skirts online, and if you extend them to be ankle-length they move wonderfully on the floor. The important part is picking the right fabric and reinforcing it well at stress points.
There are also plenty of online retailers that sell dance clothes at relatively low prices. Discount Dance is a great site for leotards and shoes, although it is important to note that it's more difficult to find leotards that fit if you aren't very lean. I would consider my build to be average, but I still had to go up a size when I wasn't expecting to. Making sure that the site you are ordering from has a good return policy in case things don't fit well is essential, especially if you are finicky about how your clothes fit. Shoes are usually the most expensive part of a beginning dancer's outfit, so checking with others to see if they have gently worn shoes in your size that you could use is a great plan. Otherwise, online is the way to go.
Ultimately, the most important thing is your dancing, not your costume. While it's good to stand out, you want more people to pay more attention to your skills than your clothes. That's why it's perfectly fine to wear a more conservative outfit and hold off on the sparkles to let your dancing speak for itself. Especially at the beginning of your ballroom career, simple is beautiful. No matter what anyone says, all the Swarovski crystals in the world won't fix bad footwork. Spend more money on lessons than clothing, and you are guaranteed better results.