Collegiate Competition Attire

Discussion in 'Ballroom Dance' started by MissSongbird, Mar 14, 2013.

  1. MissSongbird

    MissSongbird Member

    I'm a collegiate dancer (competing in American bronze and select newcomer latin) and I'm wondering about outfits/ costumes for the women. I know some of the basic rules, such as no sparkle until a certain level, but this knowledge is very slight. I was wondering what the rules are or what judges feel about outfits/ costumes for the lower levels. Is there stuff I should know to steer clear of? Is there anything judges don't like to see?

    I'm planning on making a skirt this summer to use for smooth. It's not going to be all that extravagant (I'm not THAT good at sewing), but I want it to be nice and flowly. I just don't want to go overboard.

    I've also been extremely curious about this. The outfits of the lower level dancers are changing. They are more costumey than they had been in the previous year.
  2. Titoxd

    Titoxd Member

    Generally speaking, there is no such thing as "generally speaking" in the costume rules for collegiate competitions. Every competition has its own costuming rules, which should be specified in the competition rules and information packet. If the competitions do not specify costuming rules, contact the organizers for clarification.

    As president of my university's team, I discourage my newcomers from focusing excessively on outfits. At these levels, fundamentals tend to be the main discriminant between the way couples place at a competition, not costuming. In fact, I just attended a relatively-large collegiate competition (~400 competitors) in which the newcomer smooth and standard events were won by a couple wearing simple prom outfits, no sparkles whatsoever.
  3. UMASSshoesandcostumes

    UMASSshoesandcostumes Active Member

    Okay, so if you go to a school that has a costume collection that you can borrow from at Bronze I recommend wearing a costume at competitions that allow costumes at Bronze-- it makes you look a lot more professional on the floor, and the impression I get is that it is much harder to do as well without one (if you're good enough it won't matter-- however, it's harder to get noticed because you don't have the sparkle of some of the other costumes, and you just kind of look like you take it more seriously).

    Beyond that, what I always tell my newcomers about costumes is that since you can't wear a legit costume you have to be able to buy it in a store somewhere (or at least that was the definition I was given of a non-costume). Bright colors are preferable, some sparkle, if it is already on the dress is preferable (but you can't bedazzle a dress or anything, that's illegal), costume jewelry or anything else to catch the judge's eye is preferable. You said no sparkle until a certain level, but I would absolutely disagree with that-- that sort of thing will get you noticed on a floor full of people, anything you can do to catch the eye of the judges is going to improve your odds at competition.

    As far as things changing-- maybe they are, but I haven't noticed any big shift towards costumey outfits-- I think costumey outfits were always the ideal, it's just kind of whether you have something that works or not-- I know I go to lots of comps where I see half the floor in old cocktail dresses and the other half of the floor in a sundress or a skirt and a top-- I don't think that either is particularly more costumey than what I saw in the past. I do think that more people do try to go for old cocktail dresses because they're more costumey than any other option, but I think that was always true.
  4. danceronice

    danceronice Well-Known Member

    Whatever you go with, DANCE IN IT BEFOREHAND. Especially if you buy/make a skirt from an ordinary pattern. Before my first-ever comp (not collegiate, but a tiny one-day) I discovered three days before that the skirt (just a chiffon/satin/formalwear...thingie) that I'd bought was too long and in Smooth, whenever I bent my knees, the teacher or I stepped on it. Fortunately one of the skate moms at the club I worked for had a serger and was willing and able to hem it fast (because whatever they say, skate moms are generally very nice) or I'd have had to find something else at the last minute. I've had other times where I've changed from what I normally wear for lessons to a skirt or something for a showcase the week before it's taken a while to get used to the new weight/swing of the dress. A couple times we've discovered we need to modify things when a long skirt is swishing around. Make sure whatever you get fits you and you can move in it, and find out as far in advance as you can!
    bia, pygmalion and twothreefourone like this.
  5. Terpsichorean Clod

    Terpsichorean Clod Moderator

    Dress in a way that enhances your movement/look. At bronze level, that probably isn't going to be a costume. :)
    twothreefourone likes this.
  6. dbk

    dbk Well-Known Member

    Your posture will matter much, much more than your clothes. Believe me - I've seen waaaayy to many bronze rounds at this point, and callbacks are almost always the ones who stand up straight and don't look bored or terrified. If you're worried about your appearance/clothes, worry more about looking neat and tidy (a major plus at any level) than about your particular clothes.

    Right now, I'd just look for a dress/skirt that is wide and flowy (like a practice skirt). No strapless tops. Personally, I like to wear bright colors - that does help you stand out from the sea of black, navy, and red.

    At least in my area, the increase in costumes in bronze primarily comes from higher level hand-me-downs (or team dresses). Sometimes I'll see bronzies who bought dresses from the less expensive costumers (like Rainbow shiu) but I don't think that's prevalent until silver.
    OreganO, Gorme, bia and 2 others like this.
  7. dlliba10

    dlliba10 Well-Known Member

    I believe that you can't wear a costume until you've earned the right to wear it. For me that means at least high Silver or preferably Gold/Open. I didn't have a "costume" until Gold -- I made do with black pants, a black button down shirt, a black vest, and an untied bowtie in Rhythm/Latin and the same but with a tied bowtie in Smooth/Standard.

    Even if the specific comp's rules allow it, just because you can doesn't mean you should. I'll never forget watching a baby Bronze couple at MIT one year in a gorgeous dress with floats and an ill-fitting tailsuit (but a tailsuit nonetheless) struggling through a natural turn to closed change to reverse turn. They didn't make the next round -- the costumes may have drawn judges' eyes, but the dancing and technique wasn't enough to get them through.
    Terpsichorean Clod, Titoxd and Gorme like this.
  8. mindputtee

    mindputtee Well-Known Member

    As many people have said, I don't think costumes belong in bronze, and can be detrimental. Big floats are like wind flags, they accentuate the movement when it is there, but they also make it very obvious when it isn't. Since you are dancing smooth, that shouldn't be a problem though.

    I made a syllabus dress (with a removable rhinestone belt) a little while back:

    http://stitchesandsparkles.blogspot.com/2012/03/smooth-dress-finished.html

    If you are just making a skirt, I'd use satin (a lightweight satin) or charmeuse, either buy it in store or if you must order it online, get a sample beforehand to test the weight and flow. Many satins are far too heavy for dance dresses and will just hang. I would use a paneled design that either flares or has godets in it, this one is a good option: http: //mccallpattern.mccall.com/m5056-products-4725.php?page_id=113 or something similar, something that is fitted through the hips and then flares out is best, though that depends on your body shape.

    The best thing you can do in syllabus is pick a bright color that not a lot of people are wearing (and that hopefully flatters your skin tone as well). A lot of people go with red because it stands out, but at the same time, if everyone is wearing the same color as you, you'll end up blending in anyway.
  9. UMASSshoesandcostumes

    UMASSshoesandcostumes Active Member

    I feel like it's definitely different for men and women too-- men I don't think should wear a costume before Silver as a general rule. However, while I agree that the dancing is obviously more important than a costume, as a collegiate dancer when I go to comps I see the vast majority of Bronze dancers wearing costumes. This is likely because there are a lot of teams around here which have some costumes available to their dancers, but either way if you are one of a handful of people on the floor not wearing a costume when 3/4 of your competition is wearing costumes then I think it is harder to get noticed, and you do look slightly less professional then the people out there wearing costumes. I think if you have them available to use then do so because it will help you to get noticed, but this is just me.
    Also-- someone else mentioned that they don't see a lot of Bronze dancers buying costumes. I can say that a TON of Bronzies from our team are buying cheap Latin/Rhythm costumes for themselves (not so much S/S because S/S are a lot more expensive even for a cheap one).
  10. MissSongbird

    MissSongbird Member

    I didn't mean those really fancy, full out costumes. That's bad wording on my part. But the last couple comps my team has been to we have noticed that more people are flockling to the fuller skirts/ dresses that more closely resemble those costumes (expect extremely simpler). Our group barely focuses on the looks of the outfits, hair, and such but it seems like more teams are these days. But this is merely observation.
  11. bia

    bia Well-Known Member

    Oh, in that sense, I would agree that it's better to wear something dance-y than a clearly non-dance cocktail/prom-type dress. Partly for the look, but especially for function (which then translates to the look) -- clothes that allow you to move as you need to while staying put and looking good, and that show off that movement with nice full skirt swishing. So, yeah, I'd recommend things designed as dance practicewear or that look as if they could be -- stretch fabric and full skirts. For affordable latin/rhythm, other people have recommended ekclothing dot com and venus dot com (while avoiding strapless tops and narrow skirts). And for smooth, either buy a long dance skirt (cheaper if sold as a lyrical/liturgical skirt than as a ballroom skirt) or make the one you're planning to, paired with a good-looking stretchy top. And make your bun neat and unbumpy and unwispy and your make-up made up (but no need for open-level over-the-top-ness), and you'll look like what the judges expect a well-prepared bronze dancer to look like, so they can just focus on your dancing.
    Terpsichorean Clod likes this.
  12. Titoxd

    Titoxd Member

    Ok, that changes my answer, since I thought you/your newcomers wanted to wear full costumes (which is a huge no-no in my book, since the extra attention they would get acts as a double-edged sword, at least in my experience).
    • First, make sure the dress is a color that compliments (and/or complements) your skin. I have never understood which colors work for which skins—that's a black art I have not mastered yet—but girls typically know what works and why. Do not get a fluorescent green dress to stand out if you are going to hate how you look in it.
    • Make sure the fabric is breathable. You do not want to pass out on the floor. Yes, I've seen it happen.
    • This is more apropos in Latin and Rhythm, but always wear only what is comfortable. Do not feel pressured to show more skin than your limits are. If you wouldn't be caught dead wearing it on the street, you will not feel confident on the floor wearing it.
    • Make sure you can actually dance in it. There are some amazing, elegant ball gowns that are totally useless on the floor. It sucks to discover that you can't step backwards because your heel gets caught on your hem.
    • If you are wearing a skirt, make sure you wear the appropriate undergarments. Every school around here has a story about "thong girl" or its equivalent...
    I guess that you can summarize all of that down to a single point: If you are thinking about your outfit for any reason while you're on the floor, you are wearing the wrong outfit.
    bia likes this.
  13. middy

    middy Well-Known Member

    So you mean just nice dancewear in general? I would go for this if it fits in your budget, simply because it is easier to move in clothes made for dancing, or those that closely resemble things for dancing. And they generally enhance your movement rather than restrict it or hide it. For example, a full skirt or a fringed in latin looks nicer than a tighter one. However, you don't necessarily have to buy clothes specifically made for dancing, a lot of stuff you can find in mall stores. A bit more challenging for standard/smooth dresses, but still possible.

    Judges almost always mention grooming; you can definitely see improvements in grooming as you move up from newcomer through syllabus and open. Nice grooming/clothing just makes you look more polished and prepared to dance, and less distracting. It's not absolutely necessary to win, but it keeps judges from having a bad first impression and missing the quality of your dancing.

    If you are curious about what kinds of clothing people should wear, I'd look for some USA Dance competition videos of people dancing gold level. It'll give you a decent sense of good non-costume dance outfits, I think.

    If you want more specific suggestions, I would say something that is relatively form-fitting through the torso and has some movement in the skirt (so generally not an empire waisted sort of dress that flares out from the bust), since that shows off your body movements better. For a latin skirt, something that has movement, either ruffles or a full skirt or fringe. And then for smooth/standard, one that is about ankle length and pretty full and flares out a bit when you move. Hope that helps!
  14. nikkitta

    nikkitta Well-Known Member

    Beware that "cheap latin (or smooth/standard) costumes" often look just that... cheap. Shop carefully.

    I agree that if your dancing isn't up to par, a fancy costume will not help. Spend time polishing your appearance in other ways (hair, makeup) and clean, simple, confident dancing. The lady in the simple practice skirt and store-bought top who dances well will beat the fancy-costumed not-so-good dancer. I've seen it happen time and time again, and the judges have a very good eye for this, particularly in crowded Bronze heats.

    I understand that Bronzies can get excited about wearing costumes. If the comp allows it, fine. But as already mentioned, never forget the whole package: grooming, dancing, costume. Don't go out there in a fancy foo-foo dress with your hair in a hurried ponytail and nothing but chapstick and some mascara on your face. Higher level dancers on the team really need to make sure the newbies/bronzies understand this.

    And yes, PLEASE do make sure the appropriate undergarments are worn... :eek:
  15. danceronice

    danceronice Well-Known Member

    The more expensive (ie not off-the-rack meant for ballet people) ballroom-specific practice clothes are probably best. They're plain (unless you decorate them--I stoned a skirt and top and wore it for my first big competition in Smooth-note this is NDCA pro-am so stoning is allowed), but they're designed to be worn while dancing-the fabric moves right, the fit is designed so you can do things like lift your arms.

    They also do come in colors that aren't black...
  16. bia

    bia Well-Known Member

    All very true. And immensely affordable when compared to a true ballroom costume. That said, as a student, I don't think I could have brought myself to spend $100-200+ on a lovely ballroom practice skirt when I could find other danceable things for $30-40. But people best know the state of their own pocketbooks. (Ooh, speaking of ballroom-specific stuff, MissSongbird, also check out the ebay store for Star Dance Shop -- they seem to have a better selection of practicewear there than on their website.)
  17. smidra86

    smidra86 Active Member


    That's like my black and white smooth dress!

    I was taught that I have to wear a plain, syllabus, practice dress until gold (like Daniel said, when I have earned the right to wear a costume I can wear it). I mentioned it on the college competition stereotypes, it really doesn't matter what you are wearing if it is more plain than everyone else, because if the dancing is there, you will get noticed and you can win (and I am living proof of such occurrences where I wore a plain, black dress, mind you the comp floor was dark too, for a college comp and from a first round or quarter we ended up winning gold latin). I prefer to see people in more plain dresses at syllabus only because I don't like noticing them for the wrong reasons and I hate to be the one to say "why are they wearing this beautiful dress, but their dancing off time," or "but they just don't have the energy to really make me go wow"
    Gorme likes this.
  18. mindputtee

    mindputtee Well-Known Member

    I will say this about costumes though- they can give you a tremendous confidence boost. I feel like a million bucks when I go out there wearing my sparkles, but that's not an excuse to not work hard in the practice room to be worthy of them. They make the competition experience a little more fun for me. (I just have a love for pretty dresses though.)

    Wearing something that's flattering, accentuates the positives of your dancing, makes you feel good, and is comfortable is most important.
    twothreefourone likes this.
  19. twothreefourone

    twothreefourone Active Member

    Cheeks below the neck being on display aren't very appropriate. :p
  20. 5678dance

    5678dance Active Member

    I know i'm in the minority here, and i've said it on other threads, but I really have no problem with allowing newcomers (at COLLEGIATE comps) to wear full-out costumes. I would venture to say that MOST of them will not end up sticking with ballroom in the long run anyway, so let them have their fun. I see no reason to deprive them of the whole ballroom experience just because they're at a lower level. Yes, obviously the emphasis should be on technique, but stopping them from wearing a costume just because their dancing skills have something left to be desired? Discrimination!

    In the collegiate ballroom world, I've found that dousing newcomers in a layer of glitter and sparkle allows them to feel more included in the team, and therefore, more likely to stick around. Browsing/creating dresses can be a bonding experience for girls on a team- at least in my experience. And for those who cannot afford a costume right off the bat, making a skirt/dress and stoning it yourself is a great alternative while still feeling that you "fit in" on the floor-- AND on your team. I'm sure other teams may have different experiences, and getting a costume may be more of a rite of passage into the group of higher-level dancers on a team. But at least on my old team, it was a great way for the newcomers to get to know the vets and feel more included. Ballroom at the collegiate level is supposed to be FUN, so let them have FUN! Save the seriousness for the higher levels, and for USAD and NDCA comps.

    Also, I totally understand the equal-playing field argument, I just happen to disagree with it. It's not like wearing a costume gives an unfair advantage to anyone-- yea, it may get a judge to look at you, but unless you got at least SOME moves to back up your look, ain't no judge evah gonna mark yo' butt. And marks are what count!
    CCdance, slhull.13, Sania and 3 others like this.

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