Can a Dress Help You Dance Better?

Great good afternoon!

I wanted to jump into this thread with a bit of personal experience from last Friday night. A small group of women went to an international ballroom club for a black and white social. I purchased a new dress for the occasion but realized too late that it was frumpier than I would have liked it to be - and my dancing certainly lacked the confidence that a more stylish yet appropriate dress would have helped me to feel. So not only was my self-confidence diminished because of the level of dancers at the event (although I was told I did very well considering I've only been dancing for a year - and American style at that), it was also diminished by how I felt in that dress.

Note to self: moral of the story - more stylish dresses that I feel fabulous in!
I believe the dance costume needs to showcase the level of your best dance technique and reflect the personality of the dancer.

There is a saying to "dance to the dress" and elevate your dancing when in costume. It appears from this thread to apply to the gentlemen also when they feel they have on the costume that makes them feel like a pro.

You should feel as though your dance costume gives you the freedom to move and also a slight edge on the dance floor by completing your overall look. Sam Sodano and a number of judges were interviewed at Emerald Ball this year and again and again poise and presentation on the floor, grooming, hair and make-up, nails, the quality and appropriate style of your dress (not always the most expensive) and how you are the "total package" were mentioned as being a part of your scores.
There are also some stylistic differences between the dresses for Rhythm, Latin, Standard and Smooth. A dress can help you showcase your dancing better (which is different from helping you dance better) if it amplifies your movement. Standard dresses have multiple layers and horsehair braid at the base of the skirts in order to showcase the bounce and rotational movement in Standard. A Smooth dress is more "open" with slits for allowing leg work and kicks and the silk or dance crepe material flows closer to the body.

There shouldn't be floats or bits and pieces that can get tangled with your partner in a Smooth dress at the Silver and Open Gold levels. Frequently, you will see a dancer who has paid a lot for a dress dancing in an obvious Standard dress in Smooth. The wedding cake Standard layered ruffle dresses do not help showcase movement in Smooth but, you can get away with wearing this dress style in Bronze. As you move to higher and higher levels you will find the style of dress that works for you. Look at USDC interviews "after hours" on Dance Beat and you will see a wide range of Smooth dresses- each of which has been selected by the pro and the designer to complement their choreography, coloring, personality, and strengths.

Rhythm and Latin costumes are going through the same evolution as seen in the "what is Rhythm" threads and Latin dance. It used to be that the longer fringe dresses were for Latin and the shorter, bouncy dresses were for Rhythm. You now see the pros wearing longer dresses for both Rhythm and Latin and shorter revealing costumes for both. Again, a dress should showcase your body type, hide any flaws of your body and your dancing (weak leg action = longer dress) and not make you look like a fringe refrigerator when you turn. There is a way to apply fringe for concealing figure challenges without adding layers of fringe.


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Interesting observations dancerdol. I do see a distinct difference in smooth and standard dresses but not as much in rhythm and latin. As you have pointed out, it does seem that the long asymetrical type hemline is popular in latin, and the bouncy skirts in rhythm, and fringe seems to be popular in both. I do notice that dresses usually fit into the rhythm/latin category, rather than distinct rhythm or distinct latin categories. The main dress issue I have noticed is that heels can get caught in those longer hemlines. I have seen some of the latin pros, hike their skirts up when it gets time to do the jive.
Debmc - you are right - it's my observation also that the rhythm/latin dresses have almost combined into one category now. I have been seeing more long dresses at the comps this summer designed for Open Gold and Pros with the longer asymmetrical piece on the side and not the back of the dress to make it easier to dance jive and swing. To some degree - the length of the dress is dependent on the height of the dancer. Many petite dancers get swallowed up by long dresses and too much fringe and they look best in the tinier short skirts. If a dancer is tall and slim- she can wear a longer, fitted dress and fringe that has been shaped on the dress in sections or wrapped around at an angle to flatter the figure.


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Reviving this thread...I am very closed to buying a new rhythm dress, and as there is no one around me to see it, I'm stuck making the actual decision pretty much on my own. Right now, I am loving the dress because I am loving the way it makes me feel on the floor - confident, beautiful, and sexy. But I am also hesitating, mostly because the longer asymmetrical silk skirt on one side that is so beautiful and floating and sexy will probably get ripped to shreds by my heel at some point. The color is also a bit muted - not nearly as bright as many dresses - which suits my personality, and it's a good color for me, but it's not quite what "everyone else" is recommending. So...debating. I'm way less concerned about the color than getting caught in the skirt. But, honestly, I love the if I rule out THIS dress for that reason, I'm pretty much ruling out the style, not the dress. Dilemma.


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A dress that makes you feel beautiful, sexy, and like you can dance like Joanna? Priceless.

A dress that makes you worry about catching your heel and shredding the skirt? No thanks.

BTDT. IME, worrying about the skirt turned feeling sexy and beautiful into feeling like a worrywart. I chose not to buy the dress in question. YMMV.


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Can you have the dress altered to make it shorter and therefore less likely to get caught in the skirt? I would also go ahead and dance "full out" in the dress in a practice run and see what happens. The heel in the skirt for me usually occurs in two cases... doing the jive, when I am raising my feet up high and doing hitches in the mambo.. same reason. I do think there are probably different things you can do technically to prevent that from happening, though I have seen top girls get their heels caught in dresses. Nevertheless, I have learnt prior to purchasing a dress to dance in it full out, get dance pro's approval, and run it by several female students who I trust prior to buying the dress.
I just danced in a showdance on Saturday evening and 1/3 through the routine my right heel became "encased" in the underskirt and I ended up dragging my foot behind me (in Viennese Waltz no less) like Frankenstein but I didn't stop dancing. Heels get caught even in shorter dresses- it happens. I've seen top pros stop and take their heel out of their skirt. That said - in Jive you can have choreography that enables you to pick up the skirt during the flicks. If the skirt is asymmetrical and one side is longer you have less chance of catching a heel then if the skirt is much longer in the back.


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Heels get caught even in shorter dresses- it happens. I've seen top pros stop and take their heel out of their skirt. That said - in Jive you can have choreography that enables you to pick up the skirt during the flicks. If the skirt is asymmetrical and one side is longer you have less chance of catching a heel then if the skirt is much longer in the back.
Very true - my last comp, I caught my heel in my skirt not once, but twice. Once while warming up, and once while competing. Ripped a hole in the skirt both times. I've danced in that dress many times and never had that issue until then - and it is a short skirt. So, honestly, I'm not sure the length or style of a skirt will make a difference, unless I only ever stick with fringe, which I detest. I just know the skirt on this particular dress is more likely that others to be caught and torn faster.

Thank you all for the comments! I very much appreciate them. Still haven't decided what to do, but you've given me some good things to consider.


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We changed our smooth choreography a day before the competition and added a kick to it. I didn't anticipate any problems, but my heel got caught in the edge of my dress. I had to take it out and after it happened again I didn't do the kicks for the rest of the routine.


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... So, honestly, I'm not sure the length or style of a skirt will make a difference, unless I only ever stick with fringe, which I detest. ....
More food for thought, sometimes even fringe is not foolproof when it comes to your heel getting stuck. Sometimes the fringe knots itself up. Heel goes in, and can't come through. Learned from experience to unknot the fringe by running my fingers through it between dances.
Thank you for your article!
Any way I don't like long dress. I am afraid it would not be comfortable to dance, I like tango and waltz very much.
I did a small comp in January and borrowed a smooth dress. I didnt feel confident in the dress and I think it hindered a lot of the movements because I was worried and uncomfortable the entire time. The dress I had prior fit perfect and I felt confident and did very well in all my smooth dances.


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I recently spent a lot of time with two newbie dancers, who had always taken their lessons in yoga pants. I brought them one of my practice dresses to try.

Neither of them had ever twirled a full skirt before. Neither had done a tango link and felt what happens around your legs when the dress brushes against it. Neither had waltzed or foxtrotted with that "wind in your hair" feeling, with a skirt moving around them.

Holy cow, did they change. I have a new motto: The Dress Changes Everything.
I think there are two situations here. One is competing or performing. If it's a good dress, which doesn't bring attention to your technical flaws, fits you perfectly and is comfortable and doesn't get in the way, then not only it makes you look better, it also gives you the confidence boost. Another is lessons/practice. Personally I see nothing wrong with wearing yoga pants for lessons or practice. I would say that's what I wear for my lessons 80% of the time, and about the only thing I practice in (I've been practicing in shorts lately because it's been so hot). I know what a skirt feels like, and I don't think I dance differently on a lesson when I am not wearing a skirt vs. when I am (if I did, I certainly would hear about it).

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