By Justine Hollyer - Added 7th of March 2007
Blackpool attracts a multitude of dancers from all over the world each vying to get noticed on the huge crowded floor. As such there is a vast array of costumes ranging from the good, the bad and the downright ugly. Ugly dresses may not be pleasing to the eye but they draw attention which is half the battle in the early rounds. As costuming goes, there is a saying: nothing is too much for Blackpool! Justine Hollyer takes us through the highs and lows of 2004.
General trends - Ballroom Colours
As always white is a popular colour, especially in the final rounds. It looks good on the big floor and under the bright lights. However, as in the Amateur final too much and you get lost. 5 out of 6 dresses were white, with no distinguishing features. The remaining dress was a pale pink worn by the eventual winner, Gioia Cerasoli and looked white anyway! However, at this level, dancers have a proven track record and stand out because of their dancing not merely their costumes. The next most common colour is red, with pinks, blues and yellows also being popular. There were some strange colour combinations, turquoise and cerise doesn't do it for me, nor does pink and orange. Many dresses feature shaded fabrics. There is a company called Farale which produces exquisite shaded fabrics in any colour combination you care to think of. They will also custom produce on demand. Their fabrics were used to good effect on many dresses, although I was unsure of the bright pink and purple ensemble which was garish - but this is Blackpool !
Feathers refuse to go away completely. I noticed only one dress with feather boas round the bottom which looked very dated and bulky next to all the other sleek dresses around it, but feathers in various other guises were readily apparent. Feather fringing on dresses is often used around the hem. This adds a soft feel to the dress, the versions I saw were usually made up of 2 or three different shades. Olga Alessievich had a white dress but the hem was black feather fringing changing into white a bit further up (for sale at the DSI stand a couple of days later). Gemma Arnold had a bright yellow satin dress with red stones and red fringing with orange and yellow mixed in for a dramatic look. She also sported another popular way of wearing feathers which is to use "coque" feathers (as described in the Chrisanne brochure). These are often used around the neck line, a look also sported by Claire Taplin and Edita Danuite and often favoured by Kristi Boyce. Feather "feelers" also made an appearance - these are short feathers on a long stem and tend to be used in conjunction with feather fringes on the skirt for added movement. The final way I saw feathers used was in wispy pieces of ostrich feathers over the skirt and sometimes on the floats. This looks lovely when the feathers are fine, but looks a bit like a collection of feather dusters when the feathers are used in clumps. It is not flattering on larger dancers, and larger in a dance context is anything much over a UK size 10.
Ballroom gowns are rather limited in style in that unwritten rules state you have to have a long skirt with sufficient volume to dance in, and it has to be swishy and elegant. Experiments with two piece dresses and trousers have not been terribly successful and have rarely appeared in recent years. Skirts are very long at the moment being at least ankle length, often so the shoes are barely visible. Dresses are often low backed or completely backless Drapes were very much in evidence with most dresses having voluminous floats creating volume and occasionally obscuring the dancer! An emerging theme which was just in its infancy last year was dresses with filled in backs. These were in either matching mesh or flesh mesh with highly massed or decorative stoning. Both are ideal for fake tan haters, and one dancer said she usually goes for this style as tan doesn't take to her skin and she has tried every brand imaginable!
Shoes have settled in colour: experiments over past years has given the following guide lines. White shoes with white dresses, flesh shoes with other colours although for pastels, matching shoes are also nice. Brightly coloured shoes look heavy, and thankfully were rare but I spotted bright turquoise and bright red offenders. I only saw one exception to a court shoe, and this was a tango/American smooth shoe, with a closed toe and heel but a strap holding it on. It does not work for ballroom. All permutations of the court show were around: slim or flared heels; round or pointed toe; diagonal strap, straight strap or no strap. The heel height varies from 2, 2.5 or 3 inches; 2.5 tend to be standard, unless the man was much shorter or taller than the lady. Lyn Marinner wears 2 inch heels as Jonathan Crossley is a little short for her, it doesn't look quite as elegant as a higher heel but it doesn't hurt their chances!
As expected the majority of dancers were turned out immaculately with elaborate hairstyles, dramatic makeup etc. I have learned the art of many of these hairstyles now - pay a hairdresser! There is a well known Italian lady who works from about 7am to 10pm creating beautiful coiffures for those lucky enough to obtain appointments. Many will have to sleep in these styles as you cannot afford to be choosy about when you get an appointment! They are sprayed solid, and double as crash helmets which is useful in the early rounds. I did see one ballroom dancer with her shoulder length hair left loose. Whilst she had lovely hair, it looked messy when she moved and hid her neck line - although this could be why she left it down! Most dancers pile on the makeup like drag queens, but there are a few who still do not use enough. Pale and interesting is not a good look on the dance floor, you just look washed out. A look which also does not work for me is lips which are paler than your skin tone.
These are my highlights and lowlights... * Green splodge dress. A bright green dress decorated with black splodges, it gets your attention! * Half a Kimono, rather bizarre dress which looked like it was made with half a kimono on one side. * Japanese face mask, I'm not sure of the rationale, but a beautiful dress with a large white float upon which was painted what looked like a Japanese warriors mask!. * Bow on bum, yet another Japanese dress in red with a huge bow on her bum in a purple floral fabric. The saving grace was that the had a small bum! * Bondage dress: Black dress with what looked like white bandages wrapped round the chest and bum, slim dancer so just about got away with it. * Silver coin dress. Another black dress but the large drape and some of the dress was covered in huge silver sequins of about 1" in diameter. It certainly draws attention. * Mariane Eihilt worn plain unadorned dresses in black for rising starts and pale pink for the main event. She changed into a golden yellow in a style she has worn before and suits her well. High collar in satin, low neck, mesh back with striking floral motifs picked out in stones. * Hazel Newberry, in the early rounds she wore a bright pink fading to white skirts, very fitted over the hops and thighs. A heavily stoned panel at the neck but little other decoration. The changed to a white dress fading into bright blue which was a better shape as it flowed more. Another heavily stoned panel down the side but again little decoration elsewhere, Very striking. * Joanne Bolton wore a stunning dress for team: the team was in white and gold. Hers had a heavily stoned bodice in shades of gold running down in wavy lines over the skirt. It had a heavy collar attached which I wasn't so keen on. She had three identical dresses for the main event with only the accent colour changed: They were white satin with a deep V shaped decorated panel front and back edged with fringing and shaded drapes, the colours used were black, blue, and red. Joanne is renowned for her experimental dress sense, I loved her team dress but wasn't so keen on the others. * Amanda Dokman. Another dancer who wears very individual dresses. This time it was a black and white dress with geometric stripes and no stoning. She is a fabulous dance with an enviable figure, but this dress did nothing to enhance it, and she does not gimmicks at her level.
There was very little variation from the standard midnight blue or black tailsuit uniform. There was one man in a dark brown which suited his partner's bronze coloured dress, and a couple of dark grey suits. I saw precisely two shorties, one wearer changing to tails in the later rounds anyway. One very daring man had a handkerchief to match his partners dress in pink rather than the standard white. The double breasted tailsuit has disappeared without a trace which I think is a good thing. About the only thing men can vary is shirts, but you don't see this with the jacket on. My favourite shirt of all time has to be James Prouton's union jack shirt with the standard white pique front, collar and cuffs.
Latin dancers have a lot more freedom and a lot less fabric in their costumes than ballroom dancers. There was a huge variety of colours and styles, with black still being the most popular colour. Virtually anything goes for latin, if you have the confidence to carry it off, and the latin girls usually have that in abundance. Fringing was very much in evidence, as skirts, all over the dress or in individual scattered pieces. One look which takes this a bit further is to use fabric tassels. Some of these work and some don't, some look like car washes and does bulk out the dancer, so definitely not a good look apart from very slim girls Another look which has grown more popular is wired flouncy skirts, usually very short at the front and longer at the back. I'm not convinced by them but they are very effective at drawing attention on the floor because of the volume. Again a look only for slim girls with slim legs.
Colours are tan or black with black fishnets (opaque tights don't sell it for me), the one exception was a red pair worn with a cream dress, it looked wrong! Latin sandals are usually higher than ballroom shoes with 3 inch flared heels being the norm, and often higher. Styles are various with the t-bar being much in evidence, along with cross straps or straight cut straps. I don't like the shoe to be paler than the dancer's leg The point of tan colour shoes is to make your legs look longer as you carry the colour down, changing colour abruptly with different colour shoes should be avoided especially if you have short legs.. Most shoes come in a dark tan for the tan addicts, or can be dyed even darker so there is no excuse for this.
Latin girls are, on the whole, a lot scarier than their ballroom counterparts. The makeup is a lot heavier and more extreme especially around the eyes with a lot of black eyeliner and white highlighter round the whole eye being used to create the panda effect which looks huge on the floor but down right weird up close. Hair is in one of three main styles: huge back combed buns on the nape of the neck; long ponytails or plaits which are real or fake, sometimes with "corn rows" over the scalp as Hannah had for Strictly Come Dancing and the Team match immediately afterwards; and finally short crops or bobs. Carmen was sporting a short bob which really suited her. These girls tan themselves to oblivion. Some take it a too far and up close their skin can look like dries up old leather, not a particularly attractive look. There was one girl whose tan was trying to escape: her partner was in a white shirt at the beginning of the event which rapidly changed into white with dodgy looking brown smears all over it. I would not be happy if I was him!
Latin Men's outfits
Most men went for black trousers and either a black top or top to match the girls costumes. Latin trousers seem to be worn a bit longer these days so they are actually touching the floor when standing still. Occasionally the whole outfit matches the girl, complete with matching shoes, which certainly stands out, I saw white and pale blue this time. Love it or hate it, you can't ignore it! Shirts are mostly with collars, cuffs and left open to the navel. Quite often a tight t shirt was worn underneath. I quite like this look and it certainly saves tanning and shaving the chest! Decoration was on the whole subtle, but some men were trying to outspangle their girl. I think a man covered in stones is too much. Bryan Watson had a subtle sparkle on his top, a radical departure for him as he has been favouring plain polo neck styles in the past. The fashions showcased at Blackpool are watched keenly by dancers the world over. If you only buy one new costume a year, this is the place to unveil it. Consequently many dancers keep their styles secret until they step on to that floor. Once on display, the copy cats are there with the cameras and more blatantly, snapping the dresses for sale at the Exhibition. Dancers tend to fall into two categories: those who want to experiment and those who want to fit in. I reluctantly admire the outrageous costumes of the former as they are the ones pushing the boundaries of what is acceptable. Sometimes it works, often it doesn't, but each time is a learning process.
Credits & Links
Article written by Justine Hollyer - www.strictlyballroomlatin.org.uk
Information for Publishers
This article is copyrighted and you do not have consent to copy or redistribute it without written consent from the author.