I had my first shot at combining my "passion for fashion" with another passion - dance - when I wrote a paper on the history of dance costume for a class for my Costume History Master's degree at New York University three years ago. When I presented the paper orally in class with a PowerPoint presentation, I contrasted, side-by-side, the very elegant but very covered up dance costumes that women wore to dance at the lavish balls of Louis XIV in the 17th century, with the very beautiful, but very sexy and very revealing costumes that today's professional ballroom dancers wear on the hit television show Dancing with the Stars. Though this got roars of approval from my fellow students, my professor reprimanded me by saying, "I certainly hope this comparison wasn’t the whole point of your paper! This is supposed to be a serious paper!" No it wasn’t, thank God. I just like to inject a little excitement into my class presentations to keep everyone from falling asleep!
Little did I know then that upon my graduation just a few months later, I would embark upon a new "career" as a competitive ballroom dancer. It must have been fate to have been able to dance again after all the classical dance training I had in my youth many, many years ago. It had to be fate also because everything had fallen into place so easily to make this happen – having found by chance, my wonderful teacher/partner Greg Kasprzak with whom I share a like-minded creative approach to our dancing; having the flexible work schedule (teaching Costume History) necessary to allow me time for my lessons, practice and competitions, and, having found my precious dress designer Valentina Matytsin who comes from Georgia in Eastern Europe.
Braving the grueling traffic from Greenwich, CT to Valentina's studio in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn has been worth every three-hour round-trip for costume fittings. Thinking back on my very first fitting when I first met her, this seasoned professional, who also designs ice skating costumes, sized me up in seconds. "Ok, let me see the color of your eyes... ok, good legs, petite height. Let me look at your back and waist – oh good, no cellulite." Yikes! That's certainly up close and personal for a dress fitting! Thank God for good genes I guess!
I've had two wonderful costumes made by Valentina. It's truly incredible how each one follows and complements my every dance movement and pose in the most elegant and graceful way. The shoulder straps, the beaded swirls and the ruffled skirt on my blue dress for example, all accentuate my turns and various movements and serve as an extension to those movements. The diagonal design of my leopard print and green dress complements any dance position.
I'm happy that my dresses are couture pieces. They lend a certain uniqueness and elegance to my persona on the dance floor. The costumes are also meant to help attract the attention of the judges to you so they don’t miss you in the sea of flashy costumes worn by the other competitors on the dance floor.
I see the "off the rack" dance costumes that many dancers wear. They seem nice at first glance but they just stop short of truly good taste and uniqueness. There always seems to be a gaudy touch to them that ruins the rest of the dress, whether it be colors that clash or cheap looking material and trim or not very refined lines to the pattern and of course, not a tailored fit. It comes down to the difference in the quality of design, materials and know-how between a mass-market dress and a couture dress.
In my opinion, competitive ballroom dancing has become a mass-market product for those who do it as a hobby. For those like me who are serious about the sport and want to do it in the most professional manner, we do not take the mass-market approach. I intend to differentiate myself from my competitors by continuing to perfect my dance technique, by expressing my own unique brand of creativity in my dancing and by packaging all that by wearing a beautiful couture dress each time I step out on the dance floor to wow the judges.