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Professional Andrea Zaramella in his performance days.

Ballroom Gentlemen

By Rose-Ann Lynch
Managing Editor
The Put-Together Man on the Ballroom Floor

I recently came across an interesting article on a site called, “Ape to Gentleman.”  The article, “Well Dressed: 10 Things All Stylish Men Have in Common,” by Graham Jones, was informative and well written.  Graham covered everything to include style, fit, and grooming to accomplish a “put-together” man.

I had been looking for someone to write such a piece for our Ballroom Audience, but since no one volunteered, I thought I would take a swing at it, with the help of this article. 

Graham starts by saying that we have all seen the “put together men that grace the covers of the glossy magazine…”  He’s right, we have all seen them in magazines, on television, and on the dance floor.  Some of those gentlemen are perfect!  What is it?  Are they naturally good-looking or is there more to it?  Well, Graham credits a lot to recognizing the finer details and understanding fundamentals.  So, let’s look through the expert’s eye at the Standard and Smooth ballroom male. 

  • The Ballroom Male Knows That Fit Is Everything

Graham noted “ill-fitting clothes…cheapens you and your look.”  This is a good starting place.  The Ballroom Gods blessed all Smooth and Standard dancers with the color black (or dark blue); it is trimming, chic, rich, and forgiving.  Then there is the tailoring specifically to you.  Shoulders are manicured while your arms are up, to give you your best look when you are in action.  Everything is latched together to ensure that it stays in place during and after eventful moves.  Cummerbunds are made with velcro so they are easily adjusted and quickly removed.  Modern fabrics keep you cool, wick moisture, and don’t wrinkle.  Shoes do not require shining.  The suit does a big part of it.  However, unlike your lady’s dresses, your suit does not have massive stretch capabilities.  Beside dancing beautifully and leading, your part is to stay the same size throughout the year, so all the tailor’s fine tuning is not in vain.  Either that, or it is time to buy a new suit.  Hint #1:  If you are uncomfortable in your suit, it doesn’t just feel bad, it looks bad.  Hint #2:  If you get a suit from someone else, have it re-tailored to you.

  • Always have your basics

In the article, Graham was talking about a “capsule wardrobe” which can go from office to evening with a splash of cologne and a simple shoe change.  Here, the ballroom man is at a disadvantage.  Whether you are the first event in the morning or the last in the evening, you still must look like Fred Astaire.  There are, however, a few exceptions.  If you are dancing Smooth and your first event is during the day, you might choose that cool long vest with a black or white shirt beneath it.  That evening, you can roll out that ever flashy and perfect jacket to really show off your style and elegance.  But what about the Standard guy?  Does he have options?  Well, if you are so inclined, you can go with the short jacket in the morning and the full tails at night.  Hint #3:  You always must be aware of what the rules allow and what the judges might or might not like.

USA Dance’s Jordan Palmer & Finley Severance always turn out with top-to-bottom perfection. Photo by Carson Zullinger.
  • Classic is Best, according to the Rules Committee

Some might argue that you can’t get more classic than a tail suit or black tuxedo jacket.  And Graham expressly noted, “the classics never die.” So, what are we talking about here pertaining to ballroom?  Here’s one: Smooth guys, don’t forget that you may only wear a single-colored tie while you dance, so anything that you bought with more than one color is out – sorry, I don’t make these rules, I only report them.  This is for your own good; you don’t want to confuse the judges, stand out, or accidently forget to change your tie when your partner changes her dress – is anyone buying that?  Maybe it is because the Rules Committee doesn’t trust your taste…that couldn’t be it…could it?  You are allowed stones on the single-colored tie.  Does that mean that the stones must be one color?  No one knows.  Hint #4:  Better stick to …oh yes…basic black tie.

  • The Ballroom Male Knows Which Trends to Dabble In

Are there trends for the Ballroom male?  Yes, but make sure they are within the rules.  Graham noted, “the classics are the ones that proved themselves to possess staying power.” So, what does that mean for our dancing gents?  Well, remember the zipper tail suit jacket?  That came and went so quickly, it wasn’t even funny.  In fact, I read that a Blackpool Congress said it was inappropriate.  But there are still ways to be unique on the floor.  Tails and lapels by some makers are narrower.  There are velvet jackets and satin lapels. Shoes may be patent leather, regular leather, cloth, or suede.  You can wear interesting cufflinks.  You can wear a bow tie (one color) with your Smooth Suit.  Should you or should you not have stripes on your trousers?  I’m sure there are more options within the rules’ parameters.  Then again, let’s go back to Graham, who provides Hint #5:  Trends “will fall by the wayside,” avoid them or be extremely selective.

  • Uniforms

Graham notes, “One of the best-kept secrets of good dressing is having a uniform of some description.”  He’s right! Perhaps this is a good time for Hint #6:  There are uniform rules in ballroom, and you can be disqualified for not following them. 

  • Ballroom Men might question this one: Color and Texture

Where Graham has many great ideas, this one does not translate as well for the ballroom community.  He says, “Even the simplest, most pared-back of looks can be brought to life with the right palette and the considered use of some tactile fabrics.”  Perhaps in this case we should review Hints #4 through #6. 

USA Dance’s Alexandru Munteanu and Anya Sheedy were always pure class on the floor. Photo by Carson Zullinger.
  • Ballroom Dancers Define Their Clothing, Not the Other Way Around. 

Years ago, I was at the MAC, when it was in the gorgeous Manhattan Center in Midtown Manhattan.  I remember watching the young Adult couples moving beautifully around the floor in their Final Foxtrot and then hearing the emcee announce each couple for their individual rollouts.  And then it happened…after one couple rolled out, the young lead decided he wanted to have wet shoes.  He spat on the edge of the floor and stepped in it…right in front of a former professional lady 10-Dance Champion who was judging.  The petite adjudicator, all decked out in her gorgeous white evening gown with trail, was visibly disgusted and moved away.  YUCK!  And NO, he didn’t win the competition.

Graham, what is the sage advice here?  “A large part of looking good comes from confidence and character… A good outfit is not a substitute for a personality.”  BINGO!  Our sport demands that all our guys dress immaculately in their brilliant jackets and tails, but it is NOT just about the haberdashery.  It is every bit about the gentleman in that outfit.  It is about being polite, confident, a good sport, a good partner, a strong leader, a fierce competitor, a performer, and a good dancer.  Hint #7:  Don’t just wear it…Own It!!!  Be Elegant!

  • Graham says “They Have A Signature Fragrance (Or Three)”

This is not a requirement on the ballroom floor, but if you think body odor goes unnoticed on the ballroom floor, you are mistaken.  Hint #8:  A little spritz can go a long way.

  • Maintain your competition gear.

Graham notes, “Your clothes say a lot about you, so it’s always important that everything you wear is freshly washed and pressed.”  Make sure you have an extra shirt.  We’ve all seen the poor guy who spilled coffee on his one shirt, or when his partner’s tanner attacked him and took no prisoners.  What about that bowtie that walked away, the cufflink that broke and was replaced by a paperclip, or that shoelace that could not stand up to that last tug?  Stock up and be ready.  Even if you don’t need that fresh shirt or extra black tie, someone else might.  A few suggestions for the ballroom male heading to a competition:

  • An extra shirt
  • An extra black tie (Smooth) or bow tie (Standard)
  • Fabric Spray
  • Extra pair of shoes
  • Extra pair of shoelaces
  • Good hangers – turn your jacket inside out to dry it between rounds
  • Wipes to wipe down the inside of your jacket
  • A small spray bottle of rubbing alcohol is great for odor, but pretest it on the fabric
  • Lint roller or tape
  • Shoe brush
  • Iron

Hint #9:  Let’s go back to Graham – “Tatty, disheveled clothes are not the mark of a stylish gentleman.”

  • Ballroom Men Do Not Neglect Their Grooming

Graham goes into facewash, exfoliating scrubs, and moisturizers, all of which should be considered.  He also suggests, “A carefully considered grooming regime is an integral, but often overlooked, aspect of any stylish gentleman’s daily routine.” Hair should be neat and trim, according to the style you are dancing.  If you must spray it in place, do so. Sport a fresh shave with any facial hair neatly maintained.  And don’t forget to shower and use deodorant.  Hint #10:  If you think it goes unnoticed, you are wrong.

I put all of this out to you for your consideration.  If there are some ballroom men who have more or better input, please send it to Americandancer@usadance.orgAmerican Dancer would love to hear from you.  If you would like to read Graham Jones’ complete article at “Ape to Gentleman,” it is here:


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