Kate Swanson is an Australian writer and dancer with nearly 40 years' experience in ballet, jazz, flamenco, ballroom, Latin and bellydance.
Newcomers to ballroom dance could be excused for wondering why men's dancewear is necessary for ballroom dancing at all. I mean, you just wear a shirt and pants, right?
Yes and no. If you're just social dancing, all you really need is a pair of good ballroom dancing shoes. But if you want to make progress, you'll find that properly designed men's dancewear can make a difference - not just in how you look, but in how well you dance.
Your trousers are the most likely garments to affect your dance technique. You may think you can dance in stretch jeans - but just try doing the same moves in your tracksuit and feel the difference! Your body unconsciously adjusts itself to limitations; even if you're not aware of it, your stride will be shorter (disaster for the foxtrot!).
Ballroom trousers under $100 are hard to find. For practice, black dance pants (like the ones worn by contemporary and jazz dancers) will give you all the freedom you need at half the price. Be careful though, because most "unisex" garments are actually women's designs made in a bigger size! Capezio is one quality manufacturer that offers a dedicated men's range, but students tell me the material is on the thin side. I suggest B Dancewear's men's dance pants. They are a thicker material which feels better quality, and have a nice masculine cut.
Another alternative, more suitable for social dancing, is a pair of black golf pants. They are also built for ease of movement, but they are closer in style to streetwear so you can wear them in a wider variety of situations without feeling conspicuous. Puma, Nike and Adidas all make reasonably priced options which you can find on Amazon.
Once you get to competition level and need pants with that nice satin stripe down the outside seam - you'll have to invest in a proper pair of ballroom trousers. Whatever you do, don't buy regular tuxedo pants because they're cut neater for a sharper look - which means they don't have enough room to dance in.
Don't forget the socks! Black socks, always. No white athletic socks, please.
The Ballroom Dancing Shirt
At first glance, a ballroom dancing shirt looks exactly like a white business shirt, and most social dancers will wear exactly that. However, an ordinary shirt presents its own problems.
If it's a generous cut, then it's going to be loose around your arms and torso and obscure your (beautifully-held!) frame. If it's tailored, you'll feel it straining across your back. It may seem like a small thing, but when your muscles are working hard, even a little extra resistance can make you fatigue a lot faster.
Also, don't forget that lifting your arms also lifts the back of your shirt - so when you let your arms drop again, you have an unattractive balloon effect round the waist. Or worse, a shirt tail hanging out.
If you dance Swing or Smooth, you can hide this problem by wearing a vest (waistcoat if you're British!). Check your back view though - if there isn't enough overlap, you may find your shirt poofs out between your trouser belt and the bottom of the vest. Not a good look.
Professional dancers solve the whole shirt issue by wearing a body suit. Yes, it looks ridiculous on its own, and it can be uncomfortable if you have a long body. But you'd never guess once you're wearing trousers, and it is the only way to guarantee your shirt doesn't ride up.
The Latin Shirt
Latin dancers don't have to wear a shirt. A tight, long-sleeved turtleneck is an acceptable alternative - but only in black, of course. The key requirement for the Latin dancer is that the shirt or top must be body-hugging, so it must be stretchy, containing spandex or Lycra. Because you can't wear a jacket or vest for Latin dance, it's even more important that the shirt stays in place and it absolutely must not wrinkle.
The other alternative is to go for a loose style, like a woman's blouse, that leaves a lot of chest on display. Best, in my view, reserved for the advanced professional only.
The Ballroom Dancing Suit
It is almost impossible to dance in a regular tail suit or tuxedo - the minute you raise your arms into your frame, you can feel the elbows pulling, the back wrinkling and lifting and tension under your arms. Not only is it uncomfortable, it looks awful!
It takes artful cutting to design a suit jacket that will allow you to lift your arms without lifting the whole jacket. You won't find a tuxedo like that in any high street store!
Even experienced tailors don't know how to cut shirts and jackets for dancing, so having a suit custom-made won't solve the problem, unless you can find a tailor who specialises in dance. There's really no alternative but to buy from a dancewear supplier. Unfortunately as suits become less common at social dances and even in amateur competitions, the choice of quality suppliers is getting smaller and the prices are rising accordingly.
© 2010 Kate Swanson
Freddie Yeo on January 19, 2013:
I appreciate your advise.
I shall try it.
Kate Swanson (author) from Sydney on January 18, 2013:
I don't know of anywhere that sells them off the peg, your best bet is online.
Freddie Yeo on January 18, 2013:
Where in Sydney can I get tail suits made for ballroom dancing?
Brandon Carson on August 28, 2012:
I love my dancing wearing. I really enjoy this blog.
ESynergy from Adelaide, South Australia on July 03, 2012:
didn't know about the golf pants. Thanks for the tip will go and find myself a pair.
Kate Swanson (author) from Sydney on November 27, 2011:
Yes Jim, golf pants are a great solution - after all, they're made for sports so they give you room to move, yet they still look smart.
Jim on November 26, 2011:
Thanks. I love my black golf pants. I am glad I am not the only one. This was article was helpful to me.
prettydarkhorse from US on May 03, 2010:
ordinary trousers, yes I just see some men who danced with that costume and I think that as long as they are comfortable it will be fine. Thank you Mam, Maita