You have $7,000 to use as spending money. Do you buy a car or … a dress?
No, these aren’t bridal gowns; they’re ballroom dance competition dresses. Add another thousand onto that price tag to account for shoes, hair, makeup and jewelry and you get the entry-level fee for a ballroom dance competition.
“The average dress is $4,000 to $7,000. It’s not a sport for poor people,” Rachel Champion said. Champion works for Donna Inc., a gown design firm that was present at the Twin Cities Open Ballroom dance competition Saturday.
Hosted at the Hyatt Regency, the competition featured impressive athletic — and financial — feats.
In the entryway to the dance floor, vendors sold dresses, shoes and accessories. One shoe salesman boasted 8,000 different variations of $220 pumps.
“It’s kind of a rich man’s sport,” said Alan Rupp, an attendee at the Twin Cities Open and a ballroom dance enthusiast. “You don’t get a lot of riff raff … just a lot of well-to-do people.”
Rupp, who started ballroom dancing 38 years ago, claims the sport is worth the money.
“Once you get hooked, it’s hard not to come back,” Rupp said. He swears by the health benefits, too.
“When I tell people I’m going to be 63 years old, they think I’m under 50.”
The sport is as intensive as it is expensive. Watching the dancers is mesmerizing; movements are graceful, yet aggressive. Competitors stride across the floor with hip movements that breach the pelvis’s limits, constantly swirling and snapping for their ten-plus minute performances.
This level of athleticism is not reached without sacrifice — most dancers train their whole lives.
“When I was six I was hyper, so my mom wanted to make me do something. I started dancing,” Victoria Nemeth, a competitor in the Open Latin division from Houston, said. She and her partner Emanuele Magnasco placed fourth on Saturday.
Nemeth practices every day for two hours, not including the homework she gets from her instructors.
Along with the money and training, the need for a partner adds another element of the sport to juggle. And spending so much time training together means that finding a long-term partner is difficult.
“It’s me and my partner’s first competition together. … We just came here with the intention of having fun,” said competitor Aaron Stowell while warming up.
Stowell, like Nemeth, has made a career out of competing professionally. While these two represent the majority of professional competitors, others have found a way to dance while having a separate career.
Sarah Larson, a Smooth Ballroom contestant, is also a chemist.
“[I] have a day job, so it’s forty hours a week plus all of the training.
“It’s a passion — I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t love it,” Larson said.