The Basics of Competition Hair

by Martina Lee


When preparing for a ballroom dance competition, costuming and grooming are important aspects that help dancers present themselves in their best light on the dance floor.

Rule #1 – Look neat!

Beginner dancers are not required and sometimes not allowed to wear full costumes with rhinestones or feathers, but being dressed and groomed appropriately is a sign of respect to fellow competitors and judges. Hair and makeup don’t need to be very elaborate, but should always be neat and secure.

To put it another way: your look should ideally enhance your dancing, but at a minimum should not distract from your dancing. If your hair starts falling out or your makeup has a large smudge, judges and audience members will see that instead of your routines that you have worked hard on.

Dancesport hair and makeup are not the same as everyday looks, or even other types of performance looks; they need to stay in place and look good through many hours of dancing. This will entail more hair and makeup products than many beginners are used to – embrace it!


World Professional Latin Finalist Ina Jeliazkova often wears a classic low bun.

The Hair

For women, a simple and classic low bun is always appropriate. The low bun is characteristic of the Latin style, but also works well as basic look for beginners dancing Standard, Smooth, or Rhythm. It is the most foundational hairstyle to learn how to execute before learning how to do more complicated looks.

Here is a tutorial showing the basic method, along with a decorative option for the bangs:

Here is a tutorial for a different version of the low bun without a hair net:


World Standard Champion Katusha Demidova demonstrating a high bun with decoration.

More elaborate hairstyles can be created by adapting the same method of creating a base ponytail and creating different shapes with the hair using hair nets, rhinestones, and other decorations.

Latin and Rhythm hairstyles are typically simple and sleek to emphasize the speed and dynamism of the dancer as she spins and turns. This concept is paralleled in the costumes – Latin dresses are more form-fitting and have less material than ballroom gowns for the same reason. Dancers all the way through the top professional levels often stick to a simple bun, braid, or ponytail.

Note: A ponytail for a dance competition is not the same as a casual ponytail worn on a daily basis; the base of the ponytail still must be set with products, and the ponytail itself should be meticulously combed and straightened. This style works best with very long hair.

In Standard, as the two partners are fairly constant in their positions relative to each other, it’s possible to wear more elaborate or voluminous hairstyles because the lady’s individual speed is not the focal point of the style. Many dancers prefer to wear a high bun which can enhance the illusion of height, particularly if the man is much taller than the woman.

As with costumes, different hairstyles fall in and out of fashion over time. Check out some recent work by professional stylist Anastasia Sergievskaya to see some current trends:

The Bottom Line

Just like dancing itself, hair and makeup require practice to learn the techniques, and then further experimentation to find what look works for each individual dancer. Everyone has her own aesthetic preference, but ultimately, each element of the presentation should make every dancer feel comfortable, confident, and ready to perform her best on the dance floor.


Martina Lee took her first box steps with the NYU Ballroom program and hasn’t looked back since. Achievements include top 6 in Championship Standard at the 2018 USA Dance National DanceSport Championships, and other national placements in amateur Smooth and Standard.

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