Confidence and Competition: An Interview with Toni Redpath
In the world of ballroom dancing, Toni Redpath is a woman who needs no introduction. Herself a four-time United States Smooth Champion (yes, that set a record), she is now a world class adjudicator who has also coached many successful dancers, including the current world champions. Toni has been a choreographer and guest judge on the hit TV series So You Think You Can Dance, and has appeared in other ballroom-centric television including Ballroom Blitz and Dance League.
Her expertise is literally world-renowned and her passion for the sport is obvious, which is why we were thrilled to get a chance to chat with her about something that we at ConfiDance Couture are also passionate about: gowns, confidence, and the impact those things have on a dancer’s performance.
Dress for Success
Toni was not shy about correlating a gown to a dancer’s success, saying that a dress can play a “huge part” in a dancer’s performance and results.
“I can tell when somebody walks on to the dance floor if they’ve paid attention to their costuming,” she says. “Judges are human. We’ll be drawn to the people who have paid attention to the details. And if the dancers have paid attention to that detail, they’ve probably paid attention to the details in their dancing as well.”
Of course, the opposite is also true. Toni points out that a dress that is poorly cut, or that doesn’t suit the dancer in terms of coloring or features, makes the job of a judge a little harder.
“Often, we’ll have to look past a bad dress to see good dancing. It creates more work for us, and we don’t really appreciate that.”
We asked Toni about how a dress can contribute to a dancer’s confidence, and she gave us a glimpse into her own experience as a competitor.
“Having the right dress was huge for me -- physically and emotionally. When I got a dress that was just right, I felt like I danced better. I wasn’t self conscious. If the skirt was the right weight, I could move faster. I wanted something that reflected my personality, and then danced beautifully.”
Toni also acknowledged that many dancers struggle to manage different opinions and expectations when it comes to what they should wear for a competition.
“Ultimately, I feel like if you’re in doubt, wear the thing that makes you look and feel good.”
A good place to start when you’re trying to decide? Toni recommends your own closet. She points out that everyone owns something that makes them look their best. She suggests taking those favorite items (or pictures of them) to your dressmaker, pointing out why you like wearing those pieces, and using that information to find a dress that brings out those same qualities and highlights your best features. If it looks right, is made well, and the dancer is comfortable wearing it, a judge’s personal preference becomes a lot less important.
“Anyone can appreciate someone that is looking their best, no matter what their personal taste is.”
Packaging Your Product
When it comes to specific features on a gown that are particularly important, Toni admits that she has her own favorite styles, but that what is ultimately important is the package as a whole.
“As a judge, I personally think less is more. But I remember one competition -- there was this girl that had so many feathers on her dress. It was just feathers everywhere and a huge train, and I couldn’t look away. I felt like I had to look past the dress to see in the dancing (which was actually quite good). In the end, I kind of loved the whole thing. She was a little crazy, and so was her dress. She was packaging her product in a way that worked for her best, so I was able to put aside my personal preferences.”
How does a dancer determine what their “packaging” should be? How do you find the look that just fits? Toni walks her dancers through a fairly simple process to do just that.
“Often I’ll tell a couple to describe themselves in three words. You could be ‘classic, elegant, calm’ or ‘sophisticated, fluid, magnetic,’ or whatever words best describe you and your partner. Once you know the words that describe who you are and you know the colors that suit your skin tone, Google some images and you’ll be on the right track.”
The Complexity of Confidence
While that formula works well for determining the look of your “packaging”, Toni admits that developing confidence as a dancer is a much more complicated matter. It includes things like diet, exercise, cross training, and rest, along with a perfected look. And these are all things that you can’t (and shouldn’t) do alone.
“Finding the right team to back you up is absolutely essential,” she says, “and of course, the dressmaker is a very important part of that team.”
Ultimately, Toni believes that confidence is something you have to bring to the dance floor, rather than try to discover while you’re on it.
“It covers every detail of how to be the best version of yourself.”
We couldn’t agree more.