Pre-competition rituals are important for dancers and athletes of every kind, helping to get you into the right frame of mind for the event ahead. For ballroom dancers, one such ritual is tanning. Even the very smell of those tanning products stirs up a competitive urge! Each dancer has particular preferences for what products to use and by what method to apply them. There are other ways to get tan, like tanning beds or the sun, but those are frowned upon for the negative impact on the skin and health. Instead, we’ll take a look at the most popular self tanner products and tips on how to apply them. Self tanning for dancers is an important part of the overall grooming package for competitors.

get tan! self tanning for dancers

So why do dancesport competitors tan? Many observers outside the dance world find the color garish, overdone and extreme. But dancers do it for the same reasons that bodybuilders have long included this process in their preparation before an event–tanning makes your body look better. A good deep tan prevents you from looking washed out under strong lighting, defines your muscles and physique and makes you look slimmer, with a healthy glow. Even over the past decade, you can see that the whole entertainment industry has taken note, and you won’t find even a newscaster who is not sporting at least a little bronzing.



When it comes to products you have two basic kinds: creme (Sun, L’oreal, Matas, etc.) and alcohol based (Pro-tan, Super Braun, Profi-tan, etc.) tans. Creme tans are easily found in drugstores and are very easy to apply, but tend to not get as dark as the alcohol based tanners, although over the past few years, they have gotten pretty effective. Creme tans are good to start applying several days before the comp to get a base coat and then begin to use the alcohol tan the day before and of the event. Alcohol based tans will get you darker faster, although much of the color tends to wash off. Another downside to is these products is that they require more skilled application and practice to create an even streak-free finish. Another tan category on the market is the self airbrush tan, which delivers the product in a fine mist and touts the smoothness of application. One of our favorites is AeroTan from SexyHairConcepts. It is a temporary tan that washes off in the shower. Super easy to apply, great color and smells good too (really). Even ProTan now comes in a continuous spray formula as well. As brands improve their products, tanning is sure to become easier to apply and more natural looking. But if you’re still using the traditional applications, here’s how to get glowing results:


Melissa Cyr demonstrates how to use AeroTan



  • Many dancers have “tanning sheets” or clothes that they use during those days of tanning. A loose soft long sleeved top and long loose pants will keep your bed from turing brown–or orange. Be sure to take old pajamas with you to the competition–the housekeeping staff will be appreciative.
  • Exfoliate first! Use a body scrub several the week(s) before your event to get your skin smooth and even, which will result in a more uniform color. Take special consideration to dry areas like knees, elbows, around ankles and feet.

Professional competition makeup vendor Mandy Kuhn of Beautified explains the prep process

  • Start with a creme tan a few days before, depending on how dark you need to get. Apply with your hands, starting with the legs first and then work your way up. If you start with the upper body first, you’ll smear your application as you move down to the legs. Work in smooth strokes, being sure to get everywhere, especially the back of the legs and your back. Ensure that your strokes are overlapping and going in all directions to prevent lines and streaking. Have a partner help you with your back, if needed. After application, take a good look with a full length mirror to be sure all not spots have been missed. Reapply each day before the comp, or until you want to start using an alcohol based tanner. If you’ve reached a good color with just the creme tanner, you don’t have to go to the next steps.
  • Many dancers tend to shy away from tanning their faces and instead match their face the day of the comp with makeup. With all the fine curves and angles of the face, it is hard to get an even color. A better choice is to use bronzing makeup–be sure you’ve found a good matching color in advance. If you want to use a self-tanner on your face, do not use an alcohol based tanner, but choose one of the creme products. There are even some creme products made especially for faces.
  • The day before and/or of the comp, break out the pro-tan (or any alcohol based tan). Do not shave your legs before application, or the tan will seep right into your pores, becoming more noticeable a few days after when the rest of your legs have returned to normal color and your leg pores remain orange dots! Also, do not apply moisturizer directly before application as it will dilute the product. Alcohol tanners really dry out your skin, so be sure that you’ve moisturized it well the days before. You might want to wear gloves to be sure the drips of the brush or bottle don’t get a chance to set in on your hands before you’ve finished. It is also helpful to enlist your partner or other volunteer to paint you, especially your back. Be sure your helper is wearing gloves.
  • If you’re spraying, get in a dry bathtub to minimize tan ending up on the floors and walls. To apply, you can use the sponge brush that comes with the bottle or other sponge applicator of your choice. The key here is to work quickly before it dries! Start with the lower legs and work up. Apply in long smooth overlapping strokes, either by spraying directly on the skin or onto the applicator. You can also pour the liquid into a container and dip your sponge. To get full coverage, you a crosshatch pattern; that is apply up and down strokes and then sideways strokes on top.
  • Wash your hands after application, but be careful not to get water on the tan, as it will spot–like a watercolor painting. Sit tight and air dry or speed up the process with a hair dryer. Don’t dress until you are completely dry.
  • If you are tanning in advance, you can wash the next day and reapply to deepen the color. Alternatively you can tan the day of the comp without washing to maintain the darkest color–note: you will smell!
  • You can apply a translucent powder to your freshly applied (but completely dried) tan to minimize the transfer of color to costumes.

Mandy Kuhn of Beautified gives tips on finishing your tan

  • Most tanners will wash out of costumes and clothes. For washable items, soak in a basin of cold water and Woolite.


Professional Application:

If you want to forgo the whole messy experience, a great alternative is an airbrush tan. You can either go to a salon featuring Mystic Tan, and get sprayed, or have a professional personally spray you either at a salon or by one of the tanning vendors at a competition. The upside to this is less mess, immediate results and convenience. However, it is more expensive then buying a bottle of product and also obviously you need to be sure that a vendor or salon is available at your destination, if you’ve not planned ahead. Mystic Tan at a salon will cost about $15-25.00, and custom airbrush tan around $45-65.00. For mobile service, you’re looking at anywhere from $50.00 and up.  Many competitions now have tanning vendors at the event, and are usually listed on the comp’s website under “Vendors”.

Mandy Kuhn of Beautified explains self-tanning


Once you’ve finished your competition, you might find that your skin will start to look like you are molting, as it comes off patchy and rather unattractively. For the most part, you’ll have to wait out the process, although you can speed it along with a body scrub and and exfoliation. It also helps to keep your skin very hydrated with a moisturizer, as drier skin (a side effect of some tanners) makes it look even worse. If you have access to a hot tub, this also seems to help along the process, but the tan can come off in the water, so be sure you’re hanging with fellow dancesporters or your companions might think you have some kind of skin disease!

New safe products and technology are developing all the time, so old fashioned tanning beds and deep frying yourself in the sun are no longer viable options, due to the health risks. There are more options available now then ever before for self-tanning, so just start trying out a few different products and see what gives you the best results. Try your new products before your event, just in case you end up with some kind of oompa loompa disaster. With a little practice and experience, you’ll soon find that the self-tanning process is a step that prepares you physically and mentally for a great dance competition.