Are You Ready For Competitive Ballroom?

Earlier this month some of our students competed at Chicago Harvest Moon Ball Dancesport Championships, which is a dance competition that took place in Oak Brook, IL.  All of our students who attended did a fantastic job and many of them also received “Top Student” awards!  Celebrity Dance Studio even took home the “Top Studio” award!

Competitions can be a fun challenge for students or professionals who want to test their skills against their peers.  Dancers also can participate in competitions just to see how judges will score them.  Either way, becoming involved in a competition is a great way to make you grow as a dancer.  Even just being a spectator at some of the events can be inspiring!  If you are thinking about competing, the first thing you should do is watch some events at a ballroom competition.  If you are amazed by it all and wish to get yourself out on the dance floor, that’s great!  The first step is making the decision to sign up, but you may be wondering what you can do next to help you prepare.  Luckily, I have some tips that will get you ready!


Figure Out Which Competition to Go To

To find out which competition to attend you can search online or go to your dance studio for details.  Going to your studio for answers is probably the best thing to do because they will always be up to date on all competitions happening nearby.  Your studio can also help you organize registration and fees so you won’t have to deal with the organizers directly.  Each competition is set up differently so it really just depends on what you would like your experience to be and how far you are willing to travel.  There are various events to choose from throughout the year, so you’ll always get the opportunity to participate if you want to.  Make sure you decide on a competition that is happening later down the road so that you’ll have plenty of time to practice.


Get Familiar with the Categories, Levels, and Approved Figures

As mentioned before, every competition is set up differently.  Some may have different ways of establishing levels and categories.  Each category is a separate event where competitors have to perform a certain number of dances from a certain dance style.  The dance styles will usually be Rhythm, Latin, Smooth, or Standard (and sometimes Nightclub).  The levels within those styles will likely be Bronze, Silver, and Gold.  Competitors will have to execute the approved dance figures from each of the dances based on what level they are in.   For instance – a competitor in the “Pre-Bronze American Rhythm” category would probably have to know the first four Bronze figures from American Rumba, Cha Cha, and East Coast Swing.  Also, keep in mind that if the competition is sanctioned by the National Dance Council of America (NDCA), you can only use NDCA-approved dance figures out on the floor.  Make sure you cross-check your own studio’s syllabus against the NDCA’s list so that you are aware of any restrictions or differences.

Most competitors will sign up for categories that they are already well-versed in.  If you have only ever danced American-style, then you’ll want to sign up for categories involving American-style dances.  It’s also a good idea to confirm your level.  If there are only a few figures you know in a dance, then it may be best to stick to Bronze-level categories.  Your instructor can also help you figure which level to enter.  If you decide that you want to challenge yourself and sign up for a category you are less familiar with, just make sure you study and practice all of the appropriate figures for the dances you are going to do.


Plan Your Rehearsal Times

In order to feel successful in a competition, you will need to spend a lot of time practicing.  If you aren’t already doing so, you should start planning on taking lessons at your studio at least twice a week.  You can even set up back-to-back private lessons with your instructor.  It is best to ask your instructor to give you a solid game plan.  If they have been working with you for a while, they will know exactly what you need.  As mentioned before, make sure you give yourself enough time to physically and mentally prepare for the big day.  Most dancers will start training at least a few months before the start of the competition, but it all depends on your skill level.  If you are beginner, earlier training is better!

 Choreographing mini-routines for each dance is great way to prepare for your events, as well.  This way you’ll already have a set routine in your head and won’t have to worry about you or your partner making up one on the spot.  It’s also a good way to ensure you get all the necessary dance figures in during your time on the floor.  Again, your instructor can help create the routines for you.


Consider a Coach

You may be thinking, “Isn’t my instructor my coach?”  This is true.  Your instructor is totally able to give you everything you need in preparation for your next competition, but you could also get some extra help from another professional who has years of competition experience.  Coaches are individuals who have been working in the industry for a long time and are specifically trained to have an eye for all the fine details of ballroom dance.  A lot of them have even been judges at dance competitions or have trained pros themselves, so they know exactly what to look for.  They can help make your routines look their sharpest, or can even give you suggestions on jazzing up certain elements of your dancing.  Many studios will occasionally have professional coaches come in to train their students and instructors (Celebrity does!).  Check with your studio to see which coaches will be around next!


Get Your Costumes Ready

Dancers with flashy outfits are usually the first to catch the judges’ eyes.  Taking this into consideration, you’ll want to plan out your competition outfits so that you look your sharpest.  The look you should aim for is stylish but also extravagant.  Ladies can create eye-catching looks by wearing elegant ballroom gowns and dresses with a lot of sequins and sparkles.  Gentlemen can wear their best suits and some may even add a little sparkle, too!  Makeup must be bold and hair can also be dramatic, as well.  If you’ve never worn a pair of false eyelashes, now might be the time to try them out!

You’ll also want to make sure you have the appropriate attire for whatever events you are competing in.  Smooth/Standard outfits have a distinct and different style from the Rhythm/Latin outfits, so shop around, see what your needs are, and find some outfits that work best for you!  You’ll also want to make sure that you dance around in your chosen outfits before competition day.  To avoid costume malfunctions on the dance floor, make sure that your dress or suit fits correctly, is comfortable to dance in, and won’t get caught on any jewelry or shoes.


Build Endurance

If you know that you’re going to be competing in many multi-dance events, then you should be prepared to be constantly dancing with limited breaks.  Since there are so many competitors and events to run through, competitions typically have to move quickly.  To make sure you’re ready for this fast-paced experience, practice dancing in your studio as if it is competition day!  For example – if you are going to be competing in American Rhythm, practice dancing straight through all rounds of Cha Cha, Rumba, Mambo, Bolero, and Swing (or whatever dances that certain category will require).  You should expect to dance for about 30 seconds to 1 minute for each dance, so prepare to dance through them back-to-back.  The categories will have three or more dances that you will have to go through, so just make sure you are ready for whatever you signed up for.  Also, you’ll definitely want to get a copy of your schedule (also called a “heat list”), so you know the time and order you’ll be dancing in.


Come Prepared and Ready

The final thing you’ll want to do for competition day is make sure you have everything you need.  The day before, make a checklist of the items you need to bring and any tasks you need to complete before you arrive.  You should plan on making a “competition bag” to put all of your essentials in.  Some of the things to put in your bag are makeup, jewelry, hair-care products, or hair accessories.  You’ll also want to make sure you bring some snacks and water if you plan on having a long day (or if you’re going to be there all weekend).  Make sure you bring a jacket or sweater, too!  A lot of venues like to crank up the AC in the ballrooms, so it can get pretty chilly while you’re not dancing.  Finally, bring some extra cash if you can.  There are always vendors at the competitions who sell cool items like clothes, shoes, or jewelry.  You could even buy some official branded merchandise from the competition to keep as souvenirs.


Happy dancing!  And CONGRATULATIONS to everyone who competed at Harvest Moon!  ^_^