Preparing for Your First Dance Competition

  • Participating in a ballroom dance competition is a natural next step for ballroom enthusiasts who have been taking classes and participating in social dances for at least a few months. Dance competitions held for different skill levels. They are generally divided into amateur, professional, or amateur/professional, with requisite skill varying depending on the competition. If you’re facing your first competition, congratulations! It’s an exciting new experience as long as you prepare in advance and know what to expect. Here are some tips as you count down to the big day!

    ·         Know the rules. USA Dance, also known as DanceSport, is the internationally recognized governing body of ballroom dancing in the United States. All dance competitions register with them and adhere to the official DanceSport rules. Additionally, each competition has its own rules dealing with dress, dance moves, and general etiquette. Breach the rules and you’ll go home without participating!


    ·         Practice in your dance costume. Even if you aren’t wearing formal dance clothing, it’s important to practice in exactly what you’ll be wearing in competition. This means dance shoes, dress, hose, jewelry, hairstyle, everything! You never know what may impede your dancing in some way.


    ·         Practice your makeup. Men typically don’t wear makeup for dance competition, although there are some professionals who do. Occasionally if a man is particularly fair in complexion he will opt for a tanning product. If you do this, try out the product weeks in advance! For women, makeup is a necessity. Makeup for a ballroom competition differs from what you would wear out to dinner. Apply what you think is heavy-handed, and then apply some more. If your makeup is too light you’ll appear washed out under the lights. The judges will not be very close to you and it’s important that they see your facial features. Think of a stage performer whose makeup would look garish on the street, but looks perfectly natural from the third row. Choose a foundation one shade darker than what you normally wear. Eyeliner, blush and lipstick are a must. Practice your makeup days beforehand and rehearse in full makeup. If mascara is going to run as you start to sweat, or lipstick smear as you habitually bite your lip while you nervously wait to go on, you want to know it in advance!


    ·         Consult with a dance instructor. It can be enormously helpful to work on your dance routines with a professional dance instructor. A dance instructor will help you fine-tune your performance and help you develop exceptional choreography.


    ·         Train! You need to prepare for a dance competition the way an athlete prepares for a race. Months before the competition you should enhance your normal schedule of rehearsals and classes with anything that will make your performance stronger. This could be private lessons, a change in diet, proper sleep, or managing your stress levels. The better shape you are in physically and mentally, the better you’ll perform when you hit that dance floor!


    ·         Develop an alternate routine. You simply don’t know how crowded the dance floor will be. You may be crunched for space and have to refine your movements because of this. Have an alternate routine that you can perform in a tight space without sacrificing the quality of your dancing.


    ·         Research the venue. If you can, take a look at the dance space in advance. If you can’t see the space for yourself, ask around and find someone who has competed there. Most dance floors are rectangular, but occasionally you’ll find a square or circular one instead. An odd shape can subtly alter you routine. It’s best to be as prepared as possible.


    ·         Confirm all reservations and fees. The last thing you need on competition day is unexpected stress. Double check all reservations and be sure you know what you need to do when you arrive at the competition.


    ·         Talk with veteran competitors. Pull aside friends from your studio who have danced in several ballroom competitions and ask them what to expect. They may even have previously danced in your upcoming event! This is the best way to learn lots of information you may not even have thought to ask such as where the “on-deck” area is, the arrangement of the changing rooms, entrance and exits, etc…


    ·         Start packing a day or two in advance. You can’t be too careful with packing for a ballroom dance competition. As you go along you’ll think of additional “just in case” items. These can be lifesavers! Suggestions include: extra pair of dance shoes, spare hosiery, warm up clothing, plenty of makeup and hair products, sewing kit, first aid kit, slippers, hand towel, fan, water bottles and snacks.

    When your dance competition arrives, after all your preparation, remember to relax and have fun! Most people who compete once continue to compete for years to come. In other words, it’s an exciting and rewarding experience! Once you compete, share you experience with others who’ve yet to do so. Spread the word!