Essentials of Dance Competitions
Dance competitions can be exciting and fun. They can also be a pain; any
number of small details can go wrong and ruin your day. This collection
of useful reminders was first written for a group of novice dancers at
Rice University going to their first competition. The material is based
mostly on my personal experiences and initial mistakes, as well as
advice from other college dance veterans.
It is amazing how many people forget the most important aspect of
being at a competition. There is a good chance that, no matter how
attached you get to dancing, you will not be making a living off of it
in the future. You're there to have fun, so don't get too wrapped up in
how many dances you placed at, or how many medals/ribbons you won. You
may or may not take back ribbons and medals, but with the right outlook,
you'll definitely take back memories you'll enjoy for many years to
Arrival: Be early. Give yourself plenty of time to register and
get your number (for the gentleman), find the changing area, stretch,
warm up, calm down, and find your partner(s) before your first dance
begins. Look over the dance program and mark down the dances that you are
Goodies: Bring your clothes, shoes, and other stuff in a bag
that would fit under a chair or table. You would want to keep this bag
close so you can access it easily. Here's a useful list of things to
- Dance outfit(s) and shoes. Gents: bring extra shirt.
- Safety pins, to attach number, also quick fix for torn seams, straps, etc.
- Thread and needle, again to fix a torn seam etc. if there is a
little more time.
- Towel, to blot perspiration between dances
- Comb, hair brush or other grooming device
- (For ladies) Makeup, hair spray, etc.
- Food and water (see item below)
- Contact lenses, rewetting drops, saline solution (if
- Aspirin or equivalent, for headaches or muscle aches and pains
- Pen or pencil, to mark down dances on the program.
Food/water: Water or other liquids may not be easy to get to at
the comp: bring your own water bottle. Competitions are usually full-day
affairs, and you *will* get hungry. Food may not be (and to my
experience is usually not) conveniently available. Bring high-carbo food
items with you. Some good choices include: breakfast bars, power bars,
bagels, peanut butter sandwiches, and bananas. They all provide instant
energy, and don't take much room in your carry-on bag.
Warmup: Go on the floor and warm up before the dances begin. If
you are participating in multiple dances or with multiple partners, try
to warm up with each of them, even if just for a few minutes. For smooth
dances, cover all of the floor in your warmup. Get a feel for the floor: is
it too fast, too slow? If it is too fast (slippery), go back to your
chair and apply the steel brush gently to the bottom of your shoes a few
times. If it is too slow (this happens much less often, and is less of
an issue for beginner dancers), then go to the corners of the room,
where there is usually a small residue of dust on the floor, and rub the
sole of your shoes on the floor a few times. If you are really prepared,
you'll have talcum powder with you, in which case apply a very very
small amount of powder to the sole of your shoes.
Sometimes the competition is held on a floor that is neither designed nor
maintained for dancing. The floor could be unevenly waxed and slippery
on some spots, or there may be electrical outlets, seams, or other
uneven spots on the floor. Go over the floor a couple of times during
your warmup, look for all such hazards and, as much as possible, avoid
them during the competition.
Multiple partners: Gentlemen: mark down the name of each partner
you're dancing with across each dance on your dance program (or dance
card). Agree to meet your partner at a certain point at the periphery of
the dance floor, or at a certain table where she is sitting at. When a
dance is announced, don't be late getting on the floor. Ladies: you have
it easier. Just remember the number of your partner(s). Also, agree to
meet him at a given point, and be there a minute or so before your dance
Make sure that you know if your partner is on the floor for the dance
before yours. In that case, go to him/her as s/he is coming off the
floor at the end his/her dance.
Entrance and Exit: Very Important!
In any well-organized dance, the sequences of dances are known in
advance. Before a dance starts, find your partner and be ready to go on
the floor. The emcee will say something like: ``... and our next dance
will be.... the American Waltz, Beginner level, first heat''. You will
know this is you. The Gentleman will give his arm to his partner, and
you will walk together on the floor. Don't forget to smile.
Once on the floor, where should you go? For Latin, it doesn't matter
much. Personally, I feel better if I'm in the periphery of the floor, as
opposed to the center, because I feel I'm better seen by the judges. In
standard/smooth, however, positioning is more important. The best
places or ``premium spots'' are the two corners that are at the
beginning of long sides of the floor. This way, as you start, you have
the length of the room to complete your initial pattern. The second best
spots are the other two corners.
Once you are in position, separate from your partner. The Gentleman
should stand with his back to the judges so they can see his
number. After judges have marked down the couples, the emcee will say
something like: ``... This is the first/second/semifinal heat, judges
bring back X couples'', or ``... this is the final heat, judges place
all couples''. This is your cue to be ready. The emcee will now say
``... music please ...'', and the DJ will start the music.
At this point, the Lady comes to the Gentleman and they get into the
closed dance position. In Latin dances, one might want to do an intro,
but I'm assuming that the readers of this document are beginners and
don't want to bother with such stuff.
Once you come together and into the dance position, take your time to
make sure you are on the correct count, and start your dance. It is
important not to rush. Judges may forgive you many things, but they will
never forgive wrong tempo, or being on the wrong count. Note that you
don't want to wait too long either, especially in smooth/standard
dances: the next couple behind you is waiting for you to move.
At the end of the dance, the Gentleman spins his partner out, and they
both bow to the audience. They then come together, Lady takes
Gentleman's arm, and they leave the floor together. Alternatively
(especially in Latin), the Lady leads the way out of the floor and the
Gentleman follows. Don't forget to smile!
Attitude: Remember, you are being judged from the minute you walk
out onto the dance floor. Attitude is key! Even if you haven't a clue
as to what you are doing, pretend you are Shirley Johnson or Mario
Robau: walk erect, smile at the audience and at the judges, and look up
as you take your stance. Do the same as you walk off, even though you
might have screwed up. The judges will get to know you as the day goes
on; do your best early on, and it will help you out later. In my
experience, if the judges like you early on, you could get a break later
if you make a little mistake. Making a good first impression is
important. When you dance by a judge, you can acknowledge him/her with a
little smile. But don't go overboard on this.
Especially for Ladies:
This section is courtesy of Kim-Anh Nguyen of UPenn.
Clothes: Usually no costumes are allowed in college competitions.
Wear a longer, full skirt or dress for smooth. It's best not to wear
black because the man will take away from your line if he's wearing
black. If you trip on your long skirt going backwards in one of the
smooth dances, don't panic. Make a little hop, get it out of your way,
and keep on going. It also helps to step backwards with good technique,
keeping your weight forward, so that you know you've stepped on your
dress without tripping and falling on you bum. For Latin/rhythm, wear
either a short, flippy dress/skirt, or a long, slender dress with a high
side slit. The slit MUST be high enough for you to move your left leg
freely; you may need to alter the dress to get the slit high enough
to move. Bright colors are preferable since you will be more visible to
the judges, but you may also wear black. The arms should be bare or at most
quarter-length, so that your wrists and hands will show as you
do your arm movements/extensions. If your dress has thin straps, you
may tape or tie them together with rubber bands so they will not fall
down your arm when you dance. Always bring several dresses, in case you
have a tear in one. Always bring extra safety pins, needle and thread,
and scissors in case of emergencies.
Hose/underwear: Wear flesh-colored stockings, dance tights if
possible. The tights should be sandal foot and ``sheer to waist'', because
showing the stocking panty when you swirl looks really bad! For Latin,
you may also wear flesh-colored fish-net tights. For Latin especially,
you should wear dance trunks or briefs. These are lycra panties or
girdles that will hide you underwear so it doesn't show when you turn.
Shoes: Dance shoes preferred. If you don't have these, wear
heeled sandals for Latin and pumps for smooth. For pumps, you should wind
scotch tape around your foot (in the shoe) at the instep to keep them on
while you are dancing. Bring several different pair and see what fits best
at the dance.
Hair/makeup: Essential! Hair must be put up in a bun at
the top of the head (to enhance your line), or be very short. The
saying for hair is: ``Not one loose hair!'' Bring tons of bobby pins
and Aqua Net spray to keep your hair in control. Loose hair flailing
about and hitting the man's face looks very unprofessional. Wear lots
of makeup! Especially eyes and lips. You may think it looks gaudy and
overblown, but that's OK. This is a competition, and the point is to
look good to the judges and the audience, not to your partner. The
judges are standing at least some yards away, and overdoing the makeup
compensates for the distance. Most women do their nails, and some use
fake eyelashes (you may opt out of the latter). Bring your makeup and
mirror to the table to freshen up. Bring a towel to blot perspiration
during the competition.
Especially for Gentlemen:
In most college competitions, costumes are not allowed. For
standard/smooth, wear dark dress pants, white shirt, and a regular tie or
a bow tie. You could try a vest on top to see how it looks. I usually
avoid wearing the jacket during the dance, because regular jackets have
padded shoulders and the armpit is usually cut too low, so that when in
close dance position, the shoulders of the jacket hunch up. This gives a
really bad look, especially since one of the points of good dance
posture is to keep the shoulders down.
For Latin, wear dark dress pants and white or colored shirt. Latin
shirts are good, and you cannot go wrong with black. You can go for
frills, but be careful: it could look good, or it could look really
silly. If you decide on color, try to match it to your partner's dress.
Leather shoes, with leather, suede, or synthetic soles. Avoid shoes with
rubber or spongy soles. The shoes should give you enough
arch support. Specialty dance shoes are your best choice.
Accessories: (For both sexes) This becomes an issue mainly in
the Latin dances. Belt buckles, brooches, rings, bracelets, watches, and
loose necklaces are all potentially troublesome and even hazardous. This
is especially important for Swing/Jive. Try to avoid them all.
Copyright (c) 1997, 1998, all rights reserved
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