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 come.
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 participating in.
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 bring:
- 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 applicable)
- Aspirin or equivalent, for headaches or muscle aches and pains
- Pen or pencil, to mark down dances on the program.
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.
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 starts.
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!
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.
Especially for Ladies:
This section is courtesy of Kim-Anh Nguyen of UPenn.
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.
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.
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.
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 the 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.