This is the first post in a series of three posts about ballroom competitions. The first one is about what you do in the weeks and days leading up to a ballroom competition – how to prepare your mind and body. The second post will be about what a competition weekend looks like. The last will be crowdsourced feedback from dancers about any special rituals they do before stepping on the competition floor.
So, it’s official, you have signed up for a ballroom competition. How exciting! But what do you do between registering and stepping on the competition floor to set yourself up to success? For me, I really start preparing about 8 weeks before the competition, and I get prepared by doing the following:
- Practice. If you don’t usually make time to practice on your own, now is the time to start doing it! If you already do it, this is the time to ramp it up and get more focused. I like to go to the studio late at night when lessons are done and the floor is open for me to practice smooth. Most people have gone home and it’s a peaceful time where I can really get in the zone. It also means I can practice with my music on the speaker (definite benefit over trying to waltz to chacha music…). At times when the studio is more crowded I’ll drill the basics for latin – rumba basic, cha cha walks, samba whisks and voltas, etc focusing on weight transfer and alignment. Practicing to the point where you know your routines inside and out helps keep the nerves at bay, and allows you to focus on performance more than footwork.
- Watch video. I like to have someone record my routines during lessons, so I can go home and analyze things I can work on. Maybe I’ll notice an 8 count where my left hand is a limp noodle by my side or see a section I stopped my movement instead of growing through the moment. I also find myself watching more videos of the pros which inspires me to practice more (haha!), but also gives me ideas for arm styling and performance quality.
- Increase private lessons. I’m doing ballroom on a budget – my norm is to do 6 private lessons a month. But for the 8 weeks leading up to competition, I will consistently do 2 lessons a week and occasionally throw in a third lesson if necessary. I’ve also found this time period to be great for a coaching lesson (check out this post to learn more about coachings). The coach can help put the finishing touches on your routines. You’ll have enough time to practice and integrate their feedback, while still having it fresh in your head for competition.
- Dance rounds. For anyone unfamiliar, “rounds” are when you dance all of your heats for a style back to back. They help train your brain to switch quickly between routines and also help build stamina. You have to dance everything back to back in championship and scholarship rounds at competition, so don’t just cross your fingers and hope you’ll be up to the challenge at competition – practice it! When I’m further from a competition my instructor might spend a whole lesson focused on tango, but closer to competition even if we did focus on tango for the lesson we save 10 minutes at the end to do all our smooth routines full-out, back-to-back.
- Hit the gym. Beyond dancing rounds to build stamina, hit the gym! It’s a win-win, you can slim down/tone up your body so you will look great in your dresses, and you’ll also increase your endurance, so you won’t get as winded at competition. I dance almost every day, but I try to find 1-2 days to hit the gym too. I usually run on the elliptical for 40 minutes and then do 20 minutes of abs and light arm weights.
- Check costumes. I decide what costumes I want to wear, and make sure they are clean/unwrinkled/smell good. If you are renting a costume, you would want to reserve the gown as soon as you register for the competition to ensure they have what you want available on your dates. I also start planning out what jewelry I’ll wear and see if I need to buy anything new.
- Miscellaneous. Maybe you need to get a massage or go to the chiropractor a week or two before competition to have your body in tip top shape. Do you need a haircut? Did some rhinestones fall off your dress or shoes that you need to re-glue? Is your hotel booked for the competition?
To everyone hitting the floor this competition season, good luck!