Are you a ballroom dance competitor or looking to become one? Follow these suggestions and make the next ballroom competition you attend be your best one!

  • Warm up before you compete, but don’t “practice”. This is a very important distinction that a lot of competitors miss. “Warming up” means getting a sweat going, loosening up your muscles, (or maybe even pre-fatiguing them) but not practicing. In practice, the objective is to make things better by working out trouble spots and generally improving technique. Trying to do this while at a competition is the worst thing you can do. There simply isn’t enough time to make things better 5 minutes before the next heat. Have confidence in what you’re doing. If something isn’t working, make a note of it and resolve to fix/change it when you get back to the studio.
  • Dance at 70%. This one is highly counter-intuitive. One of the things I found out about myself by seriously competing was that I danced a lot harder on the competition floor than I did at the studio. I find that most novice competitors do the same thing instinctively. In theory, dancing harder and putting in more effort when competing seems like the right thing to do; after all, we are conditioned from a young age to hold the axiom: more effort=better result. In dancing, however, this hardly ever proves to be true. The reality of this approach is that the extra power that you put into your movements feels strange, making you less likely to remember choreography and more likely to lose your balance. After several heats dancing too hard like this, you’ll also get more tired than usual and your performance will suffer further. Since the adrenaline rush that you get from dancing in front of a crowd (or judges, or both) will naturally cause you to dance harder, think about dancing at only 70%, and you might just end up dancing with about the same energy that you do in the studio.*
  • Get into the ballroom one hour before the time printed on your heat sheet. Most competitions run ahead of schedule once they get going (30 minutes ahead of time is pretty much the norm). By getting there an hour ahead, you ensure that you don’t miss your heat, and you give yourself ample time to warm up and mentally prepare.
  • If you get a chance to eat, EAT. Forget about whether it’s your regular mealtime or not, and don’t worry if the food that’s available doesn’t fit into your regular diet. If you don’t give your body ample fuel, your energy level will crash and your performance will suffer. Also, “I’m too nervous to eat” isn’t an excuse to fast during competition. Force yourself to have a few bites and you just might feel a bit better.
  • Take naps. Ballroom Competitions are notorious for getting you up at the crack of dawn to glue on eyelashes and apply mountains of makeup, then keep you up until the wee hours waiting to get your scores at the end of the night (not to mention after parties, and pro-show rehearsals if you’re a professional). When you’re forced to operate on less than 5-6 hours of shut-eye, adopting a temporary polyphasic sleep schedule can help you to push through. Any time I get more than 2 hours off during the day, I try to spend at least one of them hitting  the sack. Worried about messing up your hair? Try sleeping on your stomach, head turned to the side, with no pillow.
  • Don’t ride the rollercoaster. You win some, you lose some; and everybody loses sometimes in ballroom dance competitions. Everybody. Don’t let a few low scores or placements drag your mood down. If you let a bad placement or score negatively effect your mood, you’re more likely to continue scoring poorly because your bad mood will show itself in your body language and dancing. Have consistent problems with this one? Get this bookand keep it in your dance bag at all times.

Everybody likes to talk about the 15 years when we won everything, but nobody ever talks about the 20 years before that that I didn’t win anything.- 15 time American Rhythm champ Bob Powers

  • Just say NO. A lot of people think they dance better after having a glass of wine. The key word there is “think”. A glass of wine or two may indeed dampen your inhibitions, but that ‘s not necessarily a good thing. Remember that there’s a very fine line between “uninhibited” and “wild”. Dancing under the influence (DUI) can cause your reaction time to slow, putting you out of sync with your partner, and throw off your balance. Save it for the after party, kids.
  • Breathe and Smile. You might think that remembering to breathe is a dumb suggestion, but quite often, competitors get more tired than usual on the competition floor because they take short, shallow breaths. Focus on your breathing to get deep, calming breaths and you’ll keep your stamina longer and feel much more relaxed. Also, don’t forget to smile! Smiling not only helps you to look your best, but it actually produces a chemical response in your brain’s pleasure center which makes you feel good too.

Got any competition tips or tricks of your own that you would like to share? Be a pal and leave them in the comments section below. Thanks for reading, and we’ll see you out there on the dance floor soon!

*Also, don’t get frustrated if this skill takes time to develop. It takes years for most competitors to learn to relax on the competition floor. Experience counts for a lot. This is one of the reasons that your instructors will suggest dancing as many heats as possible.