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ESSENTIALS FOR BALLROOM
by Aria Nosratinia
Although dance competitions can be exciting and fun, overlooked details can ruin your day. The following is based on my experiences, and those of other college dance competitors, written for a group of novices.
Enjoy Yourself: You're there to have fun! Don't get too wrapped up in how many dances you placed or how many medals, ribbons, or trophies you won. You might not take any home but, with the right outlook, you'll award yourself with memories to share with your great-grandchildren.
Arrival: Give yourself ample time to register, get your competition number, find a dressing room, stretch, warm up, calm down, and find your partner(s) before your first dance. In the program, mark the dances in which you're participating.
Goodies: Take your clothes, shoes, consumables, and other stuff in a bag that, when full, will fit under a chair in the ballroom. I recommend
………√ Two pairs of shoes and two dance outfits (to change when soaked with sweat);
………√ Safety pins to attach number or make quick fixes to clothing;
………√ Thread and needle for not-so-quick fixes;
………√ Pain reliever/muscle relaxant;
………√ Writing utensils;
………√ Grooming tools such as comb, makeup, hair spray, razor, etc.
Food/water: Competitions are usually day-long affairs. You'll need to eat and drink. Water, other beverages, and food might be hard to find in or near the ballroom. Take foods high in carbohydrates such as breakfast bars, power bars, bagels, peanut butter sandwiches, ─────────────────────────────────────────────────────────
Warmup: If you are participating with multiple partners, try to warm up with each of them dancing each of your dances. Cover all of the floor to get a feel for its quality, speed, consistency, and to find its flaws. If it's too fast, brush your shoes' soles gently a few times. If too slow (not often the case), go to the corners of the room where there is usually a small residue of dust on the floor; rub the soles of your shoes in that dust a few times. You should have talcum powder to apply a tiny quantity to the soles of your shoes.
………Sometimes the competition floor is neither designed nor maintained for dancing. It might be unevenly waxed, slippery or sticky in some spots; there might be electrical outlets, seams, or other hazards on the floor. Try to find, and remember, all such hazards to avoid them during competition.
Multiple partners: Write your partners' names on your program. Arrange to meet them near the floor to avoid delay when your dance is announced. If your partner dances the dance before yours, meet as your partner leaves the floor.
Entrance and Exit: Very Important!
………At a well-organized competition, the sequences of dances are known in advance. Before a dance starts, be ready to get on the floor with your partner. The emcee will announce: “. . . the next dance is . . ; Beginner level; first heat”. The Leader will offer an arm to the Follower to go to the floor as a couple. Don't forget to smile.
………Where on the floor should you go? For Latin, it doesn't matter much. 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 “premium ─────────────────────────────────────────────────────────
………Once in position, separate from your partner. The Leader should stand with back to the judges so they can see the number. After judges have noted the couples, the emcee will say something like: “. . . This is the first/second/semifinal heat, judges bring back n couples”, or “. . . this is the final heat, judges place all couples”. This is your cue. The emcee will then say “Music please” and the music will play.
………At this point, the Follower goes to the Leader and gets into closed dance position. In Latin dances, one might want to do an intro, but I'm assuming that you are beginners and don't want to bother with such stuff.
………When you are together and in dance position, take your time to make sure you are on the correct count before starting to dance. It is important not to rush. Judges might forgive many things, but they will never forgive the wrong tempo or being on the wrong count. But you don't want to wait too long either, especially in smooth/standard dances: the couple behind you is waiting for you to get out of the way.
………At the end of the dance, the Leader spins the Follower out and they bow to the audience. They then come together and leave the floor arm in arm. Or, especially in Latin, the Follower Leads the way off the floor and the Leader Follows. Don't forget to smile!
Attitude: Remember, you are being judged from the instant you walk on to the dance floor. Attitude is key! Even if you haven't a clue as to what you are doing, pretend you are the greatest dancer the world's ever seen: walk erect, smile at the audience and 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 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. You can acknowledge a judge with a smile as you dance past. But don't go overboard on this.
For Women: Courtesy of Kim-Anh Nguyen of the University of Pennsylvania.
………Clothes: Costumes are usually not 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 backward in one of the smooth dances, don't panic. Make a little hop, get it out of your way, and keep on dancing. It helps to step backward with good technique, keeping your weight forward, so that you know you've stepped on your dress without tripping and falling. For Latin/Rhythm, wear either a short, flippy dress/skirt, or a long, slender dress with a high ─────────────────────────────────────────────────────────
………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 bad! For Latin, you might also wear flesh-colored fish-net tights. Especially for Latin, you should wear dance trunks or briefs. Panties or girdles made of Lycra will hide your underwear.
………Shoes: If you don't have dance shoes, wear heeled sandals for Latin and pumps for Smooth. For pumps, you should wind cellophane tape around your foot (in the shoe) at the instep to keep them on while you are dancing. Take several different pairs to see which fits best at the competition.
………Hair/makeup: Essential! Hair must be in a bun atop your head (to enhance your lines), or be very short. The saying for hair is: “Not one loose strand!” Take tons of bobby pins and hair spray to keep your hair in place. Hair flailing about and hitting your partner's face looks very unprofessional. Wear lots of makeup especially on your eyes and lips. It's OK if you think it gaudy and overblown. This is a competition! The point is to look good to the judges and the audience, not your partner. The judges are far away and overdoing makeup compensates for that distance. Most women polish their nails and some use fake eyelashes (you don't have to). Take your makeup and mirror to the ballroom to freshen up. Take a towel to pat perspiration during the competition.
………Clothes: Costumes are usually not allowed in college competitions. For Standard/Smooth, wear dark dress pants, white shirt, and a regular neck or bow tie. You could try a vest to see how it looks. I usually avoid wearing a jacket during the dance because regular jackets have padded shoulders and the armpit is usually cut too low. When in closed dance position, the shoulders of such a 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 a white or colored shirt. Latin shirts are good; 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.
………Shoes: Wear leather shoes with leather, suede, or synthetic soles. Avoid shoes with rubber or spongy soles. The shoes should give you good arch support. Specialty dance shoes are your best choice.
………Accessories: Belt buckles, brooches, rings, bracelets, watches, and loose necklaces are potentially trouble-some and could even be hazardous. This becomes an issue mainly in the Latin dances. This is especially important for Swing/Jive. Try to avoid them all.
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