So you are competing at a DanceSport event. That is awesome!! It truly is. It is a great opportunity to meet a lot of interesting people who love dancing as much as you do. It is also a great chance for you to show off your personal spark.
Some people do their first competition after only a few weeks of dancing. Others after several years. Most are somewhere in between. The main advantage of competing early is that you don’t have much time to think about it, and develop expectations or anxiety. This is a HUGE advantage! But, if you are a bit nervous (and yes, saying bit could be a big understatement), you can do a few specific things to get that under control, and reinforce you feeling of being well prepared. These 8 tips should help:
1. The absolute biggest problems, are when you get so tense that you can not move well, and when you get thrown off when you make a mistake. You WILL make mistakes! And it is OKAY! Even the professional dancers make mistakes in pretty much every dance. If something goes wrong, just keep going and smile brighter. Most mistakes are noticed only after someone sees the look on the dancer’s face, that says clearly that they just made a mistake.
2. Practice in a way that builds stamina. Do multiple rounds of your dances with only a 30 second break in between each. Even if you are very fit, if you do a lot of heats your muscles may get a bit worn from repetition of the same moves, and you might feel wilted when the adrenaline wears off. It is best to get used to the actual experience of how you may feel, in preparation for every competition you do.
3. In your rounds, use real competition music, played at the right speed or even a bit faster, and again without stopping if there is a mistake. Not stopping is critical. You need to practice recovery from mistakes as much as anything else. Smiling brighter (from point #1) will set your mind in the right place, to get your body to get to the next point without drama. This is important.
4. If you will wear heels to dance at competitions, practice in heels that are either the same or a bit higher height than the heels you will wear to dance in the comp. Your competition shoes should feel as or more comfortable to you than your practice shoes. Do not wait too long to switch out of the low thick heel of a practice shoes, or if you can, do not wear them at all.
5. The most successful pro-am students take on the mindset of the professional when at comps. By that I mean, they do not expect their partner to make them look good, or even expect their partner to look better than them. They go onto the floor expecting to perform well as individuals, with equal responsibility for how the couple looks. This mind set can do wonders.
6. Another point regarding mindset is to think about showing each move cleanly and clearly as if you are demonstrating the right way to dance for others. It is amazing how good you can get when you have in your mind the need to show others the correct moves versus trying to prove what you know. Just try it and see. Do this in your practice as well as at the competition.
7. On competition day and the week before, do not think too much. Really!! You will do better when you trust everything that you have learned and practiced, and you just let it happen. If you drain your energy by trying to change a lot of things at that late point, it will very likely throw you off.
8. Finally, remember that judges don’t really mark for flash or perfection and do not generally consider those things other than for the highest level of competitor. For most levels, they look at whether the dancer understands and is comfortable with the fundamentals of their level, and really how comfortable the dancer makes them feel. If you are too tense, it will be hard for them to focus on your dancing skills because it will make them tense too and attract their expectation to your inevitable mistakes (yes inevitable and expected and no big deal mistakes) instead of your overall awesomeness.