Sometimes, the path to being (and looking like) a professional ballroom dancer is a little unclear. Maybe there isn’t a great mentor, coach, or example available. Maybe what worked 10 years ago doesn’t work anymore. Or maybe you’re not paying attention. No matter what, teaching ballroom dancing is an awesome job, but since it’s a Job, it’s easy to forget that it’s Awesome.
But at a competition, everyone wants to look (and be) awesome. I’VE MADE ALL THE MISTAKES, but as a Professional, I’m always looking to improve my game and BE BETTER. Here’s some advice for how to look like a professional at a Pro-Am competition:
Watch Your Face
Yes, sometimes your student has forgotten all their technique and how to use their muscles to hold up their frame and you’re dancing in front of your coach, but don’t show it on your face. Unless it’s Tango, a pissed-off countenance is rather unprofessional.
Yes, you’re dancing Beginner Bronze and it’s soooooo below your proficiency level [please read with extreme sarcasm], but stop looking disinterested. The fun part of being the Am in a Pro-Am partnership (back in the day, I did this too) is that you’re dancing with a professional and they make your closed syllabus stuff look like THE BOMB, not The Bore. So, BE THE BOMB! You’re the Pro, aren’t ya?
Do Your Preparation
Possess the correct footwear, undergarments, and costumes. Plan what your hair and makeup (and tan) is going to look like and how and when it’s going to get done. Know your Pro-Am closed routines/material. Get all of this double-checked by someone who knows more than you. I.e., find the most knowledgable person you can and ask them to look these things over; you might have to take a lesson from that person (*gasp*), but it will be worth it.
Note: you don’t need to spend $6k to look good, but you do need to look good. And so you know, that usually means knowing what looks good FOR YOU (because it’s not the same for everyone) more than a week ahead of your event.
Know Your Schedule
(Otherwise Known As, Listen to the MC and Make Friends with the On-Deck Captains and Don’t Miss Your Student’s Heats). The soothing sounds of the amazing MCs aren’t just there to calm your nerves before you dance. Their dulcet tones contain IMPORTANT INFORMATION that you need. While your heat sheet lists approximate times for your dances, ballrooms are like Vegas: time doesn’t mean anything. Heat numbers are where it’s at. Get to the ballroom AT LEAST 30 minutes before your scheduled heat time and listen to that guy on the podium because every 1:20 or so, he’ll tell you what’s going on!
Also, that 30 minute rule? Don’t rely on it. Competitions have been pretty ruthless about being ahead of schedule and unless you’re a Ballroom VIP, no one is going to hold the ballroom for you. I feel good about checking in an hour before my first event (unless it’s the first one of the day). And waiting is half the fun anyway, right?
If you’re completely lost, or just want to be helpful, go introduce yourself to the deck captain and ask what heat they are on and how that relates to your next heat. Then they’ll know your face and you’ll be up to date! #WinWin
Need to scratch an event? Tell that blessed deck captain as soon as you know.
Awards are also a circus and exercise in active listening. Don’t get distracted by standing next to your buddies and your dance crushes. Listen to that sexy MC and read your heat sheet and stay focused. Your students want to get their awards, yo. Go get ’em!
You. Are. Working.
So is everyone else! Obviously, you should have fun, and you should be making it fun for other people because that’s what we do. But like, professional fun. Give deference to students first (they ARE paying you to be there), don’t talk shit unless you want everyone to hear it, don’t be distracting, and know your place.
The dance hierarchy is real and there’s a lot of people doing a lot more than you are. From the scrutineer and the DJ, to that guy who’s doing 300 entries and the judges who started at 7am and end at 1am. The ballroom industry is full of hardworking individuals. Take a minute to evaluate where you fall in the big picture and give some space to people who are grinding it out.
Got the big picture all figured out? Maybe you should sweat the small stuff. Stay tuned for Part Two…