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02 February 2014

Ballroom for Beginners: 10 Things You Need to Know for Your First Comp

Spring semester is under way, and that means some of our NYU ballroom team newcomers are prepping for their first competition! Comps can be a pretty overwhelming experience to the uninitiated: loud music blaring, girls with crazy feathers/sequins/hair/makeup milling around, the MC saying things that don't seem to make sense (it took me an embarrassingly long time to figure out what "Judges, recall 24 from two" meant...), and what seems like a million people competing on the floor at the same time. This all takes place in what is most likely a stuffy college gym with less-than-flattering fluorescent lighting. Revel in the experience (and slight kookiness) of it all, but don't forget these key tips to having a successful first comp!

1. Everyone else is in the same boat as you.
It would be weird to NOT be nervous, but just remember that the whole experience is new to everyone else you're competing with. And for that matter, every single competitor there has all gone through newcomer too, and made it out just fine.

2. Make sure your appearance is neat.
Judges look at all aspects of your performance on the floor. Present yourself at your best! Make sure your hair is pulled back away from your face, and your clothes are neat and fit well. Guys, baggy shirts DO affect your appearance and especially your frame (I'm talking about those dress shirts with inexplicably wide sleeves) , so if you can help it at all, get a shirt that fits! More on clothing and costuming in a future post.

3. Smile and look calm even if you're not sure what you're doing. 
I'm pretty sure everyone at some point has a) gotten off beat, b) given/followed a lead incorrectly, c) blanked out completely, d) forgot what other steps to do, or e) all of the above. Many times. I once started to do foxtrot steps out of the blue in the middle of a waltz. This was when I was silver. The best thing to do in any of those situations is to smile and fake it 'til you make it. 

4. Watch the upper level dancers.
Even though the silver, gold, and open dancers look impossibly better than you could ever be, again, at some point they danced exactly like you do now (possibly worse). With hard work and practice, you can advance as far as you want. Also, try picking your favorite couple in every round and analyzing what you like about their dancing. After a while you'll pick up on good habits this way. I picked up a lot of styling from watching the higher levels and seeing what I liked.

5. Support your teammates.
It's not only OK, but highly encouraged to loudly cheer on your teammates and fellow dancers by shouting their number out as they're dancing. =)

6. Eat food and stay hydrated.
Comps last all day and can be very draining, so make sure you're keeping up your energy. This is especially important for big comps, when you might be dancing a lot of rounds. Bagels and Gatorade work well for me, and I generally try to stay away from anything too greasy.

7. Don't expect to get much homework done.
Unless you are superhumanly diligent and focused, most likely you will have lugged along your heavy textbooks for no reason. Don't get me wrong, I have witnessed the occasional person studying in a quiet corner, but I personally never managed to get anything done. One time, I brought my clunky laptop to Boston with the hope of writing a paper. I barely got a chance to open it at the comp, then on the bus ride back, as I was starting to settle in to write, I started talking to the lady sitting next to me instead, because she was also a ballroom dancer. Yup. Paper writing did not happen.

8. Set your goals against your own progress, not others. 
It may be discouraging if you see others around you making lots of rounds or winning ribbons right away, while your results aren't as good as you had hoped. I think it's really important to set your own benchmarks according to your own partnership and not anyone else's. You never know if another couple has been dancing longer, or has had a lot of lessons, etc.

9. Look normal.
I'm borrowing this one from the NYU team's own president emeritus, Nicole. While it's important to look happy and somewhat enthusiastic on the competition floor, it's probably best not to experiment with anything TOO wild with styling and such. Keep to the basics: good posture, clean movements, nice smile. Relatedly, if any movement you're doing feels very uncomfortable, it probably looks uncomfortable too. You shouldn't need to be contorting anything too crazily.

10. Have fun! 
What's the point in partaking in this whole circus if you're not going to enjoy yourself? Savor the moment, keep a positive attitude, and you'll find great success in your competitive career!

Good luck competitors and see you on the dance floor! =)

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