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Dance Competitions – What To Expect

I absolutely love dance competitions! I mean what’s not to like? The event is full of glitz, glamour, bright lights, booming music, new faces, passion, and the room is always filled with energy. Your first dance competition can be a little overwhelming but don’t worry, we got your back! In today’s post, I’ll share with you some tips that will help you prepare for the competition. But beware, you may end up catching the dance bug!

Below, is a quick look at the topics we will be covering in today’s blog post:

  • Preparing for the competition
  • Choosing what to wear
  • What to expect at the competition

**As a heads up, this post is focused on partner dancing competitions**

Preparing for the competition

For most first time students, your teacher or director will be entering you into many different events. Most first time dancers dance at least 20 times or more. These dances are broken into heats. Each “heat” is an individual dance within a session, which is broken down by dance, age group, and level. I promise, you’ll make it through 20 (or more) heats and you’ll wish you could dance even more!


To prepare, your instructor may encourage you to take extra lessons. This will help make sure you are able to have ample practice time on all the dances you will be competing in. I would recommend taking at least 1 to 2 additional lessons per week, per style of dance, ie. Smooth and Rhythm if you are dancing American style.

As the competition approaches, your instructor should have dedicated time set aside within your lessons to dance “rounds”. A round is when you will dance a full set of dances within a category. For example, a three-dance rhythm round would go in the order of, Cha Cha, Rumba, and Swing. If you are dancing a full round, you would also dance Bolero and Mambo. The purpose of rounds during practice is to build up your stamina, prepare you to go from one dance to the next without a break in between and to give you a feel for how it will go at the competition. After each dance during the round, you will do a quick bow or curtsey, then walk to a different place on the floor to set up for your next dance. You can think of the round as one big performance from the time you walk onto the floor, to the time you walk off the floor.


Lastly, in order to be fully prepared for the competition, you can expect your instructor to focus on your posture, frame, technique, timing, styling, and performance quality during these lessons. These are some of the common elements judges will be looking for during your dancing.

Choosing what to wear

Women’s Dance Attire

A lot of women want to compete simply because they LOVE the dresses and want to have a reason to buy one of these beauties 😉 However, if it’s your first competition and you are competing in the beginner categories, it is not necessary to drop thousands on a dress! You do need to wear appropriate dance attire, have your hair out of your face, and wear makeup. So, let’s talk about how to go about this part of competing!


First, make sure you have the proper dance shoes. Just like any sport, there is equipment for a reason. In dance, we need the right shoes. For women dancing Smooth/Standard, you will need a closed-toe shoe with a slightly shorter heel than what you’d wear for Rhythm. Most wear around a 2.2” to 2.5” heel. In Rhythm/Latin, you will need open-toe shoes with at least a 2.2” to 3” heel to help you have a better forward poise. For the country-western dances, you will need a dance boot. (These look a lot like cowgirl boots, but they are made specifically for dance.)


If you are ready to go all-in and want to go big, go for the sparkly Rhythm/Latin dress or the Smooth/Standard ballgown! Just FYI, they usually have vendors at the events selling these dresses and it’s super helpful if you can spend some time trying a bunch of them on to see what looks good on you. A lot of times, you may not like what you see on the hanger but try it on anyway because it may surprise you once it’s on!


If you want to go a less expensive route for your first event, there are lots of dance clothing companies that sell practice wear and will look nice on the floor, especially with the right accessories. Plus, it’s not a bad idea to start wearing practice dresses during your lessons to help you get into character! Then you can always try on the gowns at the event!


I’ve listed a few websites with practice wear and gowns that you can check out below:

Trish and Mark dancing Rumba at a Ballroom Dance Competition
Trish and Mark dancing Rumba at a Ballroom Dance Competition

Men’s Dance Attire

Okay, so the men’s clothing is a little less glamorous than the women’s, but there is something to be said about a guy in dance pants 😉 (side note: the ladies like it!) On that note, you will need to invest in a nice pair of dance pants. These should last you a long time, so make sure to get quality pants. What’s even better, is you can wear these pants for all styles of dance (at least for now.) If you are competing in Ballroom, you may want to eventually have two pairs of pants. One for Latin and/or Rhythm and one for Smooth and/or Standard.

As far as the shirt goes, it would be acceptable to wear a nice tailored dress shirt for your first couple of competitions. Just make sure you can move around comfortably in it. Try holding up your frame or even dancing part of your routine to make sure it’s easy to move in and doesn’t rise up in the shoulders or waist. Once you catch that competition bug, I would recommend getting a couple of dance shirts as well. There are specific shirts for Rhythm/Latin and Smooth/Standard. In Smooth you will also need a vest. You can wear a white shirt with a black vest, or you could wear black on black. You will see a lot of dancers wearing black on black because it helps make the lines from your frame look better, whereas the black on white may draw more attention to any flaws in your frame.

As far as dance shoes go, there are specific shoes for each style of dance. In the Rhythm/Latin dances, you will need a Latin heel. These shoes look very similar to a ballroom practice shoe… your teacher probably wears during your lessons! For the Smooth/Standard dances, the shoes look a bit more like dress shoes with a smaller heel. For the country-western competitions, you will need a dance boot. (These look a lot like regular cowboy boots, but they are made for dance.) I listed a couple of websites below for you to check out. You will find dance pants, shirts, and shoes on these sites. The shirts and shoes will be labeled Latin or Standard based on the style you need. Sometimes, it’s best to try the clothing and shoes on in person, and you should be able to do so at the competition because there will be vendors there.

Sean and Denise Country dancing at a dance competition
Sean and Denise Country dancing at a Country-Western dance competition

At The Competition

The weekend you’ve been preparing for is finally here! All of your hard work is about to pay off. So breathe, and take it in! You’re in for a real treat. Below are a few things to make sure to do during your first event.


Your studio will most likely have a table in the ballroom that you can all sit at or leave your things while you are dancing. This is where you can go in between heats when you aren’t on the floor to rest your feet. (trust me, you’re feet will get a little tired) When you aren’t dancing, make sure to cheer as loud as you can for the other dancers!

Some event organizers will have little snacks they pass out throughout the event, but just to be safe, make sure to bring plenty of snacks of your own! I promise you will need the fuel as the day progresses! It’s a great idea to bring fruit that’s easy to eat such as bananas and grapes. Grapes have a lot of water content, so they also help to keep you hydrated. You may also want to bring granola or snack bars and drink plenty of water throughout the day. Your muscles and head will thank you later!

Scott and Trish dancing foxtrot at Lone Start Ball Competition
Scott and Trish dancing foxtrot at Lone Star Ball Competition


The ballroom can get a little chilly when you aren’t dancing, so make sure to bring your team jacket or something you can put over your shoulders.
Make sure to arrive at the ballroom at least an hour before your first event to warm up and to help get prepared just in case they are running early. It would be a shame if you missed the first heat! Always line up at the “on-deck” area about 2 heats before yours and make sure to keep your body warm in between heats unless you have a long break. The on-deck area is where all the couples will line up in numerical order and enter onto the floor as a group for the heat. If you are feeling nervous take a few slow deep breaths to calm your nerves and just go out and have some fun with your instructor. That is what this is all about, isn’t it!? Yes, we are here to compete, but if it wasn’t enjoyable, we wouldn’t be doing it in the first place.


Awards will be presented every hour and a half or so. During this time, all competitors will gather around on the floor and listen closely for their number to be called for the heats you just danced. There will be judges handing out ribbons for first, second, third, and so on. When you hear your number and name called, you will walk up to the judge with your instructor and they will hand you a ribbon, then you will go back to where you were standing and wait for your next placement to be called.


During the evening sessions, you will get to see some of the top Pro/Am couples compete as well as the professional events. This is a lot of fun and will be an eye-opening experience and a great learning opportunity. When you are watching the events, especially the evening events, be prepared to dress up.


Lastly, don’t forget to smile!!


I hope this post gave you some good insight into the competitive world of dance. Have fun and take it all in!
If you have any other suggestions, please leave them in the comments below.

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