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Optimizing your Performance Level in Competition
Prepare yourself for your next competition, not your next practice
Written by: Joel Marasigan & Clara Shih - joelandclara.com

 Joel Marasigan & Clara Shih, photo by Igor Dianov   How does your performance level in competition compare to that of your practices? Does your dancing suffer when placed within the competition environment? For many dancers, the performance level during competition is a lot different than that of practice. Why is this the case? Well, there are a number of reasons that all stem from the fact that the competition environment is completely different. There are so many added stressors that are not usually present… the screaming audience, judges, other couples on the floor, costumes, DJ'd music, etc.

How can we optimize our competition performance level? One way is to make your practice environment as close to your competition environment as possible. This will help you to prepare both mentally and physically for your next competition. Here are some things to think about, which will help you match your performance level in competition and in practice.

 1) For each dance, have you practiced to music lasting 1 min 40 seconds without stopping? Or do you go to the studio and just practice small amalgamations? Do you break apart from your partner every time something doesn't feel right? One minute 30 seconds is the typical length of a song played during competition. Let's go for 1 minute 40 though. It won't hurt. Practice dancing full-out without stopping. You won't be able to stop and discuss things during competition, so you might as well get used to overcoming slight disturbances, tension or even mistakes that occur during dancing. This requires mental toughness, so stay strong and stay focussed.

2) Have you done a competition simulation? Practice dancing all 5 dances (or however many you will be competing in) for 1 minute and 40 seconds each, with a 20 second break in between each dance. Make sure you enter the floor and take hold, as well as acknowledge the audience (bow) at the beginning and end of each dance. Do everything with complete confidence and energy, as you would on the competition floor. Treat this as both a physical and mental readiness test.

3) Are you dying during the last few bars of Jive/Quickstep? Perhaps you need to do some additional physical training, such as running or swimming. The good thing about this is that you don't necessarily have to do it with your partner. It is something that you can do on your own, in your own time. The competition simulation will also be part of your stamina training, but it's always a bonus to make sure your own body is in shape before partnering up as a couple.

Do you practice in a controlled studio environment, or have you tried practicing amongst other competitors/dancers? Floor craft is a major component that often throws people off during competition. Ideally, competitor practices are the best environment. However, if they are not available to you, you can always attend a social night. Try to avoid people with alternative steps, or at least keep dancing even after you've bumped into someone. If you have to drop your frame, make sure that you bring it back up immediately! If a judge just happens to look over at you, and your frame is down from two bars ago when you hit someone, you will not be at your best and you may not be called back or receive a good mark.

Another bonus of practicing floor craft is that it will build up the man's ability to lead, and the woman's ability to follow. The man cannot always stick to the routine. He has to be flexible enough to be able to maneuver around the floor, especially during the earlier rounds when there are lots of couples on at the same time. The woman, on the other hand, has to read the man's actions, as things may change from moment to moment. She has to be quick and responsive enough to follow whatever the man chooses to do. No one said it's easy. But if you start practicing it, it'll get easier when you're on the competition floor.

5) Do you use the same music all the time for practice? Try putting in a different CD for a change. Unfortunately, during the competition, the DJ is not going to choose all of your favorites. Some songs will be great! But others will be less inspiring. Remember: you've got to be able to dance your best, no matter what music comes on.

6) Do you get nervous in front of a crowd? If this is a problem for you, perhaps you need to practice in an environment with more people around. Go to social parties, do more demos or shows… Get used to having people watch you dance. No matter where you are, practice dancing with confidence and energy, just as you would in competition.

7) Do you put in a lot more energy in competition than in practice? When surrounded by a large audience, some dancers have a tendency to put in a lot more energy and showmanship into their dancing than usual. This can be a positive thing, increasing your projection and enhancing your performance. However, it can also affect your dancing negatively. If you practice at say 60% energy, and then all of a sudden bump it up to 100% when you get onto the competition floor, this may throw your partner completely off, and the quality of your dancing may suffer. Practice "putting it on" whether you are in front of a crowd, or in the back of the studio by yourselves.

8) Do you feel uncomfortable in your costuming? Practice in clothing that is similar to your costume. If you get used to dancing in a T-shirt all the time, the transition to wearing a tailsuit and a plastic collar, can be quite a shock. You may end up feeling totally uncomfortable and unable to dance the way you usually do. For the men in Standard, try wearing a shirt and tie for practice and possibly also a vest, so that you get used to having something tight around the neck and thicker around the waist. For the women, it's best to wear a skirt, so that you get used to feeling the weight of the skirt as it turns around you while you dance.

9) Are you wearing different shoes for practice as you are for competition? If this is the case, make sure that you practice in your competition shoes, at least for some of your practices leading up to the comp. If the heel height, material or style of shoe is different, it can really affect your dancing, and that of your partner's.

All in all, you as a competitive dancer must be very clear about the goal of your practices. If the goal is to prepare for an upcoming competition, it is essential that you match the practice environment as closely to that of the competition environment as possible. If you are going to be judged throughout a dance that lasts 1 minute 30 seconds, you must prepare to dance non-stop for that amount of time. This applies to your energy level, number of people on the floor, the presence of an audience, etc.

Although this information may sound like common sense, ask yourself this question before you begin your next competition practice/preparation session, "Am I doing everything possible that will enable me to perform my best in the upcoming competition?" If your answer is no, think about implementing some of the above suggestions to get you started on the right track. (Note: It is illegal to reproduce this article without the expressed written consent from Joel & Clara)  Back to the Articles

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