The week before a dance competition can be a time of complete overwhelm and chaos, am I right? The mix of excited and nervous emotions can sometimes get the best of us, distracting ourselves from the ultimate goal which is to perform to the best of our abilities. Along with that, we add the pressure to execute all the things that we have drilled for the months leading up, please our teachers and coaches, and place well in the final. No pressure at all right? HA. All of this comes with the territory of being a dancer, so we have to embrace it and learn how to use these feelings and circumstances to our advantage.
I know that personally, when I first started dancing I had NO CLUE how to get myself mentally prepared for a competition. I’m not an expert at all now, but I have learned so many DO’s and DON’Ts of preparation by trial and error, as well as listening to great competitors with years of experience give their insight on preparation and how crucial it is. Without the mental and physical preparation, we will find ourselves even more scared and nauseous (at least I will) than usual on competition day. This can negatively affect our performance and our overall enjoyment of the day which is not fun at all. Dancers live for performances and competitions, so let’s have the most fun and fulfilling time that we can; shall we?
1. Practice Like a Champ– Of course the most important thing before a competition is to feel prepared and confident in your dancing. This seems obvious, but I feel like sometimes we get too comfortable and just think that we will magically become this professional on comp. day and dance with perfect technique and charisma….even if we didn’t practice those things. Wouldn’t that be convenient if it happened that way? But nope, we gotta put in the work. Don’t get me wrong, we can never reach perfection. There is always room to improve and grow. So I’m not saying you need to put all of this pressure on yourself to get every single step perfect. I’m just saying focus on what you can control and that way you know when competition day comes around, there is nothing more you could have done. You left it all on the floor.
This is VERY hard, especially if you’re competing Pro-Am (Professional/Amateur) like I am now. You don’t always have a partner to rely on, so the work falls on you and your own dedication to the technique. Write down all the things that you go over in the lessons with your coach and then practice those things on your own. Rehearse your routines over and over so that they are second nature; in the competition you need to focus on performance and technique, not trying to remember the routines. Going over the technique is important, but don’t forget to practice things like arm styling and performance. You need to have some idea of what emotions to display in each dance/move as well as the styling for the steps. Is your arm going to be up or to the side? Are you going to add a little body-roll here, a little tick of the shoulders there….these things will just add even more pizazz to your dancing.
One thing I like to do is go through each dance slowly a few times, focusing on different aspects each time. One time I will focus on arms and styling, another I will focus on grounding and balance, then I will work on quickness and timing variations….this just helps to break it all down. Then when you practice up to speed you can combine them as best as you can. Obviously that is the hardest part; our brains can only think about so much. But if you practice these things regularly, you won’t have to think so much about them during the competition.
I absolutely loved using my new Sudio VASA BLÅ headphones to practice before my competition. They are not only adorable and look great warming up, but they have Bluetooth capabilities which means I don’t have to carry my phone around while I’m practicing. This really helped get me into competition mode and get the Latin beats into my body. Use my code “ADANCERSPLATE” for 15% off your Sudio order!
2. Think Like a Champ- The next most important part of getting ready for a comp is to prepare our minds. We have to mentally be in the right head-space. This is where I have messed up a lot in the past. I would wait until the day of a competition to start mentally preparing…..which would lead to a very sick dancer who was scared to even go out on the floor. I definitely still get nervous, but I’ve learned how to better control these emotions and feel calm and confident before I dance.
One of the things I do to embrace this mindset is listen to great speakers and dancers that have experience with competing or high-stakes situations. I loved hearing Riccardo and Yulia (Professional World Latin Champions) talking about focus after one of their many competition wins. They talked about how important it is to not get distracted by all of the other dancers. You can’t control what they do; you can only control what you do. And comparing yourself to others only psyches yourself out and creates unnecessary nerves and anxiety. Step on the floor with the mental attitude that YOU are the best and no one else on the floor matters. That my friend is a champion’s mindset. I’m still working on this myself. One of my biggest problems when I compete is comparing myself to the other dancers. Nothing good comes from this, so I’m really trying to get out of that bad habit.
Another thing I’ve learned from listening to great leaders in the mindset space like Lewis Howes and Tony Robbins, is to visualize yourself performing in the way that you want to. I did this by journaling about the things that I worked on in my practices, and then saw myself doing them in my mind. This seems a little out there, but if you actually BELIEVE that you can go out on the floor and KILL it, you have a much better chance of actually doing it. Embrace that inner QUEEN and be confident in your abilities.
When I watched my videos back, I could clearly see the dances that I was confident in verses the dances that I was uncomfortable with. In Cha-Cha and Rumba, I was very into the passion and character, performed with confidence, and had better technique. In my Jive, it was VERY evident that I was not confident in that dance. I already had the mindset that I didn’t get enough practice in this dance and that I would forget the choreography, therefore the result was negative. I looked at the floor a lot and didn’t perform well like in the other dances. It just goes to show how much our mindset can affect us; this was such a good learning experience for me.
3.Eat Like a Champ- You guys knew this was coming. We GOTTA have that good nutrition in our bodies before competition week. They will have to endure a lot, and you want to make sure that you are getting all the nutrients that will fuel you with energy, endurance, and strength. I try to eat more healthy fats, less grains, and a good amount of protein. It’s basically how I eat on a regular basis anyway; however I try to stay away from sugary desserts, heavy meals, breads, pasta, etc. (Soooo hard). Nutrient dense meals like a smoothie bowl, a spinach salad with chicken/sweet potatoes/quinoa and tahini dressing, omelets, tuna salads, roasted veggies, grilled chicken with basmati rice/carrots/sriracha…there are so many healthy and yummy options. On the morning of a competition, I usually have a balanced meal with protein, carbs, and fat. This past competition I had a slice of gluten-free bread with some ghee and honey, 2 scrambled eggs, and organic sausage. I felt really satisfied and energized for the big day! I also like to stay away from caffeine before a comp. It makes me even more nervous, jittery, and nauseous. You can substitute your coffee for something like hot tea, coconut milk with cacao and stevia, a turmeric latte, or even just decaf coffee.
4.Stretch Like a Champ– Dancers should be stretching on a regular basis for so many reasons; obviously flexibility, circulation, injury prevention/recovery, etc. But we definitely should make sure that the week before a competition we keep our muscles warm and loose. We hold so much tension during these times of stress that our muscles will tighten up even more, which could lead to pain or injury. Also, we want the maximum flexibility our muscles will give us for the competition especially if there are any tricks/splits/poses that require our bodies to be in flexible positions. I like to keep my yoga training very consistent the week before a comp, focusing on a practice that includes a lot of hip openers and leg stretches. I have a FAVORITE yoga practice from Boho Beautiful, “Yoga for Splits” that is FANTASTIC for this. What you don’t want to do is go from not stretching at all to forcing your body into a split or leg extension. This could seriously damage your muscles and potentially put you out of the competition or keep you from performing your best. A consistent stretching practice throughout every week will give you the best results. Stretching your feet is also VERY important. I try to do at least 5 minutes of foot stretches every day; it’s crazy how flexible they are now compared to a few months ago!
5.Train Your Body Like a Champ- It’s so important to have your body in physical shape for a competition. If you haven’t done a ballroom competition before, you basically dance 3-5 round dances in a row that are a minute and a half to two minutes long each. This may not sound like a lot, but when you dance Jive after just dancing Cha-Cha, Rumba, Samba, and Paso Doble…..your breath is limited. Especially if you forget to breathe like me (bad habit). In order to have stamina, it is a MUST that you practice continuous rounds with your partner/coach. Practicing on your own is great, but it does not prepare you for that competition atmosphere that requires you to get over the fact that you can’t breathe and focus on the choreography, performance, and technique. Not too hard right? LOL. But the thing is, if you train your body right, that’s one less thing you have to worry about. You also should maintain your regular workout schedule the week before a comp. Don’t do anything crazy like run 20 miles or an intense Cross-Fit workout (unless that’s your thing). I just keep up my regular 30 minute strength/pilates workouts daily and mingle in some cardio so that I’m still building stamina. My favorite workout channels on YouTube are Boho Beautiful and Blogilates. LOVE. And their workouts really focus on lengthening and strengthening the muscles that we use a lot in dance.
I really hope you now have that competitive edge and are confident for your upcoming competition! I am always learning how to better prepare myself for a comp, and it just gets easier with practice. I wish you the best of luck in your future competitive endeavors and believe that you will dance beautifully! Remember, it’s not in your control whether you win or lose. SOOOOO many things go into that process that are NOT in your control. However, you can control how you feel after the competition. As long as you feel happy with your dancing and that you improved from last time, you win.
Always cheering you on,
*Gorgeous photos by the AMAZING Glaubirsel Photography