Competing In Competitions

2. Laying It All Out: Planning & Preparation

Whether it is for fun, recognition, the prizes, or just the glory, being knowledgeable and prepared will minimize uncertainties, anxieties, and nervousness. After you understand what needs to be done and what's out there, you can set up a goal on what to cover and when you need to be ready.

Starting Off With a Time & Location
Plan Out Your Routine
Early Preparations

Preparing the Mind
Preparing the Body

Starting Off With a Time & Location
Practice makes perfect but what if an open, wooden dance floor isn't immediately available? For those who do not own or rent a dance studio, your options may be limited to meeting at a dance club or at each other's home. An alternative is to rent slots of time at a studio for about $10-$25 per hour. Any dance studio in your area would provide such a service if they have openings in their schedule. Although you can practice at a club or home, you will want to do most of your practice time in an open, wooden-floored location because you will have a high ceiling for lifts and aerials, and the open space for building a variety of routines. Practice time at a club is moderately unproductive because it is difficult to communicate with your partner at a noisy, crowded location. Some dance clubs also prohibit you to practice routines. Practice time at home, even with a wooden floor, is also moderately unproductive because a home has a tendency of having you to become distracted. Perhaps your partner has a hot brother or sister you'd like to get to know more? Or maybe your partner is in the middle of cooking a big dinner and needs help finishing it? Given drawbacks to both locations, each can still provide some productivity in different forms. A club allows for each person to grow accustomed with each other's style in a fun environment, whereas practice time at a home allows partners to become more personable with one another, or with their sibling!

How much practice time is adequate? That depends on when you two plan to take on your first competition and where your dance levels are. Adjust your practice time accordingly. Remember that it's better to be over-prepared than under-prepared. Two hours a week can be too little and 20 hours a week can be too much. A practice time of 4-15 hours per week, 2+ times a week at a minimum of two hours per session is recommended.

Plan Out Your Routine
Like any roadtrip, mapping out your path will keep you on course. It is important to sit down with your partner and discuss ideas on how your overall routine will look first. What theme would it have? What is a good way to start off the routine, the end of it? What kind of patterns will be used? What will the general order be? How fast should the music be? What music should the music be? Write out your ideas and draw out a general time frame of how the routine will look. This will keep you focused with a path to follow instead of meeting each other for practice time with no goal to work towards to.

Early Preparations
So, you decided with your partner to practice for two hours starting next week on Monday. Since both persons will likely be at different dance levels and have different experiences, your early practice sessions will be on becoming accustomed to one another's dance style. Spend your time showing each other what you know and what you want to do. You will also want to try moves that you know and would like to do to see if you are capable of executing, through trial and error. Ultimately, you will want to use the moves that you are capable of doing together but do not rule out the ones you have challenges with. Some moves will require more experience through time than others so do not be discouraged if you can't pull off an interested move early on in your preparations. Who knows, the moves you find difficult today could be done flawlessly six months from now.

You and your partner may also be at different dance levels. If this is the case with you and your partner be prepared to practice on your own in addition to your practice time together.

By the time you see how your partner moves and reacts to you, you will see strengths and weaknesses of your partner. Maybe your partner is a rough turner or moves slower than you. Or maybe your partner turns on a dime or stays on beat with a fast song! Whatever it may be, with effort and practice focus on improving the weaknesses and exemplify the strengths.

Remember to stretch and warm-up before all of your training sessions. You can warm up by dancing for a couple of minutes and would minimize the possibility of injuries when you attempt any flips, tricks, etc.

Preparing the Mind
What else are you going to cover? The most important factor to practice on is timing. Timing is the ability of the dancer to step, and stay on step, to the beat of the music. To step to the beat of the song requires an understanding of how music has beats to them. This concept will be covered, if not already, elsewhere on the website.

Most competitions will select moderately fast, popular songs for their preliminary rounds. In contrast, ballroom competitions will select songs that are slower which allows the couples to demonstrate flares and styling, and their songs are rarely played at dance clubs. Slower songs are also selected for lower dance levels.

Okay, how can you practice your timing if you don't have any music? You can start by checking for the latest music charts for salsa and see which songs are popular. You can also go to a dance club and listen for songs you like and then ask the DJ who the artist plays them. For a brief list of popular artists and their songs, you can view our recommended music on our site. From there, you can find the album at your local music distributor.

Once you have a number of songs to dance to, start picking songs you enjoy dancing to. Is there a song that gives you goose-bumps or gets your heart racing? Is there a song that makes you feel sexy or sensual? Focus on these songs but do not exclude the others. Remember that the most important factor is timing and you will want to dance to a variety of songs and their beats. This will keep you from getting used to a particular song's beat.

You have the music and the skills, but do you have the moves? Your current knowledge of patterns may be adequate but not enough for a routine. Depending on where you live, you may not have the opportunity to take lessons from instructors of varying styles or watch a variety of couples at a club. For example, southern California clubs will have dancers that perform head-drops in their dancing whereas dancers from Cuba will have a small range of patterns but have more body movements. It is recommended that you work to expand your knowledge base of patterns throughout the months of your dancing life. The great thing about competitions is that when you go to watch or enter, you will find dancers from different areas congregating at them and in turn bring their experiences with them. With a video recorder or notepad, you can prepare yourself for next year's competitions with a fresh set of newly discovered patterns.

Conventions are also a source of new patterns. Conventions like the West Coast Salsa Congress, East Coast Salsa Congress, Reno Dance Sensation, and Dance America in Seattle are just examples of what's available. Conventions like these work to advertise one another so if you know of one convention, chances are you will find an advertisement for another nearby.

You can also obtain new patterns through the internet or videos. If you plan to buy videos as your source of information, focus on buying the videos that demonstrate competition or advance patterns. Of the two, the internet is your best source for new patterns. Although it may be difficult to search for patterns, the search is worth the effort. For starters, J Smooth Salsa offers a wide range of patterns that are free to view.

Overall, the best source of new patterns and moves is you! Develop your own patterns by using other people's patterns as a starting point. There will be some patterns that you will not be able to execute the exact same way. Because of that, you will accidentally do something else that works. Focus on that accident and follow-through with it several times and see if it works. If it does then congratulations! You just made up your own pattern!

Flips, aerials, tricks, and drops are important to have in any competition. Exercise caution when practicing them. First, understand the mechanics of movement required for the move. Then, make sure you have adequate protection in the event that the move is executed incorrectly. A wrestling mat or carpet is adequate for the unexpected fall. If you continue to have difficulties executing the move, move on to something new. There will moves that you will not be able to do regardless of much time you put in. It's best to try it another time in the future.

Preparing the Body
With all that dancing, are beads of sweat rolling down your face? Are your legs quivering by now? Or maybe your partner is teasing you about your panting? Whatever it may be, you could be out of shape.

Physical fitness is the key to performing effortlessly. Strength and endurance should be a focus for both partners. Endurance is defined as the ability to continue a task over a long period of time, and strength is ability of being physically strong. All competitions, even if it's ballroom, will require you to dance for 1.5 - 2 minutes. Depending on what song is selected, the speed at which you move may be similar to a light jog for 2 minutes or sprinting through an obstacle course that has weight lifting stations for 2 minutes.

You can find workout plans for strength and cardio training in any health magazine or book. Before you start your physical training, there are four principles you need to keep in mind:

Overload - The more you do, the more your body will adapt. This means you need to increase your workload to avoid adaptation. For example, you should be able to lift enough weight that you can ONLY do 10 times. If you feel you can do more than 10, you're not putting your rep into "overload."
Progression - You'll always want to "progressively" increase your workout. If you workout the same way, number, or time each week, your body plateaus and does not increase to higher fitness. To prevent this, change the order, reps, sets/reps, or change the type of workout to increase intensity each week. This will keep your body from adapting to your workout.
Specificity - The principle states that the way your body adapts depends on the type or workout you put it into. If you want your body to be stronger, focus on strength-building exercises. If you want your body to last longer, focus on endurance-building exercises. To be stronger, use more weights with lower repetitions. As for endurance, use lighter weights and higher repetitions. Again, you can find more information in any health magazine or book.
Rest & Recovery - Don't work out 2 days in a row. Your body needs time to rest and recover after each workout. It is during your rest periods that your body builds bigger muscle fibers.

Your body and mind function together as one. Without the mind the body will not react, without the body the mind cannot act. If your body is out of shape for the competition, you may suddenly forget what move follows your aerial flip because you were straining through the move or your heart is pounding and you start getting dizzy. Also, what will you do when a pattern goes awry? Will you stop dead in your tracks or will you improvise and get back on track?

Have your body in shape and have a clear understanding of the order of patterns you plan to do. In order to remember the order of your patterns, a routine needs to be built so that both partners know what to expect in what order.

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