Competing In Competitions

3. Halfway There: Putting A Routine Together

Before we can put together a routine, we need to know what to expect at the competitions. There are two formats to competitions: Open or showcase.

Routine Musts & Averages

Music Creation & Production
Routine Creation

Showcase-format competitions typically permit all movements which would include flips, drops, aerials, and shines. This format permits only one couple on the dance floor at a time, allowing couples to conduct flips and such without the concern of being in the way of another couple. This format has the judges, usually seated, on the same side as the audience. Depending on the level of competition (amateur, professional, champion, etc.), you may be required to dance anywhere from 1'30" to 4'. The higher the skill level, the more time is usually required or allowed. Typically you dance once and you are scored on your performance. Depending on the number of entries and competition, there may be elimination rounds. There also may be a final, semi-final, quarter-final, or preliminary round. Showcase-format will require couples to provide their own music, cut and edited to the time allotted on a tape or CD. Costumes or matching outfits would also be worn. Choreography would be important in this format.

Open-format competitions usually do not allow all movements and are restricted to social-dancing patterns. This would exclude flips, aerials, shines, and in some competitions drops. The open-format allows all dance levels to enter, with multiple couples dancing at one time on the dance floor. If there are enough entries where not all couples can safely be on the floor, couples will be divided into groups called heats. Each heat would occupy the dance floor, dance for the specified time, and exit the floor while the next heat enters the dance floor. You will commonly see the competition labeled as strictly salsa which simply means all patterns done must be salsa only. Music would be provided for the dancers with costumes not permitted although matching outfits is permitted. Choreography would also not be permitted.

Both formats can be found together separately, depending on the competition. The size of the dance floor is directly related to the type of competition is available. Competitions held at conventions or large halls will have large, open dance floors allowing more dancers at one time and typically hold the open competitions. Competitions held at studios or clubs, in contrast, will usually have showcase format because the dance floor is limited.

Routine Musts & Averages

Now that we know the different formats, let's talk about how your routine should look or be. Let's start with the open format.

Open Format
Unlike the showcase format where you create a routine and dance it without any other couples on the floor, open format requires no routine and would have you dancing while other couples on the dance floor. This format does not allow costumes but matching outfits and drops are permitted. Flips and acrobatics are not permitted. Again, open format competitions will provide the music for the dancers and could have the competitors dance two or more rounds at 1'30" each. All you really need to do in this format is dance! Dance to the music as if you were at a club. The idea is to not think that it is a competition. Although routines are not required for the format, you will want to develop a general series of patterns to get you from the beginning of the song to the end. Make sure that it doesn't look obvious that you have a routine.

Depending on how many competitors there are, there may be a number of elimination rounds. These elimination rounds are called heats and are typically found at ballroom competitions. This allows the judges to carefully narrow down the best dancers at the competition.

Showcase Format
To better give you an idea of how much of each is used, averages were taken from 18 performing couples that placed in the top three in either amateur and professional competitions in 2002, showcase format:

Duration: 1'30" - 2'00"
Introduction: 10-15 seconds
Shines: 10-15 seconds
Drops: 1-4
Lift: 0-2
Aerials/flips: 1-3
Acrobatic maneuver:

The showcase format will be the most challenging of the two formats. This format will have you choreograph your routine. Non-social dancing patterns would be a must. Don't forget that you'll have to edit your own music and have a costume.

Your showcase routine will consist of the following:

Drops, lifts, aerials, flips --> Definitions
90% recognized salsa content
A running time of at least 1 minute, 30 seconds
Costume or matching outfits

It's important to include all of the above factors, especially when you are in the finals. You can have a routine in the preliminaries without any aerials or costumes, but matching outfits and drops would be ideal to have. We discussed what drops, lifts, aerials, and flips are so let's cover the other factors. During this discussion, we will cover what is evident and common in couples that have placed in the top three in a competition.

Beginning - Every story has an introduction, and so should your routine. A beginning will be some sort of pose that you and your partner are in. You may be posing separately or together depending on what you want. The beginning is the situation before the music begins or at least for the first 10 seconds or so. It is important not to drag out your beginning. The average is 10 seconds before you start dancing your salsa patterns. Your routine can have sharp pauses, poses, etc. A common beginning that should be avoided is couples from opposite ends of the floor and coming towards one another, whether a walk or routine. This beginning has no originality and you automatically lose points.

Ending - Again, every story has a conclusion and so should your routine. Your routine should end in a static position, typically a pose or a variation of a dip. Your ending should be cued to the end of your music.

You will need to decide whether your routine will have a theme to it. A theme can be from a movie, an idea, scene, etc. Themes used in past competitions were The Nutcracker, The Matrix, Elvis impersonators, boxers, and Blade the movie. If you decide to not have a theme then fancy costumes should be used.

Drops, lifts, aerials, & flips - Every successful competition has had these as part of their routine. The challenge with these feats is the ability to perform them in a fluid motion to the point where it appears that the feat was not difficult.

90% recognized salsa content - Salsa competitions judge dancers on their ability to dance salsa, not hip-hop or such. Although the development of your routine may include some hip-hop or ballet choreography, make sure it doesn't not encompass too much of your routine. Keep the non-salsa content to about 10% of your overall routine.

Shines - Every successful couple has had shines in their routine, and so should you. Shines are solo footwork that you and your partner will perform, usually simultaneously. Not only does it demonstrate your ability to move your body and feet in a creative manner, it also demonstrate how in-sync you are with your partner.

A running time of at least 1'30" - Depending on the competition your routine will have a cap on how long it can run, but regardless of what competition it is there will always be a minimum of 1 minute, 30 seconds.

Costume or matching outfits - A routine, by itself, isn't flashy without some attractive outfits to go with it. Have a costume appropriate to your routine, if it has a theme then have costumes that go with that theme. If your routine does not have a theme, then attractive outfits or costumes.

Music Creation & Production

While you are selecting patterns to use your routine, you will ultimately have your routine made to match your music if you plan to use different cues or songs. Although there is a slim chance that you can make your music match your routine, you will find it easier to do it vice versa that is, mix and edit music you want and form your routine to it. You will still want to visualize and picture what your routine will look like. The other option is to cut one song to have a beginning and end, and build your routine based on that one song. In either case, you'll have to edit and produce a music mix.

There are two ways to produce your music mix. One is to hire a DJ to mix your music. You will want to have music picked out and how you want the song(s) to be edited. If you have a friend that is a DJ great, if not you will be charged the amount of time it takes for them to cut your song.

The other option is to do it yourself. The simplest way is to use a tape recorder and a CD player and stop the cassette recorder when the time allotted is reached, but since we live in the technology era you will want to use what is available to produce a mix that is professional.

--> Tools on Producing Your Own Mix

While you are producing your music you'll be spending your time creating and building a routine. If you plan to enter different competitions you may end up with more than one routine. In either case, there's a methodology to creating a routine.

Routine Creation

Drops, dips, and flips. The biggest challenge in producing a routine is executing acrobatic movements. Muscle memory is essential to these kinds of movements. Muscle memory is the processes in which you condition your body memorize to commit a series of movements to produce an end result. In order for muscle memory to work, you will need to start early on in your practice sessions and on a consistent basis. Muscle memory takes time to complete but is easy to forget without regular practice.

Ideally, you will want to practice complex acrobatics on a padded mat. Any unexpected falls can be absorbed by the mat which will allow you to build the confidence needed to perform these patterns. Once you feel comfortable doing the pattern without the mat you can move on and practice the pattern on a wooden floor. Followers can start with sneakers or heeled shoes depending on their comfort level. At some point during your practice sessions, you will then practice the pattern with your costumes on.

Most injuries occur during practice sessions of acrobatics. Have an understanding of the body mechanics required for the particular pattern and/or have a professional train you.

Besides practicing the above movements, the content of your routine will mostly be patterns that you know or have researched on. Original moves and patterns are eye-catching and should be the focus of your routine. Although not everyone can create their own moves spontaneously, you can use different moves from different instructors to produce your own series of patterns. Sources for different patterns can be from dance performances, watching other dancers at a local club, instructional dance videos, television, or the internet. Start by linking different patterns together and see which patterns can flow after one another. You'll find that some patterns do not go after one another and that not all patterns will be comfortable for you and your partner to do so be aware of that.

Your goal when developing your shines is to be able to go at a high rate of speed while staying in-sync with one another. Shines can have any number of different styles to it. Your shines may incorporate some hip-hop steps or any non-salsa recognized movements. Shines are a great way to break away from dancing salsa in a routine. Keep your shines shorter than the amount of patterns you plan to use in your routine.

You will eventually have a list of patterns to use so you can now begin molding your series of patterns to match the length and style of your music. Take advantage of the different cues of the music that is, if the music changes its beat or consistency have a pattern to match that change. Also, adjust your routine so that it ends properly.

In order for your routine to end properly, you'll need to have an ending. Again, and ending is a conclusion to your routine and typically ends in a static position. Your ending can be a dip, lift, or a pose and should stop at the same time as the music. Whatever it may be, make sure you can hold that position for at least five seconds.

Once you've created your routine and have practiced it with the clothing you plan to wear, continue to practice the routine. Practice makes perfect.

Although your routine may look presentable to you and your audience remember that it is the judge that determines how well you performed in comparison with the other competitors. Later, we look at five categories that you are judged on but next we will have an in-depth look at how different competitions are set up.

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