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The Dancer's Answers
Keeping a Journal
Trust me, being a competitive dancer not only is a lot of physical work, but a lot of mental work. Teachers are always throwing out big pieces of choreography that you have to remember, perform, and make it your own. Instructors also throw pointers and critiques to help perfect your skills, but with everything going on in your head, do you think you can remember it all? It is really annoying when a teacher has to repeat a correction, because you most likely remember him/her saying it to you before! There is a simple solution to remembering everything you were taught in class, so you can perform even better the next time you do it. Making a journal is the best way to handle this situation.
Purchase a journal (any shape, size, color, etc.) and title it, “Dance Tips.” Create tabs every 20-40 pages that say, “Choreography,” “Critiques,” “Helpful Hints,” and “Calendar of Dance Events.” Throughout the dance year, you can take notes after class on anything you need to remember for next class, next week, everyday, etc. My journal has helped me a lot with stress, and remembering.
Starting a Competitive Team
Transitioning into a competitive dancer can be quite a challenge; physically, emotionally, and financially! Dance is also very time consuming, especially near competition weekends, but with the right preparation, the journey can be much easier! Start out at a top dance studio near your home, so you don’t have to switch studios when you’re older. The younger you start, the better you may become in the future. Most people go to a performing team before attending competitions with their studio. Performing is a great way to get used to audiences, and learning the proper technique before competing.
Once you have made it on to a competition team, you might be very excited, but prepare for the hard work ahead! Competition teams require a lot of time, so you might have to quit all of your other sports teams and extracurricular activities. School and dance should be the only two main activities on your schedule now! Some dancers believe that school is not important in order to receive a dance career. You know what, they’re absolutely wrong! Math especially helps your brain pick up new skills in a short amount of time, which improves your choreography picking-up skills! Just think of school this way: the harder you work in class= better grades=less stress and homework time=more dance time=better dancer! Having that better grade takes the weight off your shoulders, and will give you more dance time!
Once you’ve audition and made it on to a competitive team, most studios give you a schedule for all of your classes during the week and weekends. If there are different leveled classes in a subject, such as ballet, lyrical, contemporary, modern, jazz, dub step, tap, hip hop, acrobatics, tumbling, technique, combinations, improvisation .,etc., check to make sure what level you are placed in. Some studios don’t stress the fact that ballet is the most important, so they might only give you one or two classes a week! If you are unlucky, and get only one-two ballet classes, then check the studio’s class schedule to find other ballet classes. I suggest to take a ballet class they placed you in, one below your level (for basic technique), and one above your level (to give you a sneak peek of what you will soon learn!) If you want to be an overachiever, take extra classes in other subjects, either your favorite classes, or classes you need improvement on! Once you have decided your classes you will take, make an organized chart, and post it somewhere in your room.
Sometimes, your studio will tell you how many dances you can learn for competition, but most of the time, you and your family get to choose! Choosing the right amount of dances is really your family’s opinion, so I don’t suggest anything. Keep in mind that one dance might not be enough, but over ten dances may be too many. 2-9 dances is a great amount, because you can avoid losing, and quick changes between dances. Solos, if you are willing to pay for one, can be a great opportunity to win scholarships, awards, and get feedback from the judges to directly improve your dance skills! Duos are not as expensive, because two different families split the price. However, make sure you feel comfortable and confident dancing with your partner, because together, you could either make it, or break it on stage! It’s the same scenario for trios, except there are three people in your dance number.
Besides solos, duos, and trios, there are different sized group numbers you can compete also. Competitions categorize groups by the number of people in the dance and/or how long your dance takes. Small groups are typically between four to ten dancers on stage. Large groups are over ten dancers. Lines are very similar to large groups, but usually their music runs a little longer. Lastly, there’s a production number, which can include as many people that go to your dance studio! Their music runs long, around five to ten minutes, compared to a smaller group dance which only covers one to three minutes.
Competitions also categorize your dances by age and style of dance. The styles of dance could be ballet, lyrical, contemporary, modern, jazz, dub step, tap, hip hop, acrobatics/tumbling, etc. Page () gives a brief explanation of each style of dance. Different competitions use different wording for age groups, but most that I’ve gone to, use mini (average ages 5-9), junior (average ages 10-12), teens (average ages 13-15), and seniors (average ages 16-18.)(These are just rough estimates, at almost every competition you go to, these ages might change. When I say “average,” I mean all of the ages from your team (usually by January 1st) added together, divided by the number of people in the dance.
Learning your dances is very important. Make sure that you are paying very close attention to detail when your teacher is choreographing for you, so fewer questions would be asked during the valuable rehearsal time. Note that your teacher might not get done with your dance in one day, (one time my teacher took three months!) This does not mean that you don’t have to practice at home! Always purchase the song of your dance and cut the music using various apps and current technology today. If you don’t have a smart phone to do so, ask your choreographer for a copy of the music. Once you dance has been finished, go home and video tape yourself doing it. Watch the video and take notes for common mistakes you might see. Try the dance again and put a check mark next to each correction you made. Next, choreograph your own style into the dance. This does not mean to change the choreography!!! It only means that you can choose your facial expression throughout the dance, and emphasize on certain moves, while leaving other moves soft. Please note where your eyes are looking, because wherever you look, the judges look!!!
If you are learning more than one dance, then practice each dance at home and take notes on corrections or improvements you need to make. Keeping a dance folder or journal to track your notes is a great way to stay organized and on top of your dance technique!
Near the beginning of the dance season, your dance teachers will take measurements of your body. This means that they are trying to find the right fit costume for you! Costumes are very fun to try on, and dance in them for the first time, but they need great responsibility so you can take care of them! If you receive your costume that is a little too small, let your dance teacher or costume designer know, and you might be able to trade costumes with another dancer or get another one. If it is too big, then you can go to a seamstress to make it tighter. You don’t want to have a costume malfunction on stage! Prices can range from approximately $25-$250 dollars per costume! This is part of the agreement that you have to make before joining a competition team!
Proper care for your costumes can be easy, just remember a few helpful hints. First of all, you should be required to purchase costume bags that you can get at container and clothing shops. Basically, these are large plastic bags that have a hole for the hanger to come out of the top, and a zipper down the middle or side, that lets you insert or remove your costume from. Keep these bags in your closet with your costumes in it, to keep it safe from wrinkles, and from pets/siblings! Some ballet costumes need to be steamed or rubbed with a dryer sheet to keep it from sticking to your tights or looking flat. Many costumes come with accessories, such as armbands, leggings, necklaces, head wear, shoes, etc., that you need to keep in a Ziploc bag inside your costume bag. Do not lose these parts to the costume, because it will let your team down once you go to a competition!
Your Dance Bag
Simple dance bags you can purchase for class time have a main pouch, two side pouches, and a mini pouch in the front. Typically, you can put whatever, wherever in your dance bag, but I suggest putting your shoes in one side pouch, your water bottle and snacks in the other side pouch, change of clothes in the main pouch, and small thing like hair bows, hair ties, bobby pins, bun makers, your phone, chap stick, band aids, etc.
For dance competitions, your studio will either order you a dance bag (so everyone in your dance studio looks similar) or you can buy higher class bags. Dream Duffels are large suitcase-looking bags with multiple pouches, a mini stool, and a costume rack inside that pops out when bag is unzipped. When going to competitions, bringing too much is better than not bringing enough.
Make-Up and Hair
For everyday dance classes, making your hair look good is key. If your hair is flopping all over the place when you’re dancing, it is a complete distraction to you, and your teachers. I suggest a tight, high, ponytail style. For ballet, buns are what your teachers would most likely suggest. To make a bun, you will need these simple materials, two hair ties, plenty of bobby pins, a bun cover up, a hairbrush, gel, and hairspray. First, put your hair in a tight, high, ponytail, and secure it with one of the hair ties. Then, twist your hair in a spiral, and wrap it around the middle of your ponytail. (The hair should be touching your head in the shape of a circle.) Next, take the other hair tie and put it around your bun. (You might need to put it around more than once, to make it tighter.) Take note that no hair should be extremely out of the bun. Add the bun cover up around your bun, and secure it to your hair with 6-8 bobby pins. Lastly, gel the sides of your hair, and hairspray it all, so it doesn’t fall out. (Note, you can use more bobby pins to secure your hair on the sides of your head also.)
For parents, doing the hair and make-up is a real challenge, but they don’t have to do it. If you can do it, that would be great, but you can also hire s a professional or another parent to do it. At my studio, they have a class at the beginning of the year that teaches the parents how to do the hair, and what materials to buy for make-up. Bring all of the materials to competitions, just in case if you need to use it between dances. YouTube also has lessons on hair styling that are easy to learn.
First competitions can be intimidating, but you will have many in your lifetime, so one won’t ruin your reputation! It’s a bummer when you have to compete early in the morning, because you have to wake up extra early to get prepared. You can pack up the night before, so you don’t have to do it all in the morning. Have your dance bag filled with your shoes, costumes (if not hung up on a rack), and smaller materials you need. Make sure that you have all of your costume pieces, and extra water and snacks, because it is a long day! Double check everything, have the competition schedule handy, and arrive to the competition at least two hours before your first dance!
Stretch with your group before you get on stage, so you don’t pull a muscle. The competition backstage workers will come into the dressing room and call your number to go backstage. Walk, don’t run, you don’t want to trip before show time! Wait silently before going onstage, and if you can see the audience and judges from backstage, then they can see you, which means that your dance might get points deducted from it, which is not good!
One of the judges will announce your dance number, then you and your group will walk onstage into your first poses. Don’t worry, you just went through the hardest part! Once your onstage, muscle memory will do all of the work for you. Go through the dance, occasionally making eye contact with the judges. Hold your ending pose for three seconds, then stand up straight and nod your head with your group, and walk off stage.
The Dreaded Quick-Changes
The word quick-change is self explainable. Dancers that compete two or more dances are faced with this challenge quite often! A quick-change is when you perform a dance, and have a very small amount of time to change into your next costume and perform your next dance! One time I had only two dances in between two of my dances, and made it on stage just in time. My sister, however, had only one dance in between! But, there is a way to help with these changes. Before arriving at the competition, check your schedule to see if there are any dances that are very close together time-wise. If there is, then get the second dance’s costume all prepared backstage. Note to self: you might want to bring the costume to a room closer to the stage if the competition allows it. You can also have someone help you hang your first costume up after that dance. Just remember, sometimes the faster you go, the more consequences may happen. Avoid rips in your costume!
No one wants to forget their dance onstage! Not only can it be embarrassing, but sometimes you have no idea what to do, so you either freeze, or run offstage! There is a solution to freezing. When you are dancing onstage, keep thinking of the next move. Once you forget the next move, don’t freak out! Freaking out will just make you more embarrassed at the end. Simply start improving! Improving is when you do any moves you want that fit with the music. (Of course you can’t do this when you are doing a group number with other people, because this only works with a solo!) Sometimes dancers have to improve until the song ends, but others can typically pick off the choreography at a certain point later in the song, and finish the dance without their own moves. It’s not as easy as it sounds, improving can be hard, especially when you’re being judged. Just look like that’s what you’re supposed to be doing, and you can save yourself the embarrassment! But improving takes practice, start practicing at home while listening to your favorite tunes!
After all of the dancing is over, all dancers that performed are asked on stage at the end of the competition. They will play music, so you can dance/show off, or sit down near your teammates and wait for the awards to start. Once everyone’s on the stage, and the judges have finished scoring all of the dances, one of the workers for the competition will come onstage with all of the scores. He or she will announce the scores in order from each category and/or age. Each dance team must pick one representative to walk up and receive your award (usually one trophy and individual pins for the group) and bring it to their team. Sometimes your dance teacher might elect someone to do it, so your team won’t fight to get it. The awards are different at almost every competition, but what I’m used to is Bronze, Silver, Gold, High Gold, Platinum, and Double Platinum. As long as you have fun, it doesn’t matter what score you get.
The awards aren’t usually over yet; the worker will then tell the dancers to move to the sides of the stage so they can do 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th place, etc. At some competitions, your dance might not get called, but usually, they call all of the dances and give them their placing. The same (or different) representative will go up and hold an extra award they give you, and you stand at the front of the stage with other dancers, in your place. Everyone then takes a bow, and the judges move on to the next category. When the awards show is over, go back to the dressing room and get your costumes organized. You can meet with your parents and go home. If you were that representative, you can keep the award you got, but your dance teachers might tell you to return it to the studio after a period of time goes by. Once you get enough little awards (that everyone receives), you can display them on a shelf in your room! That way you can show people your true passion for dance! (Tiny tip: all awards that the competition has will sound good, so even if you got a bad reward, your non-dancer friends will think it is a high award, just by its name! That’s a little dance secret that will save you the embarrassment!)
Keeping Track of Your Stuff
Competitions can be stressful, and sometimes the last thing you’d be thinking about is keeping clean and organized. Make sure that all of your stuff is put neatly in your bag, so they don’t get wrinkled. If you end up with someone else’s costume by the end of the day, call them when you get home or the next day if it is too late at night. If you are missing something of yours, contact the dance studio to check if they have it. If they don’t then send mass email to your team and see if any of them have your missing item. If you are missing a costume, and no one you know has it, ask the competition if they’ve seen it lying around anywhere backstage. If it is nowhere to be seen, then order a new one, which is a bummer because you have to pay for it.
Conventions and All-Weekenders
A dance convention is a whole bunch of dance classes (of various styles) taught from one-three days. These are taught by famous dancers that also hold a competition after a long day of being at a convention. In each class, the teacher teaches you a combo of that style of dance. You break into groups and perform it with the teacher. Even if you don’t take a certain style of dance at your studio, it does not mean you can miss the class. The convention does let you skip classes, but I highly don’t recommend it, because learning new styles of dance will only make you better! Auditions are also held one of the convention days, where you learn a combination, and perform it in groups of around ten dancers. If you make it through the first round (which is usually ballet or jazz) you move onto the second round (if the convention does a second round.) You eventually go through many rounds until you go onstage at the scholarship and faculty show, at the end of the weekend. You perform the dance onstage, and might receive a scholarship to free conventions in New York or Los Angeles! Other prizes are also handed out!
When you are told that you are doing a competition and a convention, than get all off your homework done before-hand, so you don’t have to do it when you’re so busy! Most of the time, the convention will start on Saturday morning, and go until the afternoon. Then, you get prepared for the competition which is held until late at night. Just until you think you’ve done a lot of dancing, you have to go back Sunday morning to go to the convention again. The scholarship and faculty show is usually after the convention on Sunday. If you have a solo, duo, or trio, then you will either compete it after school on Friday, at the same time as the competition on Saturday, or after the scholarship and faculty show on Sunday. All conventions/competitions are different, so this might not be the situation for you. It is convenient that conventions are held in hotels, so you can get a room there.
Convention/competitions sometimes hold a national competition in the summer for all of the dances they invited. You and your team would travel to nationals and attend a convention and competition. The only difference is they have bigger and better awards! Most dances don’t make it to nationals, so don’t worry if you don’t make it!
Dancing doesn’t require dieting, unless if your studio requires it. Just watch what you’re eating, and make healthier choices when it comes to going out. Studies show that dancers need plenty of protein and healthy food that gives them lots of energy to last them a long time. Avoid trans fat, saturated fat, too much sugar, too much salt, and a crazy amount of calories as best as you can. Dancers do need lots of calories for energy, but you know where to draw the line when you eat too much. Trans fat has been taken out of many foods, because it clogs arteries, and makes you really unhealthy. You don’t have to worry if you see a lot of fat in food, because there are good fats also (usually found in nuts.) Stick to lots of fruits and vegetables, with only one dessert a day at the most. Peanut butter on bananas is a great breakfast that will get you started for the day ahead of you. Grapes are good convention food, because they are nutritious, delicious, and keep yourself hydrated. Water is now your friend, not soda/sugary drinks.
Not being on the team you wanted, not liking your dance, jealousy, nervousness, a bad attitude, and bragging can all be factors for a typical “dance drama!” The most common place to experience drama is when everyone is stressed out, like a dance competition, convention, audition, and learning choreography. When this happens, the best suggestion I can give you is to stay out of it! Realize that everyone is doing what they are doing for a reason, to dance. Respect each other and be proud when the accomplish something that you didn’t. Remember the Kelly Clarkson song that says, “What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Stronger,” so you can benefit from someone else’s accomplishment, by working even harder. Watch that person do the choreography, steal some traits from their dance, and to apply it to yourself!
Not only is there drama amongst the dancers, but also with the moms. If you’ve ever watched, “Dance Moms,” on Lifetime Television, then you know what I mean. Surprisingly, though, I have never seen mama drama become that severe! Some parents think that “my kid’s a star,” and “my kid’s too good for you!” The best thing to tell your parents is to ignore those who think and acts like that. When your mom (or someone else) is getting you ready for competition (i.e. hair, make-up, costume), follow their directions, because you don’t want them to get worried and stressed out. Backstage, when your parent comes and checks on you/ gives you food, make sure all of your stuff is cleaned up, and that you are wearing something that you will be okay to accidentally spill on. This will make you, and your guardian happier!
I hope all of these tips helped you, and that you’ll love dance throughout your whole life!