December 3, 2007

Ballroom Competitions 101

Posted in ballroom dance tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , at 9:54 pm by anythingthatglitters

First of all thank you to everyone who’s been commenting! I really enjoy hearing from you (yes, even the contraversial ones)!  I’ve gotten a few emails asking about the specifics of ballroom competitions…So I’m going to attempt to explain it best I can… 


            Now I’m not claiming to be some sort of expert on this topic.  I’ve only been ballroom dancing since last October.  So, the follwing is completely from my own personal experience in the collegiate ballroom world. 

            “What exactly is my experience?” you may rightly ask.  Well, it all began last semester.  I spontaneously enrolled in an International Latin Ballroom course.  After three weeks I was sold.  I auditioned for the Ballroom Dance club, was placed in the intermediate class, and found a partner.  This all happened the first week of October 2006.  Since then, I have danced roughly 20 hours every week, competed in dozens of collegiate competitions, and earned at least six 1st place awards each level to move all the way up to Silver.  Hopefully my ballroom resume meets your standards. 


  First things first, forget everything you’ve ever seen on Dancing with the Stars.  Just like I tell my Nana every time we speak, Dancing with the Stars was made for TV—and is NOT an accurate representation of a Ballroom Competition. 

            Now that’s out of the way, I’ll start with the basics.  Ballroom dance is composed of 19 dances divided into four genres: American Smooth, American Rhythm, International Standard, and International Latin.  Travel anywhere, span the oceans, and you will find the same 19 dances, with the same moves, and the same tempo all over the world.  I think that’s what intrigued me most about this style.  I can dance the samba here in Boston, then travel to Spain and do the exact same dance. 

            As you might have noticed, ballroom dance is a language of sorts, I’m close to fluent in two genres.  That’s another thing about ballroom dancers.  Rarely will you find a ballroom enthusiast who dances all 19 dances.  Most couples specialize in either one or two genres.  Typically couples who focus on two pair American Smooth and International Standard, or American Rhythm and International Latin.  

 img_4324.jpg  Smooth and Standard share the Waltz, Tango, and Foxtrot.  Extensive posture is crucial.  But footwork is lax.  Men slick their hair back, and wear tailed suits.  Women wear feathered gowns, gloves, and elaborate up-does.  Smooth and Standard differ only in the sense that in Smooth you are allowed to break hold.  But in Standard, the frame is never broken– the man and woman are always in some form of contact. 

 img_2572.jpg  On the other hand, you have Rhythm and Latin.  Both share the Cha Cha, and Rumba.  Posture is not as crucial, but footwork is vital.  Turn-out is the epitome of a rhythm or Latin ballroom dancer.  In addition to dance syllabus, Rhythm differs in that you can dance on a bent knee, but in Latin your knees are always locked or straight. 

            Once you have mastered the basics and timing of the dances in your favorite genre, you are then ready to compete.  Competitions are a whole different world.  Ask my best friends, who unknowingly volunteered to watch me compete in both genres at in a recent competition.  They were there from 10 in the morning until 10:30 at night. 

            “Why so long?” You ask.  Well, each genre takes roughly 3 hours to complete.  As if having four genres wasn’t confusing enough, there are five levels you can dance at in each genre: beginner, bronze, silver, gold, and open.  Each level has its own syllabus of dance moves, the higher the level, the harder the moves.  Every couple must start as a beginner, and may only move to the next level once they have placed out.  To place out you and your partner must acquire a total of 7 points, which you receive by winning first, second or third places in your level.

             There are typically 80 or so couples entered in each round in each genre.  So, after the preliminary rounds, the final rounds generally call back 24 couples to the quarter finals, 12 couples to the semi finals, and 6 couples to the finals.  Each couple is given 90 seconds to dance, but you’re not alone.  In the preliminary rounds there can be up to 24 couples, now take into account the 24 different routines on the same tiny dance floor.  See, it’s not merely enough to know the dance, and to dance it well, the trick in a competition is to get noticed. 

 n924875_32827647_1392.jpg  Observe the number on my partners’ back? That’s the single most important piece of paper on the day of a comp.   Each couple is constantly vying for attention from each of the 7 judges.   The judges walk around the floor and record the numbers of the couples they would like to call back.  The couples with the most marks are invited back to the next round.  In the final round, all six couples are placed.  And the points begin adding up. 

            Ok, so now that you’re all experts in Ballroom Competitions, I’ll leave you with a few words of the wise.  I’ve broken it down to a few simple Do’s and Don’ts: 

Do…wear lots of makeup.  Ballroom and Theatre are one of few past times that grant you unlimited quantities of makeup, glitter, and fake eyelashes.  Go wild. 

fbook.jpg  –Do…wear a ridiculous outfit.  Look at my partner.  Enough said. 

Do…secure your goods.   Observe my good friend’s rear, had she not covered her rear properly, this would be an extremely indecent picture.  And men…you know what you have to do. 


            Now for the don’ts of ballroom competitions. 

I’ll address the ladies first, please don’t go looking for your next boyfriend here.  If you meet a cute boy, you’ll most likely meet his boyfriend next.  No picture necessary. 

Don’t expect to take flattering pictures.  Ballroom, and Latin especially, are all extremely fast paced.  Good action pictures are a rare commodity. 

And finally, don’t secure your goods.  I know this is contrary to my previous “do.”  But just between you and me, I speak from personal experience when I say a serious costume malfunction is a guarantee in the final.  I owe every award from Tufts to my left strap that broke during our Jive. 



That said… GOOD LUCK!



  1. Jessica said,

    This is a really interesting behind-the-scenes look at a world many of us know nothing about. I have to admit, aside from Dancing with the Stars, I know nothing about ballroom beyond the ’92 flick “Strictly Ballroom” – which is actually incredibly hilarious and likely managed to encourage quite a few to go out and dance!

    I danced tap, jazz and ballet once upon a time – from about age 3 to 16 – but am no a little too uncoordinated and busy with my new puppy (you can read about my adventures on to try something like this.

    Nevertheless, I still occasionally get sucked into watching a competition on PBS – I can never get over how you all can dance in such high heels!

    Best of luck as you continue dancing (and with the LSATs!)

  2. Licia said,

    V, this blog is great — I’m so proud of you! Never realized the extent of your passion for ballroom, and it’s great to see you articulating it so well on the blogosphere. =)

  3. Erica said,

    Hi I was wondering if you were at the Tufts Competition yesterday (12/9/07) and if you knew the website for the professional photos that were taken? Great blog by the way.

  4. Claudia said,

    Hello I have been researching all over the place about latin ballroom dancing and its something that i am very interested in becoming a part of especially the competitions.
    where do I start? HELP! i need guidance.

  5. Ciara said,

    Nice take on things, I am a pro. ballroom dance competitor and this is definately a cool behind-the-scenes glimpse! Good luck in your future competitions.


  6. Julia said,

    I stumbled on this blog by accident and in light of the fact that I just finished competing with my ballroom team at UMichigan’s Annual Ballroom comp this past weekend – I must say I found your entry very entertaining – and a good intro to what ballroom is all about! Thanks for a great job! 🙂

  7. kaitlyn said,


  8. kaitlyn said,


  9. sally said,

    I was thinking that this is a wonderful website.

  10. dana said,


    does anyone need a dance partner around the sge of


  11. It’s amazing how many people think that TV in general reflects the real-life counterpart of the dramatizations. Thanks for mentioning the importance of footwork. People seem to feel like their posture and expression is all that matters.

  12. Michelle said,

    I was wondering where you purchase your dresses at? I really like the turquoise dress that is the last picture on this blog. Thank you for writing this, it was very informative! I recently started competing & I need to upgrade my dresses.

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