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Ballroom and Latin Dancing - Preparing for a Medalist Competition

Updated on April 16, 2012

Dance competitions, whether open or medalist, can be a nerve-wracking experience. Medalist ballroom and latin competitions differ from the open comps in the rules and dress code, so it is vital to be aware of these before you start! There are certain steps you should take before going to a competition that can calm your nerves and ensure that you are fully prepared to give you the best chance of winning, or at least getting placed and qualifying for Blackpool, which is surely every dancers dream!

Medalist competitions are a great experience for dancers of all levels, because no matter what level you are at in your ballroom and latin exams, you will be dancing against people of the same level as you, so if you are at pre-bronze level, you stand an equal chance of coming home with trophies as if you are dancing in gold and above or awards! Here are my tips for preparing for that fateful day....

Find out what dances you have!

This is a simple and obvious tip but very important! Although one of my tips is going to be "trust your teacher" on this subject I strongly advise you double check for yourself!

Although your teacher should have found out what dances you will be dancing, it is not unheard for them to get it wrong. Believe me, I know from experience how it feels to turn up to the competition expecting to dance a waltz and a foxtrot, only to find it was actually a tango and a quickstep! This information is easily found out by checking the website of the dance society running the competition. In England the medalist exams are run by ISTD. You should check this out when you first decide to enter the competition which shoud be at least 2 months in advance!

Trust your teacher!

Your dance teacher wants you to win! This looks great for their dance school and also gives them some job satisfaction, so listen to what they tell you. They will have access to the rules and what steps and figures you are allowed to dance at your level. Usually you are allowed to dance more figures than in your exam and the style is different. Where the exams focus on footwork and technique, on the competition dance floor, you need to stand tall and show off! Posture and arm movements are important, you want the judges to notice you.

Your teacher should also organise your tickets and entry to the competition, you can either pay in advance or pay on the door. If you are going to be dancing with your teacher in the solo competitions (this is where you do not need a partner and you are entered at the level of your latest exam you have taken), make sure you practice together! The solo's are the only events that qualify you for Blackpool if you get placed.


Every hour you practice is worth 3 hours of lessons! It can be hard to find the time, but at least for the month leading up to the competition, practice as often as you can. This leaves your lessons free to work on your technique and fix any problems you are having.

However, the day before the competition, don't practice at all! This is really good advice, you and your partner are likely to be feeling a little stressed, and will most likely argue and achieve nothing more than feeling bad about the whole thing! If you're not ready by then, you never will be! Relax, have a drink, and try not to worry. Remember, it is supposed to be fun!

Watch other dancers

One of the hardest things to learn is how to sell yourself on the dance floor. It is really beneficial to watch other dancers, in competitions at your level and above, and professionals whom you you admire and whose style you like. It is important to develop your own style, but watching others can give you inspiration! Be careful if you want to change how you execute any of your figures mind you, as you may find you are breaking the rules! Always check with your teacher.

I love to watch these two professionals dance and my partner finds watching them helps him with his "latin arms".

Work out what you are going to wear!

The dress code for medalist competions is different to the open competions! Men are not allowed to wear tails, they need trousers (preferably ballroom and latin trousers, but actually any nice pair that are comfortable to dance in and look smart will do!) and a shirt. They can also wear a waistcoat or jumper. For ballroom traditionally, it is black trousers with a white shirt and tie, and latin can be any coloured shirt, open at the front (no tie!). If you do not have a ballroom or latin shirt then just make sure the shirt you are wearing will not become untucked. Sewing it to your underpants sounds bizarre, but actually works!

Women can wear any nice dress, a long one for ballroom, a shorter one for latin. However, it is lovely and will feel more fitting to invest in some proper dance wear. Ebay is a great place for affordable dresses, or you can have one made to measure. This option can be very expensive (around £2000 if you get it made in London) but it really doesn't have to be. For a couple of hundred pounds you can have dresses made abroad, here is a really good website that offers this service. You will also find clothes for sale at the competitions, which means you can try them on before you buy!

Hair and makeup

Women need to worry about this. Practice different hair styles and how they hold up to dancing! If you have long hair it needs to be up in a bun or ponytail, you need to make sure it will not fall out halfway through your dance! Also practice your make up and orgainse any hair decorations you want to wear well in advance so there is no panic on the day!

Find out about the venue!

Find out where the competition is being held and what the dance floor is like. Size and shape of the floor can make a difference to your routines, and you need to practice different figures, especially in ballroom, to get you out of trouble on a crowded floor!

Get organised!

OK, so your routines are ready and well practiced, you have your clothes sorted out and you are entered into the competition with your dance school. It's 2 days before the competition, now you need to think about packing and what you will need on the day! Here is my list of "must haves" on the day.

  • Food and drink - Always top of my list, the competition is likely to be a very long day, pack water, a flask of tea or coffee if you drink it, and food to keep you going.
  • Sewing kit - to fix any wardrobe malfunctions!
  • Shoe brush - The dance floor is likely to be dusty, and you should brush your shoes after every dance.
  • Makeup, hair "stuff" and deodorant - Hairspray, brush, bobby pins etc to fix your hair, and you are likely to get hot and sweaty so may need to touch up your makeup.
  • Dance-wear - Make sure your clothes bags have everything you need in them, including tights, underwear etc.
  • Tickets and program - Your program will be vital through the day to keep track of what's happening, but pay attention, the organisers do not always stick to it!
  • Safety pins - for pinning your numbers on (you and your partner will need 2 each for this) and some spares - also for fixing dance-wear mishaps!
  • Directions to the venue - you do not want to be late because you can't find the venue! Find out where you are going, how to get there, how long it will take and parking. Ideally you want to turn up at least an hour early to give you a chance to settle in, get changed and have a practice.
  • Towel - because you will get hot and sweaty, and also to protect your clothes if you are eating!


Remember, it is supposed to be fun! It's natural to be a little nervous, and the ballroom / latin dancing world is a competetive one! However, in the medalist competitions especially, people are friendly and supportive and are unlikely to trip you up on purpose or run you down on the dancefloor! Go out there with confidence and enjoy the experience. You've worked really hard for this moment and spent a lot of money, on lessons, practice space in halls, clothes, hair and travel costs, get your money's worth and have fun! You want to win as does everyone, but you can't win every time and some days won't be your day! This is ok because you will have had great fun and learnt heaps from watching the other dancers in the competition. When you do win trophies, it feels fantastic and makes it all worthwhile! Good luck!


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