All Ways Dance!
…monthly musings of a convert to the ministry of dance

Autumnal greetings one and all!  I know everyone has been waiting with eager anticipation for the next installment of Dance Etiquette but I’m going to take a quick diversion to discuss the biggest competition of the year, the UCWDC World Championships!!!  Yes, I know, its right around the corner!!  So let’s take a few minutes to help our new competitors with some information that might be helpful.  It may seem as though you’re preparing for more than a week-long vacation but the more time put into getting organized now will mean a lower reading on the stress scale later!

UCWDC Worlds 2020

Competition Preparation for the Mind, Body & Soul

Logistics-Getting there in One Piece

Before you make your travel arrangements make sure to familiarize yourself with the tentative schedule listed on the website  You will notice that Pro Am is loaded at the front of the week with couples and line dance toward the end of the week. Awards will be presented within 15-20 minutes from the completion of each session.  Anticipation builds as the week progresses culminating with the Saturday evening Extravaganza where the new UCWDC Masters World Champions will be crowned!  Who will win the coveted title THIS year??  It’s always an exciting competition between the best of the best!

If you are traveling by car, remember the winter weather can wreak havoc with travel plans so leave some extra travel time in your schedule.  By air, you can often find a good deal 6-8 weeks before you are flying which would be mid to end of November.  Make sure your airline will accommodate the number of suitcases you’re planning to bring!  You can purchase tickets for the hotel shuttle at the Gaylord Opryland kiosk on the lower level at the airport.

Make sure to book your hotel room by Monday, December 9, 2019 to receive the discounted room rate for this fabulous hotel! Some nights may already be booked to capacity, so check out the overflow hotel as well. All reservations at the group rate must be made by December 9, 2019!  If you haven’t been to this hotel before, you are in for a real treat!  I’m not sure if my favorite thing is the river boat ride or wandering all the beautifully landscaped pathways between the 3 buildings, it’s hard to believe you’re not actually outside.  It’s a very large resort but all three buildings are enclosed under a giant roof, so you’re always protected from the winter weather outside and the holiday decorations are really fabulous! Make sure to bring some comfortable shoes, there’s lots of walking to be done!  There are also many attractions and entertainment around and in the hotel itself.  Word of caution, as I said it’s a very large resort that was apparently designed to befuddle the brightest of guests….I don’t know anyone that hasn’t gotten lost at least once if not many times on the property, so keep the map they give you at registration handy! Some people are known to keep theirs from year to year so they can remember how to maneuver the maze of pathways……who could THAT be!

Once travel arrangements are completed and double checked, let’s talk about packing!!  For competitors, now is the time to check your costumes for any loose buttons or snaps, much easier to fix before you’re on the competition floor!  Are there any seams that need reinforcing or any other alteration that might make your costume fit better?  The better you feel in your costumes, the stronger your performances will be!  And if you have new costumes, make sure to give them plenty of floor time before competition to help avoid unexpected wardrobe mishaps!  Make sure boots and dance shoes are in good repair, any loose suede soles can be reattached with one of these high rated shoe glues Polish your leather boots and shoes and gentlemen, make sure your hat is clean.  You might consider having it shaped if it’s looking tired or limp! Don’t wear droopy hats gentlemen; a cleanly shaped hat can sharpen your presentation and most places that sell hats will shape them for free or very little cost!

Now might be a good time to consider gathering your own competition survival kit or restocking it if you already have one. Keeping a list of anything that’s been used and needs to be replenished during each trip can help keep you organized and not missing something important on your next trip.  Consider what might be helpful to have on hand to make a competition less stressful and what might help keep you calm.  Perhaps a special snack, some ear phones and music, travel size tube of shoe glue, Tylenol or Advil, tissues, extra hair products and make up (you can’t always count on the dressing rooms being fully stocked!), travel size stain remover and extra pairs of dance briefs and stockings for the ladies and a spare undershirt for the gentlemen (for those warm, sweat producing ballrooms during warm ups) can really come in handy!  Think of anything you might have needed during a previous competition and be sure those things are considered also.  A Mr Clean Magic Eraser can come in really handy at a competition!

Competition Preparation – How to Keep Your Head and Give Your Best Performance

The most important thing to bring to a competition is a positive attitude and starting to form that positive attitude well before the actual competition is helpful. Visualize different outcomes and let yourself feel those emotions.  Being prepared for those feelings will help you deal with them when you need to. Competitions offer the opportunity to make new friends, renew your enthusiasm for our dance sport, and measure your progress against other dancers.  Enjoy the experience, take it all in and vow to remain grateful and positive regardless of the outcome. There are definite correlations between a negative frame of mind and increased injuries because our mind and body are so intrinsically linked, find something good about your performance even if the placements aren’t what you had wished for. It’s up to each competitor to make it a wonderful experience, don’t discount the power of positive thinking!

As we’ve seen, preparation for a successful competition begins well before your arrival at the hotel by working towards embracing the proper mind set.  Now let’s look at the most obvious preparation, practice.  Remember the old adage, Practice Makes Perfect, well in reality, I like to think about it as Perfect Practice Makes Perfect Performance.  Have you ever noticed how much less stress you feel when you know your choreography cold!  As a partner dancer, we can become VERY reliant on our partners whether they are leaders or followers to help remind us what is next, just the same way that running a routine in only one space always facing the same direction can leave you bewildered when you change front wall or change venues.  Change alignment when you are running routines by changing the back wall to the front wall and see how different everything feels!

The same can be said for solo practice.  We may think we know the routine because we dance it great with our partners, but take the partner away and how well do you know your routine?  Can you walk it by yourself? Or do you need your partner there to remind you of what is next.  You can start the process of “owning” your choreo by walking through your routines with your partner without touching.  You won’t be able to produce the speed, power or number of turns without connection to your partner, but you can mark through the movement, knowing which foot you are starting on, which direction you are turning, and what timing is being used.

As you build up new muscle memory, you will find it much easier to walk your material alone.  If you are having trouble memorizing your routine, you might consider writing it out, either line by line or on a count sheet.  A count sheet gives a visual representation of how your choreography is arranged within the typical musical structure of 16 counts to a mini phrase, 32 counts to a phrase for 4/4 music and 12 counts to a mini phrase, 24 counts to a phrase in 3/4 time.  A simple spreadsheet using 8 boxes in a row to represent 8 counts (or 6 for Waltz); 2 rows equals a mini phrase and 2 more equal a phrase of music (4 sets of 8).  (If you aren’t thinking about your choreo in this format, or you don’t understand what music phrasing is about you might be a bit late to the party, but not to worry, we’ll offer some info about that in the future so stay tuned!)

Once you have your count sheet, or list of patterns, your goal is to slowly need less and less words to recap your routine.  Start eliminating the parts you don’t need hints on and only list the parts you have to think about executing correctly.  As you memorize more and more of the routine, you only need a few words to conjure up the entire routine.  This takes practice so be patient!  Another useful tool for mastering your choreography is to recall your routine as you are listening to the music, try dancing it in your head and when you can do THAT, you will know that when you step from behind the curtain and onto the stage at Worlds, you will be the most prepared you can be…there is a quite confidence to the dancer that truly owns his choreography!

Now that our mind is actively engaged in preparation, let’s turn our attention to preparing our body for competition.  As you start to ramp up your practice time, both in frequency and intensity, getting a proper amount of rest in the weeks before a competition is important in order to avoid muscle fatigue and prevent injury. Allowing your muscles the time they need to heal is vital to remaining strong and healthy.  We want to push ourselves to our limits….but not past!!  If you need to modify your activity level for a brief period in order to avoid fatigue, you might have helped avoid the beginning of a nagging injury. Biggest take-away…8 hours of sleep every night is the best way to prepare for your most successful performance!

Spending time developing core strength will also help you progress as a dancer. Dancing requires a strong core to maintain stability and balance. The stronger your core, the easier it is to engage other muscle groups. Core strength stabilizes the torso and improves extremity control while muscular imbalances and core weakness frequently contributes to injuries. One way to avoid dance related injuries is cross training which allows you to strengthen different areas of your body and improve your overall endurance. As an example, adding a cardio workout to your dance training will make a big difference in how your body performs during competition.  Cross training outside of dance allows us to focus on cardiovascular endurance (getting your heart rate up), muscular endurance (making your muscles burn) and muscular strength (making your muscles sore) … non-dance, low-impact activities work best to achieve this.

It’s Show Time, Let the Fun Begin!!

Competition day arrives, you’ve done your best to prepare your body, used caution in your meals and sleeping schedule the day and night before, you have your positive mental attitude and your confidence shows without a hint of arrogance.  You are now prepared to have your best performance.  Laying out everything you need the night before helps prevent last minute panic-filled dashes to the store for some forgotten necessity.  Better to know about it the night before giving you more time to maneuver. Borrowing said necessity from a fellow dancer might more easily solve the problem.  We are an extremely friendly and supportive bunch.  I’ve seen competitors put themselves at a disadvantage in order to help out a fellow competitor, that’s just who we are!

Eat a good meal the night before, avoid fast food and stick with complex carbohydrates and protein such as grilled chicken or fish, leafy salad with nuts, berries, and feta, whole-wheat pasta or brown rice.  If possible, eat a meal high in complex carbohydrates 1-2 hours before competition. A good place to start is whole grain foods like oats, rice, veggies, or pasta. Good carbohydrates are one of the bodies’ primary sources of energy.

Make sure you arrive for warm ups with plenty of time to stretch. Stretching is important for preventing injury as well as calming nerves.  Sometimes it helps to find a location away from the crowd. Try to keep your focus on your own body. It may be tempting to check out the other dancers, but it can exasperate your nerves. Instead, focus on deep breathing and preparing your body for what you have trained it to do.

Gentlemen, make sure you’ve taken time to mark your choreography to the competition floor, either before warm ups or some previous time.  You will find the floor to be much larger than a regular dance floor so marking your routines will not only give you feel for the floor but also to take note of where your choreo will land on this super sized floor.  A couple of things to remember gentlemen, the floor is so large that you tend to get lost, especially in the corners.  Make sure you keep your routine centered in the middle of the floor, don’t feel like you need to dance the entire circumference of the floor in a line of dance, stay to the middle of the floor.  Also be aware of the floor lighting, it’s a big floor and it’s hard to perfectly light the entirety of it. Make sure your stationery dances don’t stay in a darker spot on the floor and in your traveling dances try to make sure that your hits or phrase changes are not in any shadows, you want the judges to have a good view!

Staging at Worlds is a bit different, but not difficult.  Heat sheets will be posted in a small holding area on the side of the main ballroom and behind the dressing rooms.  After walking up the stairs, you will line up in heat sheet order and when the previous heat is finished your heat will emerge from behind the big curtain leaving you at the top of a set of steps that don’t look daunting until your actually trying to walk down them without falling regardless of the competition rubber legs you feel at the moment.  Once again, getting the feel of it before hand will make it much less scary.  And yes, it’s OK to hold on to the hand rails…but that then taking a chance on stumbling!!!

Now you are on one of the biggest stages of your life and it’s your turn to shine!! You are mentally and physically prepared.  Remember, the audience is pulling for you and wants to see you do your best; EVERYONE is rooting for you so take that in and soak it up.  Make sure you look purposeful in all you do; the performance starts when you emerge from behind the curtain.  Use your face, winning dancers love to dance, and it shows on their faces. Relax and let your face tell a story, as much as your body does.  You are on your way to making memories that will last a lifetime, I hope you will cherish them as much as I cherish mine! In the end, all that matters is that you do your best, have fun, and share your love of dance with the audience!

Make sure you check out workshops and vendors during the week and the New Years Eve party is always super special so don’t miss that and make sure to save me a dance!

Perfect Balance is Static…Only Imperfect Balance Can Create Movement
~Dance Zen

In 1990, Sherry Reynolds stumbled quite accidentally into the vortex of partner dance where she has happily resided ever since.  Her passion is introducing our younger generations to this magnificent obsession, forming LoneStar Country Dance Scholarship Fund, a non profit organization, in 2016, to help finance competition expenses for college kids.  This scholarship fund has distributed over $21,000 since its inception and Sherry is so very appreciative of all the generous donations that have so greatly benefited her kids.