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5 Rookie Mistakes to Avoid Before a Competition!

Finally, after three excruciating years of staying off the dance floor, we have just three more days left to the 10th tda DanceSport Championships! This year, we are excited to host more first-time competitors than ever before.

Competing for your very first time is a roller coaster of an experience, though I must say - no matter how many times you compete again, the thrill of it all never gets old.

Whether you’re a beginner looking for ways to prepare yourself for the big day, or a seasoned veteran who just needs a refresher after the long hiatus, keep on reading to learn how to avoid 5 rookie mistakes right before the competition.

1. Underestimating the power of rest

As the big day draws nearer, it may be tempting to use every last hour you can to practice, practice, practice. While consistent practice is an important factor for improvement, we must remember that every dancer’s learning arc is a marathon, not a sprint.

Just like how pulling an all-nighter before an exam jeopardises your attention span during the actual paper, practising extremely hard the day before competing may actually backfire on the dance floor.

Not only do you run the risk of fatigue if you overexert your muscles, you may even accidentally hurt yourself doing too many rounds. It is therefore wise to rest the day before you compete, so that you allow yourself to prepare both mentally and physically for the gruelling day ahead.

“But how can I sit still when I know the competition is just hours away?”

The answer is to direct your energy into different kinds of preparation. Instead of drilling routine after routine, take the time to stretch, or mentally visualise your choreography instead.

Studies have shown that athletes who practise such mental repetition are able to optimise their performance further than athletes who rely on physical practice alone.

In other words, the best thing to do the day before the championships is, literally, to rest assured.

2. Being (unpredictably) adventurous

Now, before the adventurers come for us, please know that we are all for exploring different experiences. However, the last thing you want after months or even years of training is to be incapacitated the week of the competition.

Just for the days leading up to the championships, do your best not to engage in unpredictable activities, be they outdoor pursuits of an athletic nature, or indoor experiences that are equally risky.

For instance, a good rule would be to use caution during - or abstain altogether from high-risk exercises during the week leading up. Examples include contact sports, as well as lower intensity workouts such as walking or jogging if done on unfamiliar terrain.

Since we are currently amidst rising cases of COVID-19, please also take special care to avoid areas of higher transmission, such as crowded public spaces. If that is not plausible, sanitise your hands regularly and wear a mask to minimise your risk of a last minute, double-red-line wrench in your competitive plans.

It is also a good idea to keep an eye on what you eat. In general, refrain from foods that might make your gut upset, especially raw foods, or foods you have never tried before. That plate of sashimi might be calling out to you right now, but it is wiser to save it for your reward after the competition instead.

3. Not having contingency plans (yes, plural)

On the day of the competition, time is of the essence. Everything and everyone moves with purpose, on and off the dance floor, which means that an unexpected mishap can prevent you from participating at your best, or worse, at all.

That is why back-up plans will be your best friends. Run through everything that must be arranged on the day and make preparations for any reasonable hiccups that may occur. If you’re not sure what to expect, reach out to your seniors and coaches for a rundown of the day.

Here are some crucial aspects to consider…

Transport - When and how will you be reaching the venue? Have you factored in the possibility of a traffic jam? How about an alternative route in the event of bad weather?

Costume - If the costume does not cooperate with you on the day (think stubborn zippers, torn sleeves, tangled tassels), do you have another one on hand? How about a second pair of shoes, or extra safety pins for the leader’s number tag?

Choreography - If your routine is disrupted midway through due to any reason (a music glitch, a minor wardrobe malfunction, a clash with a fellow competitor, etc.), are you (and your partner) prepared to recover smoothly? Will you be picking up right back where you left off, or will you be using a particular step in your routine as a landmark to return to?

Hair and make-up - Even if you have arranged for a professional to assist with your make-up, hair and/or tan for the day, do you have a friend, or a helpful senior lined up just in case your first assistant is unable to make it?

If you will be doing your own hair and make-up, does the venue offer an appropriate space for it, including mirrors? Do you have all the supplies you need? Who would you be able to borrow some supplies from, in the event yours run out?

P.S. A mistake I personally made during my first competition was to forget one of the things I needed after the competition - make-up remover! I ended up going home in a full face of make-up.

Mind you, I was not particularly skilled at the art back then, so you can imagine how odd I must have looked in public with a smoky eye that was starting to melt into a raccoon spectacle (which reminds me - ladies, please invest in good make-up products that last the entire day!)

4. Winging the itinerary on the day

Ironically, spontaneity does have a time and place. When you’re the dance floor, and you feel secure enough in your choreography that you want to improvise to the music, that’s a great time to be spontaneous. When you’ve just woken up on the morning of the competition… not so much.

As far as possible, establish a pre-competition routine. This can start as early as the day before. You want to make sure that bags are packed and double checked, all arrangements and contingencies (see point #3) are in place, and that a good night’s rest bridges you to the next day.

On the big day, cater to your needs in every way. Set multiple alarms if you must. Have an appropriate breakfast - some people need it hearty and heavy; others need it small but substantial. Stretch and warm up as frequently as you deem fit.

Have a predetermined order in place when getting physically ready. Most dancers start with make-up, move on to hair, and then don their costumes. Some prefer to tan the night before, while others prefer to tan after wearing their costumes. Feel free to mix it up according to what works best for you.

It may sound boring to move like clockwork on such an exciting day, but the seemingly mundane discipline does have its benefits. Firstly, it ensures that you are adequately prepared for the competition itself. Secondly, as you take part in more and more championships, the flow of this customised routine will help get you in the correct headspace for doing your best.

When you are not distracted by the trivial parts of preparation, you are free to pay attention to the more profound aspects of preparation. That, of course, brings us to the last point in this list…

5. Going in without an intention

This may be surprising to hear, but not every competitor has the same goal. Every dancer’s journey is different, so it is only natural that what you want out of a particular competition evolves according to your place in that journey.

Some dancers step on to the floor with an unapologetic drive to win - their eyes are on the prize and nothing else.

Others measure their ambition in a different way, perhaps by aspiring to reach a particular round, such as the finals or semi-finals, or to attain a particular rank.

Do keep in mind that winning does not have to be the automatic intention. Sure, a competition will inevitably conclude with victory and defeat, but you are free to design your own takeaways from the experience.

For example, some dancers are there for a novel experience, to soak up the ambience and enjoy doing something they’ve never done before. Many take it as an opportunity to see how far their skills have improved, sort of like chalk markings on a wall to track someone growing taller.

There are also those who aim to challenge themselves by participating in more events than they have before or trying more genres than they have before. To them, it is like breaking a personal record.

Then there are those like me, who view it as an excellent opportunity to perform for a live audience, where you can harness every cheer, smile and applause that comes your way.

Of course, the list is not exhaustive. Take some time to reflect on what you want out of the upcoming championship. What do you wish to learn, about dance, or about yourself?

The day of the competition will whizz past you, so the costliest mistake one might make is to be unaware of what they wanted out of it in the first place.

In other words, step on to the dance floor mindfully, and let your intention be translated into every movement you create.

We hope this little list of reminders has come in handy as you prepare for the highly anticipated 10th tda DanceSport Championships this Saturday. These last few days mark the final lap, so get serious, get prepared, and do your best! See you on the dance floor!

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