Ask the Girl Episode 9 – Choosing a Competition

Happy Tango Tuesday everyone! I’m excited to present another episode of Ask the Girl. This week’s episode is in response to a reader who takes lessons through an Arthur Murray studio. He was wondering how other ballroom circles organized events like competitions and how you would find out about and choose which competitions to attend. And yes, I recognize the amusing timing as this topic comes up right after my article on setting non-competition goals when you can’t afford to compete was published. But that’s the whole point! The readers control the content!

So let’s forget I’m ballroom poor for a minute and pretend I need to decide which competition I’m attending next!

As far as I’m aware, there are two big governing bodies for competitive ballroom in the US: USA Dance and the National Dance Council of America (NDCA). Since Teacher is registered as a professional with the NDCA, my experience has been with NDCA comps. I first learned about available competitions simply by hearing about them from other students or seeing posters advertising upcoming comps in the studio. The more experienced students all seemed to make the same comps their goals, and just listening helped me get an idea of what comps were popular and why. When I started with Teacher, he suggested comps to me based on the list of ones that he typically attended with other students. I also learned that the NDCA has a calendar on their website of all of their sanctioned events, so I could browse a whole year of possibilities. So how do I choose?

This topic actually came up recently in a pro-am dancers’ Facebook group. The common factors in deciding which comps to attend seemed to be the timing of the comp, the location of the comp, the student’s budget, and the teacher’s recommendations. Some would also take the size of the comp into account to ensure they would have a larger field of competitors to dance against.

As for me, it should come as no surprise that budget is my biggest deciding factor. Once I had an idea of the comps that Teacher typically attended with other students (i.e., the ones that would come with a lower cost for my share of Teacher’s expenses), I looked at how far away the comps were. If I have to travel out of town for a comp, I have to take the cost of a hotel room and possibly a flight into consideration. Most of the comps that Teacher attends with his students are at least within driving distance.

I also started looking at the prize money available for scholarship rounds. Cutting costs is only part of my budgeting strategy. Offsetting costs is another part, so a bigger scholarship check is more incentive to enter a competition. No matter what competition I enter, I always enter a scholarship round for the chance to win some money to offset some of the expense.

An easy way to keep the costs lower would be to only attend comps local to me. But I will gladly take on the additional cost of an away comp if I think the experience will be worth it.

What makes it worth it? The size of the competitor field is one factor. The first time I attended the California Open in 2015 (a local comp for me), I was uncontested in most of my heats. Winning first place is great, but first out of one? Not so satisfying. I am paying SO MUCH MONEY to compete, so I want to actually have some competition! At the 2014 Holiday Dance Classic (away comp), on the other hand, there were enough dancers entered in my heats that they were split into semi-final and final rounds. So I had to make it through a semi-final round before I even had a chance of trying for a top placement. The challenge of going up against more dancers and the chance of dancing more rounds made that away comp more worthwhile. Unfortunately, it is difficult to know how many dancers will be in my heats until I actually get to the comp. The most I can do if I have no personal experience yet is ask others who have attended the comp or look at the results from the previous year.

For away comps, I also consider if the location is a place I would want to visit. There is no room in my budget to compete and take a vacation in the same year, so an away comp becomes my vacation. Teacher and his pro partner just attended a comp in New Orleans. I’ve never been to New Orleans and I’d like to go, so that comp is on my ballroom bucket list. I also like the idea of trying as many different comps as possible, kind of like checking off the number of countries you’ve visited.

Finally, there are certain comps that have more prestige than others. They are bigger and have larger attendance. The NDCA has the United States Dance Championships and Embassy Ball, which hosts World Championships. There is also Ohio Star Ball, which I’m told is the largest pro-am ballroom competition in the country. These competitions host a number of championship events that award its winners with one title or another. For those who have followed me since last year, you’ll recall that I qualified for the Best of the Best Dancesport Challenge at Ohio Star Ball and was planning on trying for a national title at USDC. These comps would have been very expensive events for me, but the greater challenges and potential accomplishments that they presented made them worth it. Even though I will likely not be able to attend any of these events in 2016 (never say never!), they are still on my ballroom bucket list. Some comps I just want to experience!

If you have a question or a topic you would like me to explore, please drop me a line!


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