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Competing on the Open Circuit

By Gail McDonald - Added 28th of February 2007

This short piece by Gail McDonald is designed for those of us who love dancing, through uni competitions or social dancing, but will not be storming straight on to the Open Amateur scene! Can you compete on the open circuit? Is it practical or achievable? The answer is, of course you can, and those of us who are out there hope you will! The open circuit is enormous fun - we enjoy practice, have made new friends, have found some interesting drinking places (!) and can compete as often or as infrequently as we like.

If you're an ex-uni dancer you'll see that one of the major differences is that most open age group couples (below amateur) dance both modern and latin at more or less the same level so you have a great deal more variety and do not end up with one terrific routine (your uni team dance) and nine others which are much less good. Another difference is that, outside London at least, the circuit is dominated by seniors but that is not a bad thing; they can show us a thing or two about foxtrot and quite a lot of chatting goes on at practices, rather than dancing, leaving the floor free for us. Occasionally, we even get unsolicited compliments along the lines of "how nice it is to see you young things"...(and I'm not really)...

1. Partners

The first question is "whom are you going to dance with?" If you're a uni dancer then try and make the effort and get out to some opens before you graduate, whilst the uni is still supplying the costume, and check out that you enjoy it. If you both graduate at the same time, try to stick with your final year partner, if at all practical, at least for a while. At some point that may not continue to work but by then you will have been on the open scene for a while and will have got to know people. If one of those people you have met does not metamorphose into your new partner, go along to some social classes and keep your eyes open. At least you can keep dancing that way which is a good thing because it is possible you may need to be patient for some time.

This is probably the point to lay my cards on the table, it is my partner not me who is the ex-university dancer, we met at a social class and our first competition was two years after the last one he did with his uni partner. One of our other dancing friends, ex-Oxford and Imperial, met his current partner at a complete beginners class – it took him a year of perseverance to get her to do anything more than that - but three years later they are now winning Pre-champ and doing well in Open Seniors. Alternatively, your teacher may be able to find you a partner.

2. Practice

The second question is where do you practice? Most teachers run practice sessions, look in the practice section on this site, ring the ones in your area up and ask them or look in Dance News (order at the newsagent or take out a subscription). Once you have been to a couple of places you will see the same faces and they will tell you where else you can go that is suitable for competitive practice. However, do not expect the luxury of a room to yourself unless you are prepared to pay, the kitchen floor will have to do instead.

3. Levels and competitions

The third question is what level are you going to compete at? Ask your teacher but, unless you are already a star, it is likely to be Beginners, Novice or Intermediate from where you can improve. Being an Intermediate is great (although I want us to be a good Pre-champ couple soon!) because you can go to local competitions, do the basic one dance and the open one dance events plus the Intermediate three or four dance events so you get lots of dancing. You are also bound to know people who are at the comp who will be supporting you and, possibly, shouting your number. The downside is that they will probably dissect your performance at practice the following week...Big competitions are still open to you in the supporting events and you get to see some really good standard dancing and check out the latest dress fashions!

Most open circuit competitions allow you to dance in three or more levels, however most couples just dance in two levels, eg Intermediate and Pre-champ. Beginners and Novice are limited to basic steps only so check with your teacher that your routine is compatible. There are competitions every Sunday and some Saturday evenings. We read Dance News (avidly in my case, less avidly in my partner’s) to work out where to go next and see mentions of people we know. So far we’ve got no further than the Results Only section but we are working on it!

4. Costume

If you do not have costume it is not the end of the world. Beginners always wear lounge dress and often people dance Novice and Intermediate in lounge dress too. At Pre-champ or above you will look out of place with no costume. You can get second hand tailsuits and dresses either from individuals who are selling at practices or big competitions or over the web, try DancesportUK or Glamour Gear (who will post out to you (at your expense) and let you try before you buy).

5. Cost

So, cost? Cost is the reason most often given for not competing. Obviously, you can spend an enormous amount but, so far, we have been quite restrained. However, as I am planning on a new modern dress soon that will bump the figures up! Below is a year’s projected expenditure as a couple outside London, but do bear in mind you probably need to add on a third as much again in London. Weekly private lesson (23 - 45 a year) £690 - £1350 Shoes (4 - 8 pairs) £200 - £400 Practice sessions (45 - 90 a year) £270 - £540 Competition entries (1 - 2 a month) £200 - £400 - £1360 - £2690 Plus any costumes if necessary.

You can get a second hand tailsuit for £120 and a nice second hand dress for £100, or you can spend thousands! It's up to you.) I have no idea how much we have spent on petrol and we have not had any hotel expenditure yet although next year I expect we will. However, whether you add on notional figures for travel and hotels or not, the total is not much really for an activity which you enjoy, keeps you fit and makes you new friends. Looking forward to seeing you...



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Article written by Gail McDonald - www.strictlyballroomlatin.org.uk.

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