The Canada Salsa and Bachata Congress is coming up in October in Toronto (www.canadasalsacongress.com).
Our school (www.dancevancouver.ca) and many schools around North America are preparing their students and teams for the competition and shows. Starting on the Thursday evening, competitions run late into the night and then all day Friday and Friday night. Last year, for example, I competed with our student team and ladies team on Friday night, rehearsed before bed, had a cabaret showcase competition beginning at 9am, heats throughout the day and my final Friday night.
It can be a grueling couple of days.
The strain on the minds and bodies of the competitors can be exacerbated if you’re not prepared for the bumps along the way. Jet lag, unfamiliar floors, poor nutrition planning, poor hydration, sitting around and then warming up over and over and the mental pressure we put on ourselves can all add up.
Putting yourself out there as a competitor is not something every dance student aspires to or is ready for. But the more prepared you can be ahead of time, both physically and mentally, the less of a barrier you face when you step out on the floor in the stunning ballroom.
Here are 5 easy ways that you can be the most prepared for the competition.
1- Food and hydration
We’ve all had that situation where we arrive in an unfamiliar city, have to find something to eat quickly and end up eating the worst possible thing for the activity we are doing. I know I have. I learned the hard way and now I know what my body needs to feel settled. My dietary preferences and needs are going to be different from yours. But with trial and error, I’ve figured out the perfect kinds of foods I need for the day of a show or a full day of competition. For me, it’s non-bloating, non-spicy, simple foods that are packed with nutrients. Some examples are a smoothie, a handful of nuts, an apple, banana bread, a light green salad, some lean meats. Ideally these are things that are portable, that you can find in any city and that you know will keep your tummy happy and your energy up. My coaches and I actually don’t rely on finding things at our destination. We pack our must-have snacks in our checked bags. Then I make sure I know where to find what I need. Before I arrive I check on Google Maps for the locations of restaurants around the venue and look at their menu. I make sure when I book my hotel that the room has a bar fridge so I can store my food. I make a point of arriving early enough that I can do a proper grocery run and have almost my entire congress worth of food available in my room, save for a couple of meals I know I’ll be having out with friends or teammates. UberEats is another great resource in a pinch. Don’t forget your hydration. Often at competitions they have water coolers available but they run out of cups. I always travel with a metal water bottle and my electrolyte powder. Travelling and unfamiliar climates can make you dehydrated. And we often forget to keep on top of our hydration as we get ourselves settled in our destination. I make sure as I travel and when I arrive that water is always with me.
2- Being organized
The enemy of success is often being poorly prepared. My coaches have instilled in us the preparations for being ready for anything. Never put your costume, dance shoes and makeup in your checked bag. One of my coaches told me how an airline lost her bag and she had to compete in another dancer’s shoes, which weren’t even her size! Have a bag that contains all the extras that we often forget or leave in our rooms and keep it with your costumes or dance bag at all times. Bobby pins, eyelash glue, shoe brush, mints, deodorant, double sided tape. You know what I’m talking about. Get in the habit of taking your little preparations bag with you to every show and you’ll always have it with you.
3- Know your body and mind
All of us prepare for shows and competitions a little differently. For me, I quickly oversaturate on stimulation and need some alone time to not feel exhausted. So I take my Ipad and noise cancelling headphones and I find a quite corner of the hotel where I can check out for a few hours during a break between my divisions. I also know what I can and can’t eat the day of a show. I make sure my priority is self care and over time I’ve learned what I need to care for myself. Our coaches have instilled a warm up regimen for our team that we all do in a circle every rehearsal and before every show. It helps us focus as a group and put our bodies through a set of familiar movements that we do regardless of the setting. For you it may be having a little good luck charm with you from home, marking through your routine or visualizing it before you go on stage, or a little pre-show ritual before you put your costume on. Maybe you enjoy the energy of interacting with teammates and others you’ve met at other congresses while you’re backstage. Get to know what your body and mind needs and play around with those parameters until you find what’s just right.
4- Don’t rely on anyone else
Your success comes down to doing what you need and pulling your own weight. The last thing you need for your peace of mind and preparations is to be caught up in what other people are doing. I’ve had situations where my dance partner or teammate is running late for the show. I had a choice in that moment to fret about ‘what ifs’ or I could focus on what I’m responsible for and make sure I’m warmed up, rehearsed, in my costume and lined up ready to go. Your mental state before a show should not be thrown off by the people around you. You should still focus on the warm up regimen that you do regardless of anyone else you are dancing with. That guarantees you are ready for showtime and it helps others to know that they only need to focus on their preparations once they arrive. The same goes for competition. The first time I was at a competition I was thrown off by the large numbers of really good dancers and being in the same space as the people I idolized. I didn’t dance my best because I was so caught up in those around me. Once I got comfortable with competition settings; the noises, sights, hustle and bustle, emotions of others, the flow of the day, I was able to tune out what was going on around me. I built strategies that helped me focus the way I needed to and I rely on those strategies every time I enter a ballroom. A great strategy is going super early to the ballroom, maybe the day before, and getting familiar with the space. Bring your shoes. Try the floor. Sit in the room and look around. Familiarize yourself with the space. Find out where everything is. The next day there will be one less thing to process and throw you off your focus.
5- Bring what you need for self care
Before a show or while you’re waiting for your division, we often have things that creep up and throw our internal balance off. For some people, sitting for a long time and repeatedly having to warm up and then give all they’ve got can take a toll on the body. At the last World Salsa Summit I competed in four showcase divisions spread across 14 hours. I had to warm up and perform a total of 6 times that day in a very cold ballroom. By the end of the day I was getting a migraine from not staying hydrated after each warm up and performance. I also had a few nagging muscle imbalances that required extra care in warming them up. My coaches travel with an electric heating pad to warm up strategic muscle groups. For my own self care, I’m not a fan of physio tools like foam rollers and various sized balls to roll around on. I’m an Anatomy in Motion practitioner and my warm ups and self care are stand alone movements and perhaps placing some wedges under my feet to restore joint movement. But for you, it may mean certain stretches, squats, lunges, jumping jacks and physio tools. Know your body. Experiment with what you need before a series of shows. Stick to what works and what is portable.
As long as you stick to what works for you, your competition experience will be a lot more enjoyable than if you go into it unprepared. Remember, you’re there to have fun and challenge your limits. If you go home with anything, let it be that you learned something about yourself so that you’ll do better next time.
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