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Latin Dance Competitors Tips

HIDDEN PAGE-  for Salsa Latina team members only, please do not share!

Your purpose:  Why do you want to compete? 
f you’re not sure, let me suggest some reasons.  First of all, it’s fun.  There’s nothing like the exhilaration of having all eyes on you as you strut your salsa stuff.  But even more than that, it’s rewarding.  You will improve your dancing by having a goal that motivates you to work on your choreography, partnering and performance ability. Then there is the  recognition and credibility that may result.  If you are thinking of beginning or furthering a salsa “career,” it is crucial that you become known in the salsa scene.  Competing can do just that for you.  Think of all the well-known dancers in the Salsa scene:  Joby and Luis Vazquez, Oliver Pineda, Gabriel Romero, Josie Neglia, Alex da Silva, etc.  They all competed at one time or another, establishing themselves as performers and instructors.


Judges, what do they see?

Judges will be looking for an impressive improvised or choreographed show piece dance - not a social dance. Execute your combinations, show moves etc. cleanly and simply, rather than messy and complicated. They are looking for good basics, timing & fundamentals. You are expected to put emphasis on Musical interpretation, Styling, Body Movement and “sabor” (flavor). Display of shines footwork to emphasize/demonstrate musical interpretation is expected. Styling and body movement is expected.



Timing is the category that generates most of the discussion among the judges and bedevils competitors to no end. And as timing is worth double points more than the other categories, it comprises a lot more than mere feet moving to a beat. Breaking step - must consistently land accurately. 1 and 5 are not interchangeable. 2 and 6 are not interchangeable. Some judges divide the body into two parts and watch what is happening above the waist and what is happening below the waist. While the arms may be on time, the feet may be off time. If the music is very fast, the feet may be just moving but the arms and turns may be on time. Shines need to be on time and performed in sync with the partner, not independently, not done off time.
If the feet are not moving, or if the couple or one competitor has what the judges call "quiet feet," for more than a few bars [one bar - eight beats], points may be deducted unless it is for some compelling choreography requirement or effect. While this is not carved in stone, it is indeed a rule of thumb of what judges generally like and don't like to see. If the feet are sloppy or if they are ahead or behind the beat, points may be deducted. If the man's arms are on time and he is leading his partner on time, and his feet are sloppy which puts his feet off time, points may be deducted for timing and possibly for technique.


This spans a number of things, its also connected to good fundamentals & basics. A couple has to practice and perfect every motion and turn pattern in their routine. Turns for example have to be complete, not under turned or overturned. Spins have to finish cleanly. Are bodies, arms, or legs too straight or too bent? On a cross body lead, if one or the other of the couple leans too far in or out, a point may be deducted. Balance on a pose has to be precise and strong, no wobble. Then there's lines, over extensions and pointing toes etc. Posture - Overall posture (no rounded backs, protruding tummies or bums, jutting jaws, raised shoulders). Judges are looking for extended spinal alignment with long necks and relaxed shoulders, relaxed but controlled toned arms. Footwork - Concerns neat feet (infractions are‐: rolled or sickle ankles, turned in or sliding feet) Judges are looking for precisely placed feet without shuffling and aesthetically pleasing lines throughout body, legs, arms, feet and hands. Turns - Should be well balanced, controlled and on time.... and the list goes on.



How well does the dancing fit with the music? Does it hit the breaks and does it flow with the style in the music. To get better at freesytle musicality you need to listen & dance to allot of music and start to feel the breaks, feel the changes.  A good way to start is to recognise after four ‘8 counts’ the music changes, sometimes two 8 counts. This is a general rule but not always the case.

Musicality is rare skill goes way beyond timing and your body then becomes and instument in the music once its become more natural.



While not weighted as heavily as timing, could be the most complex element for the couple to perfect. Is the leader leading too strong or rough? Is the follower too strong for the lead? Is the lead off centre for turns and spins? Has the couple fumbled or missed a connect or lose a handgrips? Interconnection between partners - partners should demonstrate that they are enjoying the interaction together and are bouncing off one another’s energy reflecting the excitement and intrigue of the dance. To improve in this area, work on partner-work fundamentals

Lead & Follow 

These refer to the physical point of lead and follow between partners and how smoothly that is executed. Lost connections incur loss of points.
To improve in this area, work on partner-work fundamentals



This is an interesting element. Everybody sees the woman turning and spinning? But, does the man turn, single or double turns too? Are there any unique twists to the usual moves or turn patterns? Also note that a routine that is either very hard and executed effortlessly and flawlessly will place well, while a conservative routine that is clean will come in ahead of a hard routine that a couple struggles through.

To improve in this area, work on partner-work fundamentals and for more complex movements you will learn in more advanced classes.


Presentation & Stage presence 

How the couple uses the stage is important. Do they use the space or do they stay in one spot for their routine? Are they centered on the stage or do they stay right or left and thus not give the judges a clear view? Does the couple engage the audience with their facial expression, body language and music? Is the couple smiling and are they engaged in their routine? Do they enjoy what they are doing? Does the couple have charisma? Do their expressions compel the audience or the judges to keep looking? For example, Jennifer noted that World Champion Oliver has that Michael Jackson star quality when he is on the stage. People simply cannot keep their eyes off him when he is on the stage. A neat and clean look. No jeans allowed. No sleeveless shirts allowed. No props allowed in competitions. Ladies wearing skirts or dresses are recommended to wear fishnets. Hair should be off the face, e.g. pulled back to avoid distraction. Choose clothing that enhances your natural assets and avoid the possibility of wardrobe malfunction.



This can add or detract to a performance and many couples ignore this. Do the costumes match? Do the costumes go with the music and the routine? Do the costumes even fit properly? Couples need to practice in their costumes and work out any problems with the costumes before they compete. Sequins breaking loose can trip a couple on the stage, affect balance and technique and cause deductions.



Advice To Competitors


"Prepare in advance!" It takes allot of time to complete the routine and get it working. It should flow smoothly and easily. Ask an instructor or a very experienced dancer to critique the routine and work out any snags or rough spots. Video the routine to critique yourselves and practice in costume. It's recommended that couples perform their routine in front of a group before the competition. 


Fundamentals are King

What are Fundamentals? the are like the foundation to a building, the stronger they are the better everything becomes. Or you won't see a huge tree with tiny roots. Nothing beats hours or ‘boots on the floor’, the more hours you are in classes, social dancing, watching dancing & getting inspired, private lessosns, training & performing the better you'll become, the better it will feel.
Too often we see intermediate dancers who start training in performances classes after learning in regular dance classes forget their importance of other needed classes. Fundamental training which really only happens 'regular dance classes' and not performing. Then social dancing reinforces the learning, motivates and promote expression. Newer performers often don't realise the value in their regular class, and dont understand the importance of working on fundamentals and developing their repitoire often because they dont think they need to, or that its now 'beneath' them. The truth is, Dance teams & performances are actually parallel to, not a lower level to regular classes. ​To get really good at your chosen dance style is to get it in your blood and to get it in your blood takes working on and perfecting fundamentals. From experience teachers & judges know this to be true as they perfect their teaching & dancing, and the act of teaching perfects their dancing daily at a fundamental level - only if they are open to it.
Good judges & teachers can see dancers at their fundamental level and can tell their structure within a few basics, so do ask for advice. 

The cure, get back into class as well and start absorbing all the details in the moves taught and focus on the basics & fundamentals, not just the moves taught. It's a fact that Students who do value all the above see massive growth in a very short amount of time.


If a couple chooses music that a lot of other people have used, their choreography will have to be really different to engage the audience. The music does not have to be too fast, but it has to have energy, it has to grab and hold and even enrapture the audience. "Choose a song you love so you can transmit your joy to the audience!"


Facial expressions & connection to the audience are also a big factor, practice infront of a mirror or on video. Also [You] have to have fun! If a couple is not enjoying themselves it will show. Use natural expressions. Let your face show how you feel. If you have that joy of dance inside you as you perform, it will show on your face.  Don't look at the floor while you are dancing, look slightly above peoples heads. 

Work on your presentation:  Your presentation and showmanship can make or break even a great routine.  Remember that you are dancing for someone else.  Smile.  Exude confidence.  Be sexy.  If you act like you look good, people will believe you.  Practice in front of a mirror.  Video-tape yourselves and practice in front of a live audience.  Don’t be afraid to make eye contact with your partner and with the audience and judges. 


Think positively. 

Don't get freaked out because someone is dancing to the same song as you or has the same costume. It is the dancer who makes the dance.


Prep on the day: 

Have plenty or rest & fuel. Arrive early & Warm up before every piece you perform. It is important to stay warm in between dances to avoid injury. Bring any snacks & drink  with you. Stay focused. Bring a headset and listen to your music, using visualization to imagine yourself performing. 


Costumes Tips: 

Choose your outfits and shoes wisely, especially if you’re doing tricks and moves that require a lot of flexibility in movement. Test your costumes before performing, also Guys, double knot your shoes before you go on and ladies check your straps on your heels. Women should wear their hair in a style that holds through all the spins and tricks and doesn’t whip the man in the face.  Jewelry should not interfere with the dancing:  nothing on the hands and wrists and no hoop earrings that can get caught and pulled out.  Make-up should be heavier than normal, but not gaudy. 


Clean up your Routine & Technique:  

It is best if you have plenty of time to practice once you put a routine together.  This will also give you time to work out the kinks and make any necessary changes and improvements.   Doing full out run-throughs will also help you build up your endurance.  The trick is to have a difficult routine, but make it look easy.  You also want to have the choreography so well memorized that you can do it without thinking, especially if you get nervous when performing.  You also want to be prepared for what to do if one or both of you makes a mistake while performing.  Practice will help you be ready to “jump back in” if you “mess up.” Also remember to 'Point your toes.' Wimpy feet are not attractive.


Get Feedback:  

Find some experienced dancers to give you feedback on all aspects of your dancing and your routine, esspecially dance teachers who have had competition success with training winners.  If you’re really serious, it’s worth it to pay an instructor to “coach” you.
We sometime avoid this area because we don't like to be criticised, however finding a trainer you trust and puts a positive spin on everything essential. This is one of the biggest mistakes dancers who train on their own make.


Timing, timing, timing:  

Again....Work on your timing.  While it may not seem like a big deal to the average spectator, timing has become the most important category for judges.  Some competitions weigh timing more than any other category.  Whether you are dancing on the “1” or the “2,” make sure you stay on beat throughout your routine.  There have been many times that I’ve heard people wonder aloud why a certain couple didn’t qualify in a competition even though they were real crowd pleasers.  Usually, it’s because they had poor timing.  If you haven’t been trained, or are not sure about your timing, consult with a professional dance instructor.


Choreography & Musicality:  

Work with the music.  Try to choreograph moves that hit the breaks in the music.  Weave a combination of partnering patterns, footwork sections and a few tricks.  Themes are a no no for competing, but can be fun for performing only.  It is important, however, that your choreography be varied and dynamic.  Be sure to include plenty of styling and engagement with the audience and judges.  You can come up with your own choreography, enlist the assistance of someone more experienced or get ideas from watching others.  Be careful not to copy someone’s choreography, measure for measure, without permission.  This is illegal and unethical.  And while no one holds the copyright on the cross body lead, you don’t want to have the reputation of “stealing” other people’s moves.  My best success has come from creating moves out of “mistakes” and creating “variations” of moves I’ve seen in other routines.


Warmup & Stretch

We often miss the importance of this and its good for training and competition day

Warm up properly, if you are not slightly sweaty then you’re not warm. But also dont over do it. 

Stretch, again be careful not to over do it too.

Exercise sessions or periods of activity should always commence with a warm up period.

This is because:•  Core body temperature is raised by a couple of degrees This means:
• Oxygen supply to muscles is increased
• Muscles are less tense
• Heart, lungs and other organs are prepared for a period of activity
– i.e. it gets your blood pumping
In theory, anything that increases body temperature can be useful for a warm-up period. 


Elements to add in a routine

The lady is the "picture" & the guy is the "Frame", however also remember the frame needs to look good too. 

- Add spins for the ladies, also add some for the guys. 

- Shines are a must. Some places to add these are in the percussion or piano, trumpet sections of the music.

- Musicality Work with the music, when there's a change in the music make a change in the dancing.

- Variation in types of partnerwork, do something in close, complex patterns, simple patterns with style, smooth or energetic etc

- Move around the stage, from back stage to front stage, side to side etc.

- Height variation, Make the audience looks up and down with drops, slides to jumps 

- Engage the audience with turn patterns that face the audience and use expressions etc.


Your partner: 

You both need to have the same kind of motivation, make sure you communicate on what you both want.  It’s OK if one of you is “better” or more experienced than the other, but it shouldn’t be glaringly unbalanced.  In terms of style, it’s fine if one of you is “flashier” than the other, for instance, as long as you feel a good connection.



Written & Compiled from

Reuben (NZ/Aust Judge)

Salsa Latina

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