By Seth Westlake
Finding a Committed Partner, or Continuing on with One
Finding a committed partner can often be the hardest step. It can be difficult—and at times, almost impossible—to find someone who meets all of your competitive criteria. There’s the time large time commitment, including practice, coaching, travel, and days at competition. There’s the fact the both of you will need to live proximate to each other, or have to make plans to travel excessive amounts throughout the month. Additionally, you will both need to be able to afford ballroom dancing, including coaching, dance gear, dresses, and competition fees. That being said, where can you start?
First, try talking to your coaches, friends, and local professionals. Like a job, networking can often be your best friend and quickest route towards arranging partnership tryouts. If reaching out in the community isn’t working, try social media, fellow alumni, and Facebook groups. Get the word out that you are interested in a partner, and what goals you have in mind for your dancing.
For any audition, try to keep in mind that most partnerships break within the first month. Give each potential partnership an honest effort, focusing primarily on whether or not you have compatible goals and personalities. Skill level comes second. Remember: with proper coaching and commitment, almost anyone can rise to the occasion.
For those of you that have been able to remain with a committed collegiate partner, congratulations! It can be hard to align schedules as you both step into a busy working world, but we assure you that the love of dance is always worth pursuing!
Budgeting for Instruction
Affording coaching can be stressful, especially as you and your partner start to look at taking lessons from some of the nation’s top coaches and professionals. Lessons can often range from $60-120 for 45 minutes, so it’s important to make sure you find the right instruction for you, and to save money where you can.
Before getting private instruction (or perhaps in supplement to private instruction), look for ballroom seminars, workshops, and camps offered in your area. Some studios invite master instructors to teach group classes and private lessons for a specific period if time, which can become an excellent opportunity to learn well for cheap. Some competitions—like NCDC, for example—offer free seminars to competitors, often regarding what they see as the biggest problems with dancing they’ve seen during that competition.
Finally, if you do get consistent private instruction, try to pool your resources. Always take private lessons with a partner. In some cases, instructors might even allow a two couple “shared private lesson.” You won’t get as much one-on-one time, but the words and visuals of your instructor will still be available to you.
Competitions can be expensive, but they also offer some of the biggest opportunities to save if you know where and how to look. Registration fees are fixed, but things like travel and places to stay can be shopped vigorously.
First and foremost, drive when possible. If you have the time—and perhaps a car full of people to take with you—trips can be fun and rather inexpensive, with the added bonus of avoiding airport security procedures and carry-on bag restrictions. Having more people will also help you save on nightly hotel costs, depending on how far you split the rooms. Also consider that having a car at a competition is a powerful resource. You can get food, supplies, or depart whenever you’d like.
Second, shop around for airfare and hotel prices. Some websites will even track the prices for you and tell you when tickets are at their lowest. Consider arriving at a competition a day early or leaving a day late if you want to save even more. Additionally, programs like AirBnB can often put you up for a fraction of the cost of a hotel.
If you’re looking to save on registration, ask your competitions if they’ll accept volunteering as a form of payment. Some competitions might be able to arrange free or reduced registration. Others might enable you to get free tickets to an evening show or session of your choice. If you do have to pay full registration, make sure to register early and get the early bird pricing.
For anyone planning a vacation, consider pairing your time off with a competition. Buy one flight instead of two and spend time exploring the competition area. Sightseeing and relaxation can help bolster your enjoyment of the competitions and the places you visit.
Where to Practice
Unless you own or work at a ballroom studio, finding or affording practice space can be a special problem of its own. Before paying full floor fees at your local studio, consider a gym, YMCA, or workout space near you.
Universities often have special Alumni access and pricing to their facilities, often at rates comparable to that of local gyms. These spaces often have the largest sections of hardwood floor, tile, and racquetball court-style accommodations, which are perfect for practice.
Local gyms or YMCAs are often just as good, providing open dance space in rooms that are not currently hosting group classes. If the rules permit, basketball, racquetball, and tennis courts can be excellent spaces to practice as well.
Dance studios, compared hour-to-hour, are almost always the most expensive, but they do provide consistent, open, and clean spaces for dancing. Ask your local studio if they have a monthly practice membership, or perhaps a package deal that can couple with private instruction.
If possible, practice at home by yourself, doing drills and basic actions by yourself in the mirror. If working on your own fundamentals doesn’t require studio time, save a dollar by staying at home.
Staying involved with your dance community
Staying involved with your local dance community is a big part of developing your own dancing, your teaching style, and your love of dance. Sharing your dance knowledge with others is both an excellent way to help ballroom disseminate and grow, and also a great way to learn more about your own dancing.
To stay involved with the competitive world, try joining a local team or club, even if you weren’t an alumni or previously involved with the institution. Many teams are thankful for the help and free instruction. This can also help you get access to free or discounted practice space.
Next, consider becoming a member of USA Dance. Your affiliation with USA Dance can help grow the world of amateur ballroom dancing, including the access that new and upcoming collegiate dancers have to competitions.
Finally, get involved with social dancing. We’re all in this for one reason: fun. Take time to dance with others in your community. Make friends. Experience the power that dance has to bridge all kinds of demographics, bringing together people of all proficiencies, age, race, gender, and social status. Ballroom dance is an art, skill, and passion that we can all take with us into the latest parts of our lives, so why not start sharing that passion with others now?