Competition Q & A–with MIT info!

Happy Leap Day, everyone! I hope this rounding error of a Monday finds you well.

Today we’re going to talk about collegiate ballroom competitions. Every semester, I take the SU kids to at least one comp, and I get the same questions from newbies every time. I figured I ought to do an FAQ post to which I can refer people.

What are Ballroom Comps like? 

Half sporting event, half fashion show, ballroom competitions are a whirlwind of color, music, and spectacle. They last one to two days, usually sun-up to sun-down. For the ballroom beginner, they are a great opportunity to see what the ‘dancesport’ world is all about, and for the advanced dancer, well, obviously they are an opportunity to compete. At the largest events, there is often a show from a professional couple, which honestly often makes the whole trip worth it.


How do the levels work?  

There are two big categories–Syllabus and Open events. Syllabus events are divided in four levels: Newcomer, Bronze, Silver, and Gold, with each level defined by which moves are legal by the powers that be. Open levels–Novice, Pre-champ, Champ–do not have figure restrictions and are usually the ‘post-Gold’ competition levels, gateway to pro dancing.

Couples gather points by placing in finals, and as those points accumulate, they dictate for which level dancers are eligible. The more you win, the more levels you will ‘place out’ of, and be compelled to move up. When in doubt, start at Newcomer or talk to me about which level is right for you.

What dances can I compete in? 


There are four big categories of ballroom dances: Smooth, Standard, Rhythm, and Latin.

Smooth and Rhythm are ‘American’ styles, Standard and Latin are ‘International’ styles.

American Smooth includes: Waltz, Tango, Foxtrot, Viennese Waltz.

International Standard includes: Waltz, Quickstep, Tango, Foxtrot, Viennese Waltz

American Rhythm includes: Cha-cha, Rumba, Swing, Mambo, Bolero

International Latin includes: Cha-cha, Rumba, Samba, Jive, Paso Doble

Oh gods do I have to dance all of them?

No! If you are competing in the Newcomer/Bronze levels, most likely all those dances will not be offered. Depending on the competition, you can pick and choose which ones with which you are most comfortable.

In the Silver level and higher, however, you will need to do all dances in a given category, i.e. all Rhythm dances.

How do the rounds work? 

Line up in the ‘on-deck’ area. Wait to be called onto the floor. Find a spot on the floor with partner. Wait for music. Dance for judges for 90 seconds. Exit floor quickly. Wait for call-back numbers. Repeat.

Call-backs–term for those selected by judges to advance to the next round–are usually posted on projection screens around the competition area, though occasionally the announcer will call out numbers in case of confusion. It is the responsibility of the dancer to pay attention to the on-going events, as well as the call-backs. The call-backs are made possible by the numbers assigned to each leader, which are pinned to their backs via safety pins.

Do I have to sign up with a partner?

No–all amateur competitions I’ve attended have a ‘TBA’ registration option, which means you sign up individually and are paired with a partner at the competition. Obviously there is some risk inherent in this option, as you have NO IDEA with whom you will be dancing until about five minutes before it starts. Now, that isn’t to say you won’t get lucky, see this post for evidence to that effect.

But for best results, find and practice with a partner prior to the competition. If you are an SU student and you want individualized coaching, talk to me!

What should I wear? 

So a few paragraphs ago I mentioned ballroom comps as part fashion show. In the upper levels, dancers have very elaborate, very expensive dresses and suits, but I’m going to limit this answer to the Newcomer/Bronze level.

Latin/Rhythm Men: Black pants, tight fitting shirt (usually black).

Latin/Rhythm Women: Skirt or dress with hemline above knees.

Smooth/Standard Men: Black pants, white shirt, black vest, bow-tie is bonus.

Smooth/Standard Women: Skirt or dress with hemline at ankles.

I usually advise women not to wear black dresses, as you will blend in with your partner’s body, but obviously it happens occasionally depending on people’s wardrobes. Also, for all people, the better-fitting the clothes, the better. Loose, flap-y shirts aren’t ideal.

Now my disclaimer is that these are general guidelines, and you will see people cross-dressing, breaking expectations-hell, I know a girl who wore a chain-mail corset and once I wore a vest and pants for Rhythm. But these descriptions are a good place to start.


What should I bring?

Comp outfits. Dance shoes. Hair stuff/makeup. Snacks. Money for lunch/dinner/gas. Street clothes for breaks and ride home. Bedding if staying overnight.

ALSO: If you do not have heel protectors for your shoes and you are a lady, talk to me.


The MIT Ballroom competition is one of the largest on the Eastern seaboard, and SU Ballroom will be attending! We will be driving down Friday April 15th, and the competition events are Saturday AND Sunday, the 16th and 17th. We will be driving back in the evening on Sunday April 17th. There will be a carpool, and we are in the process of arranging housing with friends in the suburbs of Boston.

IMPORTANT: If you commit to attending by March 24th, registration will be paid for by the club! If you do not tell me by then, you are on your own for the registration fee.

At MIT, the dances offered in the Newcomer level are: Int’l Waltz, American Foxtrot, American Swing, and Int’l Rumba. Just those four. THAT’S IT.

In Bronze/Beginner, they have EVERYTHING. Really. Every dance I mentioned at the top of the post. But wait! You do not have to register for all of them. Each dance is an individual ‘event’, so you can pick and choose. Talk to me to decide which ones are right for you!

MIT Website:

If you have any other questions, don’t hesitate to ask.



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