If you’re new-ish to dance events, or you are considering attending a dance event for your first time, you likely have not had anyone explicitly orient you to the dance event experience.
Dancers are generally left to figure it out as they go. If you are lucky, there’s a Newcomer program being offered, or you have empathetic friends who take you under their wing. But Newcomer programs aren’t always available, and sometimes in their excitement, your friends skip important details. (or they overwhelm you with too much detail)
So here’s a list of the things you should know in order to do more than just wing it. These tips will help you navigate any event so you can make it as fun as possible for your personal goals/needs.
1. Before the event
- Look at the website – it’s there for a reason!
- Check to see if there are any requirements (vax, masks, etc)
- Book your hotel room as early as possible.
- RSVP to the Facebook event page. Watch it for updates.
- Look at the list of the Pro staff. If there’s someone you would like a private lesson with, message them in advance to reserve time.
- Look at the schedule & print it out – more on why below
2. Look at the schedule
It can be confusing, so give yourself some time to digest it. Take a pen or highlighter and circle the things you are interested in. If you are unsure if you should attend a certain workshop or watch a certain contest, take your marked up schedule to your teacher or 2 different dancers you know and ask for their advice.
Plan your meals, naps, and showers around this schedule (you’ll be glad you did).
If the event offers a Newcomer Welcome program, DO IT!
3. Prioritize fun
The underlying principle of this weekend is to inspire you, improve your skills and increase your enjoyment of the dance. No one is judging you or forcing you to perform, so relax, check your ego at the door and have fun. Remember they planned this event for people like you.
Learning is fun. Dancing is fun, Socializing is fun. Spectating is fun. If you're not having fun, just switch it up and find your fun!
4. Keep an open mind
The professionals were brought in because they are experts in their field. They may have ideas or techniques you haven’t heard of yet, but keep an open mind and consider that they have a lot to offer. Chances are, your local teacher is taking the workshop too, so if they value the new information, so should you.
If your teacher isn’t at the event, be sure to tell them what they missed! If your teacher is teaching workshops there, try to avoid taking their workshops, because you hear them all the time! Instead, go to other instructors’ workshops to diversify your learning.
5. Embrace your role as a learner
You paid for a ticket because you wanted to learn something new, meet new people, and contribute to a cause. Being a student in a class means actively listening to the instruction, participating in the dancing, and refraining from distracting other learners.
Take notes after each workshop – don’t assume you will remember it all.
It is considered extremely rude to “teach” or “offer advice” on the social dance floor. If your partner is “not getting it” or needs help, please refer them to the instructor or ask the instructor for help. If someone tries to “help” you uninvited, just say “Can we just dance?”
6. Be social
This is a social dance, the idea being to meet lots of different people. So leave your inhibitions at the door and get out there. Don’t spend your whole weekend in the same corner of the ballroom – wander around and see who’s on the other side. Don’t forget your good hygiene and breath mints!
7. Pace yourself
Just because you just took the “beginner” class does not mean you are ready for the “intermediate” class next hour. Classes with a level in the title indicate that the content will be aimed at that level of dancer. It does not indicate “Step 1 and Step 2” of a program.
Events should have a level "key" on their website, which describes the expectations of each level. Once you determine your level according to this key, you aim for all the classes at that level for the whole weekend.
Smart dancers never skip beginner level classes – they realize the value of foundation skills maintenance.
That being said, there's only so much instruction you can take in one day before you get mentally and physically exhausted, plus you might not be used to that many hours of dancing in a row, so be sure to give yourself breaks to take notes, mentally relax, put your feet up, refuel, take a nap, or get some fresh air.
In the classes, there will be uneven numbers of leaders and followers. It’s a mathematical statistic. In order to ensure everyone gets to dance, we rotate partners. Dancing with different people helps you learn faster because you get to feel what it’s like to work with different body shapes, connection, and styles. Staying with the same partner causes you to learn to adapt to their bad habits which in turn makes you develop bad habits. Do yourself a favour and rotate*.
Of course there are always exceptions, such as vulnerability due to illness or injury, in which case, just stick with your partner off to the side.
9. Take advantage of instructional videos
No one’s memory is good enough to remember all the awesome things you’re going to learn this weekend. After a few workshops, you will forget everything from the first workshop.
Videos ensure you leave with the information you came to get. Most instructors will provide a very short (2-3 min) recap at the end of the workshop, which you are usually allowed to record, so have your phone ready. If you like the instructor and they have instructional videos, BUY ONE!
10. Take advantage of private lessons
Private lessons are by far the most effective and efficient way to improve your dancing. They are not just for advanced dancers! They are a good idea for every level of dancer, and are the most value for your dollar. You can learn more in a private lesson than you would in 6 months of taking group classes.
During a private, the instructor can give you the feedback you need to make the moves you learned in the workshop actually work. They can also help you overcome “dancer’s block”, or enlighten you to ways you have been sabotaging your own dancing!
Don't fall into the trap of thinking that since you are so new, you don't deserve privates from high-level teachers yet. Read this article to find out why this can sabotage your progress.
11. Offer & Accept invitations
This is a no-fear atmosphere. In the world of social dancing, it is understood that everyone is there to dance with everyone. There is no traditional custom where only men ask women. Gender doesn’t matter at all, and neither does skill level. So don't be afraid to ask anyone to dance - that's what everyone is there for.
It someone says no, don't take it personally - there are a myriad of reasons why, and they are almost never about you personally. They could be tired, or not prefer that song, or maybe they are trying to limit their "bubble". So just brush it off and ask someone else.
While you always have a choice, unless you have a really good reason like having to take a bathroom break, try not to refuse an invitation to dance.
12. Dance with better dancers
You will improve faster by dancing occasionally with dancers who are “better” than you. If this seems intimidating to you, remember they are just as human as you are and they were in your shoes once. They’ve been around longer and know this principle.
Most of them seek the opportunity to dance with less experienced dancers because it forces them to work on their basics and lead/follow skills. You may run into a few egos, but they are not as common as you think.
13. Prepare to be surprised
The “judging a book by its cover” rule applies here. Never make an assumption about another dancer based on age, size, or beauty. These are very weak indicators of dance ability. The overweight Grandpa in the corner might take better care of you than all your J&J partners combined, and the mousy shy girl from your workshop might be the only one all night who can follow your tricks. You never know, which means you should give everyone a chance. Consider it a hunting game for the diamonds in the rough!
14. Manage your stamina
The best part of the weekend happens between dinner and breakfast. Don’t you dare hit the hay before midnight! Don’t make plans to attend the workshops and then take off to go see a movie!
The evening competitions and performances are the highlight of the weekend, and the social dancing until the wee hours are the best you’ll ever have. Do whatever it takes to stay up late. Sleep in a little, take a nap during the day, drink energy drinks, etc. Prepare in advance: bring your own munchies and drinks from the store so you’ll have energy after the restaurants close, or take advantage of food delivery such as Uber Eats.
15. Watch all the contests
As many as you can, especially the Pros/Invitational division, Novice division, and the routines (Classic/Showcase/Rising Star). The other divisions are interesting, but these ones are top priority because they will be the most inspiring for you.
If you have extra energy, watch more, but keep in mind that being in the ballroom for many hours of spectating is draining, so pace yourself.
Buy a ticket at a table in the front of the floor, avoiding the sides. If you can, sit on the floor when you see others doing it. It’s the best seat in the house! But try to avoid sitting in the centre behind the judges' chairs.
16. Register for contests
Contests are optional. There will always be at least one contest that you qualify for, even if you just started dancing. If you are interested in entering, register at the desk when you get your wristband for the weekend.
Pay attention to their scheduled start time and don’t lose your bib number. Prepare to dress appropriately (not slobby) - don't guess: ask a friend.
At contest time, listen to the emcee for when they call your name or call for the competitors to check in in the marshalling area.
Remember, all the contests are just for fun, the results have no consequences, and are not a good way to measure your progress, so focus more on the experience of them and don't let any disappointing results affect your enjoyment of the rest of the weekend.
17. Prepare for any theme nights
This isn’t common, but occasionally events have themes attached to one or more of the evening dance parties, such as "neon", or "pyjamas". It’s always optional, but nobody likes missing the memo and being left out. This will be posted on the website, so stay tuned so you can prepare outfits/costumes when you’re packing.
18. Don’t eat alone
Of course, you can if you want to, but whole point of the event is to socialize and get exposed to different people with different dancing. It’s a good idea to hook up with a group going to dinner, or ask to sit at a buffet table with fresh faces and introduce yourself. Most people are also there for the same purpose and welcome new faces.
19. Get in the spirit
- Cheer on your fellow dancers.
- Wear t-shirts, tattoos, jackets, etc to represent your area or school.
- Show appreciation for the performers by cheering and applauding during and after each piece.
- Get a good seat – sit on the floor if you have to – don’t stand at the back behind the crowd.
- By an event t-shirt.
- Look for a photo backdrop you can use for photos with your new friends or dance partners.
- Don't be afraid to approach pros after their workshop to thank them or pose for a photo with you.
20. After the weekend
- When you get home, tell everyone what a great experience they missed!
- Post on social media how you liked the event
- Look for your photos from your contests. Watch the FB event page for when the photographer is done uploading them.
- Take notes and buy the teacher-recommended videos
- Practice what you learned immediately! Take questions to your local teacher, and try some of the material you learned next time you go social dancing.
Oh there’s more!
Here’s a master list of all those “If only somebody had told me” tidbits of information might make the difference between you finding Westie Heaven or Westie Wasteland! Over the years, we have collected questions from both Beginner and Experienced dancers. They live on our website in the FAQ section, which grows constantly. It’s kind of a
Asking a pro to dance can be as nerve-wracking as asking someone out on a date. Your ego is on the line, you hope not to come across creepy, yet you’re willing to risk it for the payoff of an awesome dance with someone you admire. We applaud your courage, as long as you keep