Competing in Pro/Am

It’s been a while since I have done a general post, so I thought I would take a moment to talk about some of the things you should expect if you are thinking about getting into competing in pro/am.  I am not going to talk about budgeting or numbers, but if you are interested in learning about it I highly recommend The Girl with the Tree Tattoo’s e-book on the topic available at

So competing in pro/am–where to start??

First, I want to say that what I am writing is based on my own experiences dealing with a franchise and an independent instructor and that may ultimately be different from what you encounter.  It should give you a general idea what to expect though as a starting point.

How do you choose a competition?

I start by looking at the NDCA and NDCC calendars online. I choose a comp around when I want to compete and check out their websites.  I see where they are located, ticket prices, events available, schedule, registration prices and finally, the previous year’s results.  Checking the results can be tricky depending on the program used to display it, but it can give you a good idea of what the attendance is like at a specific competition and how many people have previously been in your age/level.  I also sometimes see if youtube has any videos posted from previous years.

Once I have selected an idea for some competition options I approach my instructor to see if he is interested and/or if other students might be interested as well.  I then ask him to give me an estimate for cost, and do some cost estimating myself.

So what types of expenses you can expect to encounter when competing?

Competition Expenses (those paid directly to the organizer/vendor or via your pro to the organizer):

  • Registration Fees
  • Session tickets for your entry to the ballroom or Package
  • Video and/or photos

Your Pre/Comp Expenses (those you will need to have before you leave):

  • Costume/Dress
  • Make-up
  • Hair products/accessories
  • fishnet tights
  • Manicure/Pedicure
  • Tanning
  • A good suit bag for transporting your costume
  • Competition shoes

Your Travel Expenses (related to traveling):

  • Flights/Gas/Ferries/Tolls
  • Hotel
  • Meals
  • Taxis/Rental Car

Your Pro Fees (those you pay directly to your instructor):

  • Pro Fee for dancing (may be per diem or per dance or a flat fee)

Your Pro Expenses (Those that should be shared with other students competing):

  • Flight/Gas/Ferries/Tolls
  • Hotel
  • Meals
  • Taxis/Rental Car

I have tried to divide up those expenses which you will be responsible for covering yourself, and those you can expect to share with any other students who are competing (the Pro expenses).  You may be able to share hotel rooms/taxis, etc. with other students depending on what your relationship is.

Some tips:

  • Some competitions offer package prices that include tickets, meals and/or hotel accommodations for multiple sessions.  Sometimes these are worth it, sometime they are not.  I suggest doing your research on how much you would pay ‘a la carte’ VS ‘Wholesale package’.
  • It has been my experience with Franchise studios that they will give you one block price that includes all your packages as well as pro fees together.  There may or may not be a breakdown of prices.
  • For myself as a conscientious consumer, I always ask for a full breakdown of all costs I am paying to my professional.  If he is unable to provide that breakdown, the answer is an automatic ‘no’.  Because competing is such a large expense, I want to make sure I know what I am paying for each component in case I am able to find things for a better deal, or if I need to cut expenses I need to have an idea where they can be cut.
  • The hotel where the competition is being hosted is not likely the cheapest option.  I would research other hotels nearby and weigh that against the inconvenience of travel.  I have found hotels across the street from venue hotels for half price.
  • Make sure you understand how your instructor charges his fees for competitions.  Some charge per dance, others per day, some a flat fee for each competition.  These fees may or may not include taxes.
  • If you are planning to travel to another country make sure you take into account the exchange rate, and I suggest where possible paying by paypal, e-transfer or foreign currency money order so that your expense don’t fluctuate between when you pay them and when they are cashed due to fluctuating exchange rates.  I have seen students have to add a couple hundred to their fees after the fact because organizers didn’t cash cheques until just before the comp and exchange rates plummeted.  Also make sure you know what will be paid in your currency (like pro fees) vs what will be paid in the foreign currency.
  • Taxis vs rental cars–this is another cost comparison case.  Depending how close/far your hotel is from the venue and/or airport it could make a big difference.  Also, will you be doing things other than competing that you will need to travel to?  Rental car costs could be split with other students.
  • A hotel room with a fridge and/or microwave can be useful for keeping meal costs down.  You can potentially bring your own food, or grab some groceries to prepare food.

What should you expect at the competition?

  • Take the time to do a run-through in your costume a couple days before you leave so you can mitigate any issues that might come up.
  • Your heat list should be available online before the competition starts to give you an idea when to be there.  You should plan to be there at least 1 hour early and ready to go on the floor 30 mins prior.  Your pro should have a heat list of his own to help him keep track of his heats with all his students, but he may have an assistant if he is juggling multiple students in quick heats.
  • Even though you may be competing in single dances, it is common for all single dances in an age/level to be dances one after the other with only a short break between.  You will not leave the floor between these heats and others may come on/leave the floor as you progress.
  • You may be responsible for preparing and warming-up yourself and should prepare for that.  Usually there is a practice room to work in and there are ladies in the change room who are willing to help you get in and out of your costumes.
  • Be prepared to give your instructor some space.  He has his own preparations to do and may be juggling multiple students all of which need to warmed up, reassured, and scheduled.  Remember that while you may be having fun, he is also working.  Make sure you are close to the floor ready to go if your instructor is switching students between heats.  If you can, make sure he is able to look you over before you go out in case of issues.
  • Bring some small snacks for eating between heats and a water bottle.  I usually bring chocolate, although granola is also good.  Avoid anything too heavy like nuts or greasy food, and something with some sugar is good for keeping energy up during long days.  Most competitions do not break for lunch.
  • Stay Hydrated!  If you sweat a lot, bring a towel, but pat, don’t rub to keep from ruining your make-up.  Make sure you have lots of time if you need to use the bathroom in your costume and don’t be afraid to ask for help–better a couple moments feeling exposed than a dress wet from falling in the toilet or sink.
  • Don’t expect in-depth evaluations from your instructor during the comp.  Schedule time to review the experience after you get back.  Your instructor may have some pieces of advice or quick fixes to offer (like be sure to keep your frame up), but the comp is time to focus on competing and enjoying the experience!
  • Pro/am single dance awards may not be awarded on the floor.  You may have to go to the award table to get your results.  Some competitions only do line-ups for scholarships.  At the end of the competition, you may be able to ask for a printout of your total results for reference later, or you might have to wait for them to be posted online.
  • Many comps do not allow private videotaping.  Be sure to check ahead if you want videos for reference or memories.  You can expect to pay per event for videos from a vendor.  Most comps also have official photographers who sell photos at comps.

Finally–Just breathe and have fun!

I hope this helps give a glimpse into the pro/am competition world.



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