Pro-Am Dos and Don’ts.

‘Pro-Am’ stands for a Professional dancing with an Amateur – most of the time it would be a teacher competing with their student. We also come across the term Teacher-Student. The only difference here is that in the latter the teacher doesn’t have to be a qualified or registered Professional, but the idea remains the same.

The concept of Pro-Am Competitions originated and gained huge popularity in the US, where the syllabus and the competition rules are closely monitored by their Dance Council. It was only in 2016 that this concept started developing in the UK, Europe and across the rest of the world, making Pro-Am more popular than Open Amateur or Professional categories in some events.

So, what makes Pro-Am so popular?!

For Professionals – it’s an opportunity to make a living and to proudly showcase the results of their teaching work in front of an audience. This also creates a healthy competition between different teachers and studios.

For the Amateur – dancing with a Pro is a way to fulfill their dream bypassing the years of training as a child, the hassle of finding ‘the right partner’, the fights, break ups, searching for coaches – basically everything that professionals have to go through over the years of their career. From the very beginning dancing with a professional makes you feel like a star – no question about it, BUT…

The downside of that is the student can end up relying on the ‘lead’ too much, especially when it comes to Ballroom styles and then they don’t learning to develop their own balance and body actions. I cannot emphasise enough: basic technique is essential and should be practiced as frequently as possible. Fixing it later will be much harder. A simple figure danced beautifully has much more value than something fancy and off balance.

There is no real shortcut, but there are ways to make the process more productive and efficient:

  • Practice outside the lessons. For every hour you spend with your teacher you need to put in at least two hours of going through your choreography and technique on your own. Otherwise instead of progressing further, you will end up revising things over and over again and wasting time.
  • It is good to take coaching lessons with other teachers as well as your own. If you are an amateur follower, attending the occasional lesson with a lady would be very beneficial.
  • Make sure you arrive at your lessons early and warm up properly with some basic exercises.
  • Stay 15min after the lesson to make notes and stretch.
  • Film your teacher dancing your steps – visual learning is also very effective.
  • Give your teacher feedback. If something feels uncomfortable or confusing – it needs to be fixed or changed. The only stupid question is the one you didn’t ask.
  • Dancing is a physical activity. Beside the technique, your fitness level plays a big role in how you execute the moves. Invest time into taking ballet or yoga classes and pay an occasional visit to the gym or maybe even take a bike ride now and again instead of using the tube. It would be good for your lifestyle in general.

Now let’s talk about something more exciting – finding your style! By this, I mean the dance style, dress style, hair style and even make up style that suits YOU. We are all different and can’t (and should not) all look like Yulia Zagoruchenko. It certainly doesn’t mean that you cannot, for example, enjoy fast Latin dancing in older age or carrying some extra weight. It’s up to the skill of the teacher to recognise what figures and intensity of the choreography would suit a particular student.

Never be scared to try something new! If you like the elegance of Ballroom and its music, but prefer the freedom and the expressiveness of Latin, maybe Smooth would be a good option for you.

Something that might have enticed you into dancing in the first place was having the excuse to wear extravagant dresses or an elegant tail suit is. Again, not everything suits everyone. Buying a dress from a 25 year old champion will,sadly, not guarantee you a first place. It is important to invest the time and money into finding the design that suits YOU! What colour you decide also plays an important role. For example, fluorescent orange can look very differently on different skin tones.

Nowadays all major Pro-Am events offer professional services for hair and make-up, which is really worth doing, especially if you are new to competitions. However, it can be expensive and you can learn to do it yourself, but whatever you choose, think of those photos later! Sometimes it’s worth the money to be stress free and look fabulous on the day.

You should feel a ‘million dollars’ in your dress and make up, and be confident and comfortable with every step of your routine.

Remember: Sometimes less is more!

The final and, I think, the most important aspect is the attitude. Spending a lot of time surrounded by professional dancers, students often catch ‘the competitive bug’ and often start chasing the winning title, thus forgetting why they entered the doors of the dance studio in the first place. In the beginning it was most likely it was to have fun and socialise with interesting people – not to stress out if ‘Jonathan is competing with Susan in the same category and you might take 4th place instead of 3rd’.

This brings me to the main point of this article: ‘Set your priorities right’. For a professional dancer a title is their career – it’s an equivalent of a university degree for them. For a Pro-Am student there is no such pressure – you really are here for the ‘fun of it’. Or so you thought when you decided to do it in the first place. It definitely doesn’t mean you cannot or should not take it seriously, but what it does mean is: it should NOT create stress in your life. It’s really the skill of the teacher to be able to create an optimal environment and program for their student to develop without causing unnecessary pressure. Professionals are also humans though and often get over excited and competitive.

Choosing the right competition and the right category is also important. There is no point striving for open Silver level if you only have been dancing for 3 months. Fancy steps might be exciting to learn, but it’s really getting the basics right that is essential for smooth progress. Bad habits will be very difficult to ‘unlearn’.

Don’t compete against other couples in your heat – you cannot control how they dance. Instead, compete against yourself and compare how you were last month or last year – that would be the true reflection of your progress. 

The less pressure you put on yourself, the better you will dance and the more you will enjoy the process.

To conclude, my wish is that you all to enjoy the beautiful art and sport that Ballroom dancing is. Cherish every moment you spend on the dance floor, every comment the teacher gives you, every glimpse of the spotlight during a competition or a show. And don’t worry if you win or lose – you are already a winner just by having this opportunity.

Yours Viktoriya

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