Work-Life-Dance Balance – Chapter 3 – Competition Day and Backstage Etiquette

After hours of practice and planning, competition day has arrived and there are a few things to consider and/or keep in mind before you step on stage.  Your dance bag, change room and backstage etiquette are three important things to manage.

The Dance Bag

First thing to consider for any dance bag is being compact and organized.  You don’t know the space you’re going to have to change in, nor do you know how many people you are going to share a change room with, so keeping your bag compact and organized will help you share the change room space easier.  Bags with various pockets already built in them are handy but if you don’t have those then ziplock bags and/or other bags that can help you organize and/or categorize your gear will be useful.

  • Costume(s) – As discussed in the previous chapter the right costume for the style of dance you’re performing is important. If you budget and you’re lucky to get a costume custom made for you, then plan to get it as early as possible so you can practice in it. If you’re like me and take the chance at getting a costume the morning of the competition you take a risk of it not fitting quite right.  So, having a main costume and back up costume in your bag is really important. Another reason to have a backup costume is, if you have any last minute costume malfunctions, while getting dressed and/or you notice any defects and/or any last minute rips when you don’t have time to fix the costume. I got really lucky in many ways with my new costume: 1) My costume was a dress style and fit exceptionally well, even with it being a little loose around the hips, 2) the designer was attending the competition so and they were available to do quick sew to tighten my hips more, and; 3) although my arm sleeves were separate from my costume and a little larger than my arm’s diameter, I had my hair elastics that stretched enough on my arm that safety pins and double sided tape worked in a pinch to complete my costume.
  • Prop – Depending if you’re using a prop, make sure you have two of those as well.  For my competition piece I was entering with veil, so I made sure I had at least two veils with me.  This is especially important for silk veil users as I have found that each of my veils would absorb and/or act differently depending on the air in the dance space I’d  be performing, depending on its colour and pattern.
  • Makeup bag – Because you’re going to be sharing your change room with other competitors and most likely other show performers you want to keep your makeup bag organized with the essentials that you need for the performance and not more.
  • Safety pins and double sided tape – These are life savers when you need to tighten and/or secure your costume just a little bit more.  It’s always nice to have extra safety pins and a full roll of double sided tape as you never know when you see another dancer in need; we have all been there at least once or twice when we thought we packed everything to find out we actually didn’t.
  • Folding mirror – You can never know what kind of change room space you’re going to have so bringing a folding mirror that can stand on its own is handy and allows you some freedom in claiming a space to put your makeup on.
  • Costume cover up and shoes – Whether you’re performing and/or competing you need to cover up your costume if you’re going to be sitting in the audience and/or moving around where the audience will see you.  Shoes are recommended also, if you’re planning on wandering in the audience as it will keep your feet warm and clean of any debris that could cause issues (e.g. splinter, piece of glass etc.)
  • Hair primping items – Like your makeup bag, bring only the essentials you need for your hair prepping.  If you’re using a curling iron be aware of where you’re placing it so you’re not going to heat up someone else’s items on the change room tables.  Try unscented hair spray and spray in a space you’re not going to accidentally hit another dancer in the face with the spray. If you’re bringing headbands and/or bobby pins, always bring a backup headband and extra bobby pins.  Ziplock bags are handy for organizing the main and backup of small items.
  • Either on your phone, notebook or scrap of paper, have the address and contact details you need for the venue.  Knowing which entrance and who to report to when you arrive will help you worry about one less thing.
  • Bring a backup of your music on various forms of media!!!!  – Whether the organizers tell you or not, it’s always a good idea to bring a backup of your music.  If the organizers haven’t told you, ask and if they don’t get back to you, then bring a copy on a USB stick and/or CD.  Most theaters will work with either of those forms of media. Having it on your phone and iPod is okay but it’s not guaranteed to work with the sound system at the venue.  In my case, there was an error on the program and I was accidentally left off of the competition list. Luckily, I had received an email, informing the competitors that we should bring a backup on a USB stick.  After talking with the stage manager, I was asked if I had my music and I said yes and I got to perform at the end of the competition program.

Changing Room Etiquette

There are a few things to consider when you’re sharing the room with many other dancers, getting ready to perform

  • Not everyone is comfortable naked. – It’s great if you’re comfortable being naked and like to walk around naked but please keep in mind not everyone else may have the same level of comfort you feel, especially with strangers in the same room.  Please be modest in your state of nudity.
  • Doors should be opened carefully. – Often there will be no buffer wall that separates the change room from a hallway so open the door slowly to the change room so those getting changed are not flashing the hallway passerbys.  Also, you never know who might be getting ready behind the door. Giving a knock and peeking you head in to check if it’s safe to enter without causing a big disruption is appreciated.
  • Don’t be a mirror or table hog.  – Everyone needs a chance to get put on their makeup and do their hair and a mirror is needed for these things. However, minimize your footprint on the table in front of the mirror.  When you’re done using the mirror, pack up your makeup and hair stuff, as best as you can so other dancers can use the space.
  • Offer help when needed. – If someone asks and/or you see someone struggling with something, ask if they need any help. During the prep for the fashion show part of the second gala night, I noticed that the bra top of one of the dancers didn’t fit quite right.  I offer her double-sided tape to help with the issue. She was thankful because she didn’t have double-sided tape and the top had already been adjusted as best as it could; it was a custom costume made for her but she was asked to be part of the fashion show.
  • Don’t be insulted if not everyone is super friendly.  – Everyone has their rituals for getting ready and sometimes they are so focused that they may not socialize and acknowledge others right away.  Don’t take it personally, everyone deals with backstage and nerves differently.

Backstage Etiquette

Similarly to changing room etiquette, you are sharing space with other dancers.  However, in the backstage area, where you’re waiting to go on stage there are few additional things to consider.

  • Sound can travel through open spaces more quickly than a closed door change room.  Depending on the venue, you may not be able to talk at a normal sound level; definitely no yelling is allowed backstage. Most often, it’s best to keep your voice low.
  • Give space to practicing dancers. – If someone is doing a last minute practice and there is space for them to do so, let them.  You may get to use that space when they’re done.
  • Give space to dancers entering and exiting the stage.  – Depending on the stage entrance and exits may be limited.  Be aware of the path you travers on and off the stage. Give space for dancers waiting in the wings for their turn and especially give space for the dancer coming off the stage.
  • Leave your shoes and cover up off the traveled path. – If you’re wearing shoes and/or a cover up backstage then make sure they are put to the side before you wait in the wings to go on stage.
  • Be friendly and supportive. – If you’re up for a chat with some of the dancers backstage, who are also in the mood to chat, do so with friendliness and be supportive. This is usually naturally because you’re both backstage waiting to dance and, well, dance is just awesome ice breaker to get to know other people. I had the pleasure to chat with two other dancers waiting backstage the evening of my competition.  One dancer was from Mexico (Qadira) and was just performing, while the other dancer was from Japan (Nico) and competing. Both of them were lovely to talk to and happy to be there. We were supportive and encouraged each other to have fun and an amazing time on stage. I must thank these two ladies for being great companions backstage, as they made waiting until the end a much more enjoyable event than just feeling nervous and/or starting to overthink what I was going to be dancing.

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