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How to Prepare Your Child for a Dance Eisteddfod or Dance Competition

Good advanced planning and preparation can take a lot of stress out of entering and attending competitions, allowing you and your dance child to really enjoy the occasion and maybe be successful in terms of dancing to the best of one's ability. And, maybe even gaining a place amongst the winners.

How much time you have until the competition can help determine how many dances they enter, and what dance ability level they currently are at as opposed to what level they wish to perform at competition time is another important factor to consider. If you, your child and your dance teacher choose to do a three minute solo dance that is already well within your child's current technical and artistic abilities and is easy to learn, they may only need three or four rehearsals before the competition. But if they are hoping to dance a solo with sequences and moves that are beyond their current technical range, they will need time to break down and learn the steps. Plan and budget for 10-20 sessions over a longer period of time as well as regular opportunities to practise the new steps during regular dance classes.

Always try and choose a solo in the dance genre which your child enjoys the most and can do well. It is not practical to have a Hip Hop solo when they don't attend any regular Hip Hop classes. Neither is it a good idea to take a holiday or break from dance classes directly before the competition. Dance students need regular practise and it can be dangerous to perform after a holiday or break from classes when the muscles have not been trained or strengthened.

Performing only one solo can mean that all hopes are pinned on this one number, it could go wrong or your dancer might simply be having an off day and the disappointment can be huge. Consider planning the time to learn two or even more solos, this will mean more opportunity to perform and to get used to the stage, to become accustomed to the whole competitive atmosphere and have more chances at a successful outcome.

Try not to go overboard by entering your child into too many dances though. Sometimes one reads with horror the same name in competition programmes up to fifteen or more times. Too many dance numbers can soon become a stressful and unmanageable chore. An overtired dance student will become unsafe and mentally overwrought.

It is a sad fact that EVERY competition season many dance students suffer burn out syndrome through too many rehearsals. They suffer stress fractures, injuries or simply turn away from dance. These promising and talented students would most likely have become wonderful professional dancers if they hadn't been pushed beyond their physical and mental limits with too many competition dances at a young age. Remember that in most professional dance companies, the adult dancers are looked after extremely well and are never pushed to the extremes of performing. Dance students are still growing, have very little technical ability compared to professional dancers, and yet are sometimes misguidedly expected to dance for far too many hours to justify someone's ego at competition time.

Once you decide which dances and how many, if necessary, organise a choreographer, dance teacher or student to choreograph the numbers and plan enough time and sessions with that person to learn and then master the technical and artistic demands.

From the onset of rehearsals, make sure the music is the correct length or arrange to have it properly cut. Have a copy on your child's iPod or phone so that they can familiarise themselves with the music as soon as possible.

Be careful of trying to become the teacher, leave this up to the professionals - your child will thank you if you keep well out of the way at the studio.

At the end of each practise session, ask if you can film what has been learnt so that your child can watch this and practise at home and make sure they always watch it before their next session. Once the dance has been perfected, get a good copy to watch when you arrive at the competition.

Costuming is better discussed and planned sooner rather than later, as special costumes can often take a long time to be made or delivered and students need to practise a couple of times in costume before the big day. Having the correct dance shoes is a MUST! Plan on buying some spares if they are wearing pointe shoes, leaving enough time for ordering and delivery if their size is unavailable. Remember how easily tights get laddered or dirty. Buy extra pairs when you see them on offer.

Plan the days before the competition carefully. Make sure your child is eating the right foods and drinking enough water and not taking too many or too few dance classes. Sleep is so important, and parties or sleep overs should be avoided, if possible.

Well before the competition day, make a check list of all the items you will need - costumes, props, music CD's and/or iPods, hair and make up, including spare shoes and tights, etc. Be sure to include healthy food and snacks and plenty of water.

Packing the dance bag together with your dancer, and checking everything off the list is a must, whether they are six or sixteen years old.

Make sure your travel plans and accommodations, if needed, are settled well in advance. Try and accompany your child, if possible, as dance competitions can be stressful and overwhelming, but also a wonderful shared time. Check out the route and any travel problems beforehand.

Aim to arrive at the competition venue at least 90 minutes before they are due to perform. This gives them time to check out the stage, size, placing, flooring, auditorium, judge seating, and where they can 'SPOT' their pirouettes. They need to find a dressing room or area, warm up, stretch and condition their muscles, get into costume and make-up, and go through their dances.

Don't forget you may have to register your child and hand over their music well before they perform and many competitions run early as well as overtime with dancers failing to turn up or being added at the last minute. Programmes can change vastly on the day of performance. Don't waste time watching other performers, checking out the dance stalls or eating tempting fast food. Save this for AFTER the dances.

Some relaxation techniques might be needed for the more nervous student. Try getting them to visualise doing the dance or watch your rehearsal recordings. Don't let them sit with other hyper or nervous kids and talk or get giggly.

There are some excellent techniques for calming nerves, so do some research beforehand. Remind them that they have been beautifully prepared and they are here to enjoy themselves and do their best. Simply keeping quiet and concentrated is always the best way to approach any performance.

The rule should always be No Warm Up - No Competition. Warming up can be very calming and help with focus, as well as being essential for dance safety. They should have their dance number, as well as favourite or calming music on headphones for them to listen to.

Make sure your dancer gets backstage with the right amount of time before their number is called - about four solo dancers beforehand is plenty. Advise them against watching other dancers from the wings but spend their time finding the right wing to enter the stage from and then keeping their muscles warm as well as mentally preparing.

Consider reminding your child to compliment other dancers, show theatre manners and respect to everyone front and backstage. They are an ambassador for their dance school and teacher. Also, discuss well beforehand about the art of graciously winning and losing, and let them know that some dance students might not have the correct manners or attitude of a professional dancer. It is best to ignore bad behaviour from others backstage.

Please remind them that the judge's decision is only one person's opinion on one day. Have fun and be prepared for anything and everything!

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