Bradford Whelan Photography-35

Photo Credit: Bradford Whelan

Ding! That’s the sound of the registration receipt for your first West Coast Swing competition hitting your inbox. Congratulations!

…..Now what?


What’s the next step? How does one prepare? As daunting as your first competition sounds, Wandering Westie wants to calm those nerves and give you some practical tips to make the comp process easier and less stressful so you can enjoy dancing!

Should You Compete?

The answer is yes! Competition can be a great education, not only about dancing, but larger components of West Coast Swing, such as performance skills and competition etiquette, not to mention the challenge to better your dancing. Beginners have the choice to start in either Newcomer or Novice divisions: to determine what division is right for you, contact your go-to instructor/coach.

Competition Registration

Most events today have online registration via their website. They’ll ask you which division you’ll be entering, and the role you want to compete in (i.e. Newcomer leader). Most events also require the purchase of a weekend pass to compete. You’ll pay a registration fee ranging from $15 to $25. You can also register in person at the event up until registration cut off, which is usually one hour before the division you compete in starts.

Competition Apparel

I covered this topic extensively in my Welcome Wagon packing post, however here are some additional things to keep in mind about what you’re wearing.

    • Shoes: This is a topic with a lot of opinions, simply because competition footwear has vastly changed within the past few years. For ladies, Sway’d boots have become massively popular throughout all levels of dancers. However, some instructors still prefer black or nude dance sandals, especially for Newcomer and Novice divisions. For gentlemen, dance shoes are still the norm, but some gentlemen are finding sneakers or high tops (like Jordans: by Jordan Frisbee and Tatiana Mollmann) more comfortable and are having them sueded. The WCS community also went through a Toms phase not too long ago. The bottom line about selecting footwear for competition is to make sure it’s not hindering your leg articulation.
  • Ladies: Flowy tops are great with both slacks or leggings, but make sure they’re not baggy. Baggy tops can hide aspects you want to show off to your judges like isolations or good compression on patterns like tuck turns when you wind through your hips and torso. You can perform the “spin-test” to see how well a top moves when you dance. If there’s too much excess material floating around when you turn, it’s probably best not to wear that blouse.
  • In regards to jewelry, you want to avoid bulky and heavy jewelry. There’s a chance you yourself might get tangled up in it! Things like dangly necklaces could hit your partner and dangly earrings could catch and get ripped out. Some earrings may fly out of your ears during spins so make sure they’re secure. It’s best to keep it light, or not wear jewelry at all.
    • In a similar vein, it’s generally best to wear your hair down or loose so that you’re not smacking your lead every time you turn. Especially long braids or ponytails can become whips of mass destruction–be considerate of how your hairstyle will affect your partner!
  • Gentlemen: Be mindful of things such as watches and buttons that can catch on the follow’s clothing or hair while doing certain patterns. Also, it’s best not to have things free-hanging: ties should be pinned so that they don’t smack your partner.

All About The Bibs

Like runners in a marathon, you’ll be assigned a bib number so judges can identify you. You’ll receive your bib at the registration desk at the event. Make sure you grab enough safety pins to ensure your bib stays in place. Followers, you’ll pin this over your bottom on the lower portion of your blouse or to the waistband of your pants, and leaders you’ll pin your bib on your upper back. Please do this before you get to the staging area (the areas where competitors line up in numerical order), so that way the floor moms (event staff who manage check in and make sure competitors are present to compete) have an easier time checking you in.

Check In

Arrive in the ballroom at least 15 minutes before you compete in order to get adequate warm-up time. Then, immediately go to the staging area when your division is called. A lot of competitions can be delayed simply by people not being on-time to check in! Listen to the MC call for the staging of your division, and the area’s in which it’s being held. In addition to being on time, if you plan to scratch (not compete) please let a floor mom know at that time, so they have all the competitors accounted for.

Universal Pro Tips Before Comps!

  • Hygiene is your friend! Listen, I’ve talked about this before, but I cannot tell you how important it is to have good hygiene for comps! No one wants to be known as the dancer with foul B.O. or really bad breath. Keep mints/gum on hand (make sure you spit out gum before you compete!), and always always ALWAYS wear deodorant before you dance, social or competition! Your partners will thank you!
  • I (DON’T) wanna see you sweat! Sweat happens… or is it sh*t happens? Regardless, West Coast Swing is an active sport, and as such we dancers can sweat a lot. If you anticipate that you’ll be sweaty during your practice time before comps, warm up in a different shirt from your competition shirt. Remember, being presentable is something the judges take into consideration! So don’t sweat it! 😉
  • Bathroom/Water break! – Go to the bathroom and drink your water, before your division begins. Hydrating is always a good idea, and will keep you from having dry/cotton mouth while competing.
  • Check the Photo/Video Policies: Getting video of your competition is a great resource for you and your coach! However, every event has different photo/video rules and regulations. Check on the website, or just ask a member of the event staff if you can film certain rounds (99% of the time final rounds can’t be filmed, because they have a professional videography staff). Event photographers and videographers will be around, and you can purchase high quality competition photos/videos online or at their booth. 🙂


In the first Welcome Wagon post, I gave a brief overview of how comps are conducted. Some things to keep in mind when you are competing.

  • You spin my head right round! – ROUNDS!  Comps usually consist of three rounds – preliminary rounds, semi-final round, and final round. Everyone competes in preliminaries. Semis will happen if there is a large amount of competitors, and the judges need to narrow the field of competitors before finals.
  • ROTATE! For each heat you’ll usually be given three songs – most likely consisting of blues, slow and fast (not in that particular order). In prelims and semis, you will rotate partners. Listen to the MC for the direction of the rotation, as well as the number of partners you are rotating. The MC is an important guide while you’re competing so please pay attention! In finals you will rotate once at the beginning and end up with that partner for your three songs (or jam/spotlight song–see this post for more info).
  • ALWAYS spread positive energy to all other competitors: West Coast Swing is unique because of our encouraging dance community. Make sure to high five other competitors when you line up/rotate, and make an effort to learn the names of each of your partners. Everyone’s nervous as it is, and showing a little bit of kindness can go a long way.
  • NEVER try a trick you don’t know: Trying out new things can be fun while social dancing, but in a competition setting, you never want to run the risk of hurting your partner. This doesn’t apply to just the leaders. Followers, if he hasn’t learned how to properly support your weight in a dip or if he can’t follow through with your self-lead drop, you are not only putting yourself in harm’s way but possibly your partner too.
  • NEVER give critiques while on the comp floor: Gary Jobst mentioned not teaching on the social floor (which I’m a huge supporter of!) in his first Pondering Westie post. This applies to the competition floor as well. Competition is supposed to be fun and exciting, and no one wants to hear they did something incorrectly — especially if they didn’t ask for it. Compliments are encouraged!
  • ALWAYS have fun! Don’t over-stress about comps! It takes courage and guts to put yourself out on the floor for people to watch. Give yourself credit that you’ve already passed a milestone by choosing to be a competitive West Coast Swing dancer.  If you have fun, your partner will too. 


Breathe: Take a breath! You just competed in your first competition! Go you! No matter the results, remember that the point is to have fun and enjoy the process. So relax. Take a moment to soak it in.

Make sure to stay in or close to the ballroom, because there might be a surplus of leads or followers and you could be called up in another heat (group of competitors). Plus they could also decide to announce the semi-finalists/finalists instead of posting a roster, so stay close by!

I want that feedback! Feedback, OH!  If you are curious as to why you did or did not make it to the next round, it’s generally accepted to consult a judge from your heat. Take note of who was judging and wait for an opportunity to ask them. Typically some of the judges will be assigned to judge leads, and others will be assigned to the follows. Always be respectful and open to what they have to say. Their goal is to help YOU out, so listen with a polite ear. 🙂

Placements: For most WCS competitions, results are given in relative placements. In preliminary rounds, judges only decide if a dancer moves onto the next round. No placements are given. Then, in finals, all judges rank the dancer 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and so on. See this site for more information (including examples) on relative placement.

If the event is a WSDC member registry event, you can earn points if you placed in the top 5 couples in finals. The number of points awarded depends on the number of competitors. What’s also cool is that there are often sponsorships for the prizes in the divisions! This can range from money (everyone’s favorite!) to dance shoes to event passes. The point is, it’s encouragement to better your dancing and advance your skills! Even if you don’t place or make finals, that doesn’t mean you should stop competing. You only learn with each experience. 🙂

Don’t Let Comps Rain On Your Parade! Listen, sometimes comp results can be super awesome, and sometimes they aren’t what you expected. A coach once told me, “You can’t let your competition dance define who you are as a dancer.” Keep in mind that there will be many opportunities to compete and many more chances to dance.

Alright, now go dance your heart out! Join me next week as I talk about my favorite part about convention life: LATE NIGHT! For the Wandering Westie blog, I’m Stephanie Pham. Keep dancing!


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