Ready, Set, Nationals!

Dancers perform at New York City Dance Alliance Nationals in NYC (PROPIX/NYCDA)

The week leading up to Nationals can be nerve-racking. You’re about to perform in front of an audience of peers from across the country—not to mention that panel of industry-expert judges! So how can you make sure you’re ready to compete, without psyching yourself out? DS spoke to three competition veterans to get their week-before-Nationals advice.

IN THE STUDIO

Don’t skip class. “Being in class prior to competing is the key to performing your best,” says Jenna Johnson, a high school senior who trains at Center Stage Performing Arts Studio in Orem, UT, and has won numerous titles in ballroom and jazz, including Teen BreakOut Artist at NUVO in 2010. “At competition, you want the technique to come naturally.”

Go over—and over—your routines. Know your choreography inside and out. Sixteen-year-old Shannon Corcoran, who trains at Melissa Hoffman Dance Center in Hudson, NH, schedules private lessons prior to Nationals to run her solo. She also zeroes in on her lyrical number’s emotions. “I listen to the song until I understand the storyline and can convey the emotion,” she says. “I’m not just doing the steps.”

Rehearse your brain. Mental rehearsal can be just as valuable as physical rehearsal—and it’s less exhausting. High school senior Niki Kesling, who has competed with Southern Strutt in Irmo, SC, since age 4, watches her dance videos before Nationals. “Watching yourself on video is so different from seeing yourself in the mirror,” she says. “Plus, you have the judges’ critiques from past competitions.” Jenna’s Nationals prep includes listening to her music at home and going through each routine in her head so it becomes second nature.

BODY BASICS

Fuel with food. Jenna recommends eating fruits and vegetables before competition to get the nutrients your body needs to perform. Shannon adds, “You don’t want a lot of sugary foods, because you’ll crash at Nationals. Sugar can also make you feel shaky and off-balance.” A proper diet includes hydration—drink plenty of water in the week before competition.

Shannon Corcoran and Jessica Falconer at NYCDA Nationals

Rest up. “When you’re rehearsing all day, you have to make sure you get enough sleep at night,” Niki says. Shannon adds, “Go to bed at a reasonable time so you aren’t tired the next day.”

Listen to your body. Are you feeling achy or tired? Your body is telling you something. Take a warm bath. Get a massage. Ice. Take ibuprofen. Sneak in a catnap. “Make sure you’re taking care of what’s going to be performing onstage,” Jenna says.

PACKING PREP

Make a checklist. Before Nationals, Jenna goes through each routine and writes down every item she’ll need, from costume pieces to shoes to hair products and accessories. Then, she packs based on that detailed list. Don’t forget must-haves like a first-aid kit, safety pins, super glue and warm-up gear.

Use your carry-on. If you’re flying to Nationals, the last thing you want is to have your costumes, makeup or dance shoes lost in transit. Stick items you can’t live without in your carry-on bags.

Bring extras of everything. Pack your own extras, or designate one dancer or mom to be in charge of extra tights, leotards and accessories for the group. As Niki points out, “If someone forgets something, you’ll be prepared.” Shannon adds, “Even if you dance barefoot, bring dance shoes because you never know what the floor will be like.”

MENTAL MAGIC

Trust your training. “Walking into competition, you see so many intimidating dancers,” Niki says. “But if you’re prepared to do your best, you’ll be confident. If you’ve been practicing, you’re ready.”

Think positively. “Negativity will stress you out more,” Jenna says. “I try to remember that I will have off days. Some days I won’t hit my turns or feel stretched, but I need to keep my chin up and prepare for the next day.”

Remember why you dance. Chances are, it’s not strictly to win titles. “Don’t let the competition get to your head,” Shannon says. “You’re there because you love performing.”

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