Convention 101

Nick Bass teaches a convention class at Adrenaline Nationals (Brian Guilliaux)

You’ve heard all the reasons dance conventions are beneficial: They’ll give you access to choreographers who may hire you in the future, and introduce you to other inspiring dancers. But for convention novices, all that potential for greatness can come with a lot of pressure and intimidation.

Fear not, first-timers! We’ve got you covered. These tips will help you walk through the convention center doors like a seasoned pro.

Q: What should I wear?

A: Choose a formfitting outfit that shows off your lines, is comfy enough for a long day of dancing and makes you feel confident. In most convention rooms, you’ll see dancers of all ages rocking crop tops and booty shorts. But don’t let the abundance of bare midriffs scare you—showing off your personality and talent is more important than showing skin.

Before you pick your perfect outfit, check the convention website to see if there’s a dress code. Jeremy Keeton, director of Adrenaline Convention, recommends packing a leotard and tights in case there’s a ballet class or audition. Many dancers also choose to layer up with sweatpants or hoodies during hip-hop classes.

Once you’ve found your outfit for the day, stick with it. “Faculty members sometimes refer to dancers as ‘the girl with the pigtails,’ ‘the guy with the bright orange tank’ or ‘the dancer with the bright leggings’ when discussing dancers who stand out in class,” says Pam Chancey, executive director of The PULSE On Tour.

You’ll likely be dancing on carpet in the convention center, so plan your footwear accordingly. Some dancers wear socks instead of shoes for jazz and contemporary classes—just don’t go with bare feet, since the carpet can cause floor burn.

Q: Should I warm up before the first class?

A: Conventions usually start the day with an official warm-up, but most dancers and teachers still recommend working out the unique kinks in your body beforehand. “I give myself a warm-up that’s like what we do in class at my own studio,” says Ashley Green, 14, who dances at Columbia City Jazz in Columbia, SC. Not only does that prepare her body for the intense day ahead, but doing familiar movements also helps her get comfortable in the new classroom.

Q: Where should I stand in the room?

A: Find a spot where you can see the teacher and the teacher can see you. Teachers often stand on a raised stage at the front of the room, and some conventions, like The PULSE, have video screens next to the stage for better views of the instructor. Regardless of where you start, most teachers will ask the class to change lines occasionally so everyone has a chance to see the choreography up close.

Chancey recommends waiting to stand front and center until you have a handle on the choreography. “Keep in mind that some dancers travel to many cities,” she says. “They may have already learned the routine.” But Timaree Alt, director of O!vation Convention, adds that it’s important not to hide, even if you’re not comfortable with the choreography. “If you stand in the back where you can’t see, you’re not learning the movement from the instructor—you’re just following the dancers in front of you,” she says.

If you’re nervous, standing with friends can be comforting—but it’s only helpful if you can focus. Olivia Sinopoli, 17, from Joanne Chapman School of Dance in Brampton, Ontario, prefers to stand on her own so she can concentrate—even though she’s often in the same class as her sister.

Senior dancers in class at Adrenaline Nationals (Brian Guilliaux)

Q: What are the classes like?  

A: Class structure varies by convention and dance style, but most classes include learning a combination and then performing it in groups. Some classes, like ballet, focus on technique and may include across-the-floor exercises. Occasionally teachers might include a mini warm-up at the beginning of class, but many jump straight into choreography, so stay warm between classes.

Q: What if the choreographer teaches faster than I can learn?

A: Convention classes move quickly. But here’s a secret: Teachers usually throw a lot at you at the beginning of class so you have more time to practice and perform it through the rest of class. So even if you missed something the first time, odds are later you’ll be able to practice it over and over.

Q: When should I mark the choreography, and when should I dance full-out?

A: That depends on how much space you have in the room. If you can safely dance full-out through the whole class without hitting anyone near you, go for it. But if the floor is crowded, you might need to hold back your movements while you’re learning the combination. (Emotion and performance quality can still be full-out.) When you break up into groups, pick a spot with plenty of room and attack the combination full-force.

Q: Should I take every class or just choose my favorites?

A: Try every class, especially if you’ve never studied that style before. Today’s dance world is all about versatility, and what better way to learn new styles than straight from the choreographers who are famous for them? It also makes sense financially to take every class, since when you register you pay for all your level’s classes.

Q: What’s the best way to approach a choreographer?

A: The best time is right after class, when your class performance is still fresh in the choreographer’s mind. You can ask for a picture with the teacher and thank him or her. Be sincere but brief.

Q: How can I make a good impression on a choreographer?

A: According to Alt, having a great attitude is just as important as nailing a triple turn-aerial-layout. At O!vation, one young dancer in particular has won a scholarship every time she has attended. “She’s not the best technical dancer in the world, and she doesn’t always know the choreography perfectly,” Alt says. “But she enthusiastically answers the questions the teachers ask, and she’s always smiling and cheering on dancers in other groups. In my opinion, that’s the best way to stand out.”

And according to Keeton, convention teachers notice more dancers than you might think. “A lot of the teachers remember these kids in every city and end up building relationships with them,” he says. Just think: This weekend’s convention teacher could be hiring you in a few years!

Q: What’s the deal with scholarships?

A: At most conventions, there’s a separate scholarship audition at some point during the weekend. Participation isn’t mandatory, but you should consider going for it—you have nothing to lose! You’ll be asked to demonstrate your technique and might learn a combination to perform for the judges. Then, if you’re lucky, you could snag a scholarship to pay for your next convention or Nationals!

Cute outfit + big smile? Check! (Connie Seastedt)

Convention Etiquette Dos & Don’ts

DO give yourself pep talks to stay confident. “To keep it positive, tell yourself, ‘I may not be as good as this person, but I sure can show them what I can do,’ ” says Ashley Green, who dances at Columbia City Jazz in Columbia, SC.

DO do everything you can to show respect for the teacher and the dancers around you. Smile, make eye contact with the teacher, answer his or her questions enthusiastically and cheer for other dancers. Use your body language to show that you’re hardworking, easy to work with and fun to be around.

DO try to absorb every detail the teacher gives and adapt to his or her style. Then, when the teacher asks for your own style, go for it!

DO ask questions about the choreographer’s style, confusing sections in the choreography or whether the class can switch lines so dancers in the back can come closer.

DO turn off your cell phone, push your dance bag under a chair around the edges of the room and pick up all your food and trash before you leave.

DO kick your spatial awareness into high gear, and apologize if you accidentally graze a dancer near you.

DO be smart about sharing the spotlight. Stand where teachers can see you, but remember to let other dancers take the front row sometimes. Choreographers appreciate a generous dancer who knows when to give her comrades a chance to shine.

DON’T be afraid to call the convention beforehand to ask any questions that aren’t addressed on the website or in your information packet.

DON’T be intimidated by the number of dancers in your class.

Photo by Jayme Thornton

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