Over the past year, I've been developing a theory of competition. This theory is largely inspired by analyzing top competitors' winning performances and my own experiences both as a judge and as a competitor. This theory applies only to finals and especially to spotlights—prelims are a whole different ballgame.
Contrary to what you might think, competition is not about being the "best overall dancer." To understand why, we have to think about the competition from the judge's perspective.
Many judges keep notes via some kind of point balance—that is, some variation on little +'s and -'s for when you do something awesome or less awesome. Different judges will give you positive or negative points for different things and they may or may not be correlated to the given criteria.
Though you can get negative points at any time, there are only a few places you can get positive points (most notably often at the end of phrases). If you're very good, you can find more places to get positive points, but they're still relatively isolated moments.
During those positive point opportunities, you basically get multiplier bonuses for being collaborative, musical, or creative. The judges and the audience want to see you and your partner working together to perfectly express the music and the moment.
The couple with the highest score at the end wins.
So how do you do this?
1. Listen to blues music obsessively. It helps if you know all the songs they're likely to play in the competition. Even if you don't have anything choreographed to it, knowing the song will help your musicality immensely. Even if you don't know the song, having listened to a bunch of blues music will help you understand the tropes you're likely to hear.
2. Keep it simple. Use repetition and variation to your advantage and don't forget your blues vernacular! This will help give you brain space to think about what the music's going to do and how you can create scoring opportunities.
3. Contrast. If you want your big moments to be big, they need to be contrasted by smaller, simpler moments all around them. If you want your subtle moments to be noticeable, they need to be offset by stillness in the rest of your body.
So just remember, you don't have to be great all the time. You just have to be good all the time and incredible a few times. No problem, right?
by Paul Mandel