Whether you’re attending your first convention or your 20th, spending a weekend in a crowded ballroom with hundreds of other dancers can be equal parts exciting, intimidating and overwhelming. Conventions are a chance to learn new styles, take classes from top teachers and network with the people who may someday hire you. So how do you take advantage of this opportunity and stand out from the crowd?
Dress the Part
Convention days are long, and you’re likely to transition from jazz to hip hop, then on to tap and ballet. You won’t have much time to change between classes, so your outfit should be one that’s comfortable and works for multiple disciplines.
Make sure to dress for the atmosphere you’ll be dancing in—which likely means a carpeted floor with sections of hardwood for the tap classes. “There are a lot of triangle-top bikinis happening that are not going to help you when you’re dancing on carpet,” says Jakob Karr, who assists at New York City Dance Alliance. Warm yourself up properly, make sure you’ve stretched, and don’t wear slippery socks if you’re doing contemporary on a hardwood floor. If you’ll be dancing on carpet, consider forgoing bare feet in favor of socks that’ll give you more freedom to turn. You want to look good, but make sure you’re able to perform at your best.
Be Smart About Space
Everyone seems to think standing front-row center is a must-do at conventions because you’re most likely to be spotted by the instructors. But no one likes—or wants to hire—a pushy dancer. Instead, try moving around the room. “I find that dancers who stay front and center the entire class don’t use their space well,” says NYCDA faculty member Joey Dowling-Fakhrieh. “Learn the combination in one spot, then change it up.”
When the instructor breaks dancers into small groups to perform the choreography, stick to your assigned group, and while you’re waiting for your turn, move all the way to the side so the dancers performing have enough room.
Yes, it’s crowded. No, you don’t want to whack your neighbor in the face with an overeager battement. Spatial awareness is absolutely necessary. Many instructors will keep this in mind with their choreography, but, if needed, move to another spot where you have more freedom. Consider learning the combination in the back, where there’s more space, then really go full-out when you’re broken into groups.
Resist the Selfie
The instructors’ convention schedules are just as jam-packed as yours, which means they probably don’t have time to pose for 100 photos after class. “We’re typically running from room to room,” says NUVO Dance Convention director Ray Leeper. “Photos with the instructor can be taken during a break or if you see the instructor outside of class. And a respectful ‘thank you’ at the end of class is always appropriate.” Feel free to say your name and where you dance, too; just keep it brief.
Focus on Presence
Dowling-Fakhrieh says the biggest mistake she sees dancers making at conventions is obsessing over whether or not the teacher is watching. “It’s uncomfortable for the teacher, and it makes it seem like you’re there for the wrong reasons,” she says. While validation is nice, make sure you have goals beyond getting noticed each weekend. “Talent and hard work speak for themselves,” says Dowling-Fakhrieh. “Think about what you really want out of the convention. Remember you’re there to get better—not to socialize or get onstage. If the teacher happens to pull you up there, great! But if not, work just as hard on the floor.”
Ultimately, your presence matters as much as your ability. “There are times during class when I’ll see a dancer so connected to what I’m saying—so present, so eager and so willing to work harder to be better,” says Leeper. “I’m most drawn to dancers whose conduct in class is respectful, no matter their age or ability level.”
Jakob Karr’s Key to Picking Up Choreography
At your studio, you have days, weeks or even months to pick up and master a piece of choreography. At conventions, you have an hour. But if you think you can’t pick up choreography quickly, you’re not necessarily doomed. “The key is to practice and watch dance constantly,” says Jakob Karr. “I watch so much dance online, and especially watch things I can’t do. Don’t stand up or try to learn what you’re seeing. Start by just watching it and observing it. Doing so will make you more comfortable in a convention class setting.”