Guide to Competitive Ballroom Dancing for the Spectator and Competitor (2022)

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If you are new to DanceSport competitions, welcome to the energetic world of DanceSport! We’re thrilled to see you here! The following brief explanation can help you distinguish among the events you are watching or dancing. A dance competition allows dancers to demonstrate their skills and compare themselves with the other dancers. A typical ballroom competition consists of events in various Dance Styles, Proficiency Levels and Age Classifications.

Ballroom dance competitions are run in two main styles of dancing: International and American. International dances are taught and danced around the world. American Style is unique to the United States although it is danced in many other countries and is gaining in popularity. There are additional sub-categories of dance styles, as described below.

International Style

Standard dances include Waltz, Tango, Viennese Waltz, Foxtrot and Quickstep. This is a classic style of dancing where couples remain in ‘closed hold’ (man’s raised left hand holds woman’s right hand; man’s right hand on woman’s left shoulder blade, bodies touching). The style is characterized by sweeping movement, emotions, body flight, control and precision. International Standard is danced in elegant attire –men frequently wear tail suits or similar evening attire while the ladies wear long full skirts or ball gowns.

Latin dances include Cha Cha, Samba, Rumba, Paso Doble and Jive. Inspired by Latin-American music and traditional dances, the International Latin is rhythmic and energetic. The dances are highly stylized, and feature fast, precise footwork as well as undulating body rhythms. Clothing for this style is more ‘costume’ than for the Standard, and is usually more revealing for both ladies and gentlemen.

American Style

Smooth dances include Waltz, Tango, Foxtrot and Viennese Waltz. Dancers in this style are permitted to let go of each other and dance in positions other than the ‘closed hold’ of International Standard. A quick description of American Smooth often refers to “Fred & Ginger.”

Rhythm dances include Cha-cha, Rumba, Swing, Bolero and Mambo. Often considered to be more ‘street-based’ than the International Latin, American Rhythm is danced to slightly different rhythms with an earthier interpretation than the Latin.


There are additional events that exist outside of both International and American styles, and which may be offered at any competition. Often referred to as Nightclub Dances, they include West Coast Swing, Night Club Two Step, Hustle, Salsa, Meringue, Argentine Tango, etc.

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The term proficiency level is used to describe the expertise with which a given couple performs – a combination of their training, competition experience, and natural talent. In each dance style, couples generally begin at the Newcomer level and work their way up through Syllabus levelsBronze, Silver and Gold. Each Syllabus is a list of clearly defined dance figures. Couples competing in a given Syllabus are not allowed to perform figures of a higher proficiency level, although couples competing in Silver or Gold usually incorporate some Bronze figures into their routines. You can see the allowed figures for the Bronze, Silver, and Gold Syllaus levelson the USA Dancewebsite.

Beyond syllabus, there are three open levels, namely Novice, Pre-Championship, and Championship. At the open levels, couples are not restricted to Syllabus figures, and generally combine Syllabus figures with original, non-syllabus choreography. Couples move upward from one level to the next as their proficiency and experience enable them to compare favorably with more advanced dancers. As a general rule, athletes may participate in a maximum of two proficiency levels and they must be consecutive.

USA Dance competitions may offer up to nine (9) age classifications. Not all age classifications are offered at each competition. These divisions allow all ages of dancers to compete fairly by dancing against couples in their own age group as well as skill level.

Your age classification is based upon your birth-year not the month or day of your birthday. For example, if you are turning 12 this year, you are eligible to dance at the Junior I classification, even if your birthday has not actually occurred yet, and are also ineligible to dance in the Pre-Teen II classification or younger. Pre-Teen I through Youth may dance up one age category and only one age category. So if a couple is eligible for Junior I they can also dance Junior II, however, they may not dance Youth or Adult.

Pre-Teen I 9th or less
Pre-Teen II 10th or 11th
Junior I 12th or 13th
Junior II 14th or 15th
Youth 16th, 17th or 18th
Under 21 16th to 20th
Adult 19th or greater
Senior I 35th or greaterOne partner must have reached his or her 35th birthday or more in the calendar year and the other partner must have reached his or her 30th birthday or more in the calendar year.
Senior II 45th or greaterOne partner must have reached his or her 45th birthday or more in the calendar year and the other partner must have reached his or her 40th birthday or more in the calendar year.
Senior III 55th or greaterOne partner must have reached his or her 55th birthday or more in the calendar year and the other partner must have reached his or her 50th birthday or more in the calendar year.
Senior IV 65th or greaterOne partner must have reached his or her 65th birthday or more in the calendar year and the other partner must have reached his or her 60th birthday or more in the calendar year.

Competitors may enter two consecutive age classifications but both partners must be eligible for those age levels. For example, if one member of the couple is 40 (and thus eligible to compete in Senior I) and the other is 50 (eligible to dance in the Senior II category), the couple can dance only Senior I and Adult – not Senior II (the younger member of the couple is not old enough to compete in Senior II).

The judges, or adjudicators are experienced competitors and instructors and in some cases are certified by various licensing agencies.

Judging is both an objective and subjective process. Couples are judged on their technical skill, their interpretation of each dance, and their showmanship. In addition, each adjudicator has his or her own personal standards. For this reason, several adjudicators will judge each event to ensure fairness.

Depending on the number of entries, competitors may be required to compete in a series of elimination rounds (1st round, 2nd round, quarter-final and semi-final) until six couples are recalled for the final round by the judges. These six couples will be ranked First through Sixth. A Final may be run with as many as eight couples.

Many people attending their first ballroom competition expect to find the audience sitting in serene dignity, delicately applauding at the completion of each dance. Instead, the spectators are yelling, cheering, jumping up and down, and generally carrying on the way they would at any other spectator sport.

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Ballroom dancers thrive on audience appreciation. Even if you don’t know the first thing about ballroom dancing, you still have an important role to play at a competition. Audience participation is not only allowed, it is encouraged and welcomed. If the audience is too quiet, the emcee will usually persuade them to shout out the numbers of their favorite couples.

Remember: the more you cheer, the better they dance! If this is your first ballroom competition, you may wonder what the appropriate ways are to show your support for the dancers as they compete on the floor.

Be Loud!

The dance floor is big (typically 48 x 80 feet) and the music is heavily amplified. For your expressions of encouragement to overcome such noise and distance, you will need to be loud. Shouting, whistling and foot stomping are great ways to show your support!

Be Specific!

Let your favorite dancers know you are cheering them on! If you know their names, shout them out. Better still, shout out their numbers (displayed on the gentlemen’s back). They may not acknowledge your call, but they will hear it and it will inspire them – especially near the end of their Heat when they are exhausted!

Be Generous!

Remember that everyone out there is giving it everything they’ve got. Don’t limit your support to the hottest dancers or the ones you may know. Root for all the dancers who are giving it their best, whether you know them or not. Enjoy seeing their faces light up with surprise when they get a cheer from you that they weren’t expecting.

Hoot and Holler, Whistle and Scream

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Competitive ballroom dancing is an artistic sport, and the dancers need to impress the judges. But they are also keenly aware of the audience, and often go out of their way to impress you, too. Much of their choreography is performed at the edges of the floor for the specific purpose of capturing your attention. So don’t be bashful! Hoot and holler, whistle and scream! The more you give, the more they give.

Play “Judge” During the Competition

You are invited to play “judge” during the competition and see if you agree with the judges results.

Congratulations! Like millions of DanceSport spectators around the world, you’re now “in the know” about how to show your support and add to the excitement of this unique and artistic sporting event!

Age ClassificationJunior, Youth, Adult, Senior I, etc.
Call BackYou have received enough Judges’ marks to come back and dance in the next round.
Chairman of JudgesOversees the judging panel.
Dance StyleInternational Latin, International Standard, American Smooth, American Rhythm, Theater Arts, Cabaret, etc.
On-Deck Captain
/ Deck Captain
Located in the “on deck” area and “checks in” competitors so that a final tally of the number of competitors may be accomplished prior to walking on the floor. Directs competitors onto the dance floor.
Eligibility ClassAthlete, Mixed Proficiency, etc.
Frame – ClosedBody contact is maintained.
Frame – OpenOpen or separate moves are used. There is little or no body contact.
GenderMale or Female
HeatWhen a round is too large to fit on the floor it can be separated into heats. A quarter-final is normally danced in two heats, meaning 12 couples dance then the remaining 12 couples dance assuming 24 couples in the quarter-final.
JudgeGives his/her opinion on your dancing and marks accordingly.
On-Deck AreaArea just outside the ballroom floor where the couples check-in with the On Deck Captain, and line up in the order that they’ll walk on to the floor for their event.
Partnership Type
A partnership where both partners are amateur.
Partnership Type
Mixed Proficiency
A partnership where both partners are amateur and one is of a lower proficiency level than the other. The lower proficiency dancer is the only one judged.
Partnership Type
A partnership where one partner is a professional and the other is an amateur. Kansas City Dance Classic is an amateur-only competition.
Partnership Type
A partnership where both partners are professional. Kansas City Dance Classic is an amateur-only competition.
Proficiency LevelNewcomer, Bronze, Silver, Gold, Novice, Pre-Championship, Championship.
RegistrarAccepts and organizes the entries.
RegistrationEnters a couple in an event. Registration is not final until paid for.
RoundFinal round, semi-final round, quarter-final round, 1st round, etc.
ScrutineerA dance official who tabulates the judges’ marks from the competitive events.

How the Dancers are Scored and Placed

The Official Board of Ballroom Dancing adopted the Skating system of marking on January 1, 1947. It consists of 11 rules, which determine the winner and subsequent places in the Final of a dance competition.

Mostevents at the USA Dancesportcompetitions are multi-dance rounds. The Bronze International Latin events, for example, consist of Cha Cha and Rumba. Silver American Smooth events consist of Waltz, Tango, and Foxtrot. Championship International Standard consists of Waltz, Tango, Viennese Waltz, Foxtrot, and quickstep. If only six couples are entered in a given event, they are ranked 1st through 6th place in each dance. The couple with the most 1st place marks is the overall winner. The couple with the next highest number of 1st and 2nd place marks will place second, and so on. If there are more than six couples entered, the final six are selected through a series of quarter-final and/or semi-final elimination rounds. In each round, each judge selects, or “calls back” 50% of the couples. Those couples receiving the highest quantity of callbacks are invited back to dance again in the next round. This process continues until the event is narrowed down to approximately six couples to dance in the Final round.

The following is an overview of the skating system and is not meant to be used for a complete understanding of the skating system.

Here is an example analysis of a final round danced by six couples (A through F) officiated by nine judges.Guide to Competitive Ballroom Dancing for the Spectator and Competitor (1)

The winner of an individual dance is the couple placed 1st by an absolute majority of the judges (five of the nine judges is the majority in this example). According to the placements table, Couple F with seven 1st places is the obvious winner of this dance.

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To determine second place, we look for a couple with the majority of second places or better. Couple D, with six, is clearly second.

For third place, we search the placement table for a couple with a majority of third places or better. Since none of the remaining couples has the required majority, we now have to include the next lower place, in this instance fourth place.

Looking for the third and fourth place Couples, we find that Couple A and Couple C have an equal majority of Fourth or better placements. To figure their placements, we multiply the number of marks in each place by the place number (1st through 4th), and add these numbers. The Couple with the lower total is awarded third place, while fourth place goes to the Couple with the higher total. Since the total for Couple A is 16 (1×2 + 2×3 + 2×4) but only 14 for Couple C (2×2 + 2×3+ 1×4), the third place position goes to Couple C, and the fourth place to Couple A.

The two remaining couples have a majority of fifth or better placements: Couple B, with six and Couple E, with seven. Therefore, fifth place goes to Couple E, who has the large majority, and sixth place goes to Couple B.

When all couples have been placed in each of the individual dances that make up the final round, the judges’ marks are transferred to a table of Final Results. Here is an example of the tally for a final round of Championship American Smooth (Waltz, Tango, Foxtrot, Viennese Waltz).

The place marks awarded in the individual dances are added, and the couple with the lowest total score (i.e., the highest number of 1st places) is the winner. In this example, Couple A has scored two 1st places and two 2nd places, giving them a total of 6. Couple D has scored one 1st place, two 2nd places and one 3rd place, giving them a total of 8. First place would go to Couple A, and second place would go to Couple D.

There is a tie for third place. Couples B and C both total 14 and both have placed third or better in two dances. However, the total of these third or better placings for Couple C is 4 (1 + 3), compared to the total of 6 (3 + 3) for Couple B. Therefore, Couple C is awarded third place, and fourth place goes to Couple B.

Couple E has scored one 4th place, two 5th places and one 6th place, giving them a total of 20. Couple F has scored one 4th place and three 6th places, giving them a total of 22. Fifth place would go to Couple E, and sixth place would go to Couple F.

If two couples that are tied for a given place should win the same number of dances, both couples’ placings over all the dances would be treated in the manner described above for an individual dance. This is known as a Rule 11 decision. In our example, with nine judges and four dances, the required majority would be 19. If neither couple had that majority for a given place, then placements at the next lower level would be brought into calculations, and so on. The two remaining couples, E and F, have total scores of 21. Both have been placed fifth and better in two dances with an equal total of 9, so Rule 11 must be used to decide fifth and sixth places.

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The judges’ score sheets are posted soon after the marks are tallied. This enables competitors in the quarter-final and semi-final rounds to see how many call backs they received, and it enables finalists to see how they were ranked in each dance. This information can be used by a couple to discover their strengths and weaknesses, and to tailor their training program accordingly.


What is the highest level in competitive ballroom dancing? ›

Levels in Competitive Ballroom Dancing
  • Newcomer / Pre-Bronze.
  • Beginner / Bronze.
  • Intermediate / Silver.
  • Advanced / Gold.
  • Novice.
  • Pre-Champ.
  • Champ.

What is the main characteristic of social and ballroom dance? ›

Ballroom dancing is a partnership dance where couples, using step-patterns, move rhythmically, expressing the characteristics of music. Ballroom dancing consists of two styles: the Smooth, or Standard, and the Rhythm, or Latin. The Smooth, Standard style focuses on the elegance, grace and fluidity of movement.

Why is leadership important in ballroom dancing? ›

The leader keeps time and suggests, through his/her lead, the figures that will be executed in a dance. That means the leader has the job of maintaining the rhythm, knowing the figures of a dance, and deciding what figures are going to be followed, in addition to actually leading them.

What do you wear to a ballroom dance competition as a spectator? ›

International Standard is danced in elegant attire –men frequently wear tail suits or similar evening attire while the ladies wear long full skirts or ball gowns. Latin dances include Cha Cha, Samba, Rumba, Paso Doble and Jive.

What are the benefits of ballroom dancing? ›

Ballroom dance can decrease blood pressure and cholesterol, improve cardiovascular health, strengthen weight-bearing bones, help prevent or slow bone loss related to osteoporosis, lower the risks of obesity and Type 2 Diabetes, and promote increased lung capacity.

What do ballroom judges look for? ›

Couples are judged on their technical skill, interpretation, and showmanship. Competitors might be asked to compete in a series of elimination rounds until six couples remain for the final round. POSTURE – Good posture gives a look of elegance and present confidence.

What are the 2 classification of ballroom dance? ›

There are two main schools of ballroom dance: the American style, and the International style, each with its own types of dances and competitions.

How can I be a better ballroom dancer? ›

Try these tips and watch your Ballroom dancing skyrocket!
  1. Practice - don't just rehearse.
  2. Take medal classes.
  3. Take as many private dance lessons as you can afford.
  4. Find a dance partner.
  5. Compete in Dancesport.
  6. Listen to what your teacher asks.
  7. Challenge yourself.
  8. Social dance.
8 Aug 2018

What is the most important thing to be considered in performing social dances? ›

The most important skill for good social dancing is Leading and Following. This is the non-verbal communication from the leader to the follower indicating the direction, timing, and style, among other things.

How does ballroom dancing help your well being and confidence? ›

Research has found that ballroom dancing improves mental acuity throughout a dancer's life – and that there are also substantial benefits to those who start ballroom dance as adults. Ballroom dancing can help enhance memory, alertness, awareness, focus, and concentration.

What are the other benefits or importance in dancing? ›

better coordination, agility and flexibility. improved balance and spatial awareness. increased physical confidence. improved mental functioning.

Which of the following skills in ballroom is the most essential? ›

The most essential ingredient for ballroom and latin dancing is, without question, leading and following. This ranks higher than arm styling, hip motion, and yes, even spray tanning. The real trick, is understanding how to get your body to acquire it.

How ballroom dancing can change your lives explain? ›

Dance allows people to be more active, socialize and develop creative and physical skills. Just a few of the benefits increased exercise dancing can give you are; reduced stress levels, improved relaxation, stronger bones & muscles, weight control and a healthier brain!

What do you wear to a dance competition audience? ›

You can wear jeans with a shirt and jacket, or you can wear pants and a polo shirt. You will be comfortable in anything that is casual appropriate. You will still make your performer feel as though this is a special occasion, but you will be comfortable and fit in with the audience.

What do you think is the best color to wear on a ballroom dance show why? ›

A classic long black ballroom gown is always a safe bet. Everyone looks stunning in black, and the men are often also wearing black, so you can create a nice visual partnership by wearing black as well. Beautiful and provocative shorter gowns are also worn for several types of ballroom dancing.

What do you wear to a dance competition? ›

Any colour leotard (preferably black), ballet pink tights, pointe shoes, and ballet skirt if the dancer chooses.
Contemporary / Lyrical / Musical Theatre:
  • Students may wear any dance clothing in these classes. ...
  • Shoes: ...
  • Hair must be off the face in any style of the dancer's choosing during class.

Why is it important to study and learn Ballroom dancing? ›

It helps develop self-confidence and self-discipline improving harmony between our mind and body, giving us a sense of well-being. “Movement and dance are extremely expressive, which can allow you to escape and let loose,” Tylicki said.

What values can you learn in performing ballroom dance? ›

5 Life Lessons You Learn From Dancing
  • Determination. No one was born knowing how to high kick or plié. You got there by practicing. ...
  • Teamwork. You know the importance of a team that's in sync. ...
  • Talent. Even if dancing is your strongest talent (or even if it isn't), don't forget you have others, too.

What is the most difficult ballroom dance? ›

Viennese Waltz

It is considered by most to be one of the most difficult dances to learn. The simple and elegant rotational movement characterizes the Viennese waltz. It's up to four times faster than the regular, or slow, waltz, and the steps are slightly different.

What are the 3 styles of ballroom dancing? ›

Today, there are three main styles of Tango, the American ballroom style, the International ballroom style, and the Argentine style. Both American and International style travel around the ballroom following the line of dance.

What is the difference between competitive and recreational ballroom dancing? ›

Recreational students can choose 1 or more styles of dance to learn. Competitive students must learn all the core dances, but have the option of adding additional disciplines like hip hop and musical theatre.

What is DanceSport competition? ›

What is DanceSport? DanceSport, competitive ballroom dancing, is basically couples assembled on a dance floor being compared with other couples by qualified judges, on relative performance and execution using a defined and recognized set of standards. USA Dance competitors are called DanceSport Athletes.


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