The Complete Guide to Ballroom Dance Competitions

Congratulations, you’re going to Dance-O-Rama! All of the Arthur Murray hosted ballroom dance competitions are the largest, most popular, and by far the most exquisite. It will be a memorable time for you if you are prepared, and know what to expect.

 Preparing for Dance-O-Rama’s

You have been preparing for DOR by taking lessons and practicing your moves and technique. But there are several other things you should do to prepare for this event.

Arthur Murray Thousand Oaks - save the date

Schedule Appointments

  1. Manicure and pedicure
  2. Brow shaping and other hair removal
  3. Competition hair and makeup stylists (unless you are planning to do this yourself)
  4. Spray tan

Spray tans are recommended for anyone who doesn’t already have a dark tan or dark skin tone. Otherwise, the bright lights of the competition floor can wash you out. Schedule your appointment for as close to the day of competition as possible, but not on the same day. Spray tans need to ‘set’ for about 8 hours prior to bathing. Wear very loose clothing to your appointment – ideally something that hangs from your shoulders and away from the body. Anything fitted could leave you with marks or an uneven tan.

Arthur Murray Thousand Oaks - dance competition emergency survival kit

Assemble an ‘Emergency Kit’

  1. Band-Aids – various sizes
  2. Safety pins – various sizes
  3. Fashion tape – special two-sided tape
  4. Anti-static spray
  5. Deodorant stain remover pad
  6. Tide stain removal pen
  7. Sewing kit
  8. Medical ointment

With the exception of the fashion tape, all of these items can be found at a drug store. Fashion tape is available at Victoria’s Secret and some beauty supply shops.

If you want to add to your emergency kit, take a look at “60 Items Every Dancer Should Own

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luggage full and ready to travel

Plan for (and pack) the following:

  • Competition outfit and shoes- Smooth, Rhythm, and Solo
  • Cocktail attire for the non-competition evenings
  • Costume for themed costume dinner
  • Formal wear for Saturday night dinner
  • Casual outfit for Sunday breakfast
  • Something comfortable to wear in-between long breaks in heats

Of course, if you are not participating in one or more of the events, you won’t need to plan for it. Make a packing list to ensure you don’t forget anything, including accessories, such as jewelry and fishnets.

Note: Jeans are not allowed in the ballroom

What You Need to Know

When you arrive to the event you will be given a schedule for each day and a heat sheet of all of your dances. Depending on the event you may also be given a full program. It is your responsibility to keep track of your own heats.

Competitors in the Newcomer classification are not allowed to wear costumes, so if you are dancing in both Newcomer and Associate Bronze heats, you should wear what is appropriate for a Newcomer if the heats are too close together to allow for changing.

It is your responsibility to be in the ‘on deck’ area and ready for your heat when it is called. Heats have been known to run ahead of schedule, so be in the ballroom at least 20 minutes prior to your heats and line up in the ‘on deck’ area 1-2 heats prior to your own. Don’t rely on the times listed in the program.

Your instructor may be dancing in the heat just before yours, so you will need to check in with the On Deck Captain and walk onto the correct floor for your heat and wait for him or her. This means you need to know your instructor’s number (if male), the dance, and which floor to start on.

Videographers will be available to record any heats you request. These recordings are great for reviewing with your instructors and maintaining a record of your progress. A sign-up sheet will be made available. Typically, you will not have the opportunity to review the recordings prior to purchase. There may be photographers taking random, candid pictures during the competition, so dance like every move will be photographed. It may end up on Facebook. These are great keepsakes for later years. So even if you don’t think you’ll want them now, you will want them for later.

Competition days start very early and end very late. Breakfast is provided every morning, but lunch is only provided at some of the competitions. Do not rely solely upon snacks to sustain you between breakfast and dinner, you will need real food to keep your energy up. Water is provided, so drink plenty of it to stay hydrated.

Arthur Murray Thousand Oaks - big floor comp


The Competition


Solos are performed either the day before the competition starts or early in the morning the day of Open competition. Pay close attention to when your solo is scheduled.

Closed Competition

Closed Competition means that you can only dance patterns in the syllabus related to your dance level (e.g. Associate Bronze). Every competitor in each heat will receive a bronze, silver, or gold medal. More information about how these are awarded will be provided in the program.

All-Around Competition

This is a very exciting type of competition. It is a Closed Category competition, but what makes it unique is, you will not know what dances you will be doing until you are on the floor and ready to go. This competition is available to all levels of dancers. If you are participating in the Newcomer or Associate Bronze category you will do 1 Smooth (Waltz, Foxtrot or Tango) & 1 Rhythm (Cha Cha, Rumba, or Swing) dance. If you are participating the Full Bronze category you will do 2 Smooth (Waltz, Foxtrot or Tango) & 2 Rhythm (Cha Cha, Rumba, or Swing) dances. If you are participating in the Associate Silver or above categories you will do 2 Smooth (Waltz, Foxtrot, Tango or Viennese Waltz) & 2 Rhythm (Cha Cha, Rumba, Swing, Bolero or Mambo) dances. This competition is a perfect stepping stone for those students looking to eventually participate in scholarship – the crème de la crème for amateur dancers.

If you are competing in All Around, it is recommended that you bring your competition dress with you and place it in the changing room before dinner (there is no need to wear it to dinner). An announcement will be made when it is time to change.

Open Competition

Open Competition means there are no restrictions with respect to which patterns you dance. Some students will dance fully choreographed routines that loop, some will dance a short opening followed by school figures and variations, and others will just dance their school figures and variations. In each heat, a first, second, and a third place medal are awarded. All others in the heat receive a finalist medal.


Scholarship is a Pro-Am competition where the Teacher/Student couple is judged as a partnership. Scholarship is open to students who are Associate Silver and/or higher. Your scholarship routine is unrestricted and can include open choreography along with school figures and variations. This category is enticing to students because the couples who place in the top three are awarded scholarship prize money to be used in their home studio.

Professional Competition

The professional competitions usually take place on the last day or evening of the event, and are certainly not something you want to miss! The dinner is spectacular and the decorations are amazing. Formal attire is expected. The finals of the professional competition will take place after dinner. Awards for Top Students and Top Solos in each category will be given throughout the night between rounds of the professional competition.

Video recordings are not allowed during the professional competition or during any exhibition performances by professionals. The professionals have a lot of time and money invested in their choreography and it should be treated as copy righted material.

Sunday Morning

This is a very special breakfast. All the competitors and instructors gather at the same time, review the past few days, and share successes. Also, the photos that have been taken over the past few days will be available and everyone has fun looking at them. After breakfast, we check out of the hotel and head home.

But the most important thing to remember – Live, Love, Dance, and Enjoy!

-Christy Melgoza

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