In my social dance circles, I often have dancers approach me for recommendations on new opportunities to grow. A very common scenario is that they are looking for a new challenge, but want to be flexible in the amount of time and resources they will need to commit. The same happens with local school directors looking for opportunities for their students to participate and get more out of our local Congress-style events. Because they offer maximum flexibility, along with the full benefit of taking part in a competitive experience, I always recommend they try heats!
For a personal example, let’s rewind back to late 2017. A friend I really enjoyed dancing socially with was interested in working together specifically on cha cha. We both had busy schedules, and a limited budget to put toward extra training, so we decided that entering the “Just Cha Cha” heat division together at the next local Salsa Congress worked perfectly to work together toward! We met to practice over the next few months using patterns from workshops, she borrowed a show costume from a friend, and the following March we competed together for the first time, which was a very rewarding experience for us both!
WHAT ARE COMPETITIVE HEATS?
Some may be wondering what “heats” are. First of all, this article is written from a perspective within the salsa dance world. Each dance style will structure their competitive events differently, such as “Jack and Jill” competitions in the zouk or kizomba scenes, so be sure to check their respective opportunities to find a good fit to challenge yourself no matter which genre you’re into!
A heated competition (also called “Just (Dance))” is essentially a social dance competition. As opposed to a competitive Showcase, where you prepare choreography to a chosen cut of music ahead of time, a heat has all couples in a category share the floor and dance to a randomly selected song at the same time, just like at a social. The DJ will generally play for 1.5 minutes, allowing judges to grade each couple based on their ability to connect with each other, and display timing, musicality and creativity to the music played. For primarily social dancers, this allows the opportunity to use a skill set they already have, while enjoying the challenge of dancing their very best during a shorter allotted time.
While not being offered at every event, many large salsa congress-style events (along with smaller ones) have begun to include this opportunity as part of their competition schedule, so be sure to check and plan your scheduled events ahead of time if this is something you’d like to try! Along with a great new challenge, there are a number of benefits that can be enjoyed for dancers who participate:
1. HEATS OFFER OPPORTUNITY FOR EVERY LEVEL
While Showcase divisions typically group every couple or soloist in a given category, heated divisions for Amateur dancers are divided into multiple level and age categories. This means that new students who have just completed their first group class may compete in a Newcomer or Novice division that is separate from more seasoned dancers in Intermediate or Advanced categories. Dancers are also able to enter two different levels to get extra experience on the competitive floor and challenge more than one division in the same dance.
Professional dancers have their own division of heats, which are always great to watch, and Amateur dancers may enter heats together, or hire a professional instructor or guest artist to dance with them in a Pro-Am competition, so there are always lots of opportunities!
2. YOU CAN DO AS MUCH OR LITTLE AS YOU CHOOSE
Again contrasting preparing a competitive showcase (which I’d always heartily recommend), which requires significant time put into preparation, a competitive heat just requires a social dance skill set. On top of dancing together at socials, a partnership may choose to spend some extra time in the studio practicing on their own, book lessons with a coach together, or take a competitive “boot camp” type courses for prospective competitors offered by certain dance schools.
Like all competitions, entry fees are charged per heat, which tend to be a fraction of the cost of entering a showcase division, but can still add up if you decide to dance multiple times. Amateur partnerships can split these fees, or an Amateur dancing in a Pro-Am division may hire a Professional partner on top of covering the entry for each division entered, so there is plenty of flexibility depending on how much you’d like to budget toward this experience.
If you are deciding who to dance with, entering a heat may be done by an existing competitive couple, a fellow performance team member, a friend from a group class, or you can find a partner to enter an event with as a one-time challenge with no extended commitment required. One of my personal favorite highlights when attending an event without a regular competitive partner available has been to try out heats with someone new from a different city!
3. COMPETITORS ARE ELIGIBLE FOR BENEFITS LIKE PERFORMERS
This will especially apply to social dancers who may not be part of an existing performance team, since every performer knows the benefit of having a special performer pass rate to attend a full event! Regardless of team status, registered competitors are often eligible for a special pass rate as well, either at the same or a similar price as performers. Be sure to check requirements ahead of time, since some events may require a minimum number of entries to be eligible for the discounted rate, while others may offer a competitors’ rate once dancers register for a single heat.
With all that being said, I’ve found heats a rewarding and challenging experience as a social dancer, since it takes your current social dancing skill set but pushes you to dance it at your very best! The flexibility of commitment and training opportunity, along with the benefits of being a competitor at an event make them a great fit for social dancers to participate at all levels. Whether you are a student or instructor, be sure to check the events you’re planning to attend this next season for this opportunity, should it be a challenge you’d like to try!