Competing Pro-Am: 100% Worth It

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Recently there’s been a lot of controversy in the salsa scene around the cost of competition, especially around pro-am competitions, where the student (am) pays to compete with the professional dancer (pro).

While competing pro-am can be pricey, it’s given me opportunities I otherwise wouldn’t have had, especially a beginner. When I first started dancing no one would practice with me––and I begged and pleaded! Doing a pro-am meant that I had an instant partner, who would not only practice, but also perform with me (the fact that he wasn’t going to blame me or yell at me during practices was a bonus).

My first pro-am competition with Luis Aguilar at the 2014 San Francisco Salsa Congress

I was happy to pay my professional partner. Heck, I would have even happily paid him more money if he had had more time to give me lessons, and at the time I was living in an expensive city with an entry level salary and money was very, very tight. But I wanted to dance more than I wanted anything else, and I was willing to do anything to continue to improve.

Each time I went out on the dance floor and competed, I gained a huge sense of accomplishment. Even when I didn’t win. I carried that back into the studio, and it encouraged me to practice harder than before. It also gave me the confidence I needed to believe in myself when I struggled with new material, and it fueled me to keep going during those times my goals felt unreachable.

Competing pro-am gave also me opportunities to perform with a partner, as opposed to with a team, that are still largely nonexistent for beginning, amateur dancers, even though there are more student teams and performance classes than there were a few years ago.

Brielle Friedman Salsa Competition

With Luis Santiago, after placing 1st in pro-am heated divisions in the Poconos this past April

Without teammates to fall back on I had to rely on myself to keep up the energy during the show, especially if something went wrong and we missed a connection, or a trick ended too early or too late. It was also up to me to connect with the audience, to give myself fully and completely to the performance, to execute each movement full out. Knowing that made me dance better than I had before, better than I thought I was capable of doing at the time. These opportunities were invaluable to my growth as a performer, and they translated to the social floor as well, giving me the confidence to ask people I didn’t know to dance, to try out new shines during a song, and as such I enjoyed going out social dancing more.

Over the past four years, competing pro-am has also helped me build a network of support within the latin dance world. If you know me IRL, you’d probably say I’m talkative and full of energy, but I’m actually pretty introverted and can be really quiet if I don’t know you that well, or am surrounded by a big group of people.

Like any industry or community, the salsa / bachata / kizomba / zouk scene can feel intimidating and overwhelming when you’re new (and if you don’t think it’s that way, it’s because you don’t remember what it feels like not to be part of it).

Competing allowed me to form strong relationships with my instructors and coaches, and get to know other amateur dancers in a smaller, more intimate setting than workshops or classes provide. We bonded sitting in the ballroom, waiting for our division to be called. We saw each other at the next competition. We became friends. And suddenly the salsa world felt like I place I belonged too.

1st Place Pro-Am Salsa with Christian Taborda at the 2016 Canada Salsa Congress

As an amateur competitor, I hope professionals encourage their students to compete. Not only because competition provides an unparalleled opportunity to improve (and better dancers translates to a richer, fuller social scene for both amateurs and professionals), but also because when you really want to dance, like really, really want to dance, getting the chance to perform on stage without a team is an incredible experience, and competing adds a whole other dimension to that experience. It feels like the best gift in the entire world.

 

I’d love to hear what other amateur dancers in the scene feel about competition. Have you competed? What was your experience like?

 

9 Comments

  • David Aubry says:

    Hi Brielle, l had the priviledge of seeing you perform in Montreal last May. You were amazing, certainly have made a lot of progress since your beginner days. I agree with you, competing pro-am has many benefits. It’s a great way to learn from the best. Hope to see you again in another salsa convention. Au revoir

    • That’s such a nice compliment, David–thank you! It really means so much. I’ll be in Montreal again next year, and Toronto in October. If you’re there, please say hi 🙂 and thanks for reading!

  • LeeAnn says:

    I couldn’t agree more with everything you said! Especially the instant partner that does not judge you but encourages your growth. Although I haven’t competed in a few years the experience was like no other. Triumphs and tribulations all add up to growth as a dancer and a person. I do not regret a single dollar spent on lessons, travel, shoes, entry fees, stones or costumes!!

  • Abbey Plotkin says:

    I just got around to reading your article. I enjoyed it very much and it gives a nice perpspective from the amateur point of view. YEARS ago I worked at the desk of a Fred Astaire. It was LONG before there were Salsa competitions and there was a BIG divide between ballroom dancers and Salsa dancers. It gave me a NEW respect for ballroom dancers when I saw how hard they trained and how PRECISE they were in their choreography. NOW there is LOTS of cross training between Salsa & ballroom people which is great! But I always did think it was a ripoff to the student that they were paying so much to the pro. But now with your article, I am glad to see the other side and how much it can mean to the student to not only improve their dancing ability but also their dance experience even in the social scene. Thanks for a well-written, thoughtful “other side of the coin.”

    • Thank you Abbey! I’m so glad you enjoyed reading it and that it was able to shed some light on the other perspective. You’re not the first one to express that it can seem like a ripoff to the student––that was one of the original reasons why I wanted to write the piece. It is hard to understand just how beneficial competition is because of the cost associated around it, but really it is so, so worth it! And, when compared to other industries, like personal training, health coaches, executive coaches, therapists, etc. competition prices or pro-am prices are pretty similar. When I look at it that way, it’s strange to me that as a society we pretty much have accepted that if we want to get in shape or feel better or be a better employee, we’re okay with paying money for it. A good dance coach does all of those things in some way, and yet it’s hard for us to be comfortable with spending that kind of money on ‘dance’ because it’s a creative pursuit, which for the most part is not valued in society the way other industries are. Maybe that’s a topic for another article…
      See you out dancing soon Abbey! Thanks again for reading!

      • Abbey Plotkin says:

        An even BETTER way to explain it to knuckleheads like me who didn’t get it before, Brielle!!! You’re RIGHT! It DEF is akin to a personal trainer, therapist, life coach or any number of other professions we, (society) value more highly, even our school teachers are not paid enough for molding the minds of our children so I guess it only follows that DANCE teachers… Well, I’m REALLY glad you opened my eyes! Thank you.

  • Kathryn Johanessen says:

    Great article! It really touched on a lot of the reasons that I started doing pro- am competitions. It is hard to explain to people who don’t compete. I have definitely grown as a dancer and person through challenging myself in competitions.

    • Thanks for reading Kathryn! I’m so glad that it resonated. I’ve also found it hard to explain why I compete to my friends who don’t… that was one of the things that first inspired me to write the piece. Here’s to continuing to challenge ourselves and grow through dance 🍾

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