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Southeastern DanceSport Championships

Location: Crowne Plaza Atlanta Perimeter at Ravinia 4355 Ashford Dunwoody Rd  Dunwoody, GA 30346  1-770-395-7700

Spectator's Guide


Guide to Competitive Ballroom Dancing for the Spectator

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. 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.

 Dance Styles

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.

Theatre Arts

A group  competitive event where two or more couples dance simultaneously in  competition with each other to a piece of music selected annually by USA  DanceSport. Each couple is judged and ranked in comparison to the other  couples. At least fifty percent of the routine must consist of  recognizable dance figures. Lifts are required and no props may be used.


A  solo event in which only one couple dances on the floor at a time, with  an interpretive routine choreographed to music, which they supply.  Couples are judged and ranked in comparison with other couples in the  same competitive category. Lifts are required and props may be used.


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.

Sometimes  a competition will offer other events such as a team match, where  multiple couples each dance one dance and the winning team is based on  the combined score of all couples on each team. In a “Jack and Jill”  competition, male and female dancers get randomly paired with someone  other than their regular partner, which challenges their lead and follow  skills.

Proficiency Levels

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 Bronze  Syllabus level and work their way up through 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 on this website  http://usabda.org/dancesport_competitors/syllabus/index.cfm

 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. USA Dance rules permit couples  competing in Bronze, Silver, and/or Gold to enter Novice events as well.

 Age Classification

USA  Dance competitions offer nine (9) age classifications. 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.

 Age Classification Description

Age Classification Description    (See the link to the USA Dance Rulebook for the current rules.)
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 greater       One 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 greater      One 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 greater       One 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 greater       One 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.
Senior  V      75th or greater        One partner must have reached his or her  75th birthday or more in the calendar year and the other partner must  have reached his or her 70th birthday or more in the calendar year.

Not all age classifications are offered at each competition.

 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). See the Age Classification  Mountain on the last page of this document for more information.


The  judges, or adjudicators, at the USA Dance National DanceSport  Championships are certified by various licensing agencies. They are also  experienced competitors and instructors.

 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. At the USA Dance National DanceSport Championships, at least  five adjudicators are employed for the Syllabus events. Seven or more  adjudicators will judge the Open Level events.

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.

Audience Participation

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.

 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 40 x 64 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

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!

 Skating System: 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.

 All  events at the USA Dance DanceSport Championships 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.

Ranking Couples in an Individual Dance

 Here is an example analysis of a final round danced by six couples (A through F) officiated by nine judges.

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.

 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 (1x2 + 2x3 + 2x4) but only 14 for Couple C (2x2  + 2x3+ 1x4), 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.

 Winning a Final Round

 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.

 The judges’  score sheets are posted in the ballroom 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.



Term  Definition

Age Classification Junior, Youth, Adult, Senior I, etc.

Call Back      You have received enough Judges marks to come back and dance in the next round.

Chairman of Judges          Oversees the judging panel.

Dance Style International Latin, International Standard, American Smooth, American Rhythm, Theater Arts, Cabaret, etc.

Deck  Captain / On-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 Class       Athlete, Mixed Proficiency, etc.

Frame – Closed      Body contact is maintained.

Frame – Open         Open or separate moves are used. There is little or no body contact.

Gender          Male or Female

Heat    When a round is too large to fit on the floor it can be separated into  heats. A quarter-final in normally danced in two heats, meaning 12  couples dance then the remaining 12 couples dance assuming 24 couples in  the quarter-final.

Judge Gives his/her opinion on your dancing and marks accordingly.

On-Deck  Area         Area 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 Am-Am            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 Pro-Am            A partnership where one partner is a professional and the other is an amateur.

Partnership Type Pro-Pro            A partnership where both partners are professional.

Proficiency Level   Bronze, Silver, Gold, Novice, Pre-Championship, Championship.

Registrar      Accepts and organizes the entries.

Registration Enters a couple in an event. Registration is not final until paid for.

Round            Final round, semi-final round, quarter-final round, 1st round, etc.

Scrutineer    A certified dance official who tabulates the judges marks from the competitive events.

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