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Going Solo: What It Takes to Compete in an Amateur Solo Competition

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You’re backstage waiting nervously in a tight, sparkly costume. There’s glitter and makeup everywhere. Nearby someone is frantically spraying half a can of hairspray onto their locks, while someone else is shuffling their feet, headphones in ears, eyes closed.

You breathe deeply as your name is called and step out onto the floor. Alone. Just you, the crowd and five pairs of eyes intently watching everything you do for the next two minutes.

Whether you’re a new dancer wanting to take your dancing to the next level, or a more experienced one looking to really challenge yourself, competitions are a great way to improve your technique and learn a whole heap of new moves.

But deciding to compete as a solo competitor, particularly as an amateur, can be a scary prospect.

For one, you won’t have the support and camaraderie of performing with a team. And you need to be really self-motivated and willing to push yourself to train, even when you don’t feel like it.

But it can also be an incredibly rewarding experience, as I found out when I recently spoke with Helen Wilson. Helen competed in the Amateur Salsa Female Solo Division at the Australian Salsa Open in her first solo competition.

So what motivated you to enter a solo competition?

I saw it as a challenge – as a way to push myself. I’d competed previously [in the 2012 Victoria Bachata competition as part of an amateur team] and I knew how much my dancing had improved as a result.

Doing a solo also meant that I wouldn’t have to find a partner who was willing to train as hard as me.

Let’s talk about what was involved in putting the routine together.

I chose my own song. I basically got onto Spotify and listened to lots of salsa songs. I was looking for songs that I liked, something that was upbeat and had some good musicality and lots of hits. I focused on songs by artists that we’d previously used for choreographies, so I knew that their type of music would be appropriate.

Then I just got it down to a shortlist and chose a song I liked.

And were you involved in putting together the choreography? For example, were there moves that you wanted to put in?

No, I had no interest in being involved in the choreography. It’s just not my strength. So I asked Angela McCristal [of Infinity Dance Company] to put the choreography together.

It was great having her choreograph the routine because she put in moves that would challenge me, but that also played to my strengths. So for example, she took out a body movement I couldn’t get and put in something that I was good that.

I knew from day one that with Angela choreographing my routine that it would be a good routine. I really like her routines – both the ones she performs and the one’s that I’ve performed as part of her teams. They’re very energetic and dynamic, and quite different in terms of the choreography, and there’s lots of musicality. It’s not just about doing the moves, it’s about looking like you are actually performing.

How long have you been preparing for the competition?

Well I’d already decided in January that I would compete in the solo division at the ASOs, and I had been preparing the routine since then. The choreography was completely finished by mid-April, but with some little changes made along the way up until the competition. Then it was just been process of improving it.

Going into it, did you have an expectation of how much training would be involved?

Not really, but I knew that I would be willing to put in as much training as I needed to. I’d expected that I’d probably have to do at least one private and two of my own training sessions each week to begin with, then build it up as the competition got closer. I never really felt like I was putting more training than I wanted to or expected to.

Then at the beginning of April I injured my hand, and the first thing I thought was that it would mean I wouldn’t be able to do my solo. Luckily I was still able to train, but I wasn’t allowed to go to the gym and I had quite a few hospital visits so it put a bit of pressure on my training.

So for the three weeks leading up to the Victorian competition, I was training every day when I wasn’t working [Helen works day/night shifts]. I also booked out studio space nearly everyday, because the routine takes up a lot of space and is quite fast paced and so I needed a lot of space to practice.

It’s obviously quite expensive doing something like this, particularly because it’s a solo so you can’t split the cost with anyone. But I see it as a bit of an investment in my dancing.

Okay let’s talk about your costume. I absolutely love it. How did you come up with the design?

So I got on Pinterest and saw a few costumes that I liked in terms of the top, and the pouffy skirt. I went to the fabric store and found some fabric I liked and the embellishments to go with it and then Trinh [of Trinh Pham Costumes] put the whole thing together for me.

And finally, what’s been the biggest challenge?

The music is quite fast paced and the choreography is quite difficult and I’ve felt that it has really pushed me in terms of my abilities. Also the routine is On2 so it was a challenge learning that.

So do you feel you’ve improved?

Definitely. For one thing, dancing On2 has become more natural and I also feel like I pick up new moves and technique a lot quicker.

I’m also hoping it will make me more confident and that I’ll get used to dancing in front of people by myself, so I’ll become more confident performing in general.

Congratulations to Helen for having the courage to step out onto the dance floor as a solo competitor.

Have you ever considered doing a solo dance competition?