Competitive Ballroom Dancing
A Guide for Newcomers

Even though Star of the North Ballroom Dance Critique Event isn’t a competitive event, it is modeled after dance competitions. One of the reasons North Ballroom Dance Critique Event is such a great event is that it gives dancers a safe space to practice in a competition-like setting and receive valuable critiques without actually being judged and ranked. Think of it as a dress rehearsal for the real deal.

With that in mind, here is some basic information to get you started on understanding the world of competitive ballroom dancing.


Ballroom dancing is a competitive sport with specific rules, structures, and judging criteria. A typical ballroom competition consists of events in various dance styles, age groups, and skill levels.

Dance Styles

The following dance styles are featured at most DanceSport Competitions:

American Rhythm
  • Cha Cha
  • Rumba
  • Swing
  • Bolero
  • Mambo
American Smooth
  • Waltz
  • Tango
  • Foxtrot
  • Viennese Waltz
International Latin
  • Cha Cha
  • Samba
  • Rumba
  • Paso Doble
  • Jive
International Standard
  • Waltz
  • Tango
  • Viennese Waltz
  • Foxtrot
  • Quickstep

International Standard and American Smooth share many technical principles, and many couples compete in both styles. In Standard, the couple remains in closed dance position throughout each dance. In Smooth, they dance in open positions (side-by-side, shadow, etc.) as well as in closed position.

Although International Latin and American Rhythm both include Cha Cha and Rumba, each dance style uses different technique and music tempos.

Syllabus Levels

  • Bronze
  • Silver
  • Gold

In ballroom parlance, 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 level has a list of clearly defined dance steps, or 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 include certain bronze figures in their routines.

Mixed Proficiency

Mixed proficiency events give new dancers a unique opportunity to compete with someone with more experience. In these partnerships, only the less proficient partner is judged or, in the case of North Ballroom Dance Critique Event, critiqued. If you’re interested in giving competitive dancing a try and don’t have a partner, we encourage you to ask an experienced dancer about doing mixed proficiency.


Judges are certified by various licensing agencies. They are also experienced competitors and instructors. Judging is both an objective and a 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.

North Ballroom Dance Critique Event gives dancers insight into the way these individuals view ballroom dancing, a useful tool for future practice and competition.

Competitor Participation

Dancers compete in heats, which are a specific group of competitors competing in a particular event at a specified time (or times, if there will be callbacks). Typically, dancers will receive a program or heat list to let them know approximately what times they’ll be expected to compete. Dancers should be prepared to compete at least half an hour before their scheduled heats in case the competition is running ahead of schedule.

When it is time for dancers to compete, they will form a line with their fellow competitors in the designated on-deck area. When their heat is called, they’ll find a spot on the floor and dance until the music stops. They’ll take a bow and exit the floor. If a heat has a large number of competitors, it is likely there will be a callback process in which the judges select a number of couples to return to the floor and dance again. This process will continue until there are eight or fewer couples (the ideal number is six) remaining on the floor, which will be the final round. Since North Ballroom Dance Critique Event is not a competition, there will be no callbacks.

Audience Participation

Many people attending their first ballroom event expect to find the audience sitting in serene dignity, delicately applauding at the completion of each dance. Instead, the spectators are yelling, 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 do not know the first thing about ballroom, you still have an important role to play at an event. Audience participation is not only allowed but is encouraged and welcomed.

Cheer, applaud, and call out the numbers of your favorite couples. Being an active spectator ensures that you’ll have a blast!

Ready to Jump In? Get Involved!

Star of the North Ballroom Dance Critique Event

low-stress, feedback-based, and designed to:

  • Provide social dancers and competitors alike with meaningful feedback from professionals they might not otherwise have access to
  • Introduce beginners to the general format of a competition in a low-chaos environment
  • Provide a preparatory event for those looking to compete
  • Allow couples to experiment with new choreography and costuming