The Making of a Dance Competition
By Daniel O'Connell
With Dance Fest coming up, I thought it might be interesting for the community to know more about what goes into putting on a ballroom dance competition. It takes a lot of hard work from a lot of very skilled people, and it should give you some newfound appreciation for how hard local competition organizers, such as Scott Anderson, Eliecer Ramirez Vargas, and Donna Edelstein, have to work to make the magic happen. Since I can't speak to the inner workings of Twin Cities Open, MN Star Ball, or Snow Ball, I'll just speak for the volunteer team involved with Dance Fest.
Normally, we prefer to start work on our next event over a year in advance. This allows us to maximize the amount of time we have to accomplish our goals, line up professionals and venues, and announce future dates on the day of the event.
This year, we put Dance Fest on in essentially thirty days, starting with nothing. We owe Dancers Studio and many professionals in the local community a great deal of gratitude for their willingness to step up on such short notice to help make the event a reality. Though I'm sure I'm missing some names, if you see Kate Bratt, Mariusz Olzewski, Lisa Vogel, Gene and Elena Bersten, Shane Meuwissen, and basically anyone from Dancers Studio, you should thank them. They went out of their way to promote dance and provide continuity to the many dancers who look forward to this time of year for the chance to compete in the largest amateur ballroom dance event in the five-state area.
The volunteer team is run by committee, where each member of the committee has a set of sub-tasks that they are uniquely responsible for. As the group of volunteers changes and evolves, the group finds its own unique way of dividing the labor to maximize work accomplished and minimize stress levels. This year, the committee tasks were as follows:
It turns out people like ribbons and medals when they win. However, these have to be designed, ordered, and printed in advance and in the right amounts. Though it doesn't seem like much, medals are expensive and trophies are super-expensive, so that is why you will see events opt for ribbons as often as possible. This year this position was jointly filled by Nicholas Westlake and me.
Committee Chair / Project Manager
Typically there is a Committee Chair and/or a Project Manager put in charge of making sure the trains run on time and keeping track of what tasks we have left to complete. This year, given the short schedule, the group voted in favor of two Committee co-chairs, Michael Kasinkas and myself. Typically, to do this job you have to be able to double-check the work of everyone else and understand how each piece relates to the others.
The Decorations Coordinator manages the decorations. That sounds easy, but it isn't. The trick is, if you don't do all the little things, the result is substandard. The Decorations Coordinator needs to establish the theme, determine the budget, acquire the decorations so they arrive when we need them, and then install them. Melissa Baddin from the University of Minnesota Ballroom Dance Club has graciously agreed to help coordinate with DS Event Center for this purpose. Truth be told, we're really excited about this part of Dance Fest, and we look forward to seeing the result.
All text content that will be distributed must be passed to the Editor for review so that the tone, style, and substance of the messaging remains consistent. Normally there exists a template or example from years past that can be utilized, but this year everything had to be made anew. Mary Beth Beckman, founder and Executive Editor of Sheer Dance, is our editor.
The Facilities Coordinator manages our search for a venue and all interactions between the venue and the rest of the team. Typically, it takes many hours of searching and negotiation with multiple venues to find a suitable space. Prices can vary significantly, as can the quality of the space, so it is difficult to find the right balance of size versus quality versus cost. In addition, the Facilities Coordinator handles the floor plan and manages the Decorations Coordinator, Food and Beverages Coordinator, Music Director, and Officials Coordinator. Some skill in contract negotiation and management is a requirement. As in years past, Michael Kasinkas is pulling double-duty and filling in this role in addition to his role as Committee Co-Chair.
Food and Beverages Coordinator
Everyone likes food, and everyone likes beverages. More importantly, when people don't have these things at a ballroom competition, they get cranky or pass out (not that anyone on the volunteer team has tried to dance twenty dances in a row at a competition without having eaten or hydrated that day ...). The Food and Beverages Coordinator must ensure that the right amount of food is available at the right time and the right price. In addition, they must ensure that there is ample water for competitors. Lee Wintervold and Lizzie Weaver of the University of Minnesota Ballroom Dance Club are responsible for this part of the event.
The Graphics Coordinator handles the design and creation of many of the visual aspects of the event. Logos, ads, letterheads, banners, posters, signs, forms, the program, participation gifts, and tickets are all items that have to be designed and utilized. It is extremely important that the style of these items remain consistent and that they are done to a high quality--it looks unprofessional when done improperly. Under normal circumstances, much of this work has been done in years past, but for Dance Fest everything had to be made from scratch. Nicholas Westlake has done a tremendous job finding time in his busy schedule to ensure the event was well represented on paper, and we're very thankful for that.
Getting people to attend is my job. Realistically, this is a job for probably three or four people, as you want to attack multiple groups multiple ways, and each requires building a network and relationship. In particular, there are the local adult competitors, local spectators who are familiar with ballroom, local spectators unfamiliar with ballroom, regional collegiate teams, regional adults, and local studios, just to name a few. Since I'm only one person, I can usually only hit up a few of these groups, but as I lay more groundwork for myself each year, I'm able to get more done. All told, attendance to this event compares favorably to all but the largest national qualifying events and national-level events in the country (USA Dance Nationals, NDCA Nationals, Ohio Star Ball, United States Dance Championships, etc.), an achievement we're pretty proud of.
Since Dancers Studio does not require setup and teardown for sound, and we have no solo or exhibition performances, we don't have a Music Director this year. However, we do have a DJ in Shane Meuwissen, who ensures the music is the right tempo and style for the heat at hand.
In addition to the many hours donated by amateur volunteers, the time of many professionals is required to make an event happen. Judges, a DJ, and an MC are all required to make an event memorable for participants. The officials selected can make a huge difference in the experience for everyone, and it is the job of the Officials Coordinator to manage every piece of securing officials for the event. We'd like to thank the many professionals who have helped put on this event, and we are very excited about the expertise they bring.
The Registrar manages and records all registration. From answering the many questions about the process to verifying that every single registration is correct, this is an extremely time-intensive job that takes up several hours per day leading up to the event. In addition, the Registrar is one of the first people in and the last people out on the days of the event. Mary Beth Beckman is pulling double-duty by filling in as our Registrar and Editor both, and as such her individual time commitment to this event easily exceeds one hundred hours in the last month.
The Scrutineer is responsible for ensuring that results are calculated fairly. At a modern competition, this means he manages the IT component of the registration and callback system, making sure it performs optimally on the day of the event. More realistically,
Photo from the Dollar Dance by Joel Torgeson
something always goes wrong, and the Scrutineer’s job is to make sure that the process appears seamless to the outside participant. In the last three years, I’ve been to one competition that didn’t have major problems with their callback system on the day of the event, so this happens more often than you think. Nicholas Westlake’s cus- tom-built competition software forms the backbone of our event, and we’re thrilled to utilize his system for the third year running.
With just thirty days, investigating sponsorship opportunities is something of a difficult task. Due to a lack of manpower, we've typically run with the sponsors we already associate with, as it was sufficient to put on the event. However, if we had more manpower, this position is designed to go to local professionals, studios, dance-related businesses, corporations, and government entities to seek out money dedicated to putting on a better event. Increasing sponsorship and advertising, lowering costs of attendance, and improving facilities are all things we'd like to do. Our future events will likely feature a sponsorship coordinator who will hopefully net us an extra $20,000 per year to put into the events.
The Treasurer develops the budget with the Committee Chair and ensures that all income and expenses are made, received, and logged in a timely fashion. As there tends to be a lot of odds and ends, this can be a fairly intensive job. Like Registrar, Treasurer is a position that is “first in, last out” on the days of the event. Once the event is over, the treasurer provides a final budget report with a detailed breakdown of income and expenses. Craig Hagensick is our wonderful treasurer this year.
It is nice to be able to offer competitors services from outside professionals that they might want to avail themselves of on the day of the competition. On the pro/am circuit or at events with a higher concentration of Senior I, II, or III participants, there tends to be more money sloshing around, but at events we've put on, the market tends to be very strong for some services. At last year's Star of the North, the make-up artist was booked out as early as 4 a.m.--well in advance of the event. Jewelry in the lower price range, practice-wear, and simpler costuming also has a tremendous market. The ability to understand these idiosyncrasies, getting vendors to understand these idiosyncrasies, and getting the vendors on board is why Cathy Dessert is such a tremendous asset to our team.
This position seeks out volunteers to fill many of the “day-of” positions at the event, such as Deck Captain, setup and teardown, ticket-takers, management of water, etc. A “first-in, last-out” position, Volunteer Coordinators have to be good at identifying strengths and managing a group of people they may not have much familiarity with, in a high-stress situation. This year we're short-staffed and do not have a formal Volunteer Coordinator, so this task falls to Michael Kasinkas and me.
All told, I'd wager that just to prepare for Dance Fest, the total donation of time was at least one thousand hours in the last thirty days, most of which was borne out by just six people. By the end of the weekend, that count will likely surge to at least thirteen hundred as numerous volunteers and professionals donate their entire weekend to make the event enjoyable for the 350 competitors and likely 450 spectators that will be in attendance. Not too shabby, if you ask me.
The moral of the story: you should come to Dance Fest. It's only $5 to spectate, and it's the largest amateur ballroom dancing event in the five-state area. If you have time, I recommend attending the Saturday evening session on March 1st at 7:00 p.m., which features national-champion-level talent and the super-entertaining collegiate team match.
I hope to see you there!