Photo by Carson Zullinger.

How to be a Good Spectator at a Ballroom Dance Competition

By Yanina Kisler
Contributing Author
Photos by Carson Zullinger
Spectators Have A Responsibility!

If someone asked you how to be a good competitor at a ballroom dance competition, you could come up with a list of what that would entail. A good competitor is respectful of other competitors, judges, and spectators. A good competitor follows the rules of the competition in attire, behavior, and manners. A good competitor performs to the best of their ability, observes floor craft rules to minimize collisions with other couples, and creates an image of a dancer who is enjoying performing for the audience. Note that I said, “creates an image.” You might not feel great joy if somebody just ran into you, your partner stepped on your foot, and you forgot your routine, but none of that matters. You should still look happy. Dance competitions are part sport and part art, and part of the art is to offer a performance that is fun to watch. Judges may be looking for footwork technique, but the audience is looking for a smile.

But spectators also have a responsibility, even though when they enter the ballroom they often do not think of what their role is. I just came back from the USA Dance Nationals in St. Louis, Missouri, where I was both a competitor and a spectator. While I enjoyed watching the competitors (although there were several junior ladies who should smile more and look happier when taking a bow between dances and at the end of their performances, but am sure their coaches will advise them), I was less than impressed with many spectators.

Spectators should give their attention to the goings-on on the floor.  Photo by Carson Zullinger.

The following are a few observations:

  • Dancers do not want to perform in a vacuum. When there is a supportive cheering audience, the performance will always be better than if they are dancing in an empty ballroom. But worse than an empty ballroom is a ballroom with spectators who are ignoring the performers, especially since the competitors are performing right in front of you (like Latin dancers often do) or bowing in your direction. The message you are sending to the competitors is that their performance and efforts are not even worthy of notice, which is demoralizing.
  • When spectating, please put away your cell phone. Live-action activities on the ballroom floor are definitely more interesting than checking the news, or somebody’s Facebook posts, or posting your own. This gives you the opportunity to watch real-time dancing and be a participant in the competition’s excitement and pageantry. World news and Facebook can wait.
  • You do not need to scream yourself hoarse from yelling dancers’ numbers or names, but calling out couples’ numbers and clapping as they dance past you is a wonderful support for the dancers, even if you do not personally know them or if their dancing skills are not of the highest caliber. The dancers are doing their best. By calling out their numbers and applauding, you are providing extra energy and creating a wonderfully supportive and friendly atmosphere in the ballroom, and creating great memories for the dancers.
  • When a dance is over and couples bow in your direction, please applaud. You are recognizing and appreciating their effort, not making a judgment on whether that couple should win or not.
  • If you came to watch a competition because your friend or family member is dancing, you are fully justified in calling out their number or name in preference to others. However, as long as you are a spectator and watching dances where your friend is not dancing, please support those that are on the floor. Those dancers will be very appreciative of your support and cheer, much more so than if they dance past you or bow in your direction and see you looking in their direction without any emotion, or involved in a discussion with a neighbor, or your cell phone.


In short, as a spectator at a ballroom competition, you have the ability to add excitement and joy to the event. You also have the ability to subtract from it. I would encourage any spectator to participate in the event by cheering for the dancers on the floor regardless of how well you know them or if they are the best there, limit cell phone usage unless you are recording a performance, and give your attention to the goings-on on the floor. You will enjoy yourself more, and, trust me, the dancers will be very appreciative of you.

Yanina Kisler is a Senior III and Senior IV Championship-level dancer. She has been competing together with her husband, Eric Austin, for the last seven years, both nationally and internationally. Their latest accomplishments have been 1st places in both Senior III and Senior IV Standard at the National Championships in March 2023, and winning Antwerp (Belgium) Diamond Cup Championship in February 2023. Yanina is an Electrical Engineer, now retired.  She and Eric have two children and two grandchildren.

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