Topical Series #4: Points, Points, and More Points

It all started with this comment from Ellen:

I’ve never understood the whole points thing, scholarships, etc. for open comps.  I don’t do enough open comps for it to matter – but I’d love to understand it.  I’ve tried to look it up and other than the official rules which are like reading a law-book ( in other words make no sense to me!) I can’t find a simple explanation of it all.  If anyone can give a layperson’s explanation it would be cool!

I had to clarify.  What to which “points” was she referring, exactly?

Ellen, what do you mean by “the whole points thing?”  I am under the understanding that in competitions for scholarships you are ranked in the dances in order of 1st, 2nd, 3rd, etc. as compared to the other couples on the floor.  Whoever  gets ranked 1st by the most judges gets 1st place and so on.  There is a rule about when there is a tie that I don’t remember, but I don’t think that happens all that often.  So, I’m just not sure what you mean by “points.”

Maybe you are referring to being top student or top teacher in a competition or a district or in a competition series?  If that is the case, what happens is you get a certain amount of points for each entry you are in (or your instructor dances), and then more points for placing higher.  Like when I got top student in San Diego it was like 8 points (or something, I don’t exactly remember the point value) for 1st place, 6 for 2nd, down through 6th and then 1 point for participating.  You get more points for participating more and for placing higher.  Your instructor gets points for the same things, but obviously if they bring more students and dance more often, they earn more points.

So in that last example if I dance 50 dances but place 1st in all of them and get 3 points for each 1st place, and another lady in my category dances 100 dances but places 3rd and only gets 1 point for each 3rd place, then I’d be ranked higher than she with 150 points and be closer to being “Top Student.”

So anyways, Ellen referred me to the USA Dance website at and a link below the DanceSport Rulebook for “Proficiency Points.”

So I checked it out, not being familiar with proficiency points.  No one had ever mentioned them to me before.

Reading them was like reading the instruction manual for a VCR.  Very technical and not very enjoyable but here’s what I gathered:

Ellen, I’ve looked at the proficiency point guide and I’m intrigued.  Seems to be a complicated system to determine which category you should dance in…what age, what level, as an attempt in making sure people are competing at an appropriate level – not too high or too low.  It says in the guide that USA dance will make a database online of the points so I’m now trying to find that.  I’m curious to see where I might rank.  I’ve always been told that the instructor decides which category you dance at.  It seems like the points might be more important for high level amateur competitors or professional couples.  I’ll ask Ivan about it, but who knows if he knows anything about it.  It does say that you can be disciplined for dancing below your level!  Thanks for asking this question.  I love learning more about my favorite sport!  I’ll keep you updated.

But the story continues.

The topic sparked my interest in a number of facets of ballroom dancing that involve points and I had a big ‘ole conversation with Ivan about it after my lesson today.

Sadly, he didn’t know about proficiency points, but he did comment on another type of points used by ballroom studios which I found intriguing.  Also, I did a little more research and found on some old comments about the proficiency points.  You can see the comments I found here.

First, the database is not current.  I don’t even know if you can find it.  Someone who is on the USA Dance board must have been in the conversation because he or she commented that they needed someone to volunteer to keep up with the points.  I guess you are supposed to keep track of them yourself!  Well, I for one, haven’t been doing that.

Second, the link Ellen sent me on the USA Dance page that directs you to the rules about the Proficiency points is outdated.  I guess there have been changes (that a couple must now only accrue 200 points instead of the 300 mentioned in the pdf file) that aren’t reflected in that edition of the rules.

But the plot thickens.  These mystery proficiency points are only applicable to USA Dance sanctioned events.

USA Dance isn’t the only governing body of ballroom dance.

There are different proficiency points and rules for the National Dance Council of America (NDCA) and the Youth College Network (YCN).

(I think there is another post in the making here about all the “alphabet soup” of dance organizations: NDCA, USA Dance, IDSF, WDSF, YCN etc.)

So there are points you accrue in competition.  But after my conversation with Ivan, I have learned there are also points you can accrue at a studio.  Now, I don’t purport to have expertise in this area because I’ve never danced in a ballroom dance franchise studio.  I’m going on what Ivan told me.  If things are different, feel free to comment below and fill us all in.  At least this is what I gather went on at Ivan’s studio when he was employed by a franchised studio.

Students accrue points and have proficiency tests to determine what level they are at: pre-bronze, bronze, silver, etc.  Then packages are sold around getting to the next level.  Like for every lesson you take or every figure you learn it’s recorded and there are charts of points and where you are.  There are also charts proclaiming which student is which level, so you can compare yourself to other students and follow your and their progress.

To me, this seems a bit weird.  I guess it is great for goal setting and is some form of monitoring progress, but just knowing the steps in the gold syllabus doesn’t necessarily, I think, mean you are a gold level dancer – meaning that you might be dancing a gold step with bronze level technique.

What it does do is give a person a sense of being able to put a feather in their cap.  I’ve had people ask me what level dancer I am, but since I have no points or proficiency tests to go on, I honestly don’t know.  I have no idea what level the steps I know are considered nor my level in terms of technique.

Finally, I also reached out to my friend Ceci and asked her if she knew anything about these mysterious points because she is so well-connected in the ballroom world.  Here’s what she sent me:

NDCA Proficiency Point System From


1. A competitor is eligible to dance in the “Syllabus”, “Novice” and/or “Pre-Championship” proficiency classifications until they accumulate three proficiency points. There is no limit to the number of proficiency points that may be accumulated in the “Open Amateur” level.

2. A competitor receives one point when they either a) place first in their current classification when a semi-final was danced, or b) dance in the final of a higher proficiency event where a semi-final was danced.

3. In the “Syllabus” categories proficiency points should be accumulated independently for each dance.

4. The eligibility to compete in a classification is applied to individual amateur competitors and not the couple as an entity.

5. An amateur couple is only eligible to compete in a classification if both members of the couple are eligible.

6. An amateur competitor’s eligibility is based on his/her accomplishments regardless of the number or length of partnerships they have had.

7. It is the responsibility of all amateur competitors to ensure that they are eligible for the category in which they desire to dance.

8. An amateur competitor may enter at most two consecutive proficiency classifications in any particular style and age group at a particular competition.

9. An amateur competitor’s ineligibility begins at the conclusion of the competition in which his/her third point was acquired. In this case the word “competition” refers to the entire event (generally a “weekend”).

10. An amateur competitor’s proficiency level as a Pro/Am shall not be used in determining his/her amateur proficiency level.

Seems like another VCR manual to me, but at least this one only applies to amateurs.  I still don’t know what this means if I’m dancing Pro/Am since my proficiency in Pro/Am shall not be used in determining my amateur proficiency level….though I don’t dance Am/Am, myself!

Sheesh!  I think it’s an interesting topic, but still kind of a mystery even after all this writing and after all the various research!

So, now the ball is in your court.  Do you know anything about points tracked in ballroom?  What do you think of these point systems?  Does your studio use them?  How? Have you heard of them in the context of NDCA or USA Dance?  Have you kept track of yours?  What do they mean….really?  I’m curious to know.

Signing off,