INSIDE TIPS AND SECRETS OF THE STAGE By Janet Marsico
This topic seems to be a very appropriate subject and hits home for me in many ways. Having been a competitor in Bodybuilding, Fitness, Bikini, Figure, Fit body, and been a judge as well as a stage-coach, I certainly have had my share of experiences on and off the stage. This dates back all the way to 1991. Yup, dating myself here. I have also learned many stage secrets, tips, and things I picked up just from the years of experience on and off the stage. Also, between the hundreds of competitors I have coached for over 15 different organizations, I have learned so much and love passing all of this to our readers. As I sit here I am overwhelmed with so much information, my fingers cannot keep up with my brain but I’ll simply start with the basics.
First and foremost once you have made the decision to get on stage you need to realistically understand the many components that go into this. It’s not simply working out, dieting to lose weight, and then stepping on stage and showing your stuff. I will try to cover as much as I can in one article, starting with a bullet list of things to make sure of, and in the proper order.
You cannot simply do a diet to “lose weight”. Your diet needs to be calculated carefully by your coach to ensure a lean physique while keeping muscle and depending on the division you plan on competing in, the looks will vary greatly.
The first thing you need to do is hire a good nutritionist and trainer. This being said, please make sure to look into this carefully. There are so many so-called “coaches” out there that start advertising themselves as nutritionists and trainers and are not even certified. It is extremely important to research them, ask questions and make sure they are certified in the competitive field of fitness. You cannot simply do a diet to “lose weight”. Your diet needs to be calculated carefully by your coach to ensure a lean physique while keeping muscle and depending on the division you plan on competing in, the looks will vary greatly. For example, if you are competing in Bikini you certainly would not want a shredded physique on stage that is extremely muscular. Coaches that are skilled know the different looks and will calculate accordingly. So you see why it is so important to do research and ask questions?
The second area which I personally feel is just as important is a year round investment (not just 6-8 weeks before a competition) in a “qualified” stage-coach. I say qualified because all too often there are people claiming to be a “stage-coach” and they have only competed in one show, never judged, and have not had nearly enough stage time or experience to call themselves “stage coaches.” A good stage coach needs to know what it is like to be on stage in many different categories, have judged for a period of time, and should know the ins and outs of many different organizations. Someone who competed one time and gets a Pro Card in a division does NOT qualify as a stage coach. Again, do your research, Google them, and ask tons of questions.
DO NOT YouTube the posing and model walks for your competition thinking you can self teach this.
Once you find both of these coaches, allow your trainer to decide with you which organization and division you will be competing in and then start research for a stage-coach and start working with both asap. Remember, it is never too early to get into a good, clean diet habit nor is it too early to start learning the poses and model walks for your division and organization. I myself have been a stage-coach for over 12 years for over 15 different organizations, competed in all, judged and I am confident should anyone Google my name they would be happy with what they find. Those two are the first things on the bullet list that are essential to look into immediately.
Once you find which organization you plan on competing in, research the rules and regulations for your division, especially suit and shoe regulations. A good stage-coach will actually already know all of this but personally I feel the more you educate yourself the better off you will be. Another thing I will stress, DO NOT YouTube the posing and model walks for your competition thinking you can self teach this. Nutrition, training, and posing should be left for the experts. I have seen travesties on stage and it always goes back to those who YouTube posing merely to save money. Believe me, the areas of posing, nutrition, and training should not be left to YouTube.
The reason for this is simple. You will see people posting videos on YouTube from their first competition, etc. and what happens is they very well may be those who were not coached properly or by someone who is skilled in this area. Also they may look different in their physique than the criteria your show calls for.
Leave these areas to the professionals. If you want to go on to an organization’s web site and look at videos they post that is just fine because they would not post incorrect formats for posing and the physiques they feature will be what the organization expects for that particular division.
Moving on, let’s explore some inside tips and secrets which I personally love sharing from my own years of experience. Let’s start with back stage items. First of all, make sure to arrive earlier than the organization states. If they allow you backstage, which many do, pick a spot for your items and set up your area. You can bring items like a tall mirror (some venues are limited and sharing a few mirrors can become a stressful situation which you simply do not need). Some other items to bring with you depending on which division
you are competing in are resistance bands, a small stool (seating is usually limited), a charging pad (for your cell phone, curling iron, hair dryer and any other appliance you use). A few other items are extra rubber gloves, tanning product, body glaze, all your makeup needs, a small sewing kit, towels, baby wipes, bikini bite, your personal business cards (this is so you can hand them out to vendors in the hallway in-between pre-judging and the night show and also so you can share your contact information with other competitors).
Flip flops are key for back stage. Don’t wear your heels back stage. Your feet will be sore after your time on stage. Don’t have this happen prior to even stepping on stage. You want to be on your game the second you step on the stage to show your stuff comfortably. Many competitors wear silk robes backstage for comfort. A few people I know actually design these at a reasonable cost and also bling them up and personalize them should you request. These are very comfortable and there is no elastic on the waist like sweat pants have so there is no way you will have any marks or smears on your tan. Tennille Ray is known for making these robes. She can be Googled or find her on Facebook.
Also don’t get caught up in the “Team” psyching out game. There are many teams at these shows. I for one am part of Team SUF run by Ryan Sullivan, and my company The Figure Workshop works with the women. BUT we do not do the psyching games. In fact, every one of the members are cordial, nice, helpful, and very supportive of everyone else backstage and supportive of other teams. The ones that stay by themselves, aren’t friendly, and are not helpful to others are just not coached properly. We are all one big family in this sport and we all need to be supportive of each other.
“Just look straight ahead but not directly into anyone’s eyes.”
Now let’s go into the preparation tips, tricks, and secrets of the stage. Picking up from the last paragraph about being supportive of each other, there is one thing I have been noticing and I thought this had stopped years ago but I am seeing it has not. What I’m talking about is what I call “elbow blocking.” This is when another competitor, whether it is during the mandatory group comparisons (this is when the group stands together in a line and the head judge calls out “quarter turns” or “half turns” always to the right), or during the pre-judging walk, decides to block the competitor standing next to them with their elbow to obstruct the view of that competitor so the judges cannot see that competitor properly. This is also done to “psyche” out the other competitor. I personally would not tolerate any of this if I were a promoter and you better believe if one of my girls is up there and someone does it to them, you would certainly hear my mouth from the audience. This is a very unsportsmanlike behavior and should not be tolerated.
Now for some tips and secrets of my own that I would like to share about the stage. First of all, I know people say, “Look right into the judges’ eyes while you’re on stage and show them you’re confident.” Yes, I agree to look confident but personally from my own experience on stage I don’t tell any of my clients to do this. What I do tell them is look above the judges’ heads and not into anyone’s eyes. Look above everyone but keep your head level and don’t lift your chin way up. Just look straight ahead. Why do I say this? Imagine looking down at a judge who is concentrating on what they are doing, not smiling because they are in their zone and is continuously writing on their sheets (that is because they are putting down the judges’ comments which is rather time-consuming and takes a lot of concentration).
“Remember to smile the whole time.”
Well, I personally always would start thinking to myself, “Why aren’t they smiling, what are they writing?” If I can avoid this by simply looking above them why wouldn’t I? Also, I find when the girls look at the judges they tend to lose their own concentration and eventually are no longer smiling. Some other tips I have learned and tell all my girls is during your model walk, take your time and if you forget the format, just keep going.
Remember no one but you and the backstage hand who went over the model walk knows what you were expected to do. The judges do not know this and all they are looking for in this round is your confidence on stage, fluency in your turns and crisp, clean poses where you seem comfortable and natural on stage. Of course try your best to conduct your walk as close to what you were told but remember, a promoter has the right to tweak a stage walk to their own discretion and if the numbers are very high they sometimes may shorten it a bit as well. The best thing to do, and this is your stage coach’s job, is to know the organization’s model walk and poses and do them the very best you can.
Remember to smile the whole time. What I tell my girls is to put Vaseline on your teeth because you will have dry mouth from nerves and you can possibly have what I call “the lip quiver” which by the way no one but you will see or know this is happening so don’t worry. The Vaseline helps keep your lip from sticking to your teeth, believe it or not. Also make sure with regard to your shoes that you scuff the bottoms on concrete prior to the day of your show. This will prevent you from slipping on stage.
When you are in the back lineup always remember, the judges are still looking at you so don’t get out of your pose, drop your composure and most important do not talk to the other girls in the lineup. A lot of people don’t realize you are left on stage for a reason and this is because they are still looking at your stage presence and presentation; which by the way accounts for over 50% of your score.
During the mandatory quarter turns, turn slowly and take your time getting into your pose. Remember to start from the bottom up and look graceful and poised at all times. This is where practice is key. A good tip I tell my girls is do not use a mirror while practicing. You won’t have one the day of your show while on stage so don’t get used to a visual. Get used to how each pose feels.
You should have a qualified person in the audience during your pre-judging and I’m not referring to someone yelling out, “You look great number 10, woo hoo!” All that is fine and good but the most important person is what I personally named your tag coach. I call it this because with my clients we go over what I call tag words. These are words you and your person come up with for each pose if you are not hitting it correctly. When I am at the shows you will hear me often yelling certain words that many do not know or understand but my clients do. I also do not yell their name or number as it is not necessary plus it makes the judges and audience think my girls don’t know what they’re doing if their name and number is yelled out too often. My girls know my voice and you will know your tag coach’s as well.
In between pre-judging and the night show, take advantage of marketing yourself. There are often vendors and/or supplement companies, suit designers and many other companies involved in our industry set up in the hallways. This is where having your business card comes in handy. Approach these tables, introduce yourself and let them know your future competitive plans. I personally obtained three of my sponsors this way and believe me the cost of competing adds up (a topic I plan to cover in my next article). When the placings are announced, remember to smile no matter where you place. Here’s something my very first coach told me and I tell this to each and every client I have: “Remember, first place is just a number. If you give 100% you have already won. You cannot control who shows up that day and there will always be someone better conditioned than you. If they show up more power to them, if they do not, more power to you. Think like a champion so shall you be one”. I remember this verbatim as if it were yesterday and I always left the stage feeling like a winner… no matter where I placed.
One of the things I have learned about this sport, and it is one of the many reasons why after 25 plus years I still love competing and coaching, is that this is a very personally rewarding sport. You and you alone are the only one that has to do the work and the personal growths are endless. I have found that everyone has a special story of why they got involved in this sport and it is to me one of the most special industries to be involved in. While considered so big, it is also so small in many ways and being a part of it I am most grateful. I have met many true friends and truly enjoy watching them transform from what they were to what they are today. THAT is the best part to me.
The best luck to all of you in your competition ventures. I hope what I pass on you find helpful. As always I am always available for questions and of course for help with your competition needs, especially posing. Until next time friends.
“Remember, first place is just a number. If you give 100% you have already won.”
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