A Weekend in the Life of a Convention Assistant
Kati Simon has worked as a teaching assistant with ADRENALINE Dance for more than four years. Though the convention circuit has been put on pause by the COVID-19 pandemic, in the past, she’s had the chance to dance alongside industry notables like Sonya Tayeh, Nick Bass, Sarah Reich, and more. And according to Simon, there’s much more to the job than just dancing. As you look forward to your next convention, read about what it’s really like to spend a weekend as a convention assistant.
As told to Cadence Neenan
Because I’ve been doing this for a while now, my packing routine is about the same every weekend: dance clothes, a couple of nicer outfits for competition, and, of course, all my dance shoes.
I also do some meal prepping. I usually bring snacks for breakfast, since I’m busy while classes are being held, and I try to bring a homemade meal for dinner, too. I try to pack food since if I don’t, I usually only have time to get food from the hotel. Then, I head to the airport.
On my flight, I’ll put together the schedules for all of the assistants—I’m the lead assistant, so creating our schedules is part of my job. I try to spread it out so we’re all teaching different genres, different levels.
I land in L.A. around 6 pm. Once we get to the hotel, we (the assistants) work with the front desk team to put together the front desk area: the merchandise, the welcome bags, all of that. Once we’re finished organizing everything, we try to get to sleep early.
Simon talking to a member of the Sparks, the youngest age group at ADRENALINE (Kathleen McPherson, courtesy Simon)
We start our day at 7:30 am. We usually meet about half an hour before competition actually starts, so we can all talk about what our roles will look like during the day.
For the first part of the day, I’m on awards prep. I sit backstage at the competition and write down the score each routine gets. It can get a little tedious, just because I’m sitting alone in the dark backstage.
After awards prep, I’m on auditing, which is my biggest responsibility. When I’m auditing, I sit with the judges during competition and configure all the awards. I make sure there aren’t any mistakes with the judges’ scoring, and write down all the stats for competition. There’s a lot of pressure, because I’m constantly triple-checking that all of the stats are entered correctly and all the awards are configured correctly.
As you can see, on Friday, I don’t actually do any dancing. To be honest, I would say the teaching-and-assisting side makes up maybe 40 percent of the job. A lot of it is running competition—stuff like awards prep and auditing.
For my last shift of the day, I’m on break. I don’t always get breaks like this. It depends on the schedule for the weekend and how many assistants come out, since the fewer assistants there are, the more time we have to spend working. ADRENALINE is really good about bringing out extra assistants so we’re all able to get breaks. After that, I get to bed early.
Simon demonstrating a combination (Morgan Holton, courtesy Simon)
Saturday morning is the first time the whole team is together, so we run
through what the rest of the weekend is going to look like. Then, we open the doors
to the ballroom, hold the welcome ceremony, and the convention officially begins!
For the first part of my day, I work with the Sparks, our youngest age group. I teach their very first class of the weekend, which is really fun. They get the opportunity to perform at our closing show, so I teach them their dance. At the end of class, we give them all shirts that say “Sparks” on them, and most of the students ask me to sign their shirt or take a photo—so cute!
From there, I assist Caroline Lewis-Jones with theater jazz, Nick Palmquist with jazz-plus and Nick Bass with hip hop. For long days like this, the physical aspect is probably the most challenging part—dancing five, six hours a day, and being able to do it consciously. Some people think of assisting as just taking class and dancing onstage, but it’s so much more than that. I have to demonstrate every single thing full-out for the full hour of the class, and on top of that, I have to pay attention to the room. Are the students and the teachers all OK? Are the music levels OK, or should I adjust the sound system? Or, if a child gets a bloody nose, it’s my job to guide them to the right person or to the bathroom.
Simon leading a class at the convention (Dizzy Graham, courtesy Simon)
After that, I help teach our scholarship audition class. I start by teaching everyone the audition phrase. All of the winners for these scholarships perform in our final show, so we’re looking for dancers we know we can work well with. We go into rehearsal right after we pick the scholarship winners, which is really fun. It’s a big production with dancers from all different age groups and studios, who have never danced together before.
After that, I go up to my room, shower quickly, and change into my competition clothes. Then I have to get right back in to competition—more awards prep, tonight. On Saturday, we’re focused on group competition, so I’m in charge of organizing studio awards.
By the end of Saturday, I’m a little relieved to be done. Competition is really cool, getting to watch numbers from all different studios and cities. But the hours are really long, so by Saturday night, I’m ready to go to bed right after we finish up.
Simon demonstrating choreography (Dizzy Graham, courtesy Simon)
Sunday morning, I mainly assist—Jason Ambrose with ballet, Chris Jacobsen with lyrical, another ballet class with Jason, and then Nick DiNicolangelo with tap. Going between classes like that can be stressful, but once class starts, it’s usually pretty easy for me to be present. My last class of the day is with the Sparks, reviewing our dance for the final performance.
During our Sunday lunch break, the other assistants and I rehearse with the scholarship winners for the final show. After we finish rehearsal, we’re able to chill out for a second to eat and socialize.
After that, we get ready for the performance. I meet with the Sparks, and I get them ready to go backstage. It’s a really fun moment, right before the show starts. Once the show ends, we announce a couple more awards and scholarships, and then the faculty come back out to conclude the show.
After the show, I say goodbye to our guests and to the team. Me and a few of the other assistants usually Uber to the airport together, and sometimes we’ll grab dinner and catch up about how the weekend went.
When I get home, I usually go straight to bed. I might unpack a little bit, but honestly, I usually don’t even open my suitcase until the next morning. I try not to plan anything for Monday so I can use that day to recover. But by the time Thursday comes, I’m ready to go again.