After babbling about ballroom hair for the last few weeks, I thought I'd share a few tips on improving practice for competitions. In hindsight, this tip is something that I should have figured out earlier than two years into competing. Hopefully, you are more aware or have more guidance than I.
If your practices are anything like mine, it is all too easy to spend two to three minutes standing and talking for every minute dancing. Even if my partner and I are focused on dancing and fixing problems, we are then working on specific figures individually or dancing slowly without music. We stop and start, change the music, discuss what went wrong, dance another bar or two, repeat. It is possible to practice for hours each week, greatly improve your technique, and then nearly pass out in a competition where you are suddenly asked to dance continuously for 90-120 seconds, two or three or five times in a row.
One answer is run-throughs, or to dance continuously for 90-120 seconds in practice. It is best if your run-through resembles the hardest competition you could dance; for me, that would be five consecutive dances for 120 seconds each, because there are a couple competitions I've attended that do indeed leave the music on for that long. I would recommend doing this in every practice at least the week or two before a competition, but my partner and I find run-throughs a good way to check if we've actually mastered a new element, and so we like to do them more often. You get to check not only your physical readiness, but also your mental ability to focus to the end of the dance.
I found run-throughs enough physical training for competitions as a syllabus dancer, but I doubt they'd be adequate as my sole exercise for open events. If you've been dancing run-throughs for a while and still cannot maintain through the dance in competition, it might be time to examine your exercise regime. Dancing should be fun, and it isn't fun if you're about to collapse in front of a judge. So, play the game, and exercise.