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Become an Advocate from the Couch
Through these unprecedented times, everyone- including pageant girls- are needing to adapt. I don’t think I have ever been more thankful for social media and our online capabilities! Below I discuss some thoughts for advocacy and platform development even while staying at home.
Social Media Presence. Want to be an advocate for a cause? Make a social media presence. Start an instagram, facebook page, website, blog about what you care about. If it were me, I would start with instagram. Post why you care about this cause, post facts, post further links, etc. Garner followers and voila! You have become an advocate through your social media presence! You never know who you could effect by a simple post!
For instance, let’s say my platform/cause is about promoting the importance of mental health. I could start by making an instagram with my platform title, ie. “Mind over Matter”. My first few posts would introduce myself and why I care about this cause. In further days, I could post mental health resources, cheerful videos, facts about mental health, vlogs about my experiences, tips for positive thinking, etc.
As I develop this further, I could even start special weekly posts. Ie. Tip Tuesdays or Manic Mondays… maybe posting a picture of a meditation or something peaceful to “calm the manic Monday”.
Use strategic hashtags and tag interested people to engage more potential followers.
Back in my pageant day, girls would create blogs and websites. Though I still think that is great- social media gives you the opportunity to share info in a quick, accessible, and fun way! Get creative and get to work! A lot can be done from the comfort of your couch :)
Best Advice I Can Give
No session fee required, this ones a freebie- but, trust me, this advice takes work to master...
I think all the time of the best advice I can give to my clients, the best words of wisdom I can share. Reflecting on this lately, it comes down to this. Focus on yourself. Simple as that. Difficult as that.
I’ll use my personal story as an example. I competed for the title of Miss Minnesota International not once, not twice, not three times... but four! And what made year four different? I largely contribute my win to my shift in focus. It was “team Mary” all day, everyday. No one, nothing, was getting in my way. Years prior, I could have told you exactly who would win. Because I focused on THEM. Throwing away precious energy that I could have put into bettering myself.
That fourth year, I was DETERMINED- I didn’t care if Miss USA and Miss America and Oprah Winfrey herself showed up to compete- this was my year and it didn’t matter who else was there. I put my blinders on and kept a narrow focus on myself and my goals. Every time my mind strayed, which it absolutely did- it’s human nature- I would intentionally shift my focus. I would intentionally repeat a positive affirmation to myself, I would go exercise, I would look up articles related to my platform, I would edit my website, I would listen to Pageant Talk Radio (shout out to Valerie Hayes) ;), I would set up a volunteer opportunity, I would do something PRODUCTIVE. I was not going to self-sabotage and give my precious energy to things that wouldn’t further my goals. This steam train was coming through, baby!! Either hop on board, or get out of the way. On that note, if someone didn’t get my goals or get my mission- I would swiftly exit stage right and move on my merry way!
Focus on yourself. Put your energy and focus on your goals. Don’t waste your time searching fellow competitors on Facebook and Instagram, don’t waste your time figuring out if so and so is coming back this year, don’t waste your time worrying about who placed what last year, don’t waste your time on what other people are wearing, don’t waste your time on pointless message boards or Facebook groups or text groups- under the guise of “friendship” when we know it’s a tool to spy and worry about other people. Disconnect, disengage from anything related to gossip or negativity.
Do make friends with good people- you’ll know who they are. Do practice. Do prepare. Do develop your best self. Do learn, change, evolve, grow.
Stay in your lane peeps- it’s all about YOU! Just a (few) of my favorite quotes relating to the "best advice ever" below... ;)
Why Didn't I Win?
I recently saw a post from a fellow pageant coach (and International Pageant sister), Sarah Wall Beckman, that resonated with me. She stated that, "I WANT YOU TO KNOW THIS: I have judged many pageants, and in almost every case, the judges fall in love with many of the contestants. Please don't think: I didn't win. They didn't like me. Chances are that they adored you just like they did the eventual winner. The scores just plinko-ed down that way". So. True.
I can't tell you how many times I wondered myself- Why didn't I win? Why didn't they pick me? What did I do wrong? And now, as a coach, my clients experience some of those same feelings. Becoming a coach and involved on the "other side" of pageantry- as a judge, director, choreographer, volunteer, and more- has given me insight to help with these thoughts.
Sarah is right! As a judge myself- we often LOVE many of the contestants. But, we can only select one winner. And often, when scores are tabulated via points- we judges don't even know who will end up on top! I like to say that it is simply the stroke of pen on a piece of paper! My score of a 7.8, and that judge's score of a 8.2, can be a difference of gigantic proportions in pageantry. I've been a judge at many pageants where I was unsure who would win. There were many qualified contestants that would make great titleholders. I've even been in a judging position where I was surprised by the winner! Not because I didn't "like" her, but because, to me, another girl was the clear winner. Herein lies the beauty (and curse) of pageantry- it is SUBJECTIVE.
Pageants are a subjective sport- according to Google: based on or influenced by personal feelings, tastes, or opinions. It's not as clear as basketball, for instance, where we SEE the ball go in the hoop and score points. We have a clear idea of the winner the entire game. Pageants aren't like that! One judge may like one thing- another judge may not. Take two talented singers- Katy Perry and Taylor Swift (or Pageant Contestant Katy and Pageant Contestant Taylor). Both obviously talented, succesful, and have many admirable qualities. But, for whatever reason, some people (or judges) just prefer Taylor over Katy- or Katy over Taylor! Another basic example I often find myself using- apples and oranges. Both delicious fruit. But somedays, you'd just rather have an apple. Or an orange. Or a banana! The saying goes- "different day, different judge, different result". This. Is. So. True.
And reminder- it's not always someone's "fault". Sometimes, it's not your fault, it's not your coach's fault, it's not your wardrobe, it's not your shoes, it's not your paperwork. Sometimes- it just IS WHAT IT IS. #life #reality #lifeaintfair ;)
All those years I wondered why I didn't win, why they liked so and so more than me, what I did wrong... I get it now! I didn't necessarily do anything wrong. I wasn't "worse" than another contestants. It was JUST THE WAY THE COOKIE CRUMBLED. Sure, I am a big proponent of looking back at your performance and improving/tweaking things that need adjustment- but sometimes, you can do everything right, and it just might not be your day. And THAT'S OKAY! That is why we NEVER put our self-worth into a pageant title. We are SO MUCH MORE than a pageant title. We are SO MUCH MORE than a crown and sash. YOU do not need anyone else to tell you that you are beautiful, smart, loved, special, and a winner. Only one girl walks away with the crown- but WE ALL can walk away as winners by pushing ourselves to be the best we can be.
So your dreams came true and you just won your pageant! Hooray! Now what? ;) Becoming a titleholder means being handed a job, responsibilities, and opportunities in a split second. As soon as your name is read as the winner, it's time to get to work! Here are some tips and my advice on what to do when you win a title...
1. Celebrate- of course! Let all of your friends and family know of the good news via social media, email, text, calls, etc. Let them also know that you are now available to do appearances and volunteer opportunities as a pageant titleholder. The more people who know you have a pageant title- the more opportunities to volunteer, spread your message, bring publicity to your pageant system, etc. You may even consider throwing a celebratory party/get-together in honor of this new achievement!
2. Social Media. Depending on your age and your pageant's specific guidelines/allowing of social media- social media can be a huge help in bringing awareness and publicity to your new title. I suggest starting a Facebook fan page to keep people informed of your upcoming events, etc. You may also consider starting an Instagram account, website, or blog to chronicle your year as a titleholder. If you have a platform or charity you support- this is a great way to get attention to your cause as well. It also gives people a way to contact you for appearances, questions, etc.
3. Meet with your Director. If you can, it is helpful to meet with your pageant director/coordinator to discuss plans for your year, expectations, guidelines to follow, etc. It helps to be on the same page and know what is expected of you- ie. a certain amount of appearances per month, blog entries, volunteer hours, etc. Be in touch with your director and always ask them if you are uncertain about something. Side note- if you have sister queens- meet with your sister queens too! These girls should be your new best friends :) Plan events together, encourage each other, and work hard together!
4. Meet the Mayor. Or any important public figure! Send a letter and call your mayor, legislatures, etc and let them know of your new title. Ask to meet with them for a short "meet and greet". Connections and networking are everything!
5. Press Releases. Send a press release to your local newspapers, news stations, online new sites, etc alerting them to your new title. You may just land an awesome interview!
6. Read the Rules. Be sure to read carefully all of the rules, guidelines, contracts, etc that you are given. It is best to be a great student/titleholder!
7. Appearances. Start planning appearances! Whether it is a parade, charity event, race, rodeo, community festival, another pageant, etc- anything can be an appearance! Getting yourself out there in the community is important for a titleholder. Yes, it's cool to win a crown, but what are you going to do with it? Promote your pageant system by appearing in parades, give of yourself to others by volunteering at a local fundraiser, help your sponsors out by assisting at an event of theirs, etc. Sometimes appearances are given to you- but often, you have to search on your own. When I was Miss Minnesota International, I would go on city/county websites to look for upcoming events- then I would email whoever was in charge and ask if I could help out/participate in any way. I also contacted various charity organizations and offered my assistance. Reaching out goes a long way. As mentioned above- by notifying friends and family and people via social media- you can be "recruited" for many events! Another great appearance I suggest is attending other city/state pageants in your same system. Ie. If you win a NAM title in Minnesota- try to go to the NAM pageants in other states. You will learn a lot and have fun with your sister queens. Or if you win a Miss America local- go to the other Miss America locals in your state.
8. Find a Purpose. Many girls will already have a platform/charity/cause/purpose when they win their crown. If you do- continue to further this purpose! Use your crown as a microphone to amplify your passion and bring attention to what you care about. If you don't have a platform yet- I encourage you to find one- find something that excites you or that you have a personal connection to. Use this new public role to make a difference!
9. Autograph Cards. Get yourself some beautiful autograph cards with your picture on it, your title, any social media pages/websites, contact info, etc. These are fun to carry with you to appearances and hand out to anyone you come across- whether it's a little girl who looks up to you as a princess- or a potential sponsor!
10. Prepare for Nationals. If you have a national/international pageant you will be moving on to- it is important to get to work right away. Whether you need to find new wardrobe items, rework your interview or intro speech, prepare for new optionals, etc- time is of the essence! Nationals will come quickly- I recommend meeting with your coach/director asap to make a plan of action! At nationals, you will be competing against the best of the best- be prepared for that- don't regret not pushing yourself to the best competitive level. Most girls only have one opportunity to go to nationals- make the most of it and put your absolute best self forward.
11. Pictures. Take A TON of pictures! This is a year you never want to forget :) And remember to post them on your social media sites!
12. Promote Your Pageant System. Personally, I feel that an important part of a titleholder's job is to promote their pageant system. You have been given the honor of this position- now use it to show other girls how awesome your pageant system is. Help recruit girls to sign-up for next year!
13. Say Yes. Say yes to all of the opportunities that come your way! You get one year- and it will go by fast- make the most of it.
14. Be a Role-Model. As mentioned before- always follow the rules and guidelines given by your director/pageant system. You have become an instant role-model. Take that position seriously and always be conscious of your actions while in crown and banner- and when you are not. Have proper etiquette, manners, and be the charming young lady you are! :)
15. Be a Legacy. How do you want to be remembered as a titleholder? Do you want to be remembered as a hard-working, go-getter who did 50 appearances with a smile on her face at every single one? I hope so! Think of how you want to be remembered in years to come- and be that girl!
Stretch, Stretch, Stretch
Some of the more popular questions I am asked by my dance students are... "What can I do to improve," "How can I get better," "How can I make the competition team," "How can I get my splits"? My favorite answer to these questions is... STRETCH! Stretching daily is an essential component to being a successful dancer. I recommend that my students spend 10-15 minutes stretching daily- even 5 minutes will help! Flexibility becomes very beneficial to learning and executing new skills. Especially if a dancer is interested in joining a competitive team, I highly encourage a purposeful focus on stretching.
One fun way to get my younger students to stretch at home is to create "Sticker Charts". Print out a calendar and post on the fridge, etc. Each day the student stretches- they put a sticker on their chart. They can bring back their completed chart to class for a prize. Hey- this could work for adults and teens too! :) Keeping yourself motivated is key to sticking to it. And if you forget for a couple days (or weeks)... it's okay! Get back at it and start over.
When should you get started- now! If you're considering auditioning for a competitive team this summer- start stretching daily now. Gains in flexibility is a slow process, it will not happen over night. But it will happen with consistent hard work.
Looking for a way to get started- check out this tutorial video my sister Emily and I made for our students to follow along with at home. Modify if need be and enjoy!
Ballet for Babies :)
Although I teach all ages of dance, a great majority of my time is spent teaching little ones the art of dance. I love teaching any age, but the little ones have a special place in my heart. Their joy and love for dance and creative movement is endless! In addition to having fun and teaching them how to express themselves, I always aim to teach them as much ballet as possible. I pride myself in helping children develop a foundation of dance skills and terminology that will aid them through their future endeavors. This isn't always the easiest task, but I discovered a tool that has certainly made an impact! The Magical Kingdom of Dance! Check out my review that was featured on their blog...
“At our studio, the little ones are king (or queen!). We have 15 preschool classes and 8 kindergarten classes throughout our week. Keeping these young ballerinas entertained, focused, and learning is top priority. While attending the DanceLife Retreat in Arizona last summer, we discovered the wonderful Magical Kingdom of Dance! We were intrigued by the concept of the Alphamat and having such an exciting new addition to the classroom. If it can enchant the 20, 30, and 40 year old dance teachers- it is sure to keep the attention of preschool and kindergartners! ;)
We implemented the Alphamats to our preschool and kindergarten classes and the kids loved it! They enjoyed learning new steps with the help of cute, memorable characters. We were astounded by how well the kids remembered ballet terminology and had great excitement for learning new steps! From Plie the Cricket, to Twinkletoes- we love the characters we’ve met through our ballet lessons. To top it off- parents are very impressed with our dedication to teaching the little ones a great foundation of ballet, with interactive and engaging tools.
Thank you for the wonderful Magical Kingdom of Dance! “
I'll start off by saying that I LOVE NAM! National American Miss is such an incredible pageant for young women, ages 4 through 20. I wish they had a pageant for almost 26 year olds like me! :) Girls participate in community involvement, personal introduction, evening gown, and an interview with judges. There are also optional competitions like casual wear modeling, talent, actress, and spokesmodel. It is very natural- girls under the age of 13 are not allowed to wear make-up. It is truly about the young person- their personality, their accomplishments, their goals, and who they are.
This year's pageant was nothing short of wonderful! I had four clients competing and they all did an incredible job. It was a joy to watch them grow, learn, and have fun! Their success pageant weekend is largely in part to their dedication and hard work prior to pageant weekend. Many of my clients are dancers, so I like this analogy: Would you go to a dance competition having never prepared or practiced? Of course not! So why would you go to a pageant having never prepared or practiced? Arriving to the pageant with your ducks in a row, knowing that you have rehearsed and planned everything as you'd like it to go, will translate to success and a better experience.
Another special part of this pageant weekend was watching my client, Grace Nester, crown her successor (which to our delight was my client, Caleigh Proulx!). Grace has been an incredible Miss Minnesota Princess! She blew everyone away at nationals with her countless accolades and served her state with grace. She raised hundreds of dollars for Pet Rescue and continues to do so even after her reign. A special shout out also goes to my dancer, Natalie Engh, on an incredible year as Miss Minnesota Jr. PreTeen. Natalie is a natural- in dance, in pageants, in theatre- and a sweet, lovely young lady!
Congrats to all of my pageant clients- I am so proud of you! Caleigh Proulx, was blessed to be crowned the new Miss Minnesota Princess, along with winning Casual Wear, Talent, and many other awards (listed below)! Olivia D. was 1st runner up out of 100+ girls- what a huge accomplishment! She also scored in the top five for all of her optionals (listed below). This was Cerise D. and Jamie B.'s 1st pageants and they had a great time as best friends competing at NAM! Jamie was a state finalist and Cerise was 1st runner up Photogenic and 1st runner up Best Resume. Way to go, girls!
Caleigh Proulx, Age 6, NAM MN Princess 2014
Winner: Talent, NAM MN Princess 2014
WInner: Casual Wear, NAM MN Princess 2014
Winner: Most Promising Model, NAM MN Princess 2014
1RU: Best Thank You Note, NAM MN Princess 2014
3RU: Most Photogenic, NAM MN Princeess 2014
Olivia D., Age 9
Winner: Best Thank You Note, NAM MN Jr. PreTeen 2014
1RU: NAM MN Jr. PreTeen 2014
3RU: Talent, NAM MN Jr. PreTeen 2014
4RU: Casual Wear, NAM MN Jr. PreTeen 2014
4RU: Actress, NAM MN Jr. PreTeen 2014
Jamie B., Age 10
State Finalist, NAM MN PreTeen 2014
Cerise D., Age 10
1RU: Most Photogenic, NAM MN PreTeen 2014
1RU: Best Resume, NAM MN PreTeen 2014
This past weekend, I had the pleasure of cheering on my client in the Miss American Coed (MAC) Minnesota state pageant. Nora had been working so hard to prepare and be her best for her very first pageant! Back in 2011, Nora and her family came to watch the Miss Minnesota International pageant that I won. That planted the seed for her own pageant dreams!
Nora rocked the runway in her adorable "summery" casual wear outfit. She was such a natural and looked like she was having a blast! She graced the stage like a dream in her evening gown and just oozed poise. Seeing her stand up there with all of the contestants- I was so proud of how incredibly queenly she was. Nora eloquently recited her introduction speech and rocked her interview. She had grown so much confidence and poise, that regardless of the outcome, I was so proud of the lifelong skills she had gained.
When it was time for the Final Pageant, we were all so excited for her! Soon she was announced as the winner of Best Evening Gown and Miss Personality! Miss Personality was voted on by her fellow contestants as a girl who was a good friend. Nora is a great friend and winning that award was the best thing she could have gotten from that pageant. Her goal in entering this pageant was, after all, to make new friends! The icing on top of the cake was Nora being crowned Miss North Star State Sweetheart! What an incredible honor that she duly earned. Congratulations, Nora- you really are a "sweetheart"!
National American Miss Nationals
This past Thanksgiving was certainly one to remember! I had the pleasure of attending the National American Miss National Pageant in California with my client, Grace Nester- NAM Miss Minnesota Princess. We had a blast! It was so much fun watching Grace's hard work come to life on stage. Grace is an incredibly dedicated, talented, and sweet little girl. She sure is an exceptional seven year old!
Prior to the pageant, Grace, her parents, and I, worked for hours to help her put her best foot forward on that national stage. In addition to preparing for the various competitions, she dedicated so much time towards her community service project: Twin Cities Pet Rescue. Grace volunteered endless hours towards raising money for this cause as well as encouraging community members to rescue pets that are in need of homes. She did all this with a smile on her face and pep in her step!
Grace's hard work was rewarded at the national pageant when she came home heavily decorated and celebrated. Everyone knew who that little Princess from Minnesota was! Grace astonished us by placing in the top five of every single optional contest she entered: Casual Wear Modeling, Talent, Spokesmodel, and Actress. On top of that, she placed or won many additional special contests, and finished 4th runner up in the Queen's competition! See a full list of Grace's accomplishments below.
I think back of our time in California often and fondly. Grace made us all so proud and I was honored to have been her coach. Seeing her accomplish her goals and grow, all while having fun, has inspired me and all those around her. Congratulations, Grace!
Grace Nester, Age 7, NAM Minnesota Princess 2013
Placed 4th Runner Up at NAM Nationals 2013
Winner: Art contest, NAM Nationals 2013
1RU Talent, NAM Nationals 2013
1RU Most Promising Model, NAM Nationals 2013
2RU Actress, NAM Nationals 2013
2RU Spokesmodel, NAM Nationals 2013
2RU Casualwear Modeling, NAM Nationals 2013
3RU Most Photogenic, NAM Nationals 2013
3RU Best Thank You Note, NAM Nationals 2013
Mary Lynn Swenson