Competitions — Pros & Cons
Many area dance studios are heavily involved in the growing industry of dance competitions. I had never heard of most of these until moving West from where I grew up and spent most of my career in the Northeast. The competitions I was familiar with were the elite level ballet competitions of the professional and world-class amateur genre. After moving to Phoenix ten years ago, however, I was inundated with the number of competitions that local dance organizations were involved with, both for the competition experience as well as those that offered convention classes. After some time teaching at schools who are highly involved with their competition companies, seeing the lengths to which some will go to “win”, as well as the affect competition has on the overall training, goals and development of my students, I have mixed feelings about competition in general.
The positive aspects of competition which are pressed forward by studio owners—team spirit, understanding of commitment, camaraderie and making friends, increased self-esteem—-are not exclusive to dance competition involvement, but can be garnered from participation in most any group or team activity over a long period of time. The medium of dance itself appeals to many children, not because of these benefits, but because they love to move and express themselves. It is through this avenue that they feel a sense of satisfaction for the need for expression and physical exertion and release.
Participation in competition can provide is the means to gauge one’s progress in relation to other students of similar age in the field of interest, as well as give the student a path of growth and goals of achievement for which to strive. The process of rehearsal, coaching, improving technical proficiency, and artistic development represents the best aspects of competition. Keeping in mind that competition can be used as a tool of improvement, a vehicle by which focus on a specific goal and timeline of events brings achievement. It also brings stress…not necessarily a bad thing if viewed in the proper context and used in itself as a training tool. Understanding how to deal with deadlines, stressful situations, and remain calm under pressure take practice as well, and competitions can provide the perfect mix of these ingredients, if those involved understand the proper perspective. Understanding the professional landscape of high level training, of the technical requirements demanded by the professional world, as well as how to deal with the pressure of executing a peak performance on demand are all aspects of involvement in competition which help in training not only the body, but also the mind about what it means to be a professional in the world of dance.
Dance competition is completely subjective, based on the judges own background, experience, culture and proficiency, not to mention personal biases and allegiances. Even at the highest levels of the most elite international ballet competitions, political agendas and personal preferences still get in the way. And at low level competitive dance local competitions, judges hired by these organizations may have little if any professional performing experience outside of working with a competition organization upon which to base their judgment of proficiency. Putting too much weight on these decisions is not always helpful, nor an accurate picture of where a student stands in relation to their peers. Placing too much emphasis on the importance of a trophy (many competitions award prizes to all participants, regardless of actual accomplishment) does nothing for a students’ sense of self-image. Allowing students a false sense of accomplishment does not allow them to create a true and real sense of self-esteem…only diligent hard work over time to accomplish a difficult goal not previously achievable, allows children to develop a sense of self-worth. In addition, students, parents and even teachers can get too caught up in the competitive nature of these events, and resort to immature and even nasty behavior and attitudes.
Some high level ballet, dance or choreography competitions act as a springboard for a young dancer’s professional career, allowing many dance organization directors and choreographers access to see the newest and most accomplished dancers of their generation. This allows participants to essentially audition for many different people and organizations, and the ability to make important network connections, all in one place. Obviously, this is the highest calling of the competition genre…allowing students and sometimes young professionals, the chance to make a name for themselves, to promote themselves as the next generation of dance artists, and access to those who have the ability to help them forward in their careers.
Therefore, decide carefully which competitions to attend, how many to be involved in during a season, as well as to understand the preparation process, as well as the both the possible benefits and drawbacks.