Making the Leap: A few things to know before your child competes
Updated: Apr 25, 2019
To Compete, or Not to Compete
That is the question.
Over the years I have often had parents of dancers ask me if they should have their children participate in Dance Competitions and how it all works. My answer is…
Dance competitions may have evolved and grown over the years, but they’ve been around for decades. What was once a handful of competitions dominated by giants, such as Dance Masters of America, has now grown into the 100s with new competitions popping up annually.
There are many long-term, positive aspects about having your child compete, but there can also be some highly negative ones as well. If you’ve ever seen the show Dance Moms you’ll understand what I mean by that. While that particular medium is by no means a true depiction of all studios or competitions, it does shine a light on the negative side and what can and often does happen when parents and dancers are only focused on the “win”.
As the Owner/Director of AMS Dance Collective, teacher, and mom of a son and daughter, who both competed at a young age, for me the positive outweighs the negative. And I believe a result of their participating has aided in many of their successes today, as they are all but adults now. The choice of studio you decide upon to instruct your son or daughter has more of an impact on the pros and cons than an actual competition does. We’ll talk more in-depth about how to go about choosing the right studio for your family in a different post.
Having your child enter the world of competing strengthens their confidence, helps teach them about how to handle winning and losing with grace, the importance of teamwork, and also accountability. It often brings into focus one’s determination, drive and persistence. These are all wonderful tools for life, not just dance. In addition to all of those, it gives kids another opportunity to perform on a stage in front of people, often helping to overcome fears which in turn can help them in school, when having to present a project, or give a speech. That leads to more comfort as they grow older and find themselves having to speak or present in front of a group of work peers... and so on.
Another positive aspect is that many competitions today also include a Master Class that your child is invited to attend. Master Classes and conventions are other great opportunities for your budding dancer, but we’ll tackle that subject on a different day.
Now for the flipside. The yin to the yang of it, if you will. Dance Competitions can, and has brought out the “diva” in some dancers, AND parents. We’ve all heard stories of a parent who competed when they were younger and their hunger for approval and acceptance is thrust upon their child from birth, and a “win at all costs” mentality turns their child into, well, for lack of a better word a...bully. This can happen in studios who are not competition based, or studios who are. While there are studios who perpetuate that problem with owners who were once those kids, they are slowly becoming the minority. Again, choosing a studio that is the right fit for your family goes a long way. And there are many different types of studios out there.
To help, here are a few examples:
Competition Based- Competition studios focus on teaching routines, with limited time, if any, spent on technique classes. The technique is taught inherently within the routines using a ‘watch me, do this’ or ‘I do it, you do it’ approach. Classes tend to have a large number, often 20-25 in class, and the focus is in creating energetic, eye-catching, sometimes trick-filled choreography that the audience and judges love. May or may not have an end of the year performance to showcase the dances in for friends and family unable to attend competitions. Dancers attend 3-5 competitions each season, with several traveling to compete at a National level typically out of state.
Artistic Based- These studios tend to take a more holistic approach. There is a curriculum with a focus strong on technique. Classes are generally smaller and often have more distinct levels of ability. Dancewear is modest and, in the case of ballet, may be limited to leotard, tights, shoes, and hair in a bun, to mirror the more strict regimen of ballet. These studios may or may not have a Company that performs either in-house/theater or at various locations around the city. The focus tends to only be on showcasing the technique dancers have learned, or specific choreographer pieces, solely for the sake of sharing and expressing the art.
Performance based- These studios are similar to competition based studios, but instead of competing dancers solely focus on performing and entertaining at various venues locally, regionally and nationally.
Recreation Based- Studios that don’t follow a calendar schedule and offer drop-in classes. Focus can be on specific genres for a dancer with no performance, whether it be during the year or end of year. Solely for exercise.
Non Competition Based/ Traditional- These are studios that are a combination of all of the above. They follow a typical school year calendar focusing on a curriculum, teaching solid technique in various genres. Often ending with an optional end-of-year dance recital/showcase. These studios also offer, (but do not require dancers) the opportunity to compete if they would like the experience; as a soloist, or in small to large groups, only entering into competitions 2-3 times a season. Studios will also look for opportunities within their community for their dancers to perform.
In addition to understanding these different types of studios, go a step further and do a bit of homework. Look into the different competitions your chosen dance studio participates in to help you make a more well-rounded decision. Understand that there is a great deal of time/money you and your dancer will be investing. Each one will have detailed information about what they offer, rules, pricing, etc.
A few of my favorites (in no particular order) are:
If you have been thinking about allowing your children to compete, I say go for it! But do it for the love of dance, not the love of trophies. Because at the end of the day the “win” begins and ends in the process, preparation and experience itself.