The Competition Culture
Ann Bode
Ann Bode
Apr 12, 2021

The Competition Culture

Over the past 20 years, the field of dance competitions has ballooned from a select few to thousands of different companies holding events around the country every week. There are competitions that stand alone or others associated with conventions. There are also conventions that just offer classes and showcases. Many are quality organizations with noble intentions. They share their knowledge of dance and the arts, give constructive critiques, and encourage young dancers. However, because of the popularity of these events, a certain culture is emerging..... “The Competition Culture".

For me, competitions are always a touchy thing in dance. It seems there are huge differences of opinion when it comes to judging art or entertainment with a point system. Much of the judging is based on technique - which is most certainly an important part of dance.  However, dance is personal and a matter of taste, style and opinion too. It's sometimes a ridiculous thing to try to put a number on it. Not only that, some of the most entertaining and truly amazing numbers I’ve ever seen had very little technique in them. They were just clever, had a good use of staging or were a great story. How do you judge that? More importantly, how do you ignore it because it does not have the perceived level of difficulty?

I spent some time working for dance competitions in my early teaching years. It was grueling and difficult. I tended to score the entertaining numbers higher as I value the enjoyment as much as the accomplishment. Hence my love of the "Entertainment Award" at any competition. It's the one I want to go home with. Not everyone agrees with me, but I just don’t see how the entertainment factor doesn’t come in to play. Dance is a performing art, meant to be shared and it's impact on an audience is the most important thing (in my opinion).

The other thing I always took notice of was the choreography. It's an amazing feat for a teacher to create art or entertaining numbers with their non-professional students. That is why the other award I always hope for is the choreography accolade. It takes great skill and much thought to create something competitive when you are dealing with children and students still in the midst of the learning process.

The competition scene does not always reward creativity, but can inadvertently foster conformity. Not only that, we are working with students - children who are in the process of building their skills. Seems unfair to subject them to trying to "win", but again this is just my viewpoint. I am not the type of mentor that pushes for technical perfection at a young age. It's about development and timing. It’s about learning and growing! So competition can sometimes be inappropriate for kids during the learning process, but the right amount can be inspirational.

My reasons for attending competitions with my dance studio have always come from my students. They want to be able to get out there and show what they are doing as well as see what their peers are up to. However, occasionally when I attend these competitions, I am disappointed with what they are rewarding and how they are influencing young dancers.

After many years experiencing a variety of competitions, I have become very selective when choosing a company to work with. These competitions exist because of businesses like mine. They would not BE if it weren't for the dance studios that they solicit. They charge between $40 and $120 per number per dancer in some cases just to perform, so choosing one where everyone feels enriched is important.

Perhaps finding a way to bring some of the dance community together to celebrate what we do rather than compete is a better idea? I don't like feeling competitive towards other dance studios as I think those of us who dance and teach dance have so much in common - A love for dance and children and a desire to share our knowledge and love for the art form. As a creative person, when obstacles arise I am interested in finding a way around them. I’m moving towards creating something BETTER for kids to achieve rather than a plastic trophy or an elite top first platinum titanium award - although I do not discredit these accolades. I just think finding a cause other than competitions to use our talents towards would be a ... win-win!

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