Open letter to Dance Competitions & Conventions PART ONE
Competitions & Conventions are Important
I believe in getting our determined dancers out of the studio from time to time. This consists of competitions, conventions and even dance festivals and/or different seminars. Healthy competition:
3.Allows students to appreciate other dancers
4.Expands their horizons
5.Creates a community of like-minded people that get share their creations and abilities with each other
As a teacher, that is what I LOVE about conventions… my students get to re-fuel their fire and fall in love with dance even more. And let’s be honest, we’ve all had that experience where a guest teacher says something we’ve been saying for years and our student FINALLY gets it! Although frustrating as a teacher, I welcome these moments because sometimes it takes a different tactic to trigger a deeper understanding of the concept. The point is that competitions and conventions have many benefits that I believe in and have my team students participate in.
We Need Each Other
Dance studios are businesses so are dance competitions and conventions . We need each other. As an owner of a studio that has a highly competitive dance team, I am fully aware of the ways that I need competitions and conventions. There are so many benefits to them that go over and beyond what I listed above. Not ALL dance studios need competitions and conventions as there are many that exist without them. However, ALL dance competitions and conventions need dance studios. It’s my hope with this letter that I start to open up the eyes of competition and convention owners to the dance studio owner’s perspective.
The market is so saturated now that dance studios have SO many choices of which competitions and conventions to attend. With a large quantity of choices, how does a studio owner/dance teacher decide? Is it based on the discounts provided, the free hotel room given if I bring my whole team or if we score well there every year? OR is it the positive impact made on my team dancers, their ability to be fair & consistent with their rules and their ability to understand the importance of studio training and a desire to nurture that relationship rather than challenge it… So, owners of dance competitions and conventions if you want to know what some (maybe most) studio owners are thinking AND if you care about the future of the next dance generation, please keep reading!
How do you impact our dancers?
The policies and processes of dance competitions and conventions effect my dance studio and my dancers. It’s the absolute truth and I can’t do anything about it except choosing which competitions/conventions our studio participates in (although, MAYBE us studio owners can speak up, be heard, and make a long-term change). Of course, we all want the affect you have on our students to be a positive one but in the last 10 years so much has changed in the competitive/convention world and I am deeply concerned. The positive side effects that we as studio owners and teachers hope for are: motivation, inspiration, making connections, feeling accomplished, getting feedback about dance ability and even getting validation from time to time that they/we are on the right track.
The negative side effects that I am concerned about have to do with how much power & control the competition and/or convention has on my students& their parents. Let me give you some examples:
*I’m concerned about your words – We, as studio teachers, know that our words are powerful! What we say matters. Competition and Conventions owners need to make sure their staff and teachers understand this also. A convention teacher should not be telling kids that college does not matter, or that being an independent dancer is a good idea OR that ballet classes are overrated. And YES, all these things have really been said and of course they are extreme examples. However, young people have pecking orders when it comes to the value of advice! Sometimes what the studio teacher says will outweigh the advice of their own parents. Imagine what weight it holds when a convention teacher gives advice… it means everything and they will take your word as gold! I have seen the direct result of these words - dancers who think that they should not go to college based on the words of a convention teacher, or that they should only want to focus in one genre because a convention teacher said that is what is hiring in LA at the moment, and my favorite is students saying that they are thinking of becoming an independent dancer because a convention teacher went that route and it worked for them… (wait for part two of this blog to hear my thoughts on taking young dancers out of their studio training)!! Convention teacher’s words are taken so very seriously and I need to be able to trust convention teacher to be cautious, and not to undermine the training and advice they’re getting at the studio. Not that I always have the perfect advice for my dancers, although I work hard to, but I know my students better than a convention teacher and I have their best interest at heart LONG TERM.
When it comes to competition critiques, the issue is sometime the lack of words. The dancers pay good money to get quality feedback and a judge should definitely say more than ‘Cute costume’ and ‘Great job’. We know that when you have been judging for hours on end that you are tired, but please make the effort with every dancer that you have on stage in front of you to make an impact with your words and share with them your expertise.
*I’m concerned about your example – We teachers are under the microscope constantly. It’s a challenging part of our job but if you are working with children and teenagers, it’s absolutely unavoidable. Please know that your behavior has an impact on our dancers. They look up to their convention teachers and some even aspire to be like you. If a convention teacher is rude outside of the classroom, is smoking in plain view, is speaking of inappropriate topics with them and the absurd of past teachers drinking with students at the hotel or even having unsuitable relationships with young dancers… it is not acceptable! I am sure that the new convention teacher maybe coming off a reality dance show might not understand how these expectations might go hand in hand with simply walking in and teaching a dance class every week-end in a different city, but it is the convention owner’s job to make them aware and to be clear with their expectations. If you are being paid to teach young dancers, you are not just being paid to teach them dance! That is something that all studio dance teachers know (at least I hope!)
*I’m concerned about your awards – We have all heard of the ‘participation award’ trophy epidemic and dance competitions definitely have a part in it. I miss the days of 1st, 2nd, 3rd place…period! There are simply too many awards and it is teaching our dancers to expect something every time they compete. Does this prepare them for the real world? Absolutely not! Another equal thought for conventions is when they hand out too many scholarships. I have been to conventions lately when there are more dancers on stage as scholarship finalists and winners than there are left on the ballroom floor in the audience. Scale it back and it gives the scholarships more value and importance. I remember the days when Tremaine didn’t let you audition until you were 16 and then there was just 2 scholarships given away. I know that was a long time ago but it was more realistic to the real world and had a greater impact on the dancers long term… both those that won and those that did not. Young dancers are now valuing themselves solely based on the awards and scholarships that they get rather than just dancing because they truly love it – regardless of recognition! Less awards would allow them to get back to simplicity of dance & to see it as the art form that it is.
*I’m concerned about what is appropriate- If you have read my previous blog series, you know how passionate I am about this subject. Thank goodness for YPAD organizations starting to bring more light to ‘why’ we need to be cautious about appropriate music and movements for young dancers. I know this will seem like a bold statement but here it goes, ‘If competitions stop letting it win, it will become the less popular thing to do!’ Think about it for a second… some parents and teachers will do almost anything to win. It doesn’t make it right on their behalf but when it comes down to it, they will stop using inappropriate movements if competitions stopped allowing inappropriate choreography to win! BOTTOM LINE! Every competition ‘encourages’ family appropriate material but I truly believe that they are fearful to hold strong to this, because they are concerned with losing business. However, if EVERY competition started to do this, it would become the new ‘norm’ and studios would just have to get used to it. I have heard some judges say, ‘but it’s not the dancer’s fault, I don’t want to score them less because of the movement.’ Then, let it reflect in the choreography score and explain why on the recording. What a great lesson for the choreographer and the parents!! What if more judges did this? This alone would be a game changer and I will gladly support any competition that will stand strong in this area. This means that the competitions will need to educate and train them to score those numbers lower with the choreography score regardless of the talent of the dancer. Furthermore, this situation also refers to convention teachers who need teach age appropriate moves to appropriate music for the same reason. Many of them are in the adult dance world and need to be able to scale back what is normal in that part of their career in order to present something appropriate to the children that they teach every weekend at conventions and/or local studios.
Thank you for reading! I am not trying to attack any particular competition or convention, just trying to expose concerns that I know exist. I truly believe that our future dance generations depend on us to make changes in these areas as I am concerned for what we are creating in our young dancers if we continue to ignore these issues or worse… continue further down these pathways.
Stay tuned for PART TWO to discuss young dancers assisting, the independent dancer phenomenon and taking dancers away from studio training.