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Competition, General, How To...

Lessons Learned from Dance Competitions

Many students have fun at competitions and conventions but in between the fun, there can also be disappointment.  Results can be unpredictable, because of the many factors involved:  the dancers’ performance, costumes and music; the performances of other schools in the same categories; and the opinions of the three or more judges who have been viewing routines for many consecutive hours.

It is important for teachers and parents to set good examples by understanding these factors. All that the dancers are able to control is only their own performance, but teachers and parents can help them deal with disappointments.

Sandwich a Negative with Two Positives

Returning to the studio after competition is a good time to give constructive criticism to the students. This means voicing something that could be viewed as negative between two compliments. Start by giving a compliment about the routine, such as “The pirouettes we worked on last week were more in sync,” or express empathy, with “There were some very polished routines in your category.”

The second statement can include something the dancers should work on: “Remember, the judges are looking for technically solid performances, so your feet must be pointed every time they leave the floor.” Finally, finish the sandwich with a forward-looking statement, like “There will be more opportunities for us to excel this year. We will work on what we need to, and return even stronger.”

Keep Personal Issues Out of the Conversation

It is possible that a student, teacher or parent worked with one of these particular judges in the past.  If the scores do not match up with expectations, it does not mean that this judge is “out to get” anyone. The judge may not remember, or may not even associate individuals with a particular routine. Whatever personal issues may have been present in the past with a judge, competition company, rival studio, or other teachers, they should be put aside.

Also, teachers and parents should treat competing studios with respect. By showing the students a good example in dealing with other studios, a friendly sense of competition can be fostered, instead of building feelings of resentment.

Use Critiques to Develop Dancers, Not Attack Them

While at a competition, with adrenaline pumping, it can be easy for parents or teachers to call out students for their errors; however, this kind of criticism will be ignored by a dancer who feels attacked.  If an error was made, it is better to speak with the dancers in private.  Phrases like “what can we do to…” or “how can I help you to…” are better ways to bring about improvements.  By engaging in dialogue, rather than pointing fingers, everyone can feel that they are a part of the solution and have a sense of pride when the piece is performed correctly.  It will benefit everyone involved to put all drama aside, before, during and after a competition.

If, as a teacher or choreographer, you do see something that is very wrong in a piece, make note of it. It is probably not something that should be worked out in the wings at that very competition, and definitely not something to attack the dancers for backstage, in front of other performers. When you return to the studio, take the necessary time to effectively correct the mistakes. Let the students know that you value their time and effort, and the dancers and routine will be much improved for the next competition.

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About Terry

Terry Finch is a dance teacher and choreographer with an extensive training and teaching background that spans 26 years. Terry has held a variety of teaching positions, from assisting instructors at her dance studio, to teaching at summer performing arts camp, and leading college level master classes. She is currently in her fourth year as a dance teacher at a studio in central Pennsylvania.

One Response to “Lessons Learned from Dance Competitions”

  1. On October 23, 2011 at 4:11 pm DAKJ mom responded with... #

    I like your recommendations. My kids’ dance studio does not do competition but these rules apply to any type of competition. I especially like the one about keeping personal issues out. I have heard so many people complain that a judge is out to get them or has something against that particular team. Also, as parents we need to remember that other competitors are also someone’s children and just like we wouldn’t want someone to be mean to our child, we shouldn’t be mean to theirs.

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