Dance Competitions: Is your team ready?
October 29, 2014
When you teach performance based classes, there can clearly be a lot of pressure for your students to perform. Many dance schools used to be able to satisfy that pressure by performing in a localized or non-competition event such as a recital or some healthy rivalry between a handful of area based schools.
That all changed when drama, reality and competition television exploded with dance themes in the early 2000’s. And they seem to keep multiplying with shows like So You Think You Can Dance, America’s Best Dance Crew, Dancing with the Stars, Dance Moms, Bunheads, Breaking Pointe and many more. More than ever before, dance schools and instructors are feeling the heat to compete- the pressure seems to be coming in from all sides – parents, students, financially invested business stakeholders, etc.
But even with all this pressure, there’s one simple question that needs to be answered…
Can your students hold their own?
Of course, as parents or instructors, you want to believe the best of your students. And you want to push them to be the best they can be—but a competition may not be the best answer. Local showcases or recitals to encourage healthy student growth and friendly competition may be better suited to some students with lower skill levels and studios with small budgets.
But the intent of this article is not to hold you back from the wonderful world of competition. The intent is to remind coaches and parents to step back and take an honest assessment of the team outside of the growing pressures of the dance world.
Let’s start by taking a look at a few competition related pros and cons ...
Competition is a great motivator for some students. Some students need bigger motivators than simple self-improvement. They want tangible rewards that they can show to the world. And there’s certainly nothing wrong with that!
Establishing clearly defined progress. Teaching to a designated routine can provide an element of clearly marked progress for parents and students. As each segment of the routine gradually improves and evolves into a smooth and completed piece—anyone can easily see that the dance looks better.
Parents get more involved. If you operate with short class times and require a lot of independent study, competitions can be a great way to get parents involved in a child's progress. Every parent would like to see their child win at a competition, so they are more likely to encourage and participate in safe practice time outside of class.
A confidence booster. Performing well in a competition can provide a great confidence boost for students and their parents. Parents feel that their money has been well spent and students feel energized and accomplished.
Building a team mentality. Competition can encourage teamwork and comradery among students. To succeed at competition, students are more likely to work together as a unit and help struggling team members improve their performance. These are critical cooperation and communication skills that translate to real world problems.
The benefit of new experiences. Competitions expose parents and students to new types of choreography, music, and styles. They can be a great help in convincing parents to get on board with new or trending techniques. Competitions can also be very educational for students interested in expanding their knowledge of the dance world at large.
Performing under pressure. The pressures of strict competition can make some students nervous and cause them to under-perform. They are unhappy, the team is unhappy, and they can internalize that criticism in an unhealthy manner.
Results based teaching instead of formal education. Students taught to dance by pure routine don’t always learn the science behind their techniques, leading to injuries and limited long-term performance capability. While teaching to a routine is not inherently bad- and is a widespread introductory technique- it’s important to educate students about their body and the potential injuries that can result from the repeated use of improper technique.
Instructor focus in the classroom. Instructors who are pressured to win competitions might unintentionally shift the focus away from teaching all of the students and toward those who need the most improvement to beat the competition. While this will improve the routine, an instructor focused solely on a winning routine might not be able to properly nurture a student who already possesses the skills necessary to perform it; limiting that student's growth as he/she waits for teammates to catch up.
Losing the fun and enjoyment of dance. The harsh criticisms received from judges, parents, coaches, teammates or even an audience can single out students. While dramatic blowups might make for good reality television- this kind of behavior in real life can significantly impact student confidence, friendships with teammates, and even the student's level of enjoyment or interest in pursuing dance.
Teacher’s pet. Special treatment of higher caliber students within a competition focused team can work against general efforts toward team building and camaraderie. If the rest of the students feel like they are being held to a standard they can’t reach or the instructor unintentionally favors a student who is a quick study—the students will feel the impact. The star student might be alienated or bullied and drop out if things go too far—leaving the team one short and the remaining members no better off.
Competing for business. Parents who attend competitions can begin to judge instructors or even entire businesses by the competition. The readiness, skills and performance of other students and teams become a tool for measuring the value and success of your business relationship. That train of thought can lead to less repeat business for schools who consistently under-perform at competitions.
How do you know if your team is ready?
With this checklist of the pros and cons of competition in mind, the best indicator is going to be knowing what you’re getting into. You already know that the pressure is going to be on NOT ONLY the students to perform well, but also on you- as the instructor or business owner- to show that you can prepare those students properly. So before you sign up for a competition, check out the competition. You can usually find past performances at the competition on YouTube or request them from the organization that backs it. This will allow you to assess the level of precision, skills, and techniques required to feasibly compete with the other teams who are likely to attend.
While you should always challenge students to improve, pitting them against an opponent they cannot realistically match is basically just setting them up for failure. That situation doesn’t end with warm and fuzzy feelings. Most importantly, remember that perhaps the most difficult and critical aspect of your job as an instructor is to honestly and critically assess student skill sets so that you can guide each student toward self-improvement.
If a competition is going to bring on all of the pressure and none of the benefits, your team probably isn't ready yet.