September 2012 | Competition Directors Tell All

What they think about solos, video streaming, scoring, and more

Competition Directors Tell All Dance Studio LifeWhat do dance competition directors think about solos, video streaming, late nights, runaway scoring, and rising costs? Dance Studio Life got the inside scoop from more than 20 directors, and their candid responses to our questions (some directors did not answer every question) appear in alphabetical order by company name (sometimes abbreviated). We thank them all for their participation.

DAN BARRIS, executive director, Dancers Inc.
BRENDAN C. BUCHANAN, executive director, BravO! National Dance & Talent Competition
MELISSA BURNS, president/director, Turn It Up Dance Challenge Inc.
KIM COLN, director/founder, Battle of the DanceLines
SKIP COSTA, national director/owner, New York Los Angeles (NYLA) Dance Conventions & Competitions
SANDRA COYTE, executive director, Starbound National Talent Competition
DANIEL DeFRANCO, artistic director, Groove National Dance Competition
RON DeVITO, president, Access Broadway Inc.
GINNY FAUBELL, director, Beyond the Stars Talent Competition
JEREMY FULLAM, national director, and TIFFANY NAGEL, regional director, Thunderstruck Dance Competition
CINDY HOLLINGSWORTH, owner/president, Dance Troupe, Inc.
MICHELLE KRESGE, national director, Spotlight Dance Cup
KIM McKIMMIE, international director, I Love Dance
CHRISTINA MIRIA and GINA URSO, co-directors, Energy National Dance Competition
CARON MOORE, director, Encore Performing Arts Showcase Inc.
RON ROGERS, executive director, Platinum National Dance Competition
DAVID SANDERS, CEO, Legacy Dance Championships
ALAN SHERFIELD, executive director, West Coast Dance Explosion
NANCY STONE, vice-president, Dance Olympus/Danceamerica
SHARI TOMASIELLO, national director, and IRMA ZIEGLER, president, Headliners
STEVE WAPPEL, president/founder, StarQuest International
CATHY VUCINA, director, BackStage Performing Arts

Competition Directors Tell All Dance Studio Life

1. The number of solo entries is growing every year; sometimes up to 50 percent of all entries are solos. What are your thoughts on this trend?

Access Broadway (DeVito): From a business standpoint, competition directors would like to see as many groups and lines performing because of the additional revenue. Solos only represent a small portion of the financial pie and take up a lot of time. However, it’s very important for the growth of a performer to show what they can do and how unique they are. It takes a very brave person to share their talents, all alone, in front of an audience. Solos are great confidence builders.

BackStage Performing Arts (Vucina): We have definitely seen an increase in solo entries this season and believe it is a great trend. We love to see that an increasing number of dancers have the drive, determination, commitment, and courage it takes to be a soloist. We do, however, realize the importance of dancers working together in a group, and we haven’t experienced a decrease in group routines.

Battle of the DanceLines (Coln): I believe the growing number of solo entries is a reflection of the increasing interest of parents and dancers to pursue individual opportunities wherein the dancer can be critiqued on personal effort, thereby offering a faster track for personal growth and development.

Beyond the Stars (Faubell): Competition dancers frequently don’t have time to be on a sports team at school. Being part of a competition team and doing group dances gives them the same experience. If dancers do multiple solos at the expense of working as part of a team, I think they are losing out.

BravO! (Buchanan): The dynamics of registration are always interesting to watch. We have seen competitions with a large number of soloists, but some of our weekends are primarily group routines. As a growing trend, I would just say it is a reflection of how families are spending time in the studios. As there is more of a drive and desire for one-on-one coaching, it makes sense that the students would want to showcase the skills they have developed in private classes.

Dance Olympus/Danceamerica (Stone): Danceamerica has always limited the number of solos that an individual can perform both at the regional and national level. We have always had a good number of solos because they are a direct link to our title contest, and a great deal of the dancer’s placement score is based on their solo performance. I do think that solos have increased because of shows like So You Think You Can Dance; however, I feel that it is the responsibility of the competition to limit the number of solos [by one person]. It is better for the dancers to select their strongest discipline, do it well, and leave the audience and judges wanting more.

Dance Troupe (Hollingsworth): As the number of solo entries grows, the job of the choreographer gets harder and harder, trying to find music that will stand out. The dancer must also present more than what someone else is bringing to the stage. The dancer and the choreographer grow as they work together to find that special standout presentation. That said, we as a competition company are considering how we will handle the immense number of solo entries as we go into our 2012–2013 season. Most likely we will begin to limit the number allowed from each studio or begin a program that addresses just those entries.

Dancers Inc. (Barris): Solos are welcome at all events. They give dancers the opportunity to be critiqued on an individual basis. Solos are great moneymakers for studios in some instances, but if the soloists aren’t ready, are they going to suffer when they receive a critique from the judges that might be less favorable than one of a dancer who is completely prepared? If the dancers have thick-enough skin to be out there, then I believe it is the teacher’s responsibility to prepare them for an honest critique.

Encore (Moore): We’re thrilled to see dancers grow through performance opportunities offered by competitions with qualified judging panels. The experiences gained in performing as a soloist and in group routines are invaluable for young people in both dance training and “life training.”

Energy (Miria and Urso): Whatever the dancers feel they need to do, it’s great, and solos are a big category. We’re very flexible, so whatever works for a studio is what works for Energy.

Groove (DeFranco): While it is fantastic to see so many eager young dancers capable of performing so many solo entries, there are some drawbacks. Dancers become increasingly tired throughout a long weekend of performances. I would like to see students pick their best choreography to use competitively or alternate styles between each competition. I know they want to be onstage as much as possible, but I see value in limiting students’ entries in order to help them refine a single routine, rather than develop many routines that may not reach the same level of excellence.

Headliners (Tomasiello and Ziegler): We have no problem with solos as long as the dancers are really ready to be soloists. Many times we see dancers who are not prepared to be by themselves in the spotlight.

I Love Dance (McKimmie): We’ve always had a large number of solo entries because of the ability levels of beginning, elementary, junior, and senior within our six age-division breakdowns. We have large participation in the duo/trio category as well as groups, so I have not noticed any trend of more solos than in previous years.

Legacy (Sanders): We limit solos at our events to three maximum per soloist. I’m not loving the trend, especially when many soloists are not giving us entirely different looks. What’s the point of additional solos if they’re very similar in style? The other downfall is we watch the soloists’ group work suffer. This isn’t good because if they continue on into the professional dance world they will be working in a group situation at least 95 percent of the time.

NYLA Dance (Costa): We have seen a balance in the amount of solos to groups at all of our events the last few years. It seems like most dancers are finding the confidence to perform a solo these days, which is a great thing in my eyes.

Platinum (Rogers): Allowing all performers the opportunity to perform individually on a big stage is part of the competition experience. I think we are seeing more solos in recent years because parents enjoy seeing their children shine onstage. Also, dancers who don’t have a home studio and who attend multiple studios for different dance specialties are competing as independents in order to be involved in competitive dance.

Spotlight Dance Cup (Kresge): In an industry that is increasingly competitive, dancers are taking advantage of every performance opportunity, even if it means multiple solos at a single competition. It allows them to gain valuable feedback from knowledgeable adjudicators and maximize their growth as performers. Performing solos in multiple categories provides dancers with style-specific and relevant critiques for each genre. However, a single dancer competing more than three solos seems excessive and unnecessary.

Starbound (Coyte): Our competition is about teams. We love solos, but there always has to be a limit to how many can be accepted.

StarQuest (Wappel): The influence of the Internet and reality television allows everyone a chance to be a hero. I now see more and more dancers braving their way out of the ensemble and into the spotlight. Today’s generation of teachers grew up doing competitions. Pushing boundaries is part of their dance DNA. Dancers today receive more rigorous training and positive reinforcement, which instills stronger technique and higher self-esteem. This generation innovates through choreography, pushes their own physical boundaries, and develops new styles of dance. My hope is that as their bravery continues to evolve, these young artists will stay ever mindful that performing is an act of selflessness and not selfishness. Studio directors get to guide that perspective.

Thunderstruck (Fullam and Nagel): I think it’s great that more kids are performing solos. It is a confidence builder for every aspect of their lives. This year we have seen some dancers compete up to four solos each, and when these solos are in different dance forms, they can only better the dancer.

Turn It Up (Burns): I think with any routine, whether a solo or group performance, less is more. It is great to be able to show the judges what a well-rounded dancer you are; however, showcasing too many routines can cause later performances to become repetitive and predictable no matter how creative the choreography.

West Coast Dance Explosion (Sherfield): We don’t allow solos at our regional events due to time constraints. We don’t want parents to have to get their children out of school on Fridays, and we want the kids to have energy for classes, which we feel is the most important part of the convention weekend. Not allowing solo entries also encourages more of a team atmosphere.

Competition Directors Tell All Dance Studio Life

2. What are the growing pressures on competition directors today?

Access Broadway (DeVito): One is to keep our customers coming back every year. Over the past 10 years, the market has been flooded with so many competitions that schools have a huge variety of choice. I’m always reinvesting in my business and trying new and innovative things each year. It goes back to my days choreographing and staging events, always looking for that new step or combination that hadn’t been done yet. I give new ideas a try and keep the stuff that works, and if things don’t work out, I learn from it. It keeps me on my toes.

BackStage Performing Arts (Vucina): The fastest-growing pressure facing competition directors today would have to be venue costs.

Battle of the DanceLines (Coln): Securing suitable venues that can fully service our needs at an affordable cost. There is always internal pressure to provide a wonderful experience for the dancers and those who support them. Therefore, an exciting venue that has outstanding amenities, located in a city that has excellent tourist opportunities, is very important.

Beyond the Stars (Faubell): The rising cost of everything—venues, awards, travel—and balancing that with trying to provide a quality experience for studios; being fair and objective while finding a way for every studio to feel valued and to have some measure of success; and to host competitions that are big enough to provide good competition but not so big that they are overwhelming and run too late.

BravO! (Buchanan): The biggest pressure is to make every competition the best it can be. There are a lot of factors that account for how a weekend turns out, and each city presents new challenges, so the focus is never the same. You need to learn from past experiences as you stay open to any new situations. However, it is that unpredictability that makes each weekend interesting and keeps the competition teams on their toes.

Dance Olympus/Danceamerica (Stone): In light of rising venue expenses and requirements, it is often difficult to keep registration fees from increasing. Operational expenses such as airfare and hotel costs have risen drastically in the past several years, making it a challenge to operate in the black.

Dance Troupe (Hollingsworth): The cost of good venues is becoming more and more of a burden, especially for smaller companies such as ours. Other pressures are generated by the growth of the industry and technology, and staying in step with the needs of the competition community.

Dancers Inc. (Barris): To try to please everyone—all of the time. I want to create a machine that sucks the children through it and leaves parents and cameras behind. The kids are great—it’s some of the parents that need to learn etiquette. One more thing: no child left behind is great and all, but [teachers should] remember that competition [provides] a non-biased opinion for their dancers. The judges don’t know that Sally has never danced and comes from a less-than-stellar environment. Keeping dancers safe is a priority. When people take pictures, we never know where they will end up. We had to take several point deductions this year, and it’s not the dancers’ fault—it’s the fault of the parents who think that the rules don’t apply to them.

Encore (Moore): Television has certainly brought the competition industry into the mainstream and subjected it to a critical eye. Competitions must work harder than ever to be credible. In dealing with young people, competitions have an obligation to provide a chance for them to grow as artists, dancers, and people. This may not translate to winning a trophy or high score, but dancers deserve the opportunity to perform and be recognized.

Energy (Miria and Urso): Starting early and ending late. Dancers, studios, and families come to compete and not be so tired or stressed out that they can’t give it their all. Our motto is: start early (but not too early) and end at a reasonable time to give parents, students, and studio owners a chance to reflect on the day, have some downtime, and even some team-building time. I have seen competitions start at 7am with final awards at 11pm. That to me is not productive and can be overwhelming. If we have to book a second venue down the street to keep hours reasonable, we will.

Groove (DeFranco): The most prominent pressure I see is the desire for everyone to be a winner. While we want students to feel that they have done their best and grown as dancers, it is still a competition and not everyone can win. There is sometimes more value to not winning then winning. You become inspired and motivated, and go back to your studio and work for what you want to achieve. For this reason, we only give out trophies to our overall winners and focus on an educational experience with elements like free master classes to nurture the growth and future achievement of each dancer.

Headliners (Tomasiello and Ziegler): Competing with other competitions that give everyone golds or higher. We understand that that is a business decision to make events more appealing, but we feel it is detrimental to the dancers and studios since it creates a false sense of accomplishment. In life, not everyone can be a winner. Also, venue costs have skyrocketed. Rebates—our goal is to keep competition fees as low as possible, but now several competitions offer rebates to studios. Also, endless entries/endless days of competition. We cut off the number of entries so that dancers can get home at a decent hour. When a competition runs to midnight, there is too much pressure on the dancers and no way the judges can be at their best.

I Love Dance (McKimmie): When we reach maximum entries, we are unable to accept any additional routines. At a few of our popular cities, this may occur well in advance of the entry deadline date. I sometimes feel pressured when a dance teacher wants to enter a sold-out event and I am unable to accommodate her.

Legacy (Sanders): My biggest pressure is finding a good venue at a good time of year for each region. The other problem is trying to keep entry fees down in the face of exorbitant airfares. There are other pressures, but those are the biggies for me.

NYLA Dance (Costa): The growing cost of quality venues is getting outrageous, especially if other events have not taken proper care of the space and others get penalized for misuse. Another growing concern is that a lot of studios are registering later than normal due to financial difficulties, causing some dates to be prematurely cancelled, which puts us in a very bad place because we never want to disappoint the kids. So please register as early as you can.

Platinum (Rogers): Scheduling is a growing pressure. We aim to schedule the youngest dancers so that they are not performing late in the evening and staying for the entire weekend. We cap our competition entries so that we don’t begin any earlier than necessary on a Friday afternoon and make sure the competition’s final awards are early on Sunday evening. Also, keeping our competition family-friendly can be a challenge when we have never seen an entry before it hits the stage.

Spotlight Dance Cup (Kresge): The bottom line is always a concern: finding venues with reasonable rates, factoring in high union labor expenses, and budgeting around the increasing costs of travel. Hiring reliable, qualified staffers who will work hard and fulfill their contracts—and with the right mix of business and performing-arts experience—is challenging. With the growing number of competition participants and the sharp increase in special performance requests, it is sometimes difficult to avoid disappointing someone by turning them away or being unable to meet their scheduling requests. Finally, upholding the positive image of the dance competition industry has become a growing pressure with reality TV highlighting the not-so-positive aspects.

Starbound (Coyte): There is much pressure that if dancers receive a platinum at one competition, they go to another and expect the same award. What should make the dancers happy is being professionally evaluated by a qualified panel of judges and receiving a correct level of score. If they strive to be the best they can be, they will learn. I would like to see the focus back on offering an educational experience and evaluation without politics.

StarQuest (Wappel): There is a minimal number of available weekends, with a minimal number of venues, in a minimal number of cities, with an overabundance of competition organizations competing within these limits in a regional season of only 16 to 18 weeks. This drives venue costs to increase—aside from increases in credit card fees, royalties, etc. These difficulties, combined with the growing trend of studio discounts and rebates, create enormous pressure to maintain a quality event without compromising value. I believe an event maintains strong value if it always runs smoothly, on time, and with relentless consistency. I choose to focus on what we can control.

Thunderstruck (Fullam and Nagel): We have found it increasingly difficult to get studios to register their routines in a timely fashion, which results in schedules going out late. It is our mission to stay on time; however, whether the competition starts at 7 or 9am, dancers are not showing up on time and it is impossible to stay on schedule.

Turn It Up (Burns): One concern is the pressure to “reward” dancers with high scores. I would love it if every dancer could walk off our stage with a platinum trophy; however, it is not natural for everyone to win. Later in life when a dancer attends an audition or has a job interview, she might not receive that job. What are we teaching our young dancers? Are we teaching them that they do not have to work hard? Are we teaching them that by paying money (an entry fee), you automatically win? As a director, I have found that if you can stick to your principles and do what you believe is right, you will be a success.

West Coast Dance Explosion (Sherfield): It seems like a big trend nowadays to award dancers super-high scores—not necessarily because they deserve it, but because they want the studio to come back next year. It seems like there is more pressure on studio owners to “win” these days. So often, if a studio doesn’t win at an event, they simply won’t return to try again. It’s much easier to go to a different event and get the “win” there. Thankfully, there are still many studios that believe in education and working hard to earn their way to the next level.

Competition Directors Tell All Dance Studio Life

3. What are your thoughts on live streaming of competitions?

Access Broadway (DeVito): It’s a good idea as long as the transmission has a security block so that only the competitors and their families can log on. The safety and security of the children performing should be first and foremost, and any live web streaming of performances should be secure and protected.

BackStage Performing Arts (Vucina): We do not offer live streaming; however, we are torn about what seems to be a growing trend. On one hand, it is great to be able to offer the latest technology that will help family members who can’t attend a competition see their dancer perform, and on the other hand, we are always concerned with privacy, especially where children are concerned.

Battle of the DanceLines (Coln): It has both an upside and inherent challenges. It certainly could provide greater exposure to the world of dance competitions, but it could adversely impact some potential revenue-generating opportunities.

BravO! (Buchanan): I love the idea. Being able to share moments with family and friends who aren’t always able to travel is a wonderful thing. However, it is difficult because there is no way to control the receiving side. Even if we have a great Internet connection and everything is sending out correctly on our end, there is no way to guarantee everything will work properly for the families at home. That’s the main reason we kept from live streaming our 2012 season.

Dance Olympus/Danceamerica (Stone): The idea of a live stream kind of frightens me because of the nature of the business. These are (for the most part) children we deal with. Anything can happen in a live performance, such as costume mishaps, injuries, and general miscues. I would hate to see some child on a YouTube video for something that happened at a dance competition. We try to make competition a positive experience for the dancers, and the added pressure of a live stream could be detrimental to a young child.

Dance Troupe (Hollingsworth): We are excited about events that allow it; however, it also presents the inherent problem of persons gaining access to teacher and studio materials that are the sole rights of those persons. There is certainly a fine line. It should depend on the permission of the people participating.

Dancers Inc. (Barris): I want to steer clear from live streaming for as long as possible!

Encore (Moore): We will be implementing live streaming for our 2013 season in cities where the technical capabilities are workable. Live streaming is a new concept for our company, and our directors, judges, and advisors met during the summer to develop specific guidelines.

Energy (Miria and Urso): I feel for nationals it is very appropriate, but I think it’s up to the individual competition company to decide if it works for them.

Groove (DeFranco): There are both positives and negatives. While it is great for friends and relatives who are far away to see their loved ones dancing, and a fantastic idea and a great use of technology, from a choreographer’s perspective it can be tricky. Choreography is very personal and of high value to the choreographer. It is important that choreographers protect their rights and material, and we do not stream our competitions for this reason only.

Headliners (Tomasiello and Ziegler): It’s a nice option, but nothing beats seeing performances in person and giving the dancers the support they deserve.

I Love Dance (McKimmie): As in all theatrical events, filming, photography, or the use of recording devices of any kind should be prohibited during the show.

Legacy (Sanders): I am indifferent to live streaming. It’s a great advertising tool and allows friends and relatives who live far away to watch, but I’d rather have the audience come to the theater. Work produced for the stage is meant to be viewed onstage, not on a screen.

NYLA Dance (Costa): I am not in favor of that. Why go to the event if it is available online? I think the kids deserve the pleasure of looking out into the audience and seeing their parents and grandparents smiling back at them and cheering them on.

Platinum (Rogers): I like the idea. It allows friends and family who cannot attend the competition to to see their special performer compete. In addition, it could be good advertising for a competition. Prospective studio directors can watch a competition in action and determine if it would be a good fit for their students before actually attending and paying entry fees.

Spotlight Dance Cup (Kresge): On one hand, streaming competitions can provide an opportunity for families, friends, and potential clients to view the event. As with any live event, however, comes the risk of it not being presented in the best way possible. A competition is a live show and we have no delay and no means to edit the content. We want to be presented in a positive manner, and live streaming could take some of that control away. Additionally, there is a lot of technical and logistical work involved, and since we already have a videographer and photographer capturing every performance, a live stream might be best saved for special or national events.

Starbound (Coyte): Love it and think it is a great way for family members who do not live nearby to see their dancers.

StarQuest (Wappel): I believe dance is best viewed live. Nothing can replace the connection of performer to audience, the nuance of facial expression and human physicality, or the electricity that a spectacular performance can generate with a live audience. Streaming is a good way to keep those who cannot attend connected to the event. It’s definitely here to stay, but there is still no comparison to watching the magic of a great performance as a member of the audience.

Thunderstruck (Fullam and Nagel): We think it is a fantastic idea for family members and friends who are unable to make it to the event. However, we do feel the need for regulation so that not just anyone can watch; perhaps a password given out at the competition could regulate who can see it.

West Coast Dance Explosion (Sherfield): We don’t do it and don’t agree with it.

Competition Directors Tell All Dance Studio Life

4. Describe one recent moment that reminded you why you’re in this business.

Access Broadway (DeVito): One of my favorite students who had been coming to Access Broadway for years made her Broadway debut recently. In her Playbill bio she wrote, “I wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for Barbara and Ron DeVito of Access Broadway.” That confirmed to me that this is why we do what we do. Being able to mentor a performer, watching them grow, and being part of their development makes my job fun, not work. The icing on the cake is being kindly appreciated in such a gracious manner.

BackStage Performing Arts (Vucina): We have so many wonderful experiences with the dancers, studio owners, and parents who have participated in our events it is hard to pinpoint just one. The enthusiasm of the dancers and appreciation of what we do for them at every event is a constant reminder of why we do what we do.

Battle of the DanceLines (Coln): I was deeply moved by a group that participated in one of our competitions but did not win. They did, however, vow to return the next year and win, and win they did! It is refreshing when I see dancers in the face of defeat find a positive light and pursue it.

Beyond the Stars (Faubell): I love standing in the wings, watching the dancers prepare to take the stage. They’re so full of nervous energy, but when the music starts they become strong, confident performers. It happens so many times each weekend and it reminds me of what this experience can do for kids.

BravO! (Buchanan): In one of our Minneapolis competitions this year we had a routine comprised of 100 dads and 100 daughters. Seeing that many performers onstage is always thrilling. As a dad, I just thought about dancing with my daughter. It was amazing to see all those fathers being a part of their daughters’ lives. At the same competition, three studios performed together. They even had shirts that said, “3 Studios, 2 Rehearsals, 1 Routine.” At first I thought, “Wow, what a great experience. They’ll get to meet other talent from their area, learn from new choreographers, and get some real-life experience of performing after a short rehearsal process.” The outcome was so much more. Many weekends there is a fierce level of competition, but when this routine performed, the crowd went wild. It was amazing to see other studios embrace the unity.

Dance Olympus/Danceamerica (Stone): A young man who I had watched dance for years did not register for our Dancer of the Year program. I called his teacher and she said he felt he wasn’t a good enough dancer for the overall production number. He is always a joy to watch because he loves to dance and is a great performer, and I knew he had the talent and the personality to be a part of the routine. After my call, he reconsidered, registered, and ended up placing second runner-up at Nationals. Afterward he gave me a huge hug and thanked me for thinking of him, and I received a wonderful note from his mother saying how it changed his confidence level. This year, his was the first registration I received for the Dancer of the Year program.

Dance Troupe (Hollingsworth): A child came up to me after an event, so very excited, and thanked me for the awards she had been presented with. Her smile and genuine happiness reminded me why I continue to do what I do. And a young adult leaving for college who had been with our organization for many years also thanked us for the wonderful experience. We are motivated when we touch lives in a positive way.

Dancers Inc. (Barris): Since we started almost 10 years ago, we have always had special-needs groups get adjudicated and receive their awards right after they perform their dance. We do that so that the dancers aren’t over-sensitized by the crowd at a group awards ceremony. After one of the dances this season, the audience gave a standing ovation. A father came to me and said, “Dan, today my baby was a dancer, and thank you for treating her like everybody else.” I burst into tears and was strategically removed from the situation by my directors. I curled up in a ball like a meathead in the staff room for half an hour.

Encore (Moore): Being backstage and watching so many positive interactions between dancers, parents, and studio directors. Smiles, hugs, congratulations, and encouragement between dancers and parents from the same studio and from other studios as well illustrate “One Dance World,” with people sharing what they love. It’s fabulous to see and certainly warms my heart.

Energy (Miria and Urso): Recently, we had a group of Down syndrome dancers competing for the first time. The difference it made in their lives to be performing—I don’t think there was a dry eye in the house. Another time a dancer who been born with a birth defect had one leg, but had learned not to let it hinder her. It was unbelievable! She was doing pirouettes and everything else the girls in her group were doing. Those are things you never forget and some of the many reasons I am so glad to be in this business.

Groove (DeFranco): This season one of our judges burst into tears toward the end of a beautiful lyrical routine. She explained that the piece was about a daughter’s relationship with her father, and so accurately reflected the tone of her own personal experience that she couldn’t hold back her emotions. That reaffirmed why I got into this business—because art has the power to move people. The fact that I have the opportunity to help foster the creativity of the next generation of artists is the most beautiful and rewarding part of this industry.

Headliners (Tomasiello and Ziegler): Recently a former competitor emailed us to say that when she was a student she didn’t like coming to Headliners because she didn’t get “the good awards”—we were too hard. But then she thanked us because she was now trying to become a professional dancer and realizes that we told her the truth. That definitely made us smile and realize we are making a difference.

I Love Dance (McKimmie): A Los Angeles–based working dancer and professional dance educator sent an email thanking us, with a photo of herself receiving an award 20 years ago. She reminded us of how excited she had been then and said how happy she was now to be distributing awards and hugs to excited young dancers herself. I love the circle of life that I Love Dance brings.

Legacy (Sanders): I am reminded daily with texts and emails from parents and studio directors thanking me for running such organized events and going that extra mile for the kids.

NYLA Dance (Costa): Bravery. At nationals, a dancer who had lost her dad had the bravery to step on that stage and perform her solo in memory of him. It made me very proud to have NYLA Dance as this outlet for emotional and artistic expression.

Platinum (Rogers): Just this season, a parent thanked me for my words to the dancers and audience concerning the competition. I encourage everyone to remember that no matter what award they leave the stage with, their teachers and families are going to love them. The goal is to have fun, work hard, learn something from the experience, and use the critiques they receive to help improve their technique and overall performances.

Spotlight Dance Cup (Kresge): The growth and skill development of dancers I see year after year reaffirm why I love this business. It’s amazing to see dancers begin competing at an early age and watch them grow into talented and beautiful dancers. I feel a sense of pride when I see so many working professionally in the industry and know that I may have played a small role in their success. Additionally, I relish the feedback I get from parents and dancers about the positive impact competing has had on them.

Starbound (Coyte): A longtime competitor—now a studio owner—came to our show with his dancers and let us know that he always felt like he grew up with the Starbound family and wanted his dancers to feel that same positive energy. Also, a handicapped dancer from New Jersey shared her wonderful spirit and love of dance with us. [These examples] reinforce that this is for everyone, at every level.

StarQuest (Wappel): I was at an industry friend’s birthday party when a young woman introduced herself. I had presented her with a regional title more than 10 years ago, and she said she now realizes that being a “comp kid” positively affected every aspect of her professional and personal life. Those competitive years now define her. Wow. Mission accomplished. This happened while I was speaking to a non-competition studio director about the merits of a dancer’s competitive life. When the former dancer departed, I turned back to the studio director. There were tears in her eyes.

Thunderstruck (Fullam and Nagel): Every year we have a young woman with Down syndrome who competes. While she is dancing, the joy on her face lights up the entire room. When I see her, I remember how lucky I am to do something I love every day, and that we give others the opportunity to share their love of dance with the world.

Turn It Up (Burns): As a former member of a competitive dance team, I have nostalgic memories every time I work a competition. Simply watching routines has brought tears to my eyes. However, it is when I least expect tears that they sometimes come. One day a tiny peanut of a girl handed me a newspaper clipping mounted on pink construction paper. The picture was of her posing with a master teacher from our nationals the previous year. She had waited almost a year to give it to me in person!

West Coast Dance Explosion (Sherfield): It seems like every week we get a letter from a student, teacher, or even a parent thanking us, saying that the training, critiques, words of encouragement, and opportunities we offer have changed their lives and helped them to fulfill their dreams. What more of a reminder could we want of why we are in this business? That’s what it’s all about!

Competition Directors Tell All Dance Studio Life

5. Name one thing you’d like to change about competitions if you could get every competition director’s buy-in.

Access Broadway (DeVito): It may sound crazy, but it would be very interesting if everyone would drop the gold, platinum, diamond, kryptonite, or whatever scoring tiers they have and simply have first, second, third, fourth, and fifth place, and honorable mention. This way when you cross-reference your score from competition to competition you know how you placed compared to the others. I know the fancy award names add flash, but I think it would be an eye-opener for schools if we all did it.

Battle of the DanceLines (Coln): I would have there be a consistent level of attainment for the competitions: bronze, silver, gold, and platinum. There seems to be a competition among directors to see who can have the newest and highest levels. What’s next, double or triple titanium?

Beyond the Stars (Faubell): I wish we could find a way for our award systems to be less confusing for kids and parents. Studio directors, teachers, and competition directors all know that it doesn’t matter what you call it—there’s always a highest level and a lowest level awarded. However, since gold is the highest award at one competition and the lowest award at another competition, how are dancers and their parents supposed to know what it really means?

BravO! (Buchanan): I’d add a category for Broadway-sized props.

Dance Olympus/Danceamerica (Stone): The subject definitions have changed in the past several years, making it very hard on the teachers to place their routine in the proper category. A lyrical is not always a lyrical, and contemporary has different meanings depending on the competition. Teachers get stressed out when we move their routine into what we consider the correct subject.

Dance Troupe (Hollingsworth): I suppose that if we could have consistent rules, regulations, and time limits it would be helpful to the participating studios. However, to get each competition to buy in to a certain procedure is to ask them not to be true to who they are. Differences are what make life so enjoyable, with choices that are suitable to a variety of tastes and needs.

Dancers Inc. (Barris): Can we all just get along? Competitions run so differently. The philosophies are unique, and each should be embraced for those unique qualities, but the outcome is the same: an award for a performance presented. But again, Michael Phelps, the most decorated athlete of all time, is fine with a gold award. When did the “Double-Triple Cream Cheese-Iced with Rainbow Sprinkles Octagonal-Shaped Ruby Award” become the fashion? We are going to start offering a “Wasabi Mustard ’Cause You’z Hot” award next year.

Energy (Miria and Urso): I think it would be the early start times and too-late end times. It becomes confusing for people—let alone the judges—to look at all those numbers crammed into a day. Keep it simple; keep it reasonable. Start early, but not too early. End at a time where folks have a chance to regroup before they come back. If you can, get it in on one day so families will have some time left on their busy weekend. If we can run for one day, we do. If we have several entries, then we go to two and occasionally three, but we keep it very reasonable.

Groove (DeFranco): While it does not matter what you call your adjudicated award medals, people carry stigmas from one competition to another and associate certain medal titles with certain levels of achievement. I would like to get rid of high gold and high silver. A studio director once said to me, “There are no high golds in the Olympics.”

Headliners (Tomasiello and Ziegler): Scoring! It’s our biggest pet peeve. Too many competitions focus on feel-good scoring and awards. Wouldn’t it be nice if all competitions used the school grading system (90s are As, 80s are Bs, 70s are Cs), which is realistic and easy to understand. Although adjudication is wonderful, it has gotten out of hand. There are times we wish we could go back to first, second, and third.

I Love Dance (McKimmie): We have always encouraged warm, generous, and enthusiastic applause, and applause only. It is disrespectful to performers and judges to yell and scream from the audience. Competitions that encourage the type of behavior associated with wrestling matches should rethink what kind of show of appreciation is suitable for dance events.

Legacy (Sanders): I’d love to go back to one competitive division. I know having novice, intermediate, and advanced divisions is attractive to many, but doesn’t it somewhat defeat the purpose of competing? It definitely waters things down and makes them less exciting.

NYLA Dance (Costa): It would be great to have an established set of entry fees and a rebate guideline across the board.

Platinum (Rogers): I would like to do away with regional competitions starting on Wednesdays or Thursdays. These mid-week start times place hardships on families and I also think they send the wrong message to the kids. A child’s scholastic education should trump dance competition attendance. Let’s not force parents to make this decision (missing school) in order to attend the competition, and let’s not make studio owners have to ask or expect this from their parents.

Spotlight Dance Cup (Kresge): I would like to see companies maintain the integrity of what a true competition should be—a competition! Inflated awards and an “everyone wins” award system make it more difficult to keep clients happy when they think they should always come out on top because that’s how they scored at the last competition. I would like to see all companies utilize a true adjudicated system, using multiple awards—not just their top one or two award levels. It is a disservice to our youth to misrepresent their capabilities and is disheartening to those who truly earned the high marks when everyone receives the top awards.

Additionally, I believe offering deep discounts to attract larger studios or not enforcing rules for everyone creates a sense of entitlement and special treatment that studios expect each competition to uphold.

Starbound (Coyte): I would love for all competitions to align their rules and regulations and have a moral code of ethics. As a former dance studio owner and current competition director, I understand that the teachers have to read through everyone’s rules and regulations, and there isn’t any standard. It would be great for all if there could be.

StarQuest (Wappel): We all need to maintain our uniqueness. It is what defines each of our organizations. I would love to see a unified website serving as a central hub wherein every studio could type pertinent competition information one time, click a button, and be able to send it to any of our comps. We are all in this together.

Thunderstruck (Fullam and Nagel): I would love to have the same scoring system so that the dancers could see their progress at each event they go to.

Turn It Up (Burns): I would love to see every competition have the same rules and regulations. It would make things much easier for both the competition directors and the studio directors. It is understandably hard for a director to read each competition’s rules, and possibly even have to change their routines to adhere to each standard, every time they enter a new competition.

West Coast Dance Explosion (Sherfield): We believe the judging and scoring should be truthful. Rewarding students with top scores when they still have much work to do to improve their technique and performance sends the wrong message.