September 2013 | On My Mind

Words from the publisher

Nothing in the dance education field provokes as much passionate debate as the pros and cons of dance competition. Some teachers live for competitions, while others enjoy the experience but consider it only a part of what they offer their students. Others are disgusted by it.

As a former “competition kid” and competition director, I understand the diverse opinions on the subject. At my seminars, I’ve heard hundreds of teachers express their views on the competition experience, and I have agreed with all of them at one time or another.

Here’s what I think about competition. When I was a kid, nothing was more inspiring than working my butt off to become the best dancer I could be—and I had to be better at each competition. In those days, though, my school went to only one competition each year; it was easy to see the improvement in the dancers and their teachers.

I’ve seen the days when 20 groups would compete in one category with all styles of dance, and only one would win. Yes, there would be second- and third-place awards, but the other 17 groups went home with nothing—and they didn’t quit dance, or decide to move to another school hoping they’d become a winner there. Instead, the teacher and the dancers worked harder so that when they went back they might be one of the winners. But it was OK if they didn’t.

Today kids who win super-titanium medals aren’t satisfied because they weren’t the big winner. And yes, you might think, “That’s why I hate dance competitions,” but remember, dance competitions aren’t the only places where this happens. You’ve probably smiled when your child won a trophy at camp simply because she participated. You felt awesome when your school was voted the best in town, even though you know you got every friend, relative, and former and current student to vote for you, and the other school owners didn’t. Everyone likes to win, and most of us are attracted to those we perceive as winners.

Whatever our opinions about competition are, they’re not something we can transform overnight. But we can start by changing our outlooks. I don’t think it’s a pipe dream to believe competition doesn’t have to be about winning. We, the adults in our children’s and students’ lives, teach them how much they should value the trophy.

Begin by letting the kids know that you love them no matter what score they achieve and that you appreciate the dancers who score high because they help to raise your standards. More important, you need to be honest. Tell your students (and their parents) that gold, high gold, and platinum are merely new names for bronze, silver, and gold medals.

To me, teachers are true winners when they influence the next generation to live in a realistic world. Do your part to reinstate the value of a healthy work ethic, which seems to have gone missing in today’s society. Simply showing up doesn’t make someone a winner; hard work and determination do. When you participate in competitions for the right reasons, their value becomes obvious.