Savvy studio owners know how to make the dance competitive team experience at their school a winning program for everyone involved—students, parents, faculty, and, of course, themselves.
Rhee Gold knows how, too. With experience as a top competitive dancer, a competition owner/director, and a studio owner he’s seen the dance competition industry from every angle. Share in his inside knowledge this weekend (November 17 and 18) when the DanceLife Retreat Center offers “And The Winner Is . . . ”, a unique intensive for teachers who participate in dance competitions.
From choreography to fees, building morale to choosing dancers, handing out solos to writing handbooks, this weekend will tackle the tough questions. Bring your stories, bring your questions, and get ready for an inspirational, informational weekend that will have you pumped right through nationals!
For more information, visit http://www.danceliferetreat.com/#!fall-2012/vstc3=winner.
Now that the hectic registration rush is done and kids are settled in their classes, many teachers turn their attention to competition season—and Dance Studio Life is here to help.
Our annual Competitions and Conventions listing is a comprehensive guide to what’s happening on the team scene, from friendly old favorites to cutting-edge newcomers. We’ve done the work of collecting contact information and descriptions of more than 150 competitions and conventions, and presented them in an easy-to-read format illustrated with energetic photos. Whether it’s a multi-day intensive workshop or a top-notch competition, you’ll find it here.
Look for the DSL Competitions and Conventions listing in our jam-packed December issue. To subscribe, visit www.dancestudiolife.com/subscribe/.
Ready, set, high gold! You’ve picked out the music and the moves for your competitive team, and now the Rhee Gold Company is ready with all the strategies, enthusiasm, and advice you need to make sure your competition season is a winning one.
First, Rhee Gold will head up a seminar all about the ins and outs (and ups and downs) of dance competitions on November 17 and 18 at his new DanceLife Retreat Center in Norton, Massachusetts. Specifically designed for owners and teachers, this one-of-a-kind seminar will tackle all the tough issues head-on: from keeping parents and kids positive and pumped, to writing effective policies, to creative choreography and more.
And then, in the December issue of Dance Studio Life, look for our annual Competitions and Conventions feature listings of more than a hundred companies, from familiar old favorites to snazzy newbies. Whether you’re looking for a hip-hop intensive, a star-studded convention, or a red-hot competition experience for your students, you won’t have to look any further than this comprehensive listing.
Plans are in the works to bring a new dance competition to the Jackson, Mississippi, area next summer, reported the Clarion Ledger.
Lindsay Fehn-Hughes, studio owner and artistic director of Dance Unlimited in Byram and Florence, is spearheading the effort with Melanie Creek from Xpress Dance studio in Madison.
Collide Dance Competition and Convention came from “an idea [Creek] had to bring a focus to dance education because conventions they travel to are out of state,” Fehn-Hughes said. “Here, what we’re trying to do is have them learn first, then compete.”
The official dates for Collide are May 3 and 4, 2013, at the Vicksburg Convention Center. Fehn-Hughes hopes the competition will then move to the Jackson area.
Fehn-Hughes, 29, has 23 years of dance experience and 10 years of teaching dance. A New Orleans native, she became a dance professor at Hinds Community College in 2005 and has performed and choreographed for many studios and productions nationwide. In 2007, she earned a bachelor’s degree in social work from Mississippi College, then purchased Dance Unlimited.
Other dance organizations hold competitions and showcases throughout Mississippi. This summer, Dance Teachers United held a competition in Biloxi and another competition is set for November in Vicksburg. The USA International Ballet Competition comes to Thalia Mara Hall only every four years and Xpress Dance only has classes and a summer dance camp.
The Dance Unlimited team travels to competitions out of state. Organizers believe a dance competition in the metro area would promote dance education and Mississippi talent.
Dance Studio Life, a magazine with a back-to-basics approach, is a division of the Rhee Gold Company, whose mission is to be at the forefront of dance and education by promoting the highest possible standards in teaching. Dance Studio Life understands the soul of the teaching field.
Ask Rhee Gold
Advice for Dance Teachers
2 Tips for Ballet Teachers by Mignon Furman
2Tips for Hip Hop Teachers by Geo Hubela
2Tips for Modern Teachers by Bill Evans
2 Tips for Tap Teachers by Stacy Eastman
A Better You | Fighting Fatigue by Suzanne Martin, PT, DPT
How to cope when you’re toast
EditorSpeak by Cheryl Ossola and Karen White
On My Mind | Rhee Gold
Words from the publisher
Thinking Out Loud by April Spisak Nelson
The lost art of theater etiquette
Teacher in the Spotlight | Cosmin MarculetiuTeachers who make a difference
Schools With Staying Power | Alzine’s Vision by Roger Lee
Love, caring, and respect add up to 50 years at Cuppett Performing Arts Center
Bright Biz Idea
To Fee or Not to Fee
Mindful Marketing by Julia Holt Lucia
Create interest with Pinterest.
Classroom Connection by Jeanne Fornarola and Mary Beth Marino
Ideas to incorporate into your curriculum
Strength in Numbers
Dance teacher organizations
Ballet Scene | Classical in Connecticut by Karen White
Ballet competition puts classics, and classes, front and center
A Dancer’s Mind by James Careless
Using psychology to improve physical performance.
No-Touch Zone by Kay Waters
How to cope when using a guiding hand in the classroom.
Making Magic With Music By Brenda Bufalino
In Tap and beyond, variety, volume, and interpretation make music meaningful.
An Excellent Option by Gina McGalliard
For dance convention seekers, an international event in L.A. might be just the ticket
Fast-Track to the Past by Maureen Jenson
Dance “webinars” give online listeners a weekly dose of dance history.
Handle With Care by Karen White
Put props to work for fun and impact
SPECIAL COMPETITION AND CONVENTION EDITION FEATURES
Competition Directors Tell All
What they think about solos, video streaming, scoring, and more
Give It a Gold by Julia Holt Lucia
Parents talk about the realities and rewards of the competition experience
From Ho-Hum to Knock ’Em Dead by Diane Gudat
How to turn good-enough dancers into performers with power
From Studio to Shining Sea by Karen White
Onboard with Celebrity Dance Competitions
Playing by the Rules by Eliza Randolph
Conflicts, no-shows, and too-frequent illnesses? Make commitment a competition team mandate.
Conflicts, no-shows, and too-frequent illnesses? Make commitment a competition team mandate.
By Eliza Randolph
It’s happened to you, right? One day, when your head is full of choreography, itineraries, costume adjustments, and competition schedules, a student comes up to you with a look on her face that says you’re not going to like what she’s going to tell you. And you’re right. She cannot make the next two rehearsals, she says. Nine days before the competition.
What do you do? You kick her out of the piece, of course, if not off the team altogether. If that’s not your standard practice now, it probably should be. To head off such problems before they begin, many studio owners have developed specific and strict team policies that have clear consequences, financial or participatory or both, for failing to meet commitments.
Most studios have a list of rules and regulations they expect competition students (and parents) to abide by. The lists are often comprehensive, including attendance policies, dress codes, and financial obligations as well as guidelines for broader issues such as respectful behavior toward fellow competitors. You can find many examples of such policies online simply by searching “dance competition team rules.”
How do the rules get written? Usually, in response to students’ shenanigans. One of the most disruptive offenses is a competition team member’s repeated or ill-timed absences. Dancers skip rehearsals, or drop out altogether, sometimes just weeks or even days before a competition. You need established policies that discourage such behavior, maintaining fairness and helping students and parents to honor their commitment.
Dancers skip rehearsals, or drop out altogether, sometimes just weeks or even days before a competition. You need policies in place that discourage such behavior.
Tracee Brann, director of Tracee’s Dance Impact in Ft. Myers, Florida, instituted a “Dancer’s Bond” to cope with the problem of competition team members dropping out before the end of the year. “One year, after a person dropped,” she says, “we had these competition teams with holes in them, and choreographers had to fix their dances, and all the students had to relearn their routines.
“So, at the beginning of the year the parents are charged a $100 Dancer’s Bond, ” she continues. “And at the end of the year, if they’ve fulfilled their commitments, that $100 bond can go toward paying off their [tuition] balance. But if for some reason, besides an emergency, they decide they’re not going to fulfill that commitment, then that $100 goes to the choreographers who have to come in and restage their routines.”
Similarly, at Jennifer Levine’s 5678 Dance in Levittown, New York, a new policy as of this year required competition dancers to purchase a $150 “commitment packet,” which was applied to the entry fees for the national competition. If the team doesn’t attend the national competition, the funds are credited to each dancer’s general studio account.
Additionally, Levine distributes a Code of Ethics each year to students and to parents, “so everybody’s on the same page. I feel like that’s really important. We’ve had that since the beginning of our competition team.” The code includes goals for the year and how to reach them, guidance for conduct (i.e. respecting other teams), and nitty-gritty items such as dress code. If an issue arises, says Levine, she tries to “shut it down, nip it in the bud.” In the past, she has simply asked dancers with attendance problems to leave.
Attendance is key
Shawna Kwan runs Élan Dance Arts, now in its fifth year, in London, Ontario, Canada. Kwan has developed a strict attendance policy, partly in response to a dancer who dropped out right before a competition last year. She has three rules for competition students.
1. No more than seven absences are permitted among all classes, all year. This applies, says Kwan, to “competitive classes, choreography classes, technique classes, everything. So if they miss seven without any kind of note from a doctor or anything, they’re kicked off the team. And that’s a new one that we put in place this year, because it was becoming an issue. I felt like seven was overly lenient; it probably should be around four.”
2. No more than three absences are permitted in any choreography class. “If any competitive students miss three classes of any one competitive routine, then they’re removed from that routine,” says Kwan. “And it doesn’t matter whether it’s legitimate or not—that’s up to the discretion of the teacher. If it has enough of an effect on the group, it normally means that they’re out of that one. And it has happened, on a couple of different occasions. That’s been in place since our first year.”
3. No absences are permitted the week leading up to a competition. “Last year we had a huge attendance problem,” says Kwan, and a top male student was the prime example. His ongoing attendance issues culminated the week before a competition. “He said, ‘Oh, by the way, I know I haven’t been here in a week, but I also can’t be here this coming weekend,’ which was the weekend before our last competition. So I said, ‘You can’t compete.’ And he made the decision to attend the [other] activity and not come to class, and not compete, and he left the studio entirely.”
Strictness comes with a price
Kwan’s story shows that you can lose students when you attempt to hold them to their commitments. But, she says, “I’m OK with it. I knew that that was potentially going to happen. It was worth it for me, to keep the respect of the rest of the teammates. And I know they respected the decision, because it was a frustration for them all year. We had to make changes; we had to change choreography at the last minute. We had to edit music. We had students of the same age learn his choreography and jump into competitive routines.”
What she found, though, was that coming together in the aftermath of the student’s desertion strengthened the team. “It ended up being a bonding experience,” says Kwan. “Sure, it had a bad side to it, but I think in the end it reinforced what this whole thing is about: teamwork and commitment.”
The students, she says, take the rules very seriously now. As for the parents, at first they seemed “guarded about all these rules,” she says. “They weren’t sure about the decision I had made about that male student because they thought I was trying to make an example out of someone. They didn’t understand why I was making that decision. I think they did afterward, when they saw how much the students appreciated the decision.”
Levine has experienced a similar scenario. She too asked a student to leave because of attendance problems. “You can’t have that kind of situation because then everyone’s going to think they can come and go as they please.” But she agrees that a student’s sudden departure, whether willful or due to injury or illness, can be dealt with positively, despite the anxiety and extra work it causes. “I think it’s the example you set,” she says. “We try not to make anything into a total catastrophe. We try to make it a life lesson, where the students become stronger for it.”
An ounce of prevention
It’s important for students and parents to know what they’re getting into when they sign on to a competition team. Many studios make the comparison to sports teams to underscore the depth of the commitment required.
Kwan meets with new competition parents before they make a commitment. “They have a fairly good indication of the hours per week before they register,” she says. “I try to give them the best idea possible, and I normally exaggerate everything. I also normally have two or three experienced competition parents attend the new parent meeting, so that I can defer questions to them.”
In addition to rules and regulations, however, Levine stresses the importance of creating a friendly and caring atmosphere that reflects the values she and her faculty hope to instill in her students. “We find that when we’re showing that commitment, we receive it. When you show the students every day how much they mean to you, how much you respect them, and how much you’re willing to sacrifice for them because it’s your life and your passion, they see that and feed off that.”
How to turn good-enough dancers into performers with power
By Diane Gudat
At the end of a four-day competition, my fellow teachers and I were frustrated with our students’ performances and the competition results. These kids were the nicest in town, but quite honestly, they were rather boring onstage. They were beautiful dancers but not strong performers.
You know what I’m talking about if you’ve ever said or thought this: “Competition judges always emphasize that they do not favor performances that include flashy turns and tricks, revealing costumes, or suggestive music. I use appropriate music, tasteful costumes, and age-appropriate choreography, yet when we go to competition, my students never win the high awards.”
Or maybe this: “My dancers look great at the studio, but when they perform, they don’t stand out. They work so hard, and I’m disappointed that they are not enjoying more success.”
I’ve come to the realization that it is not the turns and leaps or costumes and music that lead to these students’ success in competition. No, it’s how the dancers perform. Remember the old song “’Tain’t What You Do (It’s the Way That You Do It)”? The lyrics say, “That’s what gets results!” And you know what? They’re right!
To ensure our dancers’ success, not just at competitions but in all their performances, three elements must come together: amplitude, dynamics, and physicality.
Amplitude can be defined as a performer’s quality of dignity, excellence, or splendor, as well as connection to the audience and charisma—in other words, showmanship. It is what makes a dancer get noticed above others and be remembered long after a performance.
Are your students memorable? At the end of the competition, do they stand out from the crowd? Showmanship must be developed consistently at the studio even during class. Do not ignore facial expressions. Insist that students make complete use of all their facial muscles. Using the eyebrows opens the upper half of the face and eliminates the “frozen” smile. Demand performance quality during all combinations.
Teach your students how to maximize body lines. Challenge them to take movements to their absolute limits. Encourage strong postures that exude confidence.
Leave space in choreography that allows the dancers to establish eye contact with their fellow dancers and the audience. Choreographers often put too much movement into too little music, leaving no “space” for the dancers to elongate the movement and connect with their audiences.
Define the emotional aspects of your choreography and make them as important as the steps. What is the story of the dance? Tell the dancers why they are moving from one place to the other. Ask them how they feel when they’re dancing. (The shyer kids might be hesitant, but I consider coming out of their shell and discussing their emotions part of their training.)
Look at how the dancers are transitioning from one movement to the other. Are they dropping the story line as they prepare for or recover from a difficult section? Do they take emotional breaks? Dancers who have similar dance skills can win or lose competitions based on the strength of their transitions.
Prepare combinations that challenge your students but are not consistently too difficult. Material that’s at an appropriate level allows students to exude confidence and be relaxed enough to develop stage presence. Compliment the students who are catching your attention. Offer positive reinforcement about the emotional moments that stood out during class.
Include improvisational situations to help your dancers develop their theatrical presence. Begin with the younger students, to help them chase off self-consciousness early on. Use exercises that help them learn to express contrasting emotions such as happy and sad or frightened and excited. Ask them how something makes them feel and how they would dance about it. Expect them to use their imagination and create their own stories within their performances.
Dynamics are variations and contrasts in force or intensity, which define the clarity or strength of a movement. They bring definition and texture to movement.
Dynamic variations might include such things as moments of tenderness in an otherwise aggressive piece of choreography. Try adding percussive accents to offset fluidity. Use different dynamic qualities to show both vulnerability and strength in your dancers. Ask the students to describe how the movement feels to them.
When choreographing group pieces, use varying tempos. Groups working in half time or slow motion provide an interesting contrast to those moving on tempo. Layer movements of opposing time signatures to create unexpected textures. For example, use movement that displays the rounder feeling naturally evoked by 3/4 movement to music with a sharper 4/4 feeling.
Take a piece of choreography that your students know and set it to music that has a completely different feeling from the original. This will inspire the dancers to pinpoint new accents and phrasing. Also use variety in the music you choose for class.
Define the accents of the movement. An arm thrust outward has a different dynamic than one whose accents come when it is pulled in. When designing barre sequences or warm-ups, specify the accent you’re looking for.
Developing core strength in your dancers allows for control in the torso while freeing them to be more expressive in the head, arms, and legs. Teach students to push down and use gravity to their advantage, anchoring themselves as they extend away or pull into their bodies.
Use dynamics in your voice during explanations. Just as music can inspire movement from your dancers, the tone of your voice can help them understand the accents and qualities that are important to you.
Allow students to improvise qualities of motion such as percussion, suspension, and swing and release. Design a simple piece of choreography and ask them to dance it in several different ways; for example, first as if they were filled with helium and then as if they were made of cement. Other ideas could include dancing underwater as opposed to outer space, on ice or fire, uphill or downhill. Ask them to dance as if the stage were bathed in blue light and then show you how they think yellow lights would affect the movement.
Examine your choreography for use of layers and levels. Stage your work to highlight the dynamic sections you particularly want to be noticed.
Physicality refers to a dancer’s commitment to the movement and the amount of energy used to make movement happen. Dancers need enough strength, flexibility, and stamina to be able to give the movement everything they’ve got every time.
If your dancers physically back off when they become tired or winded, help them develop core strength and stamina. Making general fitness a part of class will help your dancers push through when they’re tired and finish with newfound strength. Make some combinations aggressive, with more repetitions and little or no recovery time in between. Instead of allowing the dancers to wait in line, tell them to run in place or do sautés or battements. If they aren’t perspiring during part of class, they haven’t come close to their physical peak. Help them find their athleticism.
Instruct the dancers about where to breathe within the choreography. Encourage them to exhale. Tell them to breathe audibly enough that you can hear the air moving through them.
Design combinations that require dancers to make movement happen. Introduce fast, aggressive movements that will, for example, force them to consciously utilize the biceps and triceps muscles to move the arm rather than just flinging it. Tell the dancers exactly where an arm’s movement begins and ends, the path it must take, and what shape the hand maintains throughout. Insist on clarity and control.
Dancers will mirror the amount of energy that a teacher displays in the classroom, so beware of teaching on “automatic pilot.” Changing the energy in the room can make an enormous difference. If you are not physically able to inspire a new level of strength, you must do so with the enthusiasm in your voice and your praise for dancers who are achieving new levels of accomplishment.
Finally, invite a nutritionist to your studio to help students and their parents understand which foods and snacks can best fuel young bodies for dance.
It is true that some dancers are born to wow audiences while others don’t shine quite so brightly. Both types of dancer can get the most from their love of dance if we help them develop all the ingredients that will allow them to perform from the heart.
What they think about solos, video streaming, scoring, and more
What 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
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
Competitions take time and effort—here’s how to cover costs
By Jennifer Rienert
It’s true that dance studio owners work in an industry that is close to their hearts. But owning a dance studio is also a business, and in order for it to thrive, a fee structure must be in place that allows it to turn a profit. For studios that compete, that means covering all kinds of extra costs: staff time to go to competitions, preparing and sending the entry fees, and even the time spent inputting students’ names and dates of birth along with competition entries. Then there are the hours spent choosing, buying, and editing music and preparing to choreograph.
When I started my competition team 15 years ago, I discovered that it was like starting another business, with huge demands on my time and energy. But I empathize with parents about the expense of having a child who competes; especially in this tough economy, it can put a big strain on the average family’s pocketbook. That’s why, although I did charge an hourly rate for rehearsal time and choreography, I never included all the extra time and work I put in leading up to competitions. That practice made sense to me since I was the studio owner and it was my name that was getting word-of-mouth advertising for the competition entries.
But when my school’s competition entries rose from 60 a few years ago to 85 this year, I had to enlist the help of several teachers on my faculty. As much as they love what they’re doing, they are working and need to be paid. So this year I decided to charge an additional $5 per student for music editing and CDs for the year and a per-student fee of $5 per competition to cover the costs of my staff.
Terrie Legein, owner of Legein Dance Academy in Coventry, Rhode Island, charges her competition students $300 per solo or group routine (for groups, the students share the $300 cost). This includes the choreography, six weeks of training, and cleaning with the choreographer. If additional classes are needed, an hourly rate is charged. Any entry, costume, or other fees, are charged separately. Because these competition students already have the highest bills at her studio and understand how expensive competing is, she doesn’t feel the need to add anything further.
Regardless of your fee policy, make sure to communicate with parents about the costs and what they are for rather than simply charging them without an explanation. Marissa Salemi, director of Breaking Ground Dance Center in Pleasantville, New York, includes the details on entry fees and surcharges for competitions and conventions in her school’s parent handbook.
“We charge each student a $5 surcharge fee per entry for competitions and $10 per convention/workshop,” Salemi says. “Since we inform the parents of this [policy] at the beginning of the year, we have never had a problem. However, some parents still don’t understand why there is a need for the fee. Once I explain the amount of time that goes into entering each dance and dancer in the competitions, they understand. Most say that it is a very reasonable charge considering the time that is put in.”
Kerri McLaren, an instructor and the treasurer on the competition committee for Lanigan Dance Dynamics in Lanigan, Saskatchewan, Canada, runs things differently. A parent-run nonprofit, the school tries to keep costs to a minimum, so it charges the students only what the actual costs of competing are.
Regardless of how you handle competition fees, communication is key to avoiding conflict with parents. The goal is to have your students and their parents feel that you’re giving them the best education and choreography you can, and for the best price.
World of Clogging will hold clogging and dance workshops, along with CCA qualifying competitions, over Memorial Day weekend, May 25 to 27, at Crowne Plaza Cincinnati North, Cincinnati, Ohio.
The weekend of workshops and seminars features national instructors Jeff Driggs of West Virginia, Joel Harrison of New England, Naomi Pyle of Indiana, and Barry Welch of California, plus Kelly and Kenneth Fithen, Jamie Vincent, Joe Barron, Reina Beaven, Trevor DeWitt, Sam Gill, Stephen Harbin, Fonda Hill, Morgan Hudson, Matt Koziuk, Danny Lee, Paul Melville, and Annie Wing.
Other activities include fun dances Friday and Saturday nights, exhibitions on Saturday night following the Clogger Reunion, clogging line dances to top pop and country songs by some of clogging’s top choreographers, special classes for competition level dancers in team choreography, duos and more; plus hip-hop, pop ‘n’ lock, and dance studio master classes.
Got news? Email Karen@rheegold.com and include your name, email and phone. We like accompanying photos too with photographer’s credit and photo description.
Eager dance competition fans are getting the first peek at the poster for the upcoming documentary First Position, which chronicles six young dancers’ trials and tribulations in the Youth America Grand Prix, the prestigious annual ballet competition that draws contestants from all over the world.
The film, directed by Bess Kargman, follows the students as they try to balance a childhood with the rigors that the art requires. Nothing short of perfection is expected of dancers in the hunt for YAGP’s elite scholarships and contracts.
The film played the festival circuit last year while it picked up a handful of awards, including the Jury Prize at SF Docfest and the Audience Award at both Doc NYC and the Portland International Film Festival. The film is set for release May 4. For a list of release dates and theaters, visit http://www.balletdocumentary.com/in-movie-theaters/.
Got news? Email Karen@rheegold.com and include your name, email and phone. We like accompanying photos too with photographer’s credit and photo description.
Returning for its third year, Dancin’ Downtown at The Joyce Theater, is a competition that provides dance students the opportunity to be seen by a diverse and distinguished group
of dance luminaries on one of the most prestigious dance stages in New York City.
Dance schools can submit an unlimited number of entries. Entries must be no longer than six minutes, of groups between four and 15 dancers ages 24 and younger. All styles of dance are eligible. The competition provides numerous scholarships to dance conventions and intensives, as well as the opportunity to perform at City Parks Foundation SummerStage in New York.
The deadline for submissions is February 10. A panel of dance professionals will select the top 20 dances, which will be performed and compete on April 2 at The Joyce Theater. For entry forms and submission criteria go to www.dradance.org/joyce2012.
Judges for this year’s competition are: Pam Chancey (The PULSE On Tour), Deborah Damast (New York University), Bonnie Erickson (Broadway Dance Center), Danielle Gee (City Parks Foundation SummerStage), Diane Grumet (STEPS on Broadway), Katie Langan (Marymount Manhattan College), Joe Lanteri (New York City Dance Alliance), Melanie Person (Ailey/Fordham University BFA Program), Michael Leon Thomas (Complexions Contemporary Ballet), Joe Tremaine (Tremaine Dance Conventions, Inc.), Nicholas Villeneuve (Ballet Hispanico), Martin Wechsler (The Joyce Theater), and Megan Williams (Purchase College).
Dancin’ Downtown at The Joyce Theater benefits Dancers Responding to AIDS, a program of Broadway Cares/ Equity Fights AIDS.
Three students from Kennedy Dance Theatre in Webster, Texas, will be competing in the semifinals of the Youth America Grand Prix set for February 3 to 5 in Dallas—the first time students from the studio have entered the prestigious competition.
Senior students Madeleine Tao, Cherilene Guzman, and Michelle McKay, under the guidance of KDT’s ballet mistress, Milena Leben, will represent the studio at YAGP, the world’s largest student ballet scholarship competition. All three are members Ballet Jeté, KDT’s pre-professional company.
At the competition, McKay, 17, will perform a piece of new choreography from Leben, The Letter; Tao, 13, will perform a selection from Le Corsaire, and Guzman, 13, will perform the Blue Bird variation from Sleeping Beauty.
“I am so excited for my girls because it really is such an honor just to compete,” said Leben, a former YAGP judge. The students have the chance to move on to the YAGP finals, set for April 22 to 27 in New York City.
For more information about Kennedy Dance Theatre, call 281.480.8441, or visit www.kennedydance.com.
The producers behind the Lifetime reality TV show Dance Moms have been banned from one of the biggest children’s dance competitions in the country after event organizers complained about the way the event was portrayed on the show last year, according to TMZ.
TMZ spoke with StarQuest associate producer Michael Ian Cedar, who said producers did not air the true results of the competition and edited the footage in a way that misled viewers into believing certain dancers were competing against each other, when in fact they were not.
Cedar also told TMZ that Moms producers misled him into thinking the show was about young girls in the competitive dancing world—not about their pushy, sometimes obnoxious mothers. He said he had rejected Moms producers’ request for permission to feature a StarQuest event on Season 2.
TMZ quoted Moms producer Jeff Collins as calling Cedar’s editing allegations “nonsense” and saying, “We’re sorry he feels misled. We’d love to work with StarQuest again.”
Collins also told TMZ the show has not had any problems with any of the other competitions featured on Dance Moms, claiming the show has been welcomed back for Season 2 by every organization except StarQuest.
To see the original story, visit http://www.tmz.com/2011/10/17/dance-moms-lifetime-reality-show-starquest-banned/?adid=recentlyupdatedstories#.TqV1gdRzOVo.
Ohio Dance Masters will hold its performing arts competition and workshop November 18 to 20 at the Crowne Plaza Hotel, Dayton, Ohio.
The event includes the solo title competition for Miss and Mr. Dance. Faculty for the workshops will be Geoffrey Gonzales, Barbara Denny, and Kevin Hermann. For more information, visit http://www.dma-chap16.com/.
Ovation, a television network devoted to arts culture, has just announced a national dance competition, “One Dance One Chance” where dance studios or ensembles have a chance to win a $10,000 scholarship and get national television exposure.
Dance groups must have a minimum of three people ages 13 and over. Performance videos must be one to three minutes in length and uploaded by the group’s teacher, professor, instructor, or coach. All dance genres are accepted.
Entries will be judged on creativity, originality, form, technique, and group choreography. Five finalists groups will receive a $1,000 scholarship or grant. The winner will win $10,000, plus a 30-second clip on Ovation. The competition runs until December 1.
For official rules and entry forms, visit www.ovationtv.com/dancecontest.
Competing: It’s All About Connecting
In what’s become an annual feature in our September competitions and conventions issue, a Q&A with competition directors (see page 70), we included a question that brought some thought-provoking responses. We asked the directors to tell us an inspirational story about a student or dance team at one of their competition events. The answers ranged from stories about teachers battling degenerative illness or helping each other deal with the unexpected, to memories of young dancers with Down syndrome or cancer performing their hearts out, to excitement about kids who’ve been plucked from the competition stage and plopped into a role in a Broadway show or other kinds of performing jobs. And then there are the two kids who have more determination and perseverance than most of us can dream of, who struggled for 11 years to achieve their goal: a first-place top score.
I suspect that anyone who participates in competitions has a similar story to tell. To me, these anecdotes represent the best of the good about competing. Sure, there are other benefits: the stage experience, the camaraderie, the fun, the learning to cope with disappointment (or success). But really, what it’s all about—what anything in life is all about—is people connecting and touching one another in a profound way.
Before your next competition, why not sit your students down and share a few of the stories in the Q&A with them? You may find that they go to that event with their eyes wide open, looking for students and teachers who show by example what’s important in life. —Cheryl Ossola, Editor in Chief
Confessions of a Dance Mom
I’m a dance mom. In some circles, that’s a pretty ugly title, like “ax murderer” or “crazy cat lady.” But it’s true, and since they say admitting your weakness is the first step to a new you, there it is.
I wasn’t always a dance mom. A long time ago I was just a dancer, taking two hours a week of ballet and jazz, with maybe a half-hour of tap if my own dance mom felt especially flush with cash (which wasn’t often). In those days, dance moms were fairly meek individuals who never said “boo” about costume color or recital ticket cost and considered dance class just another activity, like Brownies or molding and painting at the local rec hall.
I grew up, got married, and then for many years was both a dance mom and a dance teacher, a kind of two-headed creature whom other dance moms don’t totally trust and neglect to include in things like tag days and bake sales. My hardest year was the one when I taught several of my daughter’s classes. Determined not to pick a nicer jazz costume for her class than I did for my others, I hemmed and hawed until the 11th hour, then settled on a pretty miserable choice. I had to avoid the other dance moms for months.
Now my daughter and I have “divorced”—I teach at two studios and she takes class at a third. What I’ve discovered is that being a calm, quiet, respectable “dance mother” instead of a dance mom is no pas de bourrée in the park. I try—I really do. I drive. I write checks. I remember to remember the false eyelashes. I resist the urge to go backstage and make sure everyone has bobby pins in their headpieces. (OK, I’m failing miserably at that. But one step at a time.)
Unlike soccer moms, who at least are considered a major political force, dance moms are pretty far down on the respect ladder. (I think it’s because of the makeup—not ours, the kids’.) Sure, there is always a crab in the ocean, but most dance moms have never heard of Mama Rose, are full of unconditional support and love, and think their dance studio is the greatest place in the world.
Still, being a dance mom is nothing to brag about in your obit. And I am making progress—I’ve stopped bugging my daughter about joining me for yoga and I only go on the studio’s Facebook page twice a day. All right, maybe three times. “Hello, my name is Karen, and I am a dance mom . . .” —Karen White, Associate Editor
International ballet dancers take the stage in Boston
By Karen White
At the first-ever Boston International Ballet Competition, held May 12 to 16, dancers tackled classical variations with grace, beauty, and technical prowess, hitting gigantic double tours and spot-on fouetté combinations. By the time a South Korean couple flashed through a jaw-dropping Diana and Acteon pas de deux, it was clear that this inaugural competition—yet another entry in a growing industry—had managed to attract some top-drawer talent from around the globe.
And that’s just what BIBC founder Valentina Kozlova wanted. “It’s been an amazing three days of competition,” she said just before handing out medals and awards at the closing gala. “We were looking not for participants to compete against each other, but for an exchange of cultures, for unity, and for the discovery of talent.”
The gala drew an enthusiastically vocal audience, but a few days before, when the first competitors took to the tiny stage in John Hancock Hall, the theater had been painfully silent, with only a handful of coaches and moms separated by seas of empty seats, despite publicity in at least a dozen local papers and on news websites. But in an orchestra row filled with support staffers and organizers sat seven judges—with names like Verdy, Liepa, and Webre, some of the biggest names in the ballet world—so it was understandable that some competitors’ nerves were on display, from shaking hands to girls falling off pointe, from missteps to slipped lifts.
Eighty-five dancers from 20 countries traveled to Boston for the competition, where dreary skies greeted them and cold spring rains pelted them as they trekked between the competition hall and the nearby Boston Ballet studios, where rehearsals and class were held.
Junior and senior division dancers faced three rounds of competition. In the first, they presented their choice of two variations or one pas de deux selected from a very short list of classics such as Paquita or Le Corsaire provided by the BIBC. The second round focused on contemporary solo pieces—Christina’s World, choreographed by Margo Sappington, for the females, and an excerpt from As Above So Below, choreographed by Edwaard Liang, for the males. The dancers learned them in advance of the competition via a website video. Each round cut their numbers by 50 percent, leaving a select few to show their final prepared piece in the third round.
Only two rounds were held for the small student division of 13- and 14-year-olds (10 girls and one boy). And while the students vied for first-, second-, or third-place certificates only, bigger prizes were on the line for the older dancers, from cash awards of up to $9,000 to contracts with studio companies, summer intensive scholarships, and opportunities to perform in upcoming international galas.
On the final day, after the decisions had all been made and guest dancers, such as Alexandra Jacob and Samuel Wilson of the Dance Theatre of Harlem Ensemble, rehearsed their pieces for the evening’s gala, Kozlova was beaming. “It went better than I expected,” she said. “The dancers were of exceptional quality. Everything ran so smoothly. And all the judges want to come back—they had a blast.”
Her one disappointment was the low attendance. “I don’t know why,” she said, adding that she had particularly hoped to see Boston Ballet School students in the audience. “I came here thinking that people in Boston love dance. I have a sense that it’s the first year. Hopefully as we educate the audience as to what this is, they will come.”
A former Bolshoi and New York City Ballet principal dancer with her own dance conservatory in New York City, Kozlova said she first thought of creating a competition about eight years ago. She says she was “upset with some rules and regulations” at other competitions where she was judging, and other teachers had suggested that she create her own. Since she had just opened her conservatory, she thought it would be too much to handle. “But when the seed is planted, it stays in the back of your mind,” she said. “I felt that one day I was going to do it.”
And the field is crowded. Olga Smoak of Panama, head of the BIBC artistic advisory board and president of the New Orleans International Ballet Competition, said she remembers when there were only four international ballet competitions.
Kozlova, though, had good feelings from the beginning. “When I first started to call or email people worldwide, they all responded immediately and were extremely positive. It showed me that I was doing the right thing,” she said. “I didn’t have to twist arms at all.”
Her involvement, in turn, was a draw for coaches such as Jacqueline Akhmedova, a former Bolshoi dancer and director of Akhmedova Ballet Academy in Silver Spring, Maryland, who brought a 16-year-old student, Deanna Pearson. “I have great respect for Valerie and I think this will be run professionally, and that’s always good,” Akhmedova said. “And the competition caught my attention because it is a new one.”
Pearson, one of 23 junior division dancers, has a training regimen that includes three hours of private coaching with Akhmedova each morning and another three hours of class each afternoon. She said entering competitions is one of the best things a dancer can do to prepare for a professional career. (She competed the previous year at Tanzolymp in Berlin.) “It’s about bringing every step you’ve learned to these two minutes of time, and added to that you have the competition, the lights, everything that makes you nervous, and you have to work past that,” said Pearson.
Boston was to be the first competition for Erika Delponte, a native of Italy. A first-year apprentice with Semperoper Ballett in Dresden, Delponte represented Germany in the senior division. “I’m excited to dance, but more so to experience the scene, to see how other people work, and to perform,” she said. “I don’t look for a prize, but if you can talk with an important director, that’s good.”
And important directors were everywhere. Mikko Nissinen, artistic director of Boston Ballet and its school, served as judging panel president. The judges included Washington Ballet artistic director Septime Webre; former Paris Opera and Boston Ballet artistic director Violette Verdy; Andris Liepa of Russia, director and producer of The Russian Seasons–21st Century project; Oleksi Bessmertni, founder and director of Germany’s International Dance Festival Tanzolymp; Hae Shik Kim, founding dean of Korean National University of the Arts, School of Dance, and a former prima ballerina with Korean National Ballet Company; and Maria Luisa Noronha, founder of Ballet do Rio de Janeiro and Ballet Dalal Achcar School.
“I would like the dancers to understand that it’s not about the medals; it’s about the exchange of cultures, because the world is big and small at the same time, and the unity is the wonderful world of ballet.” —BIBC founder Valentina Kozlova
Working double duty was BIBC coordinator Margo Sappington, who had choreographed the contemporary piece performed by female dancers in round 2 and who, on the afternoon of the gala, set the lighting as the gala’s guest dancers rehearsed. In addition to the DTH dancers, the guests included Jennie Somogyi and Charles Askegard of New York City Ballet, Joseph Gatti and Whitney Jensen of Boston Ballet, and two students of Kozlova’s.
Sappington, a friend of Kozlova’s for 20 years, said the two would often discuss “things we found annoying about competitions, and what we would do differently.” One constant source of irritation was poor scheduling, which led to dancers bickering over rehearsal time, uncertainty about where to be when, or events that ran late.
“If people get antsy and upset it’s like a fungus, and it spreads,” Sappington said. “Our main objective was to have a calm, supportive atmosphere.”
That’s exactly what it was, said senior division dancer Brooklyn Mack, 24 at the time of the competition. “It was friendly and relaxed and amiable between dancers. People were helping each other out with makeup and sharing costumes.”
A dancer with The Washington Ballet, Mack finds competing very different from company life. “You set a goal to work toward, and your preparation for competition is meticulous. A lot of growth can come out of something like this, if you get used to it and can use it in your training,” he said.
Growth, and other good things as well. Mack tied with Rodrigo Almarales of Cuba for the bronze medal, but he seemed dumbstruck when Liepa presented him with an outstanding artistry award named for his father, Bolshoi legend Maris Liepa. The award came with an offer to dance alongside Bolshoi and Maryinsky stars at a gala next year in Moscow. As he received the award, Mack stood openmouthed, one hand over his heart.
But more good things awaited Mack. After the competition, a website announcement said that gold medalists Young Gyu Choi and Ji Young Chae of South Korea had donated $2,000 of their winnings back to the BIBC to send a dancer to the 2011 Seoul International Dance Competition. “BIBC extends this very special award of generosity and kindness from a dancer to another dancer to: Brooklyn Mack, USA.”
This sharing of dance across borders was another goal of Kozlova’s. During preparations for the BIBC she spoke of traveling as a young dancer to galas and events around the world. Wherever she was, she met the same group of select dancers, who were friends even though they hailed from different parts of the world. She wanted to bring that same feeling to her competition.
“I would like the dancers to understand that it’s not about the medals; it’s about the exchange of cultures, because the world is big and small at the same time, and the unity is the wonderful world of ballet,” she said.
Indiana resident Lisa Hiday, who had watched the entire competition with her daughter, Demitra Bereveskos, agreed. “I was impressed with the world scope of the competition,” Hiday said. “There was a male from South Africa, dancers from Belarus—really neat places.”
Too young to compete, Demitra, only 12, had been invited by her coach, Kozlova, to lead off the BIBC gala performance. The miniature girl in a powder-blue tutu would generate loud “bravos” for her variation from Giselle, perfected during one of her twice-monthly trips to Kozlova’s New York studio.
Kozlova was obviously proud of her student. “She looks like 5 but dances like 16,” she whispered. “She’s the future.”
The idea of not only finding but nurturing talent is why she plans on ignoring comments from some of the judges to “not bother” with the sparsely attended student division. “But I would like to be bothered by it, and expand it,” she said. “When you start [competing] at age 13, 14, when you come to 16, you are so advanced.”
Kozlova is already looking ahead to next year. Just days after the competition ended, she announced the dates for the 2012 event.
“Some directors of companies here, now that they have seen what this is, said they will bring their dancers next year,” Kozlova said. “It was so important to me to bring cultures together for a celebration of ballet, and that is what we had—a celebration of ballet.”
How to dodge the potholes when traveling with students
By Marlise A. Cole
Lost reservations. Not enough rooms booked. Scheduling conflicts. Broken-down buses. Whiny, bored kids. Was your last trip with your dancers so stressful that you’re threatening to say the heck with going to competitions or other performance opportunities? Don’t give up yet. We’ve got some ideas to help make your next travel experience less stressful and more enjoyable.
Dance competitions can be fun for all involved, but first you have to get there. If the competition is close by, you might choose to travel by car or bus. But if the event is a significant distance away, you might have to fly. And chances are that you will have to book hotel rooms and think about meals.
With so many logistics to consider, mishaps can arise and ruin your experience. But anticipating potential problems and giving yourself extra time are two ways you can reduce the possibility of stressful snafus. Arrive the day before the competition to relax and prepare. Also, carefully plan the trip to ensure that your focus is on the kids and the competition and not on problems.
Trudy Scott, an event director for Four Seasons Tours/Contest of Champions in Ocoee, Florida, has been working with the dance studio market for 15 years and has come up with some travel tips to reduce your chances of incurring difficulties.
According to Scott, school owners, or whoever is coordinating the trip, should develop a checklist of “must-have” items each performer should pack, such as shoes, hats, or other costume accessories and props. Coordinators should also have their own checklist of things to remember to bring, such as performance music and copies of all the paperwork regarding the trip. Paperwork typically includes:
- the itinerary, rooming list, and arrival and departure information for everyone traveling in the group;
- medical information such as health insurance and allergy alerts;
- emergency contact numbers in case a family or individual does not arrive as scheduled; and
- any contracts, such as those with the tour operator if a travel agency is employed.
Another planning task is lining up chaperones well before the trip and giving them an outline of their responsibilities, which may vary depending on the age group they are assigned to oversee.
Chaperones for young students need to help them follow the schedule, do their makeup, and have them ready on time, says Adriana Nassiff, owner of Dancing In XS in Doral, Florida. For the older students, chaperones serve a different role. The veteran dancers can get themselves ready but may need more supervision during the non-competition part of the trip such as going shopping, visiting amusement parks, or attending shows.
“If the kids are 9 years old or under, I have one parent, usually a mom, per child,” Nassiff says. “With the older ones, I put four in a room and have two to three chaperones per 20 kids. I know they want privacy and to have fun, but [I keep them] close enough to be checked. I’m lucky. I have good kids. They know me and they know if they don’t follow the rules, they don’t compete. Before we go, the kids sign a contract that outlines everything that’s expected of them. It talks about things like teamwork and good expression and I never have any problems. It also helps that I know the moms well.”
Also, when booking hotel rooms, remember that teens need to be “blocked,” or have their hotel rooms all together, so that chaperoning is easier.
And don’t be stingy on the chaperones. In addition to making sure students are on time and where they are supposed to be, extra chaperones can come in handy when the unexpected happens, like needing someone to stay with a student who becomes ill.
Help from an outside source
Booking flights and hotels and purchasing tickets to entertainment venues such as amusement parks are very time-consuming and can be stressful. Studios that have a long distance to travel and lots of people to organize sometimes enlist the help of a travel company.
A travel company takes care of everything before the trip and handles any problems as they arise, leaving school owners and their staff free to be with their students or have some time alone. Hiring a travel company is not mandatory, but it can take some of the pressure off.
Normally, travel agencies provide information and organize and implement the trip before a group arrives. Some also have a representative on site to take care of needs during the trip and follow up with clients once they have returned home. Travel agencies also work with vendors such as hotels to ensure that rooms are ready or blocked as requested. They can make sure booked buses are on time and where they need to be to transfer the group, and can manage schedules so that everyone is on time and at the correct locations for performances.
Whether an agency is worth the expense depends on individual needs and values. If you employ a travel agency to plan your trip, you might pay for the organization service, but in the long run it might save you some cash and give you more time and fewer headaches.
Quite often, agencies can get better rates for things like hotels, says Scott. “This is because agencies will build relationships with hotels, and the more business they provide to the hotels, the better the rates they can get.”
Scott explains that a hotel might charge $139 plus tax and resort fees per night to a studio making its own reservations, but a travel agency might get the same rooms for $120 plus tax, with no resort fees. Also, some hotels may have a 10-room minimum but will waive it for companies that have done continued repeat business.
Tina White-Huddleston, owner-director of Tina’s Dance Studio-One in Parkersburg, West Virginia, has been in business for 29 years and is very happy letting Four Seasons Tours, a service offered through Contest of Champions, handle her arrangements.
“This is our 12th year going [to Contest of Champions], and everything always works out,” White-Huddleston says. “If we have any questions or problems, we call the company and they take care of it. If I get behind in my paperwork, Trudy Scott throws me a reminder email. One time, at the last minute, my husband decided to go to Disney [World]. Contest got him all his passes, took care of everything for him right there on the spot, and it was cheaper than if I had done it myself.”
Picking a travel agency
If you decide to enlist a travel company to handle your arrangements, do some research before you sign on.
Scott advises looking for a single contact person to take care of your needs. You shouldn’t have to go to, for example, Steve for travel and Rhonda for competition scheduling and Terry for entertainment. One person should be able to take care of purchasing your tickets, explaining the policies, and preparing the arrangements.
“That person should also be able to help you decide what will work best for your groups and their families,” Scott says. “You should be able to make one call to one person who will handle your travel, meals, rooms, and everything else.”
You also should see if the company you’re considering provides a travel escort who will be where you are if you do need assistance.
Scott also advises studios to watch out for companies that offer “cookie-cutter” packages and then tack on a lot of à la carte items later. Know your costs up front and look for a company that creates individual packages based on the needs of its clients, in which everything is included.
Items likely to involve additional charges include food, hotel upgrades, souvenirs, workshops, tickets to shows, and local transportation.
“I advise studios to read everything and understand everything they read, especially when it includes money and package inclusions,” Scott says. “For example, transportation for a performance may be extra depending on the needs of the group. Although it is not included in the ‘Package Inclusions,’ it is most likely indicated in another section as an additional cost.”
When comparing different packages, ask questions and make sure you are comparing apples to apples. Some companies may be cheaper, but what are they offering in the packages? Are the hotels comparable? Do they provide the same type of service? Are they getting the same number of meal functions and attractions tickets?
Scott says she asks about complimentary package ratios. “If they offer a 1/20 ratio, then your 21st package is complimentary,” she says. She also asks whether studios are required to travel with a certain number of people in order to get the offered package price. “I know of companies that indicate that a package will be $350 per person based upon 150 purchased packages. If the studio travels with more or less people, will they be charged more money per person?”
Don’t be stingy on the chaperones. In addition to making sure students are on time and where they are supposed to be, extra chaperones can come in handy when the unexpected happens.
Scott also advises coordinators to “watch out for companies who are paid commissions based on ‘up sales.’ The more options a salesperson can sell to the studio, the more money the salesperson makes.”
More bang for your buck
Four Seasons Tours has been servicing every aspect of the performance, educational, competition, graduation, and “just plain fun” travel needs for youth groups across the country since 1984. One of the benefits such longtime companies can offer to their clients is a voice of experience.
“We might advise studios to book air on their own to get a cheaper rate,” Scott says. “People usually think that you get a better price when you buy at a group rate, but that’s not necessarily true for airlines.”
Scott also cautions studios to watch out for hidden fees and hidden agendas. “If you initially get a quote for 70 people, but later you have only 50 people, some places might make you pay a penalty for dropping the numbers,” Scott says.
You can never ask too many questions, especially when competing and traveling for the first time. Read everything thoroughly, including the small print. “The small print might include a fuel-surcharge clause that might say that if fuel goes past a certain cost nationally, they will increase your cost,” Scott says.
But Scott’s best advice when considering a travel company is to feel comfortable with the person who will be making your arrangements and not to make assumptions. Instead, ask questions.
More than competing
With or without a travel company, everyone seems to agree that traveling with students creates precious memories. You want the kids to remember the joy of competing and interacting with hundreds who share their passion.
Nassiff travels to only one national competition a year and tries to make it a memorable experience for her students. “The first night I meet with them and give them gifts with messages of good luck,” she says. “The second day is the competition. They know when it’s time to work and time to play. I schedule a couple of days where the kids can do things other than compete. We go to the amusement parks or outlet malls. I say, ‘This is your weekend. Tell me what you want to do.’ ”
Some of Nassiff’s students, mostly the younger ones, like to return to Miami right after the competition. “That’s fine, but they are required before the trip to let me know in writing of their plans to leave early.
“Travel is a lifetime experience,” Nassiff continues. “Kids learn how to handle lots of things when they travel. A lot of kids can’t pay, but I know it’s a beautiful experience, so we hold fund-raisers so those who want that lifetime experience can participate. One day when they are grown up, they will remember this experience forever.”
Contest of Champions, which is affiliated with Four Seasons Tours, is located on Disney property, so families who decide to make a vacation out of the trip can have parks, restaurants, and entertainment right at their fingertips. Here’s an idea of what you might get for your money with a typical seven-night tour package.
- a 25-minute performance (competition entry fees are separate and based on the number of routines and the number of participants in each)
- 5-day Disney Premium Park Hopper Ticket
- 5 visits to Blizzard Beach, Typhoon Lagoon, and DisneyQuest
- 12 meal coupons for use at the hotel and parks
- 1-day/2-park admission to Universal Orlando
- 2 meal coupons for use at Universal Orlando
- group round-trip transfer
- tour escort staff with 24-hour emergency service
- hotel, 7 nights
Estimated package cost: 4 people/room = $851; 3 people/room = $958; 2 people/room = $1,127; 1 person/room = $1,601.
If you’re just looking for help with booking a hotel, try Staylink, a hotel booking service that negotiates rates for dance, cheerleading, and corporate travel groups.
The company does all the work of negotiating rates and getting extras like breakfast thrown in for free.
The best part? You don’t pay Staylink a cent. You get a Staylink group rate and the company gets a commission from the hotel for sending it business.
“The biggest mistake a group can make is to book a room with a host hotel without first checking the pricing on nearby hotels,” says Staylink owner Brian Kleiner. “Many times a hotel within walking distance will be significantly less.”
The average savings on a run of the hotel room (any room with the lowest price) is typically 20 percent, according to Kleiner. So if you’re looking to stay at the Venetian Las Vegas, the normal rate is $179 and the Staylink rate is $159. For a room with a view, the normal rate is $249 and the Staylink rate is $169.
The company can also set up transportation to and from events and sometimes, depending on the amount of rooms booked, can get the hotel to shuttle for free.
The Youth Dance Festival of New Jersey, hosted by Kozlov Dance International, will run its seventh edition of the festival and dance competition October 8 and 9 at the Russ Berrie Center for the Performing Arts of Ramapo College in Mahwah, N.J.
The Youth Dance Festival of NJ is an artistic and educational exchange between dancers from around the country ages 9 to 25. The goal of the festival is to create a venue for dance schools and students to share their knowledge of dance through performance. Scholarships and certificates of merit will be awarded. Contestants will receive written evaluations from judges.
Dance professionals participating as adjudicators and workshop leaders in previous years have
included Juilliard faculty member Hector Zaraspe; Christine Dakin, former artistic director of the Martha Graham Dance Company; jazz master teacher Luigi; Carolyn Clark, artistic director of New Jersey Ballet; and Katherine Healy, principal ballerina with the English National Ballet.
Age categories include Division I (ages 9 to 11), Division II (ages 12 to 14), and Division III (ages 15 to 25). Dance categories include classical ballet, contemporary dance, jazz, and folk dance. The schedule of events include a welcome reception, warm up, competition, workshops, awards ceremony, and the Festival Winner’s Showcase featuring the award winners as well as judges’ choice selections and performances by professional dancers.
Students may register through their dance school or independently to participate in solo and/or
ensemble number. To request an information package or to register for the festival, call
201.961.4123. Information is available at www.ydfofnj.org.
Chicago Human Rhythm Project is now accepting submissions from choreographers and videographers for its annual Virtual Rhythms “Tapography” competition.
Winners will have the chance to perform or showcase their video at Rhythm World, CHRP’s summer festival of tap and percussive arts, this year celebrating its 20th anniversary August 3, 4 and 6 at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago.
Entries will be accepted in two categories: original choreography (solo, duet, trio, small or large group) and videography/short film (three to seven minutes). Between three and 10 finalists will be selected in each category, with winners selected through online voting.
Deadline for submissions is April 29. Nominees will be announced May 13, with online voting running from May 16 to June 17. Winners will be announced June 20.
Joseph Gorak, a member of American Ballet Theatre’s corps de ballet, was named best male dancer at the Ninth International Competition for the Erik Bruhn Prize, held in Toronto on March 5.
The Hamburg Ballet’s Maria Baranova, 18, won the female contestant prize after performing a pas de deux from Giselle and a new work, Chopin Dialogue, by Hamburg Ballet’s artistic director and chief choreographer, John Neumeier. Her partner was Kiran West. Each of the winners received a cash prize of $7,500.
Gorak and ABT corps de ballet member Christine Shevchenko danced the pas de deux from August Bournonville’s La Sylphide and Divergent Connectivity, a contemporary work choreographed by ABT corps de ballet member Nicola Curry. Curry competed for the $2,000 Choreographic Prize, which was won by Argentine-born Demis Volpi of Germany’s Stuttgart Ballet for his work Little Monsters.
A native of Fort Wayne, Indiana, Gorak began his classical ballet training with North Central School of Ballet in Texas. In 2005 he joined Orlando Ballet and won the silver medal in the senior men’s division at the 2005 Helsinki International Ballet Competition, the gold medal in the senior men’s division at the 2005 Youth American Grand Prix Finals, and the Grand Prix Award at the 2006 YAGP Finals.
Gorak joined ABT II in 2006, became an apprentice with the main company in January 2009 and joined the corps de ballet in January 2010. His roles with the company include the Neapolitan dance in Swan Lake and the Chinese dance in Alexei Ratmansky’s The Nutcracker.
The International Competition for the Erik Bruhn Prize was conceived by Bruhn prior to his death in 1986. A leading male dancer of his generation and former artistic director of The National Ballet of Canada, Bruhn established the competition for the encouragement and recognition of young dancers. The prize is awarded to two dancers, one male and one female, between the ages of 18 and 23. The 2011 competitors for the Erik Bruhn Prize represented
The National Ballet of Canada, ABT, Royal Danish Ballet, Stuttgart Ballet, and Hamburg Ballet.
I am a school owner who just hit the two-and-a-half-year mark. From the start, my school has had very few students with any previous dance experience. Now a few of them are beginning to achieve what I would call an intermediate technical level, and for me that is huge. I have taught them everything they know and I am feeling and seeing the rewards of teaching that you talk about at your seminars.
One group of about five kids is ready to try something new, so I have been contemplating putting them into a dance competition. I know they have a long way to go before they could compare to the talent that I have seen at competitions, but the exposure could spark their enthusiasm to excel. When are students ready for dance competition? Do you have advice for a teacher who wants to do competition the right way? —Meryl
Thanks for writing. You sound like a very levelheaded teacher who is appreciating the rewards of teaching, and that should always be your priority. If you maintain the enthusiasm to do it “the right way,” I predict that you will achieve all the success you desire.
I do have strong opinions on when is the right time to introduce students to dance competitions. My number-one advice to you is to take your time. Look for a competition that is coming to your area and plan to attend with your five dancers and their parents. Call the competition ahead of time to find out when the competitors in your students’ age group will be performing.
In the auditorium, sit in the middle of your group to see and hear the reaction of your students and their parents. Do they seem enthusiastic about trying it or a bit intimidated by it all? Later, ask them what they thought of the competition and pay attention to their thoughts and questions. Open the discussion of whether participating is something they would like to do. Know that some parents and students don’t want to get involved because of the time commitment or cost.
If they choose to participate, look for a competition that offers various levels for beginner, intermediate, and advanced dancers. That way you can enter your students in a category that will compare them to students with roughly the same level of experience.
Do only one entry to start with so that you and your students can focus on making that one performance the best that it can be. That will help minimize everyone’s stress level. Create choreography that has no tricks or technical feats that your dancers can’t do well. Make a dance that allows your students to feel completely confident when they hit that stage. Also do your best to come up with a unique theme or concept or music that will help your entry stand out from the crowd.
Before you head to the competition, tell your students that you are proud of them for what they have accomplished to that point and that you will be proud of them whether or not they win an award. I think it’s very important to lower students’ expectations so that they don’t make the award their priority.
Afterward, talk about the experience and your students’ feelings. Always ask them who was their favorite dancer or group because that will help them appreciate the other dancers right from the start. Also, it is important to convey that although competition will be a part of what you do, it will never be the only thing. Incorporate competing into your educational offerings, but never let it be the main focus. Wishing you all the best. —Rhee
I have owned a school with more than 400 students for 21 years. Until last summer there was a dancewear store about 10 miles away, where my students and those from many area schools purchased their dancewear. For the last few months I have been ordering my students’ shoes and dancewear from various wholesalers, and I have been making a nice profit from these sales.
Last week the space next door to my school became available for rent and the landlord offered me a very reasonable rate. The location would be perfect for a dancewear store. I figure that my students alone are a good start for the business and I hope that the other schools in the area would send their students there.
My parents have years of experience in retail and my dad is out of work, so I think he could manage the store. What advice can you offer me as I contemplate this decision? —Helene
If you decide to move forward with this venture, I advise you to completely separate the dancewear business from your school. Come up with a name that is not similar to your school, let the store have its own entrance, and be sure that the employees of the store do not try to solicit students from other schools to take classes at your school.
I suggest this for a couple of reasons. One, you want to gain the trust of the studio owners in your area that they can send their students to your store and not worry that you will try to recruit them. Two, several of the biggest names in the dancewear business will not sell their products to dance schools. By creating a separate entity, I believe you will have a better shot at carrying many of the brands that your clients would want to purchase.
I do think a base of 400 students is a good start to launch a dancewear business, but to offer your father a full-time job, cover the rent, and possibly have additional employees, you would need business from other students and dancers in your area to make it work financially. I would get on the phone to talk with the school owners to determine whether they would send their students to your store. Just like you, they might have found wholesale dancewear to fill the gap for their students. If they are making a profit on these sales, they may be less apt to send that business your way.
As a dancewear store owner in 2011, you must also understand that several reputable online dancewear retailers often sell their products at discounted rates, and some of them are offering school owners rewards for sending students to their sites. You must consider these online options as your competition.
Another point: What is your father’s experience with dancewear and fitting shoes? One of the most important aspects of owning a dancewear store is being able to properly fit a dancer for pointe shoes, which requires experience or training. You might need to hire someone qualified for this role.
Finally, it is important to investigate what the investment in inventory for your store would be. Many wholesalers have minimum-order policies that could run into thousands of dollars. In some cases you might be able to order a product for a customer, but overall it is better for customers to walk out of the store with their purchases. That is what will set you apart from the online stores.
It is not my objective to discourage you from jumping into this venture, but I have known dance teachers who have had tremendous success selling dancewear and I have also met some who have lost their shirts. This decision is one that you must investigate thoroughly to be sure it is the right move for you.
One final question to ask yourself: Will you make as much profit, if not more, by keeping your dancewear situation the way it is now, or will you clear more with all the expenses associated with owning a full-fledged store? You might discover that you are better off financially with what you have already. Good luck to you. —Rhee
I have a hip-hop teacher who has become a huge asset to the school. He has created a hip-hop team that performs throughout the area, and he’s a good teacher who takes his responsibility seriously and is always trying to do the right thing for the kids.
Here’s the problem: a dad of one of the teenage boys on the team told me that he feels uncomfortable with his son taking lessons from this teacher. He says he knows the teacher is gay and he’s afraid that his son might think it’s OK to be gay if he continues to take lessons from this teacher. I know you’re probably thinking that I should have slapped the guy, but I think he really believes what he said.
My school is located in the Bible Belt. I have had several gay teachers and a few gay students pass through my doors, and no one has ever said anything to me. My belief is that diversity is what my school is all about, and I am proud of that.
I told this dad that I believe this teacher’s personal life has nothing to do with his capabilities and that children aren’t influenced by others to be gay but are predisposed to be that way. He seemed to understand, but it was obvious that he was very disturbed by the discussion. So I didn’t push it any further and told him that I hoped he would keep his son at my school. The child did show up for the next class.
What is strange about this situation is that I think this dad’s son is gay, and I am wondering if the father is looking for someplace to lay the blame. I’m not sure if I should say anything more or just leave it alone. Got any advice? —Freaked Out
This is the first time I’ve received a letter like this, but this type of scenario could well be playing out all over the country in the minds of many fathers whose sons choose to dance. I do think you handled the situation the best way you could, and I wouldn’t bring it up again. The father is probably freaked out too and he might even feel like a fool for mentioning it.
If he does bring it up again, I would probably ask him to pull his son out of the school because I believe that dance and the other arts are not the place for prejudice or judgment about anyone’s sexuality, skin color, language, or beliefs. We all speak one common language that every dancer understands and that’s it; nothing else matters.
It could be uncomfortable for you, but I might bring this incident up to the hip-hop teacher so that he is aware of how this dad feels and can keep it in mind when he is working with the child. Since the father came to you about it, he has probably brought up the subject with his son. It’s better if everyone involved knows what’s going on.
It is hard for me to accept that some parents believe that if they keep their children away from those who are gay, their children will not become gay. Then our society ends up with young people who believe there is something wrong with them and that they will lose the respect and love of their parents if they follow what their heart tells them. And that’s how we end up with teenagers who commit suicide. Good luck with this. —Rhee
I have a bit of a dilemma. I have owned and operated a dance studio for 25-plus years. My dancers have done well at competitions and in examinations and have done many performances in our community. I am struggling this year to create more award-winning choreography. I find that my students and parents seem to think that I can make it happen by myself. Any advice?
If you mean that your students and their parents question your choreographic abilities, then you have let them become too involved in the process. Their exposure to the art of choreography is nowhere near your own level of expertise. Don’t let their inexperience or desire to be winners intimidate you. It may be time to stop asking them for their opinions and simply tell them how great you think your own work is.
If your students and parents believe in your abilities and you’ve lost confidence in yourself, just remember that you’ve done it before and you can do it again. It sounds like you just need some inspiration. Start to see every performance you can, including styles of dance that are outside of your current scope. I often find that I am more inspired by performances that are different from what I know or do.
Also, search on the Internet for videos of performances by professional dance companies or choreographers. I have a feeling that you will find lots of choreographic inspiration right on your computer. And browse the music websites, such as iTunes, for something totally different from what you typically choreograph to. I find good music in the New Age category and there are lots of cool versions of old favorites.
Explore new boundaries, both for yourself and your dancers, and the creative energy will begin to flow. Also, have confidence in the fact that you have been creative in the past and that you’ll get better every year. Enjoy the inspiration. —Rhee
I’ve been teaching with as much passion as I can for close to 30 years, but now I am in my mid-50s and my body is starting to feel it. My knees, back, and hips are always cracking, and sometimes when I get home from the studio the pain is unbearable. I’m not sure if it’s because of the pain or just years of teaching, but I also think I’m starting to burn out. I now look back with amazement on the enthusiasm I had just a few years ago, because I don’t know how I did it.
I still want to be a part of dance teaching, but I think I want less of it in my life. It would be nice for my body to recover after a long day of teaching, which can’t happen when I have to work every day.
In the past I have contemplated selling my business, but I couldn’t imagine not seeing my students every day. That thought doesn’t scare me so much anymore. I think someone younger might be able to give my students more. Now my biggest worry is trying to figure out how to stay in the dance education field without having to teach all the time. What do teachers who are in my place do? —Sore Dancer
You are not alone. There are several thousand readers of Dance Studio Life who are reading this and saying to themselves, “I feel your pain,” literally. I am not in the classroom as much anymore, yet my knees, back, hips, and neck are always sore from the 35 or 40 years that I was either in class or teaching. It’s called wear-and-tear, and it happens to so many of us.
With your experience, you should be able to find yourself a teaching job that allows you to customize your hours to accommodate your body and your health. You could also consider selling your school to someone who would keep you on part-time.
Some dancers and teachers are afraid of what happens when the body or the brain gives out, but frankly I never understood the panic. I think the dance world has so many options for older dancers, everything from judging dance competitions to consulting with school owners who are new to the business. Your knowledge and experience are valuable; you just have to take the leap to the next phase of your dance career.
That’s not to say that making a big change isn’t going to be a tough process, filled with emotions and maybe some roadblocks, but the reality is that most change in our lives does turn out to be a good thing. Take it from a man who is an expert on finding all sorts of things that are fulfilling and keep me smack in the middle of the dance-education field.
It sounds like your body is telling you that it’s time for a change. Now you just have to get your mind to follow, and the possibilities will be endless. And read our “A Better You” column in each issue—it’s full of tips on how to keep yourself going. Good luck! —Rhee
Idaho Dance Theatre’s gala, “Dancing Through the Decades,” a night of ’60s and ’70s music and dancing, will be held February 26.
Tickets include live and silent auctions, buffet dinner, no-host bar, celebrity dance competition, and dancing until midnight to the music of High Street.
Idaho Dance Theatre is the first professional dance company to be founded in Boise, and it is the only Boise arts organization still being directed by its original founding artistic directors. The company, now celebrating its 22nd season, has engaged over 100 Idaho dancers and numerous guest choreographers, musicians, actors, and designers.
Festivities begin at 5:30 p.m. Idaho Dance Theatre is located at 405 S. Eighth Street, Suite 363, Boise, Idaho. For information, call 208.331.9592 or visit www.idahodancetheatre.org.
BET Networks has announced a nationwide casting call for female dancers for a new dance competition show with choreographer Laurieann Gibson, who has worked with Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, Alicia Keys, and other artists.
Auditions will be held February 19, 2011, in Los Angeles. The time and precise location haven’t been determined.
Dancers applying must be at least 18 years old. Those arriving from out of town should arrange to stay in Los Angeles for possible callbacks for at least two days after their initial audition.
Competitions for schools of every size, taste, and budget
Access Broadway Inc. Oceanside, NY 516.594.6050; firstname.lastname@example.org accessbroadway.com Founded by Broadway veteran Ron DeVito. The first all-inclusive competition and convention, featuring dance, acting, and voice. Triple-threat competition, Broadway Experience workshop, professional opportunities.
Adrenaline Dance Southlake, TX 866.695.4144 email@example.com adrenalinedance.com
Join Adrenaline Dance as we celebrate our seventh and biggest season ever. Adrenaline is all about education and excellence, personal attention, and superior instruction.
American Ballet Competition Austin, TX 970.376.2607; firstname.lastname@example.org americanballetcompetition.com Competitors ages 9 to 20 enjoy master classes and coaching with international guest artists. Compete in ballet, contemporary, and ensemble categories. Awards include company traineeships and scholarships.
American Dance Awards North Haven, CT 203.985.8144; email@example.com americandanceawards.com Organized and friendly atmosphere, promoting education, camaraderie, and fairness. $100,000 in scholarships yearly. Highly respected, professional adjudicators. More than 60 classes in all performing-art subjects at Nationals.
Applause Talent Hamilton, OH 513.844.6788; firstname.lastname@example.org applausetalent.com Applause is a competition benefiting all ages and stages of performance, now offering three new levels and two new locations for Nationals.
BackStage Performing Arts Competition Manalapan, NJ 866.807.9298; email@example.com backstageperformingartscompetition.com You’re invited to join us BackStage for a fun and fair competition experience where everyone is treated like a VIP.
Beyond The Stars Talent Competition Princeton Junction, NJ 609.259.8760; firstname.lastname@example.org beyondthestarscompetition.com Compete in a positive atmosphere with two levels of competition, each with overall high score awards, where dancers are judged fairly and recognized for their efforts.
Boston International Ballet Competition Boston, MA 617.314.6236; email@example.com bostonibc.org Valentina Kozlova announces the first BIBC, John Hancock Hall, May 12–16, 2011, for dancers ages 13 to 25. Judges include Violette Verdy, Andris Liepa, Mikko Nissinen.
BravO! National Dance and Talent Competition Omaha, NE 877.272.8641; firstname.lastname@example.org bravocompetition.com A full-scale, nationally recognized dance and talent competition with top industry professional judges and staff to critique, enrich, and educate the stars of tomorrow.
Cathy Roe’s Ultimate Dance Santa Fe, NM 800.800.5437; email@example.com cathyroeultimatedance.com Cathy Roe’s Ultimate Dance is devoted to giving your dancers a professional, exciting performing experience in a theater/stage environment, where artistry and encouragement prevail.
Celebrity Dance Competitions Phoenix, AZ 877.326.2394; firstname.lastname@example.org celebritydancecompetitions.com Celebrity has created a vision where everyone is a celebrity. With personal attention, trophies, scholarships, positive environment, T-shirts for competitors, Nationals at Sea, and more.
Coastal Dance Rage Brentwood, CA 888.838.8358; email@example.com coastaldancerage.com 2011’s “Too Hot to Handle” tour offers unparalleled levels of interactive classes in ballet, jazz, lyrical, contemporary, tap, and hip-hop, with our powerhouse celebrity choreographers.
Co. Dance Naperville, IL 888.473.5383; firstname.lastname@example.org codance.com Our mission is to give dancers an environment to develop their skills and self esteem. Hot and in demand, the Co. Dance faculty is second to none!
Creation Dance Championships Lakewood Ranch, FL 941.306.5010; email@example.com creationdancechamps.com A forum for teachers to showcase their students’ talents in a positive setting, with the results of stage experience, confidence, and technical excellence for all competitors.
Crowd Pleasers Dance Southlake, TX 800.250.3534; firstname.lastname@example.org crowdpleasersdance.com We hope that you will consider competing in our contests this year. We want to make them a pleasant and memorable part of your season.
Dance Champs National Dance Competition Kansas City, MO 816.452.1440; email@example.com dancechampsevents.com Dance Champs awards more than $12,000 in cash prizes/awards at our regional competitions. Three levels of competition, rebates, online registration, jazz challenge, CD critiques.
Dance Expressions North Wales, PA 215.661.9296; Tapkat5678@aol.com DanceExpressionscompetition.com A one-day, stress-free competition offering three competitive levels. Every dancer receives a medal. Special awards, high-score trophies, directors’ awards, scholarships, and more.
Dance Magic Inc. Ocean Springs, MS 224.437.6251; firstname.lastname@example.org dancemagic.net DMI provides an ultimate competition experience with premier judging at outstanding venues. We bring Southern pride to providing awesome opportunities at our authentic talent showcase.
Dance Power Competitions Edmonton, AB, Canada 780.473.4378; email@example.com dancepower.com One of the largest dance competition companies in Canada, attracting 30,000 dancers annually to an atmosphere that is professional, friendly, and fun. Eighteen years in operation.
Dance Troupe, Inc. Martinsville, VA 276.656.1882; firstname.lastname@example.org dancetroupechallenge.com Dance Troupe continues the search for America’s most talented dancers. More ways to win, new adjudication rankings, special awards at no extra charge.
Dancers Inc. Neptune, NJ 732.685.8182; email@example.com dancers-inc.com A competition and convention in one weekend, with the finest industry professionals, and support and guidance for all studio directors, dancers, and dance families.
Elite Dance Challenge Cumberland, RI 401.334.4067; firstname.lastname@example.org elitedancechallenge.net Experience an innovative competition that is on time and very organized. We offer a positive, fun environment. Receive a 10 percent studio rebate. Experience Elite!
Encore DCS (Dance Competition for the Stars) Lexington, SC 803.319.3295; email@example.com encoredcs.com Encore DCS leads the dance competition industry with fierce competition, nationally acclaimed judges, free master classes, recognition for everyone, and Southern hospitality at its best.
Encore Talent Productions, Inc. Liberty Township, OH 513.759.5057; firstname.lastname@example.org encore-competitions.com Nationals held at Great Wolf Lodge in Mason, Ohio. Trophies and cash awards as well as gifts for all participants and their teachers.
Energy National Dance Competitions Weston, FL 954.780.7177; email@example.com EnergyNDC.com
Energy encourages dancers to pursue their dreams in a non-stressful, family-oriented dance competition. All of our dancers leave smiling. Our teacher rebate program is exceptional!
5-6-7-8 Showtime Inc. Vancouver, BC, Canada 604.945.7469; firstname.lastname@example.org 5678showtime.com 5-6-7-8 Showtime has awarded $1,268,615 in cash since 1994. It now hosts Dance World Cup, recognized by CID-UNESCO, based in Paris, France.
Fluid Dance Conventions, Inc. Denver, CO 602.318.6884; email@example.com fluiddance.com We are a nationally touring dance company holding both a convention and competition/showcase. Nationally acclaimed faculty. We strive to increase knowledge and passion for the performing arts.
Headliners Performing Arts Competition Randolph, NJ 973.927.8007; firstname.lastname@example.org headlinerscompetition.com Known for its honest and realistic awards system, Headliners offers more than trophies; it offers opportunities such as agency representation and college scholarships.
Hip Hop International USA & World Hip Hop Dance Championships Urban Moves Dance Workshops Los Angeles, CA 800.669.5867; email@example.com hiphopinternational.com All ages compete for the USA Hip Hop Dance Championship title and advance to the World Championship to compete against crews from more than 30 nations.
Hollywood Connection Dance Convention and Competition Los Angeles, CA 877-DANCE HC; firstname.lastname@example.org hcdance.com Real teachers, real opportunities, real fun, and real deals: $59 rate in Kansas City, Seattle, and Las Vegas. Don’t miss out!
Hollywood Vibe Dance Convention & Competition Burbank, CA 818.567.2359; email@example.com hollywoodvibe.com Teachers across the U.S. repeatedly say that Hollywood Vibe runs the most organized and on-time events in the industry today, featuring Hollywood’s best choreographers and teachers.
I Love Dance Portland, OR 503.253.2020; firstname.lastname@example.org ilovedance.com For 33 years, I Love Dance Competitions have been organized in most major U.S. cities, providing a professional, classy, and fun performing experience
International Dance Challenge Fort Lauderdale, FL 800.797.2145; email@example.com intldancechallenge.com Dancers can showcase their talents in a positive atmosphere and measure their artistic strengths and weaknesses against their peers. All-ages competition in multiple subjects/styles.
Intrigue Dance Intensive Sunrise, FL 646.215.1279; firstname.lastname@example.org intriguedanceintensive.com Intrigue is an artistic convention/competition company that strives to motivate and energize all levels of dancers. Check out our unique Creativity in Motion competitions.
Kids Artistic Revue Los Angeles, CA 562.602.6154; info@DanceKAR.com DanceKAR.com Kids Artistic Revue (KAR), a founding member of the FDC, enters its 29th season. KAR offers numerous levels of competition for dancers of all abilities.
Legacy Dance Championships East Islip, NY 631.224.1836; email@example.com legacydancechampionships.com Committed to setting new and improved industry standards along with high-quality production value, knowledgeable and caring judges, friendly staff, and events that run on time.
Limelight Dance Convention Phoenix, AZ 916.412.0108; firstname.lastname@example.org limelightdance.com Master classes in audition technique and the latest dance styles. Audition for scholarships and cash awards. Be seen by industry pros in our pageant.
MA Dance Plano, TX 469.261.6230; email@example.com madance.com Compete at our 14 regional championships and MA nationals in Fort Worth, Texas. Awards in 13 dance categories, 21 team classes, and 7 solo age divisions.
Monsters Dance Conventions Monsters of HipHop, Monsters of Contemporary Baltimore, MD 888.566.6787; firstname.lastname@example.org monstersdance.com; monstersofhiphop.com; monstersofcontemporary.com Bringing dancers together with the industry’s top professional choreographers in a fun and challenging environment that fosters self-fulfillment and provides career development opportunities.
NYLA Dance—New York Los Angeles Dance Conventions and Competitions New York, NY, and New Orleans, LA 212.222.2772; email@example.com NYLADANCE.com Seven wonderful years of fun, dance education, and artistic expression by offering New York and Los Angeles styles. Optional convention. Traditional and contemporary categories. Rebates.
National Association of Dance and Affiliated Arts, Inc. Milwaukee, WI 414.353.8884; Siewertseqins1@aol.com nadaa.com Conventions/competitions: Greater New England, June 24–26, Windsor Locks, CT; Greater New York, July 7–9, Whippany, NJ; and convention Greater Midwest, July 15–17,Waukesha, WI.
New York City Dance Alliance New York, NY 866.NYC.5678; firstname.lastname@example.org nycdance.com Your investment in the future—for yourself, your studio, and your dancers! World-class faculty, professional performance environment, opportunities and resources to take you to the next level.
New York International Ballet Competition, Inc. New York, NY 212.956.1520; email@example.com nyibc.org NYIBC is a tuition-free, three-week intensive study program, providing exceptional education, career advancement, and employment opportunities for talented young dancers from all over the world.
On Stage America Bethesda, MD 301.654.8939; firstname.lastname@example.org onstageamerica.com Our 19th season. Register online: discounts, Caribbean cruise giveaway. Hope to see you dancing in America’s number-one competition where we inspire youths to higher goals.
Onstage New York New York, NY 877.NYC.5678; email@example.com onstagenewyork.com We’ve created a kid-friendly, family-competition atmosphere that is professional and fun. Knowledgeable judges with great critiques and a true positive experience for all!
O!vation Dance Convention Omaha, NE 68110 877.272.8641; firstname.lastname@example.org ovationconvention.com BravO! National Dance and Talent Competition presents the new convention experience: O!vation—striving for your standing O!
Platinum National Dance Competition Jonesboro, GA 404.551.4518; email@example.com DancePlatinum.com This is our fifth year. We offer three levels of competition and are expanding our awards to Platinum Plus, Platinum, Gold, Silver, and Bronze.
PrimeTime Dance Mesquite, TX 800.319.9199; firstname.lastname@example.org showbiztalent.com Come experience the live critiques from our distinguished panel of judges at each regional event in both CE and XT Levels to be the PrimeTime live finals Champion.
Rainbow Connection Las Vegas, NV 702.384.6240; email@example.com rainbowdance.com Rainbow Connection is a star-studded showcase featuring three levels of competition, DVD of judges’ critiques, guaranteed cash prizes, and the “Funbelievable” pot of gold.
Rhythms in Dance Inc. West Long Branch, NJ 732.493.0402; firstname.lastname@example.org rhythmsindance.com In our seventh season, with a friendly, professional, and inviting staff. We welcome all styles of dance from studio, high school, and college teams.
SHOCK! The Intensive Kernersville, NC 336.993.9073; email@example.com ShockTheIntensive.com We offer one day of intense dance education, taught by a highly professional panel of educators as well as a celebrity panel of teachers.
Shooting Stars Talent Competition Inc. East Northport, NY 877.81.STARS; firstname.lastname@example.org shootingstarstalent.com At Shooting Stars Talent, we want dancers to have a good learning experience whether they’re performing for the first time or have competed for years.
Showbiz National Talent Mesquite, TX 800.319.9199; email@example.com showbiztalent.com Showbiz National Talent has been in the dance competition industry for more than 20 years and continues to lead the way in professionalism and quality.
Spotlight Dance Cup Eagle, ID 208.939.2015; firstname.lastname@example.org spotlightevents.com Spotlight Dance Cup, a member of the FDC, produces high-quality, organized, and family-friendly events. Video critiques, unique awards, easy online registration.
Stage One Productions Norman, OK 405.573.7733; Director@StageOneDance.com StageOneDance.com For 14 years, Stage One has set the industry standard in customer care. We strive to bring you the best dance competitions possible. See you soon!
Star Systems National Talent Kernersville, NC 336.993.9073; email@example.com StarSystemsTalent.com We offer a family-friendly dance and talent competition, with state-of-the-art equipment, beautiful venues, professional, qualified judging panels, and industry low prices.
Starbound National Talent Competition Lanoka Harbor, NJ 609.693.0563; firstname.lastname@example.org starbound.net The largest competition in America! Since 1994, Starbound’s experienced judges and staff have provided organized, professional competitions focused on encouragement and fun for performers.
StarQuest International Apex, NC 919.363.2900; Concierge@StarQuestDance.com StarQuestDance.com StarQuest offers dancers a safe and professional setting, hosting more than 21,000 performers in all genres, including jazz, tap, and hip-hop.
Step Up 2 Dance Boston, MA 781.231.0211; email@example.com stepup2dance.net Gorgeous awards, dedicated staff, inspiring judges, reasonable hours, limited enrollment, one-day-only shows. Come join the fun, glamour, and excitement. Phone for schedule updates.
Talent Explosion Harrisburg, PA 570.751.8449; firstname.lastname@example.org talentexplosion.net Serving teachers and students for 20 years, TEA personalizes your competition experience. Awards, trophies, cash, superb judges, full critiques. April 29–30, May 1, 2011, Camp Hill, PA
Talent On Parade Haysville, KS 316.522.4836; email@example.com talentonparade.com Talent On Parade celebrates 14 years of fair, fun, and friendly dance competitions. We pride ourselves on providing a positive atmosphere for all levels of dancers!
Tap2You Manchester, N.H. 314.TAP.ONLY; firstname.lastname@example.org tap2you.com Instead of rewarding bigger, faster, and flashier tap routines, Tap2You is about rhythm, musicalitiy, and timing, with a strong focus on performance and education.
That’s Entertainment Westville, NJ 877.381.0450; email@example.com thatsentertainmentpa.com A family business creating fun, laughs, and memories from our family to yours. Competition for students, entertainment for parents, and a unique experience for you.
The PULSE on Tour New York City, NY 877.PULSE.01 x30; info@ThePulseOnTour.com ThePulseOnTour.com The PULSE on Tour is a powerful weekend dance event featuring the most renowned choreographers of today, inspiring and educating thousands of dancers internationally.
Thunderstruck Dance Competition Las Vegas, NV 702.838.2893; firstname.lastname@example.org thunderstruckdance.com Committed to offering the highest-quality dance education in all disciplines. 2011 competition tour: 41 cities in the U.S. and Canada; finals in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Tremaine Dance Conventions and Competitions North Hollywood, CA 800.832.2050; conventions@TremaineDance.com TremaineDance.com Professional dance at its best. Celebrating 30 years. Internationally known choreographer/teacher Joe Tremaine and staff conduct classes for teachers, assistant teachers, and senior, teen, and junior dancers.
Triple Threat Dance Convention, Inc. Surrey, BC, Canada 888.414.3332; email@example.com triplethreatdance.com Triple Threat’s focus is always on creating an exceptionally positive, motivating experience for each and every dancer, regardless of age or level.
Turn It Up Dance Challenge Inc. South Boston, MA 617.283.8811; firstname.lastname@example.org turnitupdance.com Frustrated? Turn It Up guarantees you will love your entire experience. Enjoyable atmosphere, professional venues, vinyl flooring, cash prizes, DVD critiques. Don’t miss out!
USA International Ballet Competition Jackson, MI 601.355.9853, email@example.com usaibc.com The USA International Ballet Competition is a two-week “Olympic-style” competition where tomorrow’s ballet stars vie for gold, silver, and bronze medals, cash awards, and scholarships.
VIP Dance New Orleans, LA 504.305.6060; VIPdance@mac.com VIPdanceOnline.com Video critiques, competitive levels, convention classes, charity program, incentive programs, and Red Carpet Awards make VIP Dance one of the best competitions in the country.
Youth America Grand Prix New York, NY 212.590.2325; firstname.lastname@example.org yagp.org The largest student ballet scholarship competition in the world, held annually in New York City. Open to dance students of all nationalities, ages 9 to 19.
Dance Hawaii Expo, a performance and competition trip with an optional clogging competition, has been set for July 13 to 23, 2011.
The trip includes performance opportunities at the Polynesian Cultural Center, Haleiwa Arts Festival, the Royal Hawaiian Shopping Center or the Kings Marketplace on Hawaii. Other activities include competitions in both clogging and dance studio categories in a variety of age divisions and categories, plus attendance at a full Hawaiian buffet and dinner show, sightseeing tours, and more.
For more expo and Hawaii information, registration forms, competition rules and more, visit www.cloggingexpo.com or contact Lee Froehle at 614.580.1950 (email@example.com) or Jeff Driggs at 304.776.9571 (firstname.lastname@example.org).
I am toying with the idea of making my teachers part-time employees versus independent contractors. A neighboring studio owner contacted me about a teacher of hers whom she pays as a contractor (1099 income) threatening to report her to the Labor Department about her payment practices. How should we proceed? Any guidance would be most helpful. —Lesley
I’m glad you asked this question because I think a lot of our readers may be in the same boat as you on this issue. Although I am not an expert in tax laws, it is my understanding that all employees, whether part-time or full-time, should receive W-2 forms. What’s important is to distinguish whether the people on your staff are employees or contractors.
Speaking simplistically, someone who works the same day(s) and hours every week (even if it is only a couple of hours) is considered an employee, while someone who is brought in occasionally (for example, a master teacher or guest choreographer) would be a contractor. According to the Department of the Treasury/IRS Employer’s Supplemental Tax Guide (Publication 15-A), another primary factor is whether the business owner has a right to direct and control how the worker does the task she’s hired for. If so, the worker would be considered an employee.
An exception would be if the worker has established a corporation with a Federal Identification Number (FID), in which case your checks would be made payable to that corporation and not the worker. This is most common when such people teach at several schools or are master teachers. (For more info, read “What’s in a Title?” in the July 2009 issue of DSL.)
I have gained this knowledge from school owners who have had difficulties with the IRS because they paid their full- and part-time employees as contractors. Most didn’t understand the law and some were trying to avoid paying the additional taxes associated with employee payroll. What usually happens is exactly what you described: an employee goes to the Labor Department or attempts to collect unemployment, and it opens a huge can of worms for the school owner. In some cases, the IRS will require payment of back taxes for the years when teachers who were paid as contractors should have been filing as W-2 employees.
Avoid these issues by consulting an accountant or another expert on the tax laws to discuss your particular situation and then begin the process of transitioning your contractors to employee status. I wish you and your friend the best on this. —Rhee
I attended your Project Motivate seminar in Michigan with my sister and mom, who own a dance studio together. We found the seminar very informative. On our way home we came up with one more question. You talked about not letting your students’ accounts get behind. We do remind parents that they need to stay current with their accounts, both personally and with email. But what do you do about those parents who ignore your reminders and drop off their children to dance without coming into the studio? We don’t mind confronting the parents, but when they use their child as a pawn to hide from us, that is hard to deal with. Eventually we do get them to pay, but sometimes it’s several months later. What do you suggest? —Michigan
I agree that children can be the victims when parents are delinquent on their tuition payments, and in such situations I sympathize with both the school owners and the kids. The parents at your school do not respect your payment policies, nor do they understand that you have financial commitments to meet that require that they pay their bills in a timely manner. When they registered their children at your school, they were making a commitment to abide by the policies and payment plans you set forth.
When parents are more than two months behind on tuition, I suggest making a phone call to remind them that it is the school’s policy that their children cannot attend class until all outstanding balances are paid in full. Making a phone call protects the children from the embarrassment of coming to the studio and discovering that they can’t take class.
You should offer these parents a payment plan or any other option that you can arrange in order to allow the children to keep dancing. However, if the parents are unable or unwilling to pay for your services, under your terms, then you must respect your own policy and your clients who are paying their tuition in a timely manner by requesting that the children not come back to class.
One way to avoid this circumstance altogether is to offer parents the option of automatic payment via debiting their checking account or charging a credit card. This allows you to collect monies due to the school on an agreed-upon day of the month. If the client’s credit is good, this is an option that allows you to completely avoid the issues associated with late payments. Consider making it a policy that any parents who have not paid tuition for two months must go on the automatic withdrawal system after they’ve paid their outstanding balance.
Your clientele must regard paying for their children’s dance lessons as a commitment like any of their other expenses, and you should not feel guilty if they choose not to do that. All the best to you. —RheeDear Rhee,
I have a school with a little more than 200 students. Registrations are still coming in, so I know I should feel good, but the start of the season has been hard because of my competition team dancers and their parents. I work with about 30 kids who participate in five competitions per year. We are known for our strong talent and we usually come out on top at most of the competitions. I have to be very careful about who represents the school when we compete, so I can’t put students who aren’t up to par on the stage. We are known as a winning school and it has to stay that way for my business. I have tried to explain this to the parents of the kids who haven’t made it on the team and they just don’t understand. How do other teachers handle this issue? Or do you know of any magical words I can use? So far I have lost seven students because they didn’t make the team. —Sandy
You asked for my help, but I’m not sure you’ll like my response. Is it more important to you to be a winner than to do what is right for your students? In determining who is good enough for your team, are you taking into consideration only the winning tricks they can do? Is potential or passion in the mix? Have you thought about how you might be having a negative influence on the development of self-esteem in the students who don’t make it onto your elite team? As teachers, we can’t be focused on what’s good for our egos at the expense of what’s right for our students.
I am sure you will continue to lose students who do not meet your winning standards. How would you feel if your son was on a baseball team with a coach who never played him because he wasn’t good at bat? You would probably think that your son will never improve unless he gets the chance to be at bat. How will the dancers who don’t meet your standards ever get stronger if you don’t expose them to the learning experiences that come with performing or competing?
In my opinion, it is time to get rid of any embarrassment you might feel if your kids don’t win. Instead, sit at the competition thinking about how much good you are doing for all of your students who have the passion, not just the ones who will bring home a trophy. Please! Good luck. —Rhee
Creating artists through dance at The Gold School
By Karen White
At a Dance Masters of America competition last March, the students of The Gold School got a standing ovation, and it wasn’t just for their technique. It was because of their artistry. Seven years ago, when Rennie Gold, director of the Brockton, Massachusetts, school, decided to scale back from the competition scene and showcase his students through a series of benefit concerts, his goal was to create artists through dance.
Apparently he succeeded. “It was the second-to-last number in the entire [DMA] competition,” Kristen Bullock, mother of a Gold School dancer, says of “Heart Hand Hug Heal,” an ensemble piece about living with cancer. “And there was not a dry eye in the house. It was so powerful, with so many emotions in one dance. What an incredible gift to be able to learn that artistry.”
Gold’s students know competition success. He’s trained numerous competition title winners, and his dancers have had success regionally, nationally, and beyond. Gold School dancers headlined the U.S. Tap Team (made up of dancers mostly from Massachusetts, Connecticut, and New York) that took first place at the International Dance Organization World Championships in 2001 and 2002 in Reisa, Germany.
But then Gold (brother of Dance Studio Life publisher Rhee Gold) made the decision to do less competing. Instead, he decided to develop an intensive-study program that would celebrate artistry along with technical prowess. His students still attend two competitions a year. But what they really get excited about are the two full-length dance concerts the school stages annually, which raise thousands of dollars for charities such as the Boys & Girls Club, St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital, and Save the Children.
But that’s now, in 2010. Back in 2003, the first concert was a financial bust. Gold had to dip into his own bank account to cover expenses and send a donation to the show’s chosen charity, the American Cancer Society. But that didn’t deter him. The next year the school produced two concerts.
“I stuck with it because I believed this could grow and attract a general audience,” Gold says. “I was willing to go this route with my own money because it was part of the [educational] program I was trying to build.” It took three years for the concerts to pay for themselves and raise enough money to make sizable donations without Gold’s financial help.
Last spring’s concert, “Change My World,” ran two nights and raised almost $1,500 for Hugs for Healing, a charity founded by Kristen Bullock after her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer, and $2,200 for the Sherry Gold Foundation, a scholarship program named for Gold’s mother.
This was no recital. Each of the concert’s 30 numbers captured a mood, made a statement, or told a story. Pieces blended seamlessly into each other, sometimes with dancers staying onstage to begin the next piece with the new group. Video projections and lighting were used to full effect. The 63 performers, ages 10 to 24 and members of Project Moves, the school’s intensive division, danced to music, to spoken word, even to their own breath.
Along with Gold, Broadway veteran Larry Sousa and other faculty and guest artists choreographed dances that ranged from the stylish Broadway of “Swing It Sisters” to the heart-wrenching modern of “Mandela’s Dream,” from comedy numbers to elegant lyrical pieces to high-powered, jump-off-the-stage jazz.
The night ended with “Heart Hand Hug Heal.” Dancers quoted statements made by children dealing with cancer, then moved through poignant images of the struggle, pain, and hope that define life with cancer: the fear of isolation, the embarrassment of losing hair, the warmth of a friend’s embrace.
“All through rehearsals they told us, ‘It’s not just doing the steps to do steps; it’s what you feel, how you give back.’ It makes the dances more powerful.” —Emily Bullock, Gold School student
“All through rehearsals they told us, ‘It’s not just doing the steps to do steps; it’s what you feel, how you give back.’ It makes the dances more powerful,” says Kristen Bullock’s daughter Emily, an eighth-grader who has danced at The Gold School for nine years.
Competitions typically look for and reward the best technical dancers, and the pieces that take top awards often are designed to please judges—certainly not bad things. Emily explains the difference: “In a competition, we’re paying the judges to watch us. In a concert, the audience has paid to watch us. So we want to give back more.”
Today the concerts attract a wide-ranging audience, from residents of a nearby assisted-living center to students of other area dance schools. “The concerts are about pleasing a general public that knows nothing about dance, and who doesn’t necessarily love you because they are your parents,” Gold says. “A dance company in the real world has to make an audience feel something, to laugh or cry. If you can pull that off, you’ve done your job as an artist.”
As the school’s focus changed, Gold warned his students that the concert-style pieces they would now be presenting (rather than the standard competition fare) might not be met with enthusiasm from competition judges. “Sometimes they go over, sometimes not,” he says.
Take a piece called “Ancestors,” with simple movements and loose white clothing. The dancers thought Gold’s choreography “was the most beautiful thing we’ve ever seen,” says former Gold School student Kellie Grant, a 2010 graduate of Emerson College in Boston. “But it was long and not flashy. It just didn’t translate to the judges.”
The dancers are OK with that. “We stood apart as dancers,” says Katie Kozul, a freshman in the Ailey/Fordham BFA program in dance, about her 12 years as a Gold School dancer. “It was all about the story, not about putting in a turn because we needed points. Competitions are good—we got inspired by other studios—but this gave us the potential to grow as dancers.”
Ross LeClair, a freshman in the New York University dance department, joined the Gold studio three years ago and noticed the difference in approach. “Especially coming from somewhere else, this was a big change,” he says. “[At The Gold School] we learned what art is and what it can do for us.”
Kellie Grant says the focus on artistry encouraged her to become a choreographer. In Across the Universe, a piece she created for the “Change My World” concert, she wanted to show how people connect through communication and relationships. She used imagery such as links and chains, hand holding, and even sign language to make her point.
“Rennie always gave us lots of opportunities to make our own decisions as dancers,” she says. “As a choreographer, [when] the students develop that, it helps your ability to put your vision on their bodies. We say what we want, and the kids understand how to put it on their bodies.”
Unlike recitals or competitions, the concerts teach the dancers how a professional dance performance is put together. Preparation for each show includes a tech week of onstage rehearsals, during which the kids are exposed to the setting of light cues, sound checks, and stage managing details. “This is an experience most kids their age never get. Because of this, they know a lot about how a real dance company works,” Gold says. “This has all paid off because I’ve watched a generation of my kids grow up with this, and I’ve seen what it’s done for them compared to the kids who never had it.”
Gold believes the combination of a strong technical base (at least three ballet and two modern technique classes a week), the emphasis on artistry, and the concert experiences is a winning one for his students. Many have been accepted into dance departments at prestigious schools such as Juilliard, Fordham University, and New York University, while many others dance professionally.
In a way, these concerts mark a return to The Gold School’s roots. When Gold was a child, his mother (and the studio’s founder), Sherry Gold, organized her best dancers into a troupe that did benefit shows. But over the years, as competitions became the rage, the benefit performances faded away. When Gold took over the studio upon his mother’s death, he says, “I just did exactly what she did.”
Gold’s thinking about the purpose of performing changed when a student showed him his application to Juilliard. One question—“When did you first discover you were an artist?”—struck him. “I had never looked at it that way,” he says. Then one day at a competition, a teacher from another school made a telling comment. “She said, ‘You should be doing your work for the general public,’ ” Gold says. “It got me thinking about the benefits we used to do.”
After the first lean years, the school learned how to harness the power of technology to promote the concerts. Gold knew that attracting the public to the concerts—not just parents—was the key to financial success. Last spring, five “video commercials” showing the dancers in rehearsal ran on YouTube, and the studio’s Facebook page was buzzing. With so much interest outside the dance studio, ticket sales skyrocketed. “We always had a bank account, but it would end up empty,” Gold says. “Now it has money in it. It’s an awesome feeling.”
This year, the power of dance to reach people and change lives took center stage at The Gold School. Throughout the year, the Project Moves dancers embraced the concert’s designated charity, Hugs for Healing, raising money through sponsorships. The charity donates tote bags filled with fun and helpful items to cancer patients, including the Hugs for Healing signature item—a sweatshirt sporting painted handprints representing “hugs” from family members.
In addition, parents held special fund-raising events. A “Yoga Day” at one mother’s yoga studio raised $700, while another mom’s “Pampered Chef” party brought in $600.
The most memorable moment happened in January when 11-year-old cancer patient Lexi Williams and her family met with the Project Moves dancers to talk about the reality of living with cancer. “It made me appreciate life more,” Matthew Gilmore, an eighth-grader, says.
“She just wants to go to school, but there’s so much craziness with the cancer, she’s just happy to get up every day,” says former Gold School student Kelsea Strucki, now a freshman at Marymount Manhattan College.
“It was one of the best days ever at our studio. It was a huge reminder to our kids about how lucky they are,” Gold says, adding that he and his faculty used Lexi’s experiences for choreographic inspiration. “Anytime a kid in rehearsal is looking tired, I say, ‘Remember, remember.’ And it works.”
At their two competitions this year, The Gold School dancers took home many of the top awards. But when interviewed for this story, all they wanted to talk about was the concert when Lexi and her family sat in the front row.
“In the concerts, you connect with each other and the audience,” Kelsea says. “I didn’t realize how much until I saw them in the front row, and the audience was crying. They understood what we were dancing.”
Perils of Prizes
You hear it all the time, from studio owners and competition directors: competing isn’t about winning; it’s about the experience. About learning, teamwork, developing stage presence, testing your limits, finding out whether you’re a minnow or a giant koi in the big pond of the competition arena. All good stuff.
But here’s something to think about before you sit your competition kids and their parents down to talk about your expectations for the upcoming season. In a study on the effects of competition done at Brandeis University, two groups of girls ages 7 to 11 were asked to make paper collages. One group was told that whoever made the best collage would win a prize; the other was told that a prize would be raffled off.
The results led the researchers to conclude that intrinsic (internal) motivation, such as taking pride in one’s work and enjoying the experience, encourages creativity, while extrinsic (external) motivation, such as competing to win something, is detrimental.
Does this mean all competition is bad and it’s time to disband the team? No. It means that teachers should understand that the nature of competing might limit their dancers’ ability to be creative onstage in that context. Since the dances are choreographed —no one’s doing improv out there—I mean creativity in the sense of personal expression. So next time you ask your competition dancers to put all that heart and soul into a performance, you might want to temper your expectations. Or not. One study is far from conclusive, after all.
But here’s what I’d like to know: do the dancers perform the same dance differently on the competition stage than in a recital or concert? Without the burden of judgment, are they freer, more expressive? Since dance is so ephemeral, it could be difficult to make that kind of comparison. And you could argue that if the dance has more heart and soul in it during the recital, it was because of all the practice of doing it on the competition stage. Still, I’m curious. If you have the opportunity to compare the two, be sure to write to us about what you see. —Cheryl Ossola, Editor in Chief
Setup for Failure
At my daughter’s school, the fourth-graders were deciding which instrument they wanted to play the following fall. A family with a special-needs child approached the band director, who advised them to pick a popular instrument so their child wouldn’t be alone, preferably a woodwind (easier to play than a brass), and something not too expensive to rent, in case the child changed his mind.
After listening to a presentation on the attributes of various instruments, the parents made their decision: the French horn!
Let me explain: the French horn is not only a brass instrument, but it’s one of the toughest ones to play. That’s why my daughter is the only French horn player in the 50-plus-member middle school band. And while a flute runs about $22 a month, renting a French horn costs $140.
Sounds familiar? In my studio experience, I call this setting your child up for failure. It’s the “I know Suzie’s just started ballet, but she wants to be in with girls her age” argument, and the ever-popular “Suzie’s bored in this level; I’m sure her behavior would improve if she were challenged more.”
Sometimes you just have to say, “Wow.” You line up rational arguments based on years of experience and knowledge, and the parents shoot them down like rusty tin cans on a fence. No, a 3-year-old is not ready for hard shoe Irish step. No, she can’t take pointe. Your child is dying to take that advanced jazz class, but she’s never taken jazz? What was that old show—Father Knows Best? I bet a dancing school parent came up with that stupid title.
Despite our best efforts, some kids leak into classes they shouldn’t be in. Inevitably they hang in the back, lost. They take up class time learning simple moves they don’t know because they skipped a level. They frustrate the other dancers and mess up the recital dance. They don’t improve. Or worse—they become frustrated and drop out. All they have learned is that they can’t dance. What a shame.
I tell parents that I know what it feels like to be in over your head. Every time a convention teacher announces, “I just taught this choreography to some 22-year-old professional dancers in L.A.,” I know that feeling’s comin’ on. The parents don’t care. They need the convenience, the car pool, the class level they can brag about.
If only I knew how to make parents see the light, I’d charge you folks three payments of $19.99 and make a fortune. For now, I can’t wait to see my kid’s band director again—hiya, brother! Join the club! —Karen White, Associate Editor
Carpe Diem event prepares students for competitions
By Heather Wisner
What if you could stage a mock competition—with tech and costumes, but without the pressure or the public—before your students moved on to the real thing?
Vanleena Dance Academy, in Vancouver, British Columbia, is doing just that. At its annual Carpe Diem (Latin for “Seize the Day”) event, now in its second year, the studio rents a large theater for one day in spring, staffs it with volunteers, and brings in about 200 students from its various performing groups. From 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., dancers perform solo or in groups; each performance is assessed by three adjudicators who interact directly with the performers. To cap the afternoon, the adjudicators teach a master class.
Carpe Diem wasn’t necessarily designed to give the dancers a competitive edge. The initial goal of the event was “for the school to become a closer-knit family,” says Vanleena director Kehree Lacasse. “We thought we needed to pull our performing groups together. It’s about fun and making sure that the students are enjoying the competition. We wanted the children to have real constructive criticism and feedback in a positive environment.”
Adds Pierre Lacasse, the school’s general manager and Kehree’s husband, “It’s a chance [for students] to perform, not just to compete. They’re not concerned about placement or trophies, just focused on improving their [performance of the] choreography.”
That said, the event “does weed out the bugs,” says Kehree, before students head to competition. Students who compete are required to participate in Carpe Diem. The event also helps prepare their teachers, who are assessed alongside their students.
The school, which serves approximately 450 students ranging in age from 3 to adult, has two “streams,” as Kehree puts it: traditional and competitive. All the students perform in the school’s annual recital, but those who want to participate in competitions may opt to do so if they’re told they’re ready after an assessment from instructors.
Seven teachers work with the competitive track, which is open to dancers ages 7 to 18 in levels from novice to advanced. Competition categories include jazz, lyrical, tap, musical theater, and hip-hop. The school also offers Royal Academy of Dance ballet training but does not include ballet in the competitive track, although dancers who compete in certain styles are required to take it. (Ballet students have their own sort of adjudication with annual RAD exams.)
Dancers prepare for Carpe Diem during their classes; the event itself is typically held in March before dancers go on to competitions in April and May, including the Surrey Festival, the Peak Invitational, and Dance Power, which are open to local and nearby provincial schools.
On the day of Carpe Diem, the theater is staffed with light and sound technicians; dancers are expected to come performance-ready, with costumes on and hair done. (This requirement helps eliminate presentation glitches early on, Pierre notes). Parents and the public do not attend the event; the dancers watch and learn from their peers and from the working dance and theater professionals (drawn from colleagues with ties to the school) who assess their work. Adjudicators take notes, which they share with the dancers—in groups and individually—right after each performance.
“There are no marks, only written comments that are further explained,” says Pierre. “What we’ve found is that written comments [during competition] often are really short sentences, so it’s hard to know what the judges were seeing or meaning. And having one-on-one feedback—up to five minutes of direct feedback from the adjudicators—ultimately improves what the students will present. There’s no audience, so the pressure is off from performing in front of their parents.”
Adjudicators fill out two sheets. One is for teachers, to review spacing, costumes, choreography, and other performance details. The second is for students and addresses both technique and performance aspects, including spacing, energy, and facial expressions. Dancers are videotaped and the adjudicators’ comments are kept in a binder in the school’s lobby, so that dancers can watch their performances and review the notes to remind themselves of corrections later.
“It’s about fun and making sure that the students are enjoying the competition. We wanted the children to have real constructive criticism and feedback in a positive environment.” —Kehree Lacasse
“Everyone really enjoys it, because it’s not a recital; they’re just there to learn,” says Kehree. “They’re out of the comfort of the studio; they get the experience of being onstage with lights, with wings. And the kids look forward to master class where they can dance with one of the adjudicators. It’s a fun environment but also very professional.”
To fund the event, students pay a festival fee, which includes participation in Carpe Diem. (The event’s dances are also used in the school’s annual recital, only a few months later, which minimizes the amount of rehearsal needed.) And to encourage school spirit, participants receive rubber bracelets commemorating the event.
Thirteen-year-old Natasha Nazerali and Natalie Kunz and 17-year-old Alex Bleim are among the Vanleena students who have participated in Carpe Diem. All train and compete in multiple styles, and all said they enjoyed the event.
“I liked the fact I could communicate with the adjudicators afterward,” Nazerali says. “It was really beneficial to learn from the corrections and improve. And I really enjoyed doing the master class. It was nice to learn something new.” In class, she adds, the focus is on technique; here, the emphasis is on the total package.
Carpe Diem does bring into sharp relief the challenges of competing in multiple styles: costume changes can be rushed, Bleim says, and dancers have less time to prepare each piece and review corrections. But, she said, that’s what makes the event a reality check for competition. “I really loved it,” she says. “Having competed in other [competitions], I rarely learned what the adjudicators said after and what they said about other dancers.” At Carpe Diem, she says, “you can take corrections [given to] other dancers and apply them to yourself.” Most critiques apply to entire groups, but occasionally an adjudicator will single out a student for comment.
Kunz liked performing for a critical third party before competition. “The adjudicators gave you the corrections and it was someone else’s opinion,” she says.
Adds 11-year-old Shona Reid, “It was really helpful because we got lots of feedback and most of it was how to improve our dancing. It was really fun.”
Jeff Hyslop, who holds the distinction of being the first Canadian to play the lead in Phantom of the Opera, was one of the adjudicators. He got involved with Carpe Diem after a former dance partner, now teaching at the school, asked him to adjudicate. “I had been traveling around our province, British Columbia, doing a lot of adjudicating, and I thought this was an interesting way to go about it,” he says. Hyslop still remembers the first adjudicator comments he ever got at competition, at age 6 (“Jeffrey completely forgot his routine, but his improvisation skills were great”) and was intrigued by Vanleena’s spin on the process.
“I loved the concept of in-house adjudication. It rang true to me,” he says. “So often the kids are in their classes; then competition comes up and they have no performance experience. This was a gentle way to have kids get a little bit of performance experience before the day comes.”
His feedback focused less on technical execution and more on how dancers presented themselves onstage and interacted with the group. He and his colleagues stepped onstage right after each performance and gave their comments, which he felt gave each assessment a certain immediacy; students, he added, were very receptive to the feedback. “It was a fantastic experience,” he says. “There was a lack of stress and strain and nerves. It felt like a learning experience rather than a competition.”
For his part, Hyslop is gratified to witness a new generation of dancers. “I’m honored to see there’s still interest [in dancing], that it’s still out there and kids have those incredible dreams and want to express themselves. It’s really fulfilling to see it happen,” he says.
And he is enthused that these students get what all artists need to perfect their skills: “It’s about repetition—to get up on a stage, in front of their teachers and in front of us, and do it one more time before they have to do it in front of a mark,” he says. “Artistry will either come naturally or not. If there is self-confidence in the child, it will rise. The best thing you can do is send a child to competition knowing they have had enough training and enough rehearsal.”
Colleen Schnurr, a Vanleena senior instructor for advanced jazz, lyrical, and hip-hop who prepares groups of dancers for competition, also appreciates the benefits of the event, both for her students and for herself. “At competition you get sheets, you get trophies, but you don’t get suggestions on how to improve,” she says. “From a teacher’s standpoint, I’ve gotten feedback on choreography. I got a lot of great comments on how to reach out and perform, things to try.
“Another great thing is that the adjudicators do master class; then you can take corrections and try to apply them during class. This is very helpful—judges talk to the kids and kids talk back. Because the adjudicators explain, the kids really understand what they need to work on.
“I just feel like with some competitions today, [students] go in, get their first-, second-, and third-place trophies and go home, but they’re not inspired. Carpe Diem gives them a bit of a competitive edge, but the real difference is how inspired they are.”
A strategy of prep and follow-through makes for a winning competition season
By Rhee Gold
If the thought of the upcoming competition season makes your stress level skyrocket, I have one word for you: prepare. Know what you want and how to achieve it. With careful planning, good communication, realistic goal setting, a professional attitude, and a firm grip on your standards, you can make your school a winner at every competition. And no, I’m not talking about trophies, awards, and medals.
Manage your time
Do you go through the season racing from one belated task to another, missing deadlines, paying late fees, and wondering when you’ll ever sleep again? There’s a simple way to say goodbye to that negative scenario: planning a schedule that works well for you, your dancers, and their parents. That means being realistic about the amount of time needed for everyone involved to be fully prepared for competition.
Once the season starts, constant distractions and responsibilities can stifle the creative part of preparing for competitions. So start early. Summer is the perfect time to investigate music and concepts for the upcoming competition season.
Create a calendar that allows you to see the entire competition season at a glance. Working backward from your first event date, set deadlines for yourself. If you use a calendar program on your computer, you can set alerts to remind yourself (via audio alarms or email) of important tasks. Here are some dates to pencil in:
- Choreography completed at least one month prior to the first competition.
- Costumes in the studio at least two weeks (and preferably one month) before the first event.
- All music edited and ready to go before the first scheduled choreography rehearsal.
- Entry forms and fees sent in at least one week earlier than the deadline. To make this goal a reality, it’s important to set the parents’ entry fee deadline six to eight weeks in advance of an event.
Clarify goals and policies early
In the fall, before the start of the season, hold a meeting with your faculty and staff, the competition dancers, and their parents to outline the season and your expectations. Allow adequate time to answer any questions. In addition to any objectives that meet your school’s particular needs, you should include the following on your agenda.
- Explain why you participate in competitions and describe your philosophy about competing.
- Distribute a handbook for competition dancers. Review any portions of it that you think are particularly important.
- Provide a list of event dates. Be sure to say that everyone should plan on devoting the entire weekend, including Friday, to the event, in order to avoid conflicts if the competition gets extended.
- Hand out a list of entry fees for the competition(s) you have chosen. If you charge an entry fee surcharge, this is the time to explain why.
- Provide each family with a list of host hotels (if applicable).
- Discuss the estimated cost of costumes or uniforms and any required shoes or other equipment.
- Announce any planned events for the following summer, like nationals, that your dancers will be participating in and the logistics related to those activities. Let them know that you will hold more meetings before the summer events as new or updated information about scheduling, fees, hotels, transportation, and so on becomes available.
Choose the events
The sooner you decide how many and which events to attend, the better. Long before the start of the season, investigate your options. Determine which dates work for your school and look at your event options. Or browse the dance magazines and competitions’ websites to find a good match for your school and then plan the dates accordingly.
Create a calendar that allows you to see the entire competition season at a glance. If you use a calendar program on your computer, you can set alerts to remind yourself (via audio alarms or email) of important tasks.
Have a backup plan in case you discover that a large percentage of your students has a conflict with your chosen dates. That means if you plan to participate in three events, choose five. Also, sometimes two events are in your area on the same weekend; be sure to make note of that in case your first choice cancels. Having a backup plan will eliminate a lot of stress for you and your clientele.
If you are considering an event that is new to you, call the organizers to ask which teachers in your area have participated in it. Contact a few of them and ask what the experience was like for them.
When you’re doing your homework, make a checklist of important considerations. Paying attention to detail will ensure that the experience is a good one for all involved.
- What is the competition’s track record like? Are they known for hiring well-qualified judges? Do their events run as scheduled?
- Does the event last one, two, or three days? If three, what is scheduled for the Friday, and will that work for your clientele?
- If your school has more than 50 entries, don’t choose a one-day event. Chances are good that you will have costume-change conflicts, and the stress of getting that many entries on and off the stage in one day might be more than you and your staff and students can handle.
- Look at the photos or videos in the competition’s ads or on its website to learn what type of schools it attracts. For example, if you are focused on age-appropriate performances and all the winners look very provocative, this might not be the right competition for you.
- Are the entry fees reasonable for your clientele?
- Does the venue have the appropriate size stage for your dancers?
- What is the dressing room setup like?
- Who are the judges? Do they have experience teaching or creating choreography for children, or are they professional performers? Be aware that some professional dancers who have never worked with children might not understand what they are evaluating. Does the panel of adjudicators cover the spectrum of knowledge of various dance genres?
- Is it easy to get in touch with someone affiliated with the competition, either on the phone or by email?
Rule number one: Be creative. If your goal is to have your dancers stand out among the hundreds at a competition, then resist the temptation to do what everyone else does. Judges are waiting to see something that they have never seen before.
Being creative also means being versatile. If your school has many entries, diversifying the concepts and movement is important, otherwise the judges will become bored, even if the dancing is top-notch.
Put equal effort into all the pieces, regardless of the dancers’ technical level. If you focus on your best dancers at the expense of everyone else, your clientele is likely to think that you only care about those who might win. Your goal should be to make all dancers look their best.
Choreograph to the group’s strengths. Avoid tricks or types of movement that don’t look good on every dancer who would have to perform them. Otherwise you are showing the judges what your dancers can’t do, and that won’t score any points.
Spend the time needed to create clean entrances and exits for all entries. Remember, your students must make good first and last impressions on those judges.
Be true to your intent for your students. Let’s say you saw a “Cell Block Tango” number win the big prize at a competition, but the choreography, costumes, and music seemed risqué to you. Don’t think for a minute that you should override your uncomfortable feelings and search for something risqué for your students to perform. Instead, find a competition that will respect what you put onstage for being age appropriate.
Make professionalism a priority
School owners who are disgruntled with the award results and walk out of an event are sending their students and parents the wrong message: that bad sportsmanship is OK.
In addition, this kind of behavior is disrespectful to the other school owners, teachers, dancers, and families at the event, who will interpret the disgruntled person’s actions as a judgment that the other schools don’t deserve the awards they received. If you don’t agree with the results, keep your opinion to yourself. Deciding whether to go back to that event is something you should do at home, not at the event.
Every school has dancers who are not up to par on a certain day. Reprimands and negative comments, particularly during the competition, will diminish their ability to give their best in their next performance. Plus, if other attendees overhear your comments, you’ll leave them with an unfavorable impression of you and your school.
Each performance is a learning experience for you as well as your dancers. Make notes about what needs work and address those things before the next performance. No matter what happens, do not lose your cool at the competition.
Learn from the process
If you handle the competition experience correctly, each event will make you and the dancers better at what you do. By watching what other schools are presenting, you might learn a thing or two. Go with an open mind and you’ll discover what you admire and what you’d rather avoid.
Encourage your dancers to attend the entire event, and point out some schools or entries that you would like them to watch. They will learn that all dancers love to do the same thing, and gaining that understanding will help them to respect not only the other dancers but the competition experience.
When you help your students open their eyes to a larger dance world, those entry fees they paid will buy them far more than awards.
Competition directors on changes in the industry, their goals, and what they hope to leave behind
Dance Studio Life asked dance competition directors across the United States to share what’s on their minds. Their responses to our questions (some did not answer all questions) appear in alphabetical order by company name (sometimes abbreviated). We thank them all for their participation:
DAN BARRIS, executive director, Dancers Inc.
MELISSA BURNS, owner/director, Turn it Up Dance Challenge
SANDRA COYTE, executive director, Starbound National Talent Competition
JOHN CRUTCHMAN and ALAN SHERFIELD, co-executive directors, West Coast Dance Explosion
GLORIA JEAN CUMING, executive director, American Dance Awards, Inc.
ROBIN and MITCHELL DETTWILLER, directors, Celebration Talent Competition, LLC
GINNY FAUBELL, director, Beyond The Stars
JEREMY FULLAM, CEO and national director, Thunderstruck Dance Productions
KEVIN HAVER, director, The Power of Dance
TERRY HAZEL, executive director, On Stage America
CINDY HOLLINGSWORTH, president, Dance Troupe, Inc.
APRIL JACKSON, operations manager, Platinum National Dance Competition
JEREMY KEETON, owner/director, Adrenaline Dance
KATHERINE C. KERSTEN, artistic director, American Ballet Competition
MICHELLE KRESGE, president and national director, Spotlight Events, Inc.
KIMBERLY McCLUER, owner, Talent on Parade
KIM McKIMMIE, international director, I Love Dance
CHRISTINA MIRIA, co-director, Energy National Dance Competitions, LLC
GARY D. PATE, owner/president, Starpower Talent Competition
KIMBERLY RHINELANDER, owner, Hollywood Connection Dance Convention and Competition
CATHY ROE, owner, Ultimate Dance
NANCY STONE, vice president, DanceAmerica
TINA THOROGOOD, administrative director, Dance Odyssey, Inc.
STEVE WAPPEL, president and founder, StarQuest International
DAVID WESTERFIELD, CEO, Westerfield Management, Inc., owner of Showbiz National Talent and Prime Time Dance
IRMA ZIEGLER, president, and SHARI TOMASIELLO, national director, Headliners Performing Arts Competition
1. Please comment on two or three of the most significant changes you’ve seen in competitions in the past decade.
Adrenaline Dance (Keeton): The evolvement and evolution of choreography. The intricacies and nuances of modern choreography require dancers to be more advanced. This reflects the material being taught in our workshops. We like to challenge dancers to grow beyond what they have become accustomed to and what they have already executed.
American Ballet Competition (Kersten): Competitors seem to be better organized and prepared and have a more realistic understanding of the role competing has in their development as dancers.
American Dance Awards (Cuming): The influence of modern and contemporary on the lyrical and jazz subjects. Costuming has changed with the addition of a lot of street clothing.
Beyond the Stars (Faubell): Teachers and choreographers are using a wider range of music and themes. We hear more popular music, rap, and even dancers performing to spoken pieces they’ve written themselves.
Celebration (Robin and Mitchell Dettwiller): A general shift in performance categories. We are seeing more lyrical and contemporary performances than ever before and less classic jazz and musical theater. We would definitely say tap has decreased the most overall. Also, students are developing technique and performance skills earlier in life. As a result, younger students are dancing close to or at the level of their teen and senior counterparts.
DanceAmerica (Stone): The birth of street dance and its steady growth; the improvement of dancers and their ability to perform; and improved organization among directors.
Dance Odyssey (Thorogood): The level of technique. Studios big and small bring fabulous routines with excellent training behind them, and every routine is a pleasure to watch.
Dance Troupe (Hollingsworth): The level of talent that is now coming to the competitions. Young dancers’ technique and performance qualities have improved dramatically over the last several years. Another significant change has been parents’ involvement in the shaping of the events and competitions’ efforts to meet their needs as well as those of the teachers and the dancers.
Dancers Inc. (Barris): Dancers think that platinum is the be-all and end-all. We believe that is untrue. Platinum, high gold, and gold are still three levels and placements. When you think about it, it still equals gold, silver, and bronze. Dancers think they deserve platinum for every performance. But a silver isn’t something to be looked at with dread. When I was young, I got a third-place bronze; 19 other guys weren’t even mentioned. If you study in class as much as Michael Phelps practices in the pool, I’ll buy you a ring at Tiffany’s that is really platinum.
Judges see things differently, and the level of competition at different competitions changes on a weekly basis. If your dancers swept the overalls last weekend, and this weekend they are coming in fourth, the competition is different from last weekend. Realize this—please!
Competition parents are much ruder than 10 years ago. They act as if they own the building and don’t have to follow the rules. Parents: when your child comes home drunk at 16, remember that you taught her how to break the rules when you smuggled your coffee and Snickers bar into the auditorium despite the “No Food or Beverages” signs.
Energy (Miria): In the past decade, many new businesses have started. I think it’s important that people keep in mind what competition is all about—not the money, but about dancers learning and growing and competing in a fair environment so that they can continue to grow as dancers and artists.
Headliners (Ziegler and Tomasiello): The variances in scoring systems between competitions. The words “bronze” and “silver” have disappeared from the award vocabulary. Competition has shifted toward making dancers feel good, and many studios seem more interested in the name of the award rather than in being goal oriented; hence the lowering of scoring standards. Also, the focus has shifted to entertaining the audience rather than educating and helping the teacher and dancers improve. On a positive note, choreography has become more innovative.
Hollywood Connection (Rhinelander): What happened to tap? Tap is such an integral part of dance training—rhythm, musicality, coordination—and yet so many dancers “opt out” of the tap classes. I wish a show like So You Think You Can Dance would require tap dancing. It’s also important that students learn the history of dance and watch the great dancers of past generations, such as Gene Kelly, Fred Astaire, Cyd Charisse, Carol Haney, the Nicholas Brothers. It’s shocking to me that when I ask a roomful of dancers how many know who Cyd Charisse is, only a handful raise their hands.
I Love Dance (McKimmie): In the last decade, I have seen more beginning-level competitors. This is a significant and great change. While we’ve always had entries from all ability levels, we wish to be especially encouraging to beginners.
On Stage America (Hazel): The level of dance has increased unbelievably. Eight-year-olds are doing what 16-year-olds used to do. On a negative note, costuming and music have become more suggestive. In the past, the term “family viewing” was never needed.
Platinum (Jackson): Skill level of competitors—the dancers today are capable of more advanced skills, including “tricks,” at an earlier age. This can be good and bad. Sometimes you see young kids performing impressive tricks throughout their routine, which is entertaining, but style and creativity in choreography are lacking.
Also, more custom, flashy costumes as well as costumes that are put together by the dancers. More and more dancers are taking regular garments and creating costumes, and I’m a fan of this. It shows the personality and style of the dancer.
Power of Dance (Haver): The escalation of awards is an obvious choice: bronze having been basically banished from the world, double super platinum sweeping the land, etc. I wish we could do away with adjudication and have ordinal placement, but studio owners have made it clear that although most of them would favor that system themselves, they won’t attend a non-adjudicated comp for fear of a parental uprising. To make this more palatable, we have different awards for the different divisions. When a competitive dance and a recreational dance both receive platinums when they are obviously on such different levels, it leads to hard feelings.
Showbiz/PrimeTime Dance (Westerfield): First, levels. Competitions are [offering] as many different levels as possible to attract different levels of dancers. Second, competitive spirit. We find that the less competitive studios are more attracted to comps that do not attract the higher level of competitive studios. [Our] philosophy is that you must always surround yourself with the highest level to achieve a higher level for your own dancers. Third, advanced dancing. Dancers are achieving a more advanced technical style than ever. Young petites perform quality routines that seniors couldn’t accomplish 20 years ago.
Spotlight Events (Kresge): The level of talent has increased significantly in the past decade. As dancing has become more competitive, I’ve seen the bar set higher each year in regard to creativity, costuming, technique, and choreography. Additionally, dancers are perfecting their technique and execution at a younger age.
On a not-so-positive note, I’ve also seen a mentality change in the industry from teachers and dancers expecting to be awarded only a first, second, or third place or a gold, silver, or bronze in an entire division to an expectation of being entitled to only the highest award levels. In response, competitions have created award levels such as gold high first and high platinum to cushion the ego.
Technology has changed the competition experience over the last 10 years. Directors now have the option of registering online; audio and video critiques have replaced handwritten notes; music can be submitted via USB, computer upload, and iPods; and scoring is computerized. While technology isn’t always perfect, it has allowed us to provide our clients with better teaching tools, such as audio and video critiques, that weren’t available in the past.
Starbound (Coyte): The addition of novice dancers into the competition scene, allowing less experienced dancers to be properly evaluated and critiqued to expand their dance education. Another significant change is that the level of dancing has improved over the years. One significant change is that many competitions have changed “gold” to a “bronze” by eliminating bronze and silver and adding platinum, double diamond, etc. This takes the power of the gold away and is not something I agree with. Gold is gold!
Starpower (Pate): The most significant change I’ve seen in the past decade is in the level of talent. It is incredible how technically advanced these young dancers have become over the past 10 years.
StarQuest (Wappel): There has been an enormous upsurge in technical skill for many dancers at a younger age as well as a push for more edgy choreography that pushes the boundaries of appropriateness. This upsurge is a result of multiple factors. One is that many former students of dance who competed are now teaching and their studios are competing. They are fearless in getting outside choreographers as master teachers who will also set dances on their students. The dancer works harder in the studio, spends more time in both class and rehearsal; and the caliber of the teaching has gotten better. Teachers are more willing to push technical and artistic boundaries and excellent technique is essential to support these challenges. Strong technique alone is finally being acknowledged as insufficient without strong choreography and excellent execution of the choreographer’s intention.
One downside is that sometimes teachers allow choreographers to push too far and then the issue becomes age-appropriateness. Comp owners and studio owners are addressing this, and the end result will be strong performers who also learn the distinction between artistic freedom and maintaining an awareness of one’s audience.
Talent on Parade (McCluer): First, there are more competitions to choose from, making competition within competitions. Therefore as a business you must strive to be the best you can be, keeping kids as your focus. Second, dance has grown in the public eye. Thanks to TV shows such as So You Think You Can Dance and Dancing With the Stars, more kids—female and male—are turned on to dance. Third, parents are more involved in competition. They’re not just taking their kids to classes; they’re educating themselves via the Internet and the media.
Thunderstruck (Fullam): The first major change has been a transition from award placement (everyone receives an honorable mention unless they earn top three in their category) to individual adjudication (whether it be bronze, silver, gold, or gemstones, etc.). Also, being judged has become more of a learning experience. With new audio and video critiques, dancers no longer have to read the score sheets and guess which part of their dance the judge is critiquing. This makes for a more efficient and effective learning process.
A huge change has been the increase in dancers’ talent level. Teachers seem to be paying more attention to detail in choreography, technique, and costuming.
Turn It Up (Burns): Many dance competitions have lost the concept of the word “competition.” Ten years ago, to receive a gold award meant you performed above the average. Today, many competitions give a gold award to almost anyone who shows up. It is important to give dancers a great positive experience; however, in life not everyone can be number one. Also, many large competitions have become impersonal. What has happened to meet-and-greet professionalism?
Ultimate Dance (Roe): What has drastically changed is costuming. I have never once heard a judge say, “My, those too-short booty shorts are so becoming.” A young lady’s bare bottom was not seen onstage 10 years ago. Now it is becoming ubiquitous. It distracts judges from the dance itself.
West Coast Dance Explosion (Crutchman and Sherfield): Ten years ago, there was half the amount of competitions. Also, it used to be common for dancers to get awards for placing first, second, or third. Many studio owners would like to see dancers be awarded first, second, or third and that’s it, but pressure from parents and dancers to go to a competition where everyone goes home with something is very high.
2. Which areas of student performance do judges most often say need improvement (stage presence, technique, mastery of choreography, etc.)?
Adrenaline Dance (Keeton): Technique and execution of the choreography to the fullest potential are the two key areas where most judges find room for improvement. However, award-winning dances don’t need outstanding technique if they are executed well. For example, hip-hop doesn’t always include a lot of technique, but when the style and choreography are mastered, the result is quite an impressive performance
American Ballet Competition (Kersten): Judges most often discuss stage presence and connection with the audience. Facial expression is often commented upon—usually that it should be more sincere, natural, and varied. A competitor should not be vamping or over-selling a performance, something often done in lieu of a better command of technique and choreography.
American Dance Awards (Cuming): Technique.
Beyond the Stars (Faubell): Judges often say that dancers haven’t mastered basic technique well enough. Sometimes difficult turn combinations, for example, are attempted by young dancers who aren’t ready.
Celebration (Robin and Mitchell Dettwiller): The recurring theme we hear from judges is that students are attempting turns, leaps, and other tricks that they can’t really pull off. Judges often say they would much prefer to see a clean double rather than a messy triple and a strong arabesque rather than a wobbly penché. The judges say they want to see things that the students are able to nail, not things that still need work.
DanceAmerica (Stone): Technique and mastery of the choreography.
Dance Odyssey (Thorogood): It varies depending on what each judge is looking for. Some judges overlook a few mistakes if the routine was energetic and fun and had great choreography. Other judges are sticklers for technique no matter how fantastic the idea was. That’s why 99 percent of competitions have more than one judge, so it is the average of the different opinions that determines who comes out on top.
Dance Troupe (Hollingsworth): Judges usually are most critical of choreography that’s based on “tricks” that the dancers aren’t technically equipped to perform. Also, age-appropriate dance material and costuming are a great concern for judges and event directors.
Dancers Inc. (Barris): Students need to listen to their music and learn to tell its story. Don’t just learn the lyrics—internalize them and allow them to become part of your soul. If you are an advanced dancer, display your technique and knowledge with pride. The intermediate divisions are for dancers who are still working on their craft. In an advanced division, be prepared to be scored in the eyes of a professional who could be standing next to you at an audition tomorrow.
Energy (Miria): It varies from competition to competition and from school to school.
Headliners (Ziegler and Tomasiello): It depends. Many times a student will have a wonderful personality and great stage presence but is not technically well trained. We have also seen the opposite. Teachers and dancers need to be aware of presenting a full package—proper technique while also relating to the material and presenting that to the audience. We still see dancers being given movements that they have not yet mastered. Teachers need to remember that this will adversely affect the final score. It is better to have dancers do simple, clean routines with movements they have fully mastered.
Hollywood Connection (Rhinelander): What is most lacking is an emotional connection to the dance. Steps have become so internalized, especially in contemporary and lyrical, that unless the dancer establishes an emotional connection and shows some storytelling ability, the routine is downright boring.
I Love Dance (McKimmie): Stage presence. Judges all want to see performers who exude the love of dance regardless of the type of dance or their technical ability.
On Stage America (Hazel): Basic ballet training and technique in general.
Platinum (Jackson): Technique—a frequent judge’s comment is, “Keep taking those ballet classes!”
Showbiz/PrimeTime Dance (Westerfield): Technique! With the quality of dance being performed on the competition stage today, dancers must be aware of their technique more than ever. There are so many advanced dancers today that the smallest amount of poor technique can be the difference between make and break.
Spotlight Events (Kresge): Showmanship is an area I often hear discussed among judges. They want to see genuine emotion, which is not always easy for dancers to accomplish, especially at a young age. They are often seeing too much showmanship or too little and want a balance. Judges want to [be made to] believe in whatever the dancer is trying to portray.
Starbound (Coyte): Technique—ballet! I cannot stress enough the need for ballet classes for a young dancer. Those who tackle ballet can do everything a little better.
Starpower (Pate): There’s always room to grow and improve technique, but I would say the judges are always asking dancers to perform to their utmost ability, making sure the audience is entertained and understanding the choreographer’s concept.
StarQuest (Wappel): Most judges focus on technique, which I believe is an inherent weakness in judging. Studios have that student for 365 days of the year while a judge speaks to them for only three minutes. It stands to reason that the primary focus of most studios is technique. The primary focus at competition is the performance of a particular dance. Technique must support choreographic intention, appropriateness, stage presence, and overall performance ability. Judges should focus on improving the performance of the dance—give the dancers insight as to their energy, movement through space, how connected they are to the piece, how effectively they have committed to the choreography, and how well the choreographer’s intention is coming across.
Great dancers learn, via these additional judging insights, that when an audience watches the dance, as opposed to just watching a dancer move, then the dancers have effectively transported them to the place that the choreographer intended. What good is being a fabulous technician but lacking the heart and soul of the piece, or having its heart and soul yet failing to communicate them?
Talent on Parade (McCluer): Most judges look at technique and then passion. Many dancers are well trained, but if they dance without heart it will show. I tell people that you must give 120 percent to win and 150 percent to make it in the professional world.
Thunderstruck (Fullam): We most often hear judges say that dancers need to strengthen their technique, but even more important, work on their stage presence. Too often, dancers seem to get stuck in their facial expressions. Our judges often say that their stage presence can be fixed if they connect with their music. You have to understand what you are dancing to in order to portray it effectively.
Turn It Up (Burns): Stage presence. Dancers can be taught and conditioned to good technique and precise choreography. Emotion is instinctive and very difficult to teach. As dancers mature and develop confidence, they are better able to relax and show emotion onstage.
Ultimate Dance (Roe): Technique and rehearsal. It’s the same as it has always been for dancers wanting to improve: go to class as much as you can (especially ballet) and rehearse every minute that you can. That is the recipe for success. There is no substitute for technique.
West Coast Dance Explosion (Crutchman and Sherfield): Technique is the number-one area. Second would be performance quality. Probably the number-one comment on the audio CDs is, “More ballet.”
3. Should age-appropriateness in choreography, music, and costuming be added to the judges’ criteria in scoring a performance?
Adrenaline Dance (Keeton): Judges should definitely take it into consideration. Certainly, no additional points should be given if a performance is age appropriate, as that is the expectation. Unfortunately, well-meaning parents, teachers, and dancers sometimes go for “shock value” in hopes of getting the judges’ attention. We give each judge the option of deducting up to five points if they feel a number is not age appropriate, along with possible disqualification. Since this is published in our rules and regulations, everyone knows the expectation and we have been fortunate to never have this situation happen.
American Ballet Competition (Kersten): Our judges always consider age-appropriateness, music, and costuming as part of their scoring. This is the most important responsibility of the student’s teacher or coach when selecting each competitor’s variation or dance. Roles that are too advanced and mature for young students leave them looking uncomfortable and the jury disappointed and with a decidedly negative decision.
American Dance Awards (Cuming): I would worry about the individual opinion of the judges. We instruct them to let any inappropriateness show in the costume and choreography score, but not to take away from the dancers’ performance score. They only do what they are given and wear what they are given to wear.
Beyond the Stars (Faubell): Age-appropriateness is extremely hard to quantify. Some studios don’t allow bare midriffs, while dancers from other studios perform in bra tops and shorts. I think if a dance makes judges uncomfortable it’s reflected in the score. However, I wouldn’t want every performance given a score of 1-to-10 for age-appropriateness.
DanceAmerica (Stone): Yes, we deduct points for routines, costumes, etc., that are not age appropriate, though I recognize that my judgments may not match someone else’s. I feel that if you are going to deduct points, the director of the studio should be told in advance; otherwise, the teacher won’t understand why what she thought was a great routine didn’t win top honors.
Dance Odyssey (Thorogood): I think it already is for most competitions whether it is listed in the breakdown or not. Most reputable judges will make mention of routines that were inappropriate without being asked to do so.
Dance Troupe (Hollingsworth): That might well be a great addition to the scoring. It would give the teachers better insight into how the judges are viewing their material insofar as age-appropriateness is concerned.
Dancers Inc. (Barris): Yes, yes, yes! We’ve taken points off for inappropriate costuming and editing of music. I’m proud of this.
Energy (Miria): That is something that should be looked at, but I think a lot of judges keep that in mind already.
Headliners (Ziegler and Tomasiello): This has become our biggest dilemma. As moms ourselves, we are concerned about the feelings of the children. When dancers perform a routine that we feel is inappropriate in costuming or movement, we realize they are only doing what their teachers told them to do and what their parents have approved. It is unfortunate that competitions have now been put in the position of being the “morality police.” We’ve asked many dance teachers how we should handle this and agreed that the dancers should receive the award they earn but that these routines will not be eligible for overall awards, and that the reason will be explained on the critiques to the teachers.
Hollywood Connection (Rhinelander): Age-appropriateness is always a factor, but this is subjective. For instance, I am far more offended by dancers not wearing tights, with their bare tushes hanging out their shorts, than I am with juniors wearing a costume where their midriff is showing.
Sometimes we get the music an hour before a performance; we don’t get to hear it before it goes onstage. We are also seeing dances for the first time, so we cannot police what goes on the stage. We do, however, deduct points and make both oral and written notes when a dance is inappropriate. And if a routine is way out of line, it’s stopped and the dancers are asked to exit. The teacher is notified that the routine has been disqualified.
I Love Dance (McKimmie): Although this is not on our score sheets per se, it is definitely a part of the judges’ overall scoring. Although they do not set themselves up as “censors,” the judges expect all elements of the performance to be age appropriate and if they aren’t, the judges’ scores and comments would reflect their disapproval.
On Stage America (Hazel): Definitely.
Platinum (Jackson): Absolutely. We are molding young children into respectable adults, and choices we make in costuming, music selection, and dance moves/style are important. If young kids perform to songs that are not age appropriate or are asked to perform adult-oriented movements, it looks ridiculous and does very little for the growth of the dancer. Costuming can be modest and age appropriate and still be fantastic. A responsible, child-centered, family-oriented competition would have this as part of its critique sheets.
Power of Dance (Haver): We already take it into consideration. Some issues are cut and dried—if you’re going to use “Roxie” from Chicago and you don’t have the common sense to bleep out the “s” word, then please peddle your fish elsewhere. But other issues are tough, because we all know that smut is in the eye of the beholder and rarely does anyone think that their dance is inappropriate.
As a dad of three dancers, I’m the wrong guy to be the arbiter of what is acceptable and what is not—I’d be penalizing three-quarters of the dances out there. So I leave it to the judges to score inappropriate dances down. We have not had much of an issue with this yet, and maybe that reflects the kind of people who are attracted to [us] and our message. But some of you may have seen a petition floating around the Internet addressing inappropriateness. One of the people who has been a major force in spreading that petition around judged for us one weekend, and yet we got an email after the event complaining that one overall winning routine was “trash” and should have been disqualified—the only such complaint we received all year. Go figure!
Showbiz/PrimeTime Dance (Westerfield): Absolutely! Although this is a very gray area, there is a difference between right and wrong. Over the past couple of years we have seen this area greatly improved by choreographers working with young children. Parents should become involved in the routines being set for their children. It is difficult to place a subjective opinion on someone else’s work if parents believe it is suitable. However, when you present your choreography to a panel of judges for their opinion, you must be prepared for the end results.
Spotlight Events (Kresge): Absolutely, and it is part of our scoring criteria. However, because of the subjectivity of judging, this is a sensitive and difficult issue. What might be viewed as appropriate in one part of the country may not be considered so in another. Regardless, competitions, along with parents and studio directors, play an important role in setting the standard and we must do our part by creating boundaries for what is and is not acceptable. Spotlight has a family-friendly policy that provides a guideline for studio directors. If any routine is not in compliance with our policy, we reserve the right to deduct points. Also, it’s important to communicate to choreographers what was inappropriate so that they can correct the problem in the future.
Starbound (Coyte): Absolutely! Yes, yes, yes!
Starpower (Pate): Yes, these things are already included on our score sheet. Whenever a judge sees or hears something inappropriate, points can be deducted and it’s generally brought to the attention of the teacher and/or studio director.
StarQuest (Wappel): It should always be in the back of the judge’s mind, especially as it relates to overall performance. Judging technique, performance, and choreography is rooted in the knowledge base of each judge. Appropriateness goes toward belief systems, values, and upbringing. This distinction makes it tougher to diagnose appropriateness since the definition varies geographically based on culture and upbringing. The other three criteria are rooted in education and are therefore easier to score. Some things are best entrusted to the judges. When we hire them, we hire their values too.
Talent on Parade (McCluer): We have had an age-appropriateness deduction on the score sheet since we started 14 years ago. It’s used solely at the judges’ discretion; some use it and some don’t.
Thunderstruck (Fullam): Yes. Our judges definitely take into account age-appropriateness. Dance competitions should be a safe outlet for [children] to perform and have fun. Even if the kids don’t understand why they were having points deducted for costuming, choreography, etc., their teachers need to know that kids need to be kids. Innuendo of any kind is not needed; judges are looking for the dancers’ technical beauty.
Turn It Up (Burns): Age-appropriateness is very important and should be a part of scoring. Our judges will deduct points for what they judge as inappropriate. If, in the unanimous decision of the judges, a routine is declared extremely inappropriate, it is disqualified.
Ultimate Dance (Roe): When dances are age-inappropriate, I ask my judges not to penalize the children or their score but to please voice their concern on the tape. The kids are only doing what adults (including their parents) have asked them to do. But I do make a big deal of doing special awards for dances that I can exemplify as wonderfully age-appropriate.
West Coast Dance Explosion (Crutchman and Sherfield): No. We feel that if the routine is not age appropriate due to costume or choreography, points can be deducted from those criteria on the judges’ score sheet. Many points can be deducted if the judges feel the routine is not appropriate.
4. What inspired you to start a competition?
Adrenaline Dance (Keeton): I never wanted to have a competition. My philosophy is all about the convention aspect—educating and motivating dancers to challenge themselves and empowering them to grow. After growing up as a dancer and teaching on the convention circuit, I felt a need to create a better convention. I found that most people won’t attend conventions if competitions aren’t attached. I enjoy providing a well-organized experience where dancers and studios can showcase their work and receive constructive feedback that focuses not only on how they can improve their performance, but on what they are doing right. It’s fun for everyone that way.
American Ballet Competition (Kersten): What inspired me most was the desire to create an opportunity for students to be exposed to master ballet teachers they ordinarily would not be able to study with, such as Gilbert Mayer of the Paris Opera Ballet and School. And to provide artistic directors who offer scholarships and traineeships an additional venue to observe students over a period of several days in class and in performance in a friendly and organized atmosphere.
American Dance Awards (Cuming): I had great respect for the integrity and policies of American Dance Awards and wanted to see that tradition continue from the time I took it over.
Beyond the Stars (Faubell): I believe kids gain so much confidence from performing. I wanted to start a competition where the focus was always on the kids and giving them the opportunity to feel valued.
DanceAmerica (Stone): It was a natural course that our company should take. We come in contact with great dancers at our conventions, and competitions just seemed to go hand in hand with what we were already doing.
Dance Odyssey (Thorogood): We love dance and it was a natural extension of everything else in our lives that was already related to dance. It seemed the next logical step.
Dance Troupe (Hollingsworth): To develop a competition that was more user friendly and to treat all participants as equals. The chance to present a program that would continue with the original concept of the convention competition and work to better the original models and presentations.
Dancers Inc. (Barris): After working in the industry for so long, I knew what I wanted, and wanted to be part of the change. Teachers want their students adjudicated fairly. If a competition tries to give a big studio great scores because it brought a whole bunch of contestants, that’s a disservice to the dancers from that school who are truly great. I hope that we can change the overinflated sense of accomplishment and come back to something that is real and tangible. If not, competitions will continue to create dancing demons who think they are terrific, but who won’t make it past the first cut in an audition. Dance is a highly competitive industry, and broken bones and egos are part of the job.
Energy (Miria): I was inspired to be a competition director because I have owned a studio for several years and although I am still young, I want to be connected to the dance world when I retire. I wouldn’t want to start a new business at that time. Also, the competition world should always be evolving and I know I can bring a fresh approach to the industry.
Headliners (Ziegler and Tomasiello): We got involved in organizing dance competitions when the Fred Astaire organization added performing-arts competitions to their ballroom events. [When] the Astaire organization decided not to continue with the performing-arts side, we were encouraged to start our own. We realized that with our experience as dancers, “dance moms,” and teachers, we had something to contribute to benefit everyone and could produce a competition we would want our students to attend.
Hollywood Connection (Rhinelander): Many dancers who move to L.A. or New York aren’t prepared for the realities of the dance industry. So my partner, Bill Bohl (who also owns a talent agency), and I created Hollywood Connection to “connect” with the dancers. Our classes are designed to build the dancers’ confidence, increase their knowledge of the industry, and inspire them to leave the convention a better dancer and a better person. Our classes are about being a professional—arriving on time, being respectful to other dancers, working hard, not giving up—life lessons! We also offer dancers professional opportunities. We are bridging the gap between the convention dancer and the working dancer.
I Love Dance (McKimmie): Dance competitions and performing opportunities were much harder to find 33 years ago. I was surprised to find dancers over 18 with little performing experience and no competitive training. I Love Dance was founded to help young dancers achieve their dreams.
On Stage America (Hazel): My love of dance.
Platinum (Jackson): We wanted to offer something that is family friendly, customer-service oriented, and about the kids. We strive to be fair and organized and operate with integrity. The directors make a point to speak with each studio owner/director at each competition and thank them for coming. We want the competition experience to be fun and positive.
Power of Dance (Haver): Competitions were not necessarily teaching our kids lessons we wanted them to learn. I want kids to realize that their gifts were given to them for a reason, and I like to think that that reason was to make the world a better place, not just to outscore a fellow artist. Plus, narcissism is a dangerous thing. We want to remind [them] that their gifts and talents don’t reach their true potential until they are used to help others. The donations we raise for charities, while a phenomenal accomplishment, are secondary—our main goal is to get the dancers to look at their talents and themselves with a new respect and awe, to realize that they have worth far beyond a score or a trophy.
Showbiz/PrimeTime Dance (Westerfield): I worked with the Miss Universe pageant, and it was difficult to work with one chaperone for every contestant. I preferred working with a coach who could bring a “team” to the stage. I am a firm believer in teamwork, and with dance, that was just another facet that could bring multiple talented people together. I enjoy working with youths because they make me young at heart. My pageant experience brought a new level of production quality to the dance world in a time when there was very little.
Spotlight Events (Kresge): Having been a teacher, choreographer, competitor, adjudicator, and dance mom, I’d experienced dance competitions from every aspect. I felt like I could positively contribute to the world of competitions and wanted to offer an uplifting competition.
Starbound (Coyte): As a former dance teacher and studio owner, I realized that a competition that gave back to teachers was needed—that was the drive. Starbound created the philosophy of a rebate program and giving back, and our Elite program for long-term customers. I also saw a need for positive reinforcement in young dancers—making sure dancers’ self-image was kept high even though they were being evaluated.
Starpower (Pate): With my experience as a dance teacher/studio owner, I felt I knew what it would take to produce a competition that would be fun, fair, and professional. I wanted to create something that would make a difference in people’s lives and that my family could be involved with as well.
StarQuest (Wappel): I wanted a competition [in which] scores are earned in an environment that simulates a true Broadway experience. The true test of a performer is to excel within all the elements of performance, including costumes, makeup, lights, props, music, announcements, and video, all on a grand scale. I wanted to create that grand environment for them, have it flow in a smooth, effortless way, and prove that competition can be fun at the same time. I believe competitors perform better under these conditions and more greatly appreciate the opportunities they are given.
Talent on Parade (McCluer): When I started Talent on Parade 14 years ago, not many competitions came to the Midwest. We started one in our city and three others about the same size and slowly grew from there. Our ambition is not to be the biggest competition, but only to stay true to our values, which are fairness and fun with a focus on the kids.
Thunderstruck (Fullam): I grew up as a competition dancer, and I remember the inspiration I got when attending. Seeing other kids and their skills gave me the motivation to continue to work hard. I wanted to provide the same [kind of] atmosphere and event to young dancers.
Ultimate Dance (Roe): I thought the dance world needed someone to open a competition stage to choreographers and teachers with the promise that being different from what was the “competition style” would lead to success instead of embarrassment and failure.
West Coast Dance Explosion (Crutchman and Sherfield): Both of us grew up attending master classes, conventions, and competitions. We started our competition in conjunction with the workshop to be able to educate and inspire young dancers and give them a classy and prestigious event to showcase the numbers they have worked so hard [on].
5. What legacy do you hope to leave behind as a competition director?
Adrenaline Dance (Keeton): To be known for running an organization that is respected for its honesty, integrity, and passion to educate and empower young dancers to strive to be what they aspire to be in life. I am proud that everyone in the Adrenaline “family” has an unsurpassed level of commitment and talent. I think this parallels what we communicate to the dancers: not to be intimidated by others’ perceived strengths or successes, but to celebrate and support excellence in themselves as well as others.
American Dance Awards (Cuming): That we have promoted education and a place for every dancer to perform in front of the most qualified adjudicators. My integrity as a competition director.
Beyond the Stars (Faubell): That I truly cared about all the kids and that we ran a fair competition.
Celebration (Robin and Mitchell Dettwiller): We want every student to realize this is his or her time to shine. We want to recognize each performance for the hard work that it represents while challenging students so that they realize top honors aren’t easy to come by. We want dancers, teachers, and directors to leave with useful feedback to take their dancing to the next level. Most important, we want them to have fun along the way.
DanceAmerica (Stone): That I ran a fair competition. I hire judges who are professionals with a strong knowledge of dance and technique, so that I feel comfortable with their decisions.
Dance Odyssey (Thorogood): I hope that our competition leaves people with a lasting positive experience they can carry with them well into adulthood.
Dance Troupe (Hollingsworth): That our competition was always fairly judged and never slanted toward the schools that bring the most money or entrants, and that those who attended our events felt at ease and welcome, no matter their level of entry.
Dancers Inc. (Barris): Honest and fair. A legacy of not sucking up for a measly dollar. I hope that we can re-create the industry and make it not about an award, but a process. I want to be remembered as a director who truly cared about the industry, the dancers, the teachers, and the art.
Energy (Miria): To be remembered as a fair, honest, and trustworthy competition that cares about every child, parent, and studio and that we will always keep it energetic and exciting. It will never be just “ordinary.”
Headliners (Ziegler and Tomasiello): That we cared about the children and that they received a fair and honest evaluation. The greatest legacy would be that we helped challenge dancers and teachers to reach their full potential. Our favorite comment is, “When we receive a gold at Headliners, we know we earned it.”
Hollywood Connection (Rhinelander): We are here to guide and inspire dancers to be their best in any field they choose and if we can help them achieve those goals, that brings us great pride and joy.
I Love Dance (McKimmie): I am thrilled that a large group of “I Love Dance kids” feel it helped them join the professional ranks.
On Stage America (Hazel): That I have inspired our young dancers to attain higher goals.
Platinum (Jackson): A competition for all dancers—recreational, intermediate, and elite—not just for the big, elite studios. We strive to provide a fair and quality competition environment that provides studio owners/directors and their families with positive memories and a great learning experience.
Power of Dance (Haver): I’m already seeing the legacy. A New York studio was so inspired that [it gave] their winnings for the rest of the season to charity. A studio in Virginia caught the spirit and had older kids teach classes for a day, with tuition being one can of food for the local food bank. So it’s becoming increasingly obvious that we are getting through to the kids and making a difference. Beyond that, who knows? One charity that won a nice donation this year and last, CHASE for Life, provides infant CPR training for people who cannot afford it. So it’s conceivable that someday a child’s life may be saved because a bunch of kids, one weekend years before, attended a dance competition. Now how would that be for a legacy?
Showbiz/PrimeTime Dance (Westerfield): To leave a name as more than just a competition director. I feel that I have been a positive influence on many young people who have continued to give back to the world. After 20-plus years, I believe that I have given many opportunities to kids who now have a true passion for life, not just dance. This is [why] I wanted to be on the ground level of the Federation of Dance Competitions. I knew that with the strength of my peers, I could do even greater things in helping young dancers pursue dreams that were never possible with just one person.
Spotlight Events (Kresge): Spotlight has been built on strong principles and values, which is a big reason why we have been so successful. I’ve always believed that a competition should be a positive and fair place where dancers can feel comfortable and confident expressing themselves through dance. It’s not about the award received but the feeling of accomplishment that I want each dancer to experience. I hope to be remembered as a competition director who provided a well-run, fun, family-friendly, positive environment for dancers, studio directors, teachers, and families.
Starbound (Coyte): That Starbound was created to make a difference in a young dancer’s life, that we create a “family” atmosphere for the dancers and have a positive impact in their lives. I hope that everyone knows we take the dancers and how they feel very seriously.
Starpower (Pate): I hope my friends in the dance industry remember what we’ve created as one of the first competitions of its time and leaders in our industry. Setting the standard and pace in the competition world and all the fun and wonderful opportunities we’ve provided throughout the years.
StarQuest (Wappel): That every performer, teacher, studio owner, and parent learned that great theater does not have to be martyrdom; that I made a positive difference in the industry by creating an experience that others can emulate; and that I have proven that competitions can not only always run on time but also be fun for everyone.
Talent on Parade (McCluer): I would want Talent on Parade to be remembered as a fun event that made competition less stressful for parents and teachers, one that they would want to bring their own kids to.
Thunderstruck (Fullam): That I run a fun and fair competition.
Turn It Up (Burns): A fully accessible and totally involved director who puts the needs of her studios, teachers, dancers, and parents first.
Ultimate Dance (Roe): My first magazine ads five years ago addressed my inspiration for starting a competition company with this comment: “I want to change the face of dance choreographed for competition. I want to see technique instead of tricks, and teach our young dancers that ‘win-worthy’ dance needs not a single fouetté turn, but instead enormous rehearsal, technical proficiency, entertainment value, and innovation. How will the art of dance survive without those who dare to be different?” Although change has been slow, it is happening. I see technique taking the place of tricks. I see artistic vision moving to the forefront.
West Coast Dance Explosion (Crutchman and Sherfield): The most wonderful comments we have received throughout the years have been “organized, classy, exciting, and fun.” We would like to think that we have provided a top-notch event for all levels of dancers.
Jacqueline Stewart, a Chicago-based dancer and choreographer, has won a $10,000 cash award to use toward the creation of a new dance work.
Stewart was the winner among 12 participants in The A.W.A.R.D Show!—a four-day competition from July 28 to 31 at the Dance Center of Columbia College Chicago. (“A.W.A.R.D” stands for “Audiences With Artists Responding to Dance.”) Two runners-up, Michel Rodriguez/Hedwig Dances and Joanna Rosenthal/Same Planet Different World, were each awarded $1,000.
Each of the competition’s first three evening performances featured the work of four different choreographers, followed by a moderated discussion between artists and audience and an audience vote to select a finalist to perform again on the fourth night of the series. At the final performance on July 31, a panel of arts professionals along with the audience chose the winner of the $10,000 award.
The voting panelists included Lane Alexander, co-founder and director of the Chicago Human Rhythm Project; Homer Bryant, founder of the School of Bryant Ballet; Roell Schmidt, director of Links Hall; and Linda Shelton, executive director of the Joyce Theater Foundation, which partnered with the Dance Center to bring the competition to Chicago.
Jacqueline Stewart, a Chicago native, performed for three seasons with Duarte Dance Works Contemporary Dance and has danced for various other artists, including Deana Carter in Rimini, Italy, in 2006. In Chicago she made guest performances with The Dance COLEctive and The Seldoms and joined Thodos Dance Chicago in 2007.
Bruce Marks is one of the world’s most respected ballet masters. DanceLifeTV.com caught up with him at the USA International Ballet Competition in Jackson, Mississippi, where he served as the jury chairman. Hear his inspiring words on what dance means to him, the evolution of dance technique, and his thought-provoking comments on the competition experience in the ballet world. You’ll be inspired by a true master of the ballet world—guaranteed.
Thirty-four dancers will go on to the third round of competition to compete for gold, silver, and bronze medals at the 2010 USA International Ballet Competition in Jackson, Mississippi. They are:
Senior Males: Rodrigo Almarales (Cuba), Guixien Chu (Chinese Taipei), Carlos Hopuy (Cuba), Shimon Ito (USA), Nurlan Konokbayev (Kazakhstan), Balazs Krajczar (Hungary), Kosuke Okumura (Japan), Andri Pisarev (Ukraine), Zhang Xi (China), and Kyohei Yoshida (Japan).
Senior Females: Candice Adea (Philippines), Seo-Hye Han (South Korea), Junna Ige (Japan), Eun Won Lee (South Korea), Ekaterina Oleynik (Belarus), Maki Onuki (Japan), Cao Shuci (China), and Miki Wakuta (Japan).
Junior Males: Constantine Allen (USA), Nathan Chaney (USA), Derek Dunn (USA), Esteban Hernandez (Mexico), Ki-Min Kim (South Korea), Marcelino Sambé (Portugal), Gabe Shayer (USA), Yukihiro Tamura (Japan), and Joan Sebastian Zamora (Columbia).
Junior Females: Ji Young Chae (South Korea), Ayaka Fujii (Japan), Amanda Gomes (Brazil), Fumi Kaneko (Japan), Mariana Layún (Mexico), Alys Shee (Canada), and Patricia Zhou (Canada).
Round three is scheduled for June 22 to 24, with medalists and award winners announced June 25. The USA IBC is held every four years in Jackson. To learn more, visit www.usaibc.com.
Elizabeth Chester and Antonio Daza are co-owners of Daza Dance; Michael Reeves, a former partner in Cheryl Burke Studios in San Francisco, is Daza Dance’s president. Nancy Senner, one of the founders and former owners of the competition, will stay on as director emeritus.
Hotlanta Dance Challenge’s new owners say they plan to increase its entries, which have averaged around 7,500 in recent years. For more information, call 678.910.9693 or visit www.hotlantadance.com.
Judging the dancers will be Jackie Luatchang and Andrew Baterina of SoReal Cru, Shaun Evaristo of Gen2, Beau Fournier of Fanny Pak, and April Rodriguez of Essence Ladies. B-boy judges will be Abenamar “Ben” Honrubia of SuperCr3w, the second-season winner of America’s Best Dance Crew, and Steffan “Mr. Wiggles” Clemente of the Rock Steady Crew and the Electric Boogaloos.
Tickets to the all-ages event are $25. To order them or to learn more, visit www.worldofdancetour.com.
The World of Dance Tour plans further stops in Brooklyn, New York, on May 29; Auburn, Washington, on July 24; and San Diego, California, on August 28.
With a history in the dance competition world, I have always been a big defender of what I believe the competition experience can offer the dancer. Here and there I talk about the negatives, too. This rant is focused on those who are adjudicating competitions or who would like to become judges someday.
The moment you sit at a judges’ table, it is your responsibility to have absolutely no prejudices about a school, teacher, or a certain style of dance. A judge is there to adjudicate what is being presented on that stage, at that moment in time, with a focus on the technical skill of the dancers, their choreography, performance skills, and all the other things that come into play when you put those numbers on paper. That’s it.
Judges must realize that dance is a very diversified art form. Whether it’s contemporary or a classical ballet piece, I must judge the dancers with the same standards without regard to which style of dance I personally prefer. As a judge, it is ultimately my responsibility to offer young dancers three minutes of my undivided attention to evaluate their skills with a professional eye and no opinion other than that.
As for judges who choose to sit at the table and let their prejudices influence their scores, they shouldn’t be there. It’s as simple as that.
With such strong opinions within the dance community about the value of competition, judges who are swayed by prejudice only reinforce the competition-is-harmful faction.
I know from much experience that very few judges would ever consider anything but doing what is ethically right. I also know that the competition experience can inspire teachers and dancers to be the best that they can be. But those few judges who take advantage of their position have forgotten that the point of the competition isn’t themselves and their prejudices—it’s the students who expect and deserve their professional assessment.
Feel free to post your thoughts on the subject.
I’m a new school owner about to enter my second season. Last year we competed in three dance competitions and a national competition last summer. The problem is that most of my entries didn’t score very well because I have a slew of beginners.
Each time we went to a competition, I lost at least one student to various schools from my area that competed in the same competitions we did. Next year, I want to do more competitions, but I don’t want to lose students to the schools who have been competing for years. Should I hire outside choreographers or maybe bring in someone to coach my kids?
Don’t take this the wrong way, but honesty is my best policy . . . what the heck are you doing competing in the first place? It’s one thing to go to observe a competition to see what’s going on or taking your students to see a competition to inspire them, but there is no way your students are ready to actually compete with the schools who’ve been competing for years. In my opinion it takes 5-10 years before students are prepared for the rigors of competition.
You need to rethink your goal of opening a school for the purpose of competing and forget about winning. Your goal should be to teach beginner students how to dance. As I always say, competition is only a part of what we do, not all we do.
Slow down, forget about competition for now, and figure out how to build your business. Remember advanced dancers don’t just walk in the door. You build them slowly from basic movement to a more advanced level each year. This process takes time.
If you don’t change your goal to something like attracting preschool students or teaching simply the basics, I’m afraid you’re going to continue to lose students. Opening a new school should be motivated by your passion to offer every child the opportunity to experience the wonderful world of dance, and not to win trophies. —Rhee
Some dance people on Facebook post that they are going to kick butt at a competition. I wonder if they are missing the point? Are they passing the “kick butt” mentality on to their students and parents who will be disappointed if they don’t end up kicking butt? Instead should we express how excited we are to see other …dancers do their thing? We need to understand that dance is a gift, not a tool to beat others? ~Rhee Gold
In Good Company
By Rhee Gold
Although I discourage using the word “lose,” it’s the best way to make my point. Some of the smartest and brightest people got that way from losing many of their battles. We learn from the losing process or by not getting what we want. It’s how we improve ourselves. When we don’t win or achieve the desired result, we go back to work, ultimately becoming better at what we do.
If you feel bad about losing, remember these events in the life of Abraham Lincoln:
- He failed in business in 1831.
- He was defeated for state legislator in 1832.
- He tried another business in ‘33. It failed.
- His fiancée died in ‘35.
- He had a nervous breakdown in ‘36.
- In 1843 he ran for Congress and was defeated.
- He ran again in ‘48 and was defeated again.
- He tried running for the Senate in ‘55. He lost.
- The next year he ran for vice president and lost.
- In ‘59 he ran for the Senate again and was defeated.
- In 1860, the man who signed his name Lincoln was elected the 16th president of the United States.
When we go to a dance competition without walking out as the big winner, do we try to come up with excuses? Maybe we tell ourselves and our students that the reason we didn’t do so well was because the “competition was fixed” or that the “judges didn’t know what they were doing?” Maybe we say, “That school knew the judges, that’s why they did so well and we didn’t.” Another one of those excuses, “That school spent so much money in entry fees, the director of the competition told the judges to score them high!” In reality, if a competition director told a panel of judges who had to win, they wouldn’t be in business too long. The dance community is small and people talk; most judges wouldn’t put up with being told who should win and who shouldn’t.
On the other hand, if we are always the big winner, how would we get better at what we do? Teachers and students who are exposed to stronger talent or choreography are really being given the opportunity to see how far they can go. Going home from the competition without the trophy, but excited to make yourself and your students better is really getting the most from the experience and your entry fees.
We can’t allow ourselves to cultivate a generation of young people who believe winning is everything. I’ve encountered parents who have completely lost their cool because of the results of a competition, and I’ve had teachers who were my lifelong friends refuse to speak to me or yell at me after a competition because their students didn’t score as well as they had hoped. They’re not thinking about the values we emphasize in educating dancers—courage, or perseverance, or passion. They’re thinking only about winning.
What do we do about it? Lighten up.
Dance is a performing art form, not a sport. It isn’t one team or the other scoring so many runs or goals; it’s far more subjective than that. Its artistic and technical qualities are subject to the interpretation of judges—who, remember, are using their own judgment—and who happen to be human beings with their own whims, preferences, and emotions.
The U.S.A. International Ballet Competition in Jackson, Mississippi, is accepting applications for its 2010 dance school and teachers workshop.
Applications are due April 9 for the dance school, a two-week session at Belhaven University for students 12 and older that runs concurrently with the IBC, June 12 to 27. Girls must have had four consecutive years of ballet training, including a year on pointe; boys must have had two consecutive years of ballet. The fee varies from $700 for tuition only to $1,300 for tuition, board, and other benefits.
The teachers workshop is held at the Jackson Marriott Hotel. Applications are due April 23 and must be accompanied by a check for the $25 application fee and a $100 deposit. Tuition is $1,000.
For details visit the IBC website at www.usaibc.com/school/apply.
The deadline for video auditions for the World Ballet Competition is February 15. The competition for dancers ages 10 to 22, now in its fourth year, will be held June 7 to 12 in Orlando, Florida. For application requirements, visit wbcorlando.com and click the tab “How to Apply for WBC 2010?” For other information, call the WBC at 407.849.4669 or email email@example.com.
Several weeks ago I hosted a national dance competition for some old friends. It had been five years since my last national competition experience, so I didn’t know what to expect. But as I sat in the host chair, I was pleasantly surprised. The caliber of talent and creativity was better than I expected, and I love to see young dancers with an obvious passion for our art. They were abundant at this event.
Watching the kids made me nostalgic for my days as a young dancer. At 10, I did my first competition dance, a duet to “Harrigan,” with my twin brother, Rennie. We loved the stage, the applause, and the energy—and the fact that we remembered our choreography was quite a charge for us!
One fond memory of that first competition, and the many that followed, is of the judges who offered us encouraging words. They told us that we had great potential and that we should continue dancing. To us, this was like being told by movie stars that we were good. We would go back to the studio to work harder so that the next time those judges saw us they would see that we had improved. Thanks to them, we developed a classroom work ethic of working hard, and we became stronger dancers each year.
Through competing, I learned more than technique and performance skills. One time when I was a teenager, I got about a quarter of the way through my solo choreography when I went blank. I immediately started improvising, projecting a confident smile as I danced anything that came to mind. But underneath that smile I was devastated because I had worked so hard on that dance. That day I learned the “show must go on” ethic that I still have today, long after my dancing days.
In one of my final competition experiences, I entered myself in the Mr. Dance of America competition directed by Dance Masters of America. I wanted to go for it more than anything, but my mother had never mentioned it. So I didn’t tell her. In an effort to keep my secret, I drove to the studio late at night to fine-tune my choreography, stretch, and perform my dance full-out over and over again. I wasn’t sure I would win, but I wanted to knock the socks off the judges and the audience, not to mention make my mother proud. Finally, a few weeks beforehand, I told my mother that I had entered the competition. I know she was nervous for me, but I also sensed her admiration for the fact that I had done it by myself.
On that memorable night, the audience and judges gave me a standing ovation, which doesn’t happen at a dance competition very often. My mother came backstage with tears of joy and pride in her eyes. At that moment I knew that I had accomplished my goal before I had even set foot on the stage. The old cliché that you can accomplish anything you want to if you work hard enough proved true for me that night. That was more than 25 years ago, and since then I have always believed that I could accomplish anything if I gave it my all.
During the nostalgic week at my friend’s competition, I realized that the awards I won as a young competitor don’t mean anything to me anymore. Instead, I value the memories of my time as a young dancer and the experiences that helped to shape me into the man I am today. The memories I cherish most are my mother’s tears of pride, my long nights alone in the studio, and—most of all—the confidence I gained from being a competition dancer. I am someone who knows that there is much more to competition than the awards.
By Darrah Carr
On a warm Friday evening in April, the packed audience at the 860-seat Skirball Center for the Performing Arts breathes as one. Together the viewers gasp as a petite dancer loses her balance at the end of an impressive variation; they burst into applause as the next dancer executes 16 perfectly placed fouettés; and they fall into respectful silence as yet another competitor’s number is announced. The crowd is a mixture of nervous fellow competitors, eager young dance students, attentive coaches, and proud parents, all gathered in lower Manhattan for the final rounds of the Youth America Grand Prix.
Many in the audience had already witnessed a semi-final regional round in one of nine American cities or four international locations and saw the playing field narrow from 4,000 competitors to several hundred. Now, during the final weekend, young dancers of the highest caliber vie not only for medals but also for scholarships to respected ballet schools and for company contracts. A lucky few are chosen to perform their solos during YAGP’s historically sold-out gala, “Stars of Today Meet the Stars of Tomorrow,” where they share New York’s City Center stage with more than 20 luminaries from the professional ballet world, including Wendy Whelan (New York City Ballet), Jose Manuel Carreno (American Ballet Theatre), and Roberto Bolle (La Scala).
Since its inception in 1999, YAGP has developed a reputation for keeping audiences on the edges of their seats. Founded by two former Bolshoi Ballet dancers, Larissa and Gennadi Saveliev, in only nine years it has become the world’s largest international student ballet competition. More than 20,000 dancers from around the world have participated in YAGP competitions and more than $1 million in scholarship money has been awarded from top ballet schools, including The Kirov Academy, The Royal Ballet School, Joffrey Ballet School, and Canada’s National Ballet School. More than 150 YAGP alumni now dance with some 50 ballet companies worldwide, including American Ballet Theatre and the New York City, Stuttgart, and Paris Opera Ballets.
Such an impressive track record was not easily won, however. In the beginning, the Savelievs struggled to convince colleagues to trust their vision. “There was absolutely a bias against competition in the ballet world, especially in the United States,” Larissa Saveliev recalls. “Although jazz competitions were very popular here, there was nothing that specialized in ballet.”
While European dancers could easily travel to the storied Varna competition or to the student-friendly Prix de Lausanne, Saveliev wondered where she could send her American ballet students. “Many ballet schools in America followed the Balanchine technique. Perhaps they felt that since Balanchine was not a fan of competition, then they wouldn’t do it either. But that was 30 or 40 years ago. A lot has changed since then.”
In Saveliev’s view, one of the most obvious recent changes is the globalization of ballet. YAGP responded by providing exposure to international schools and company directors and by building awareness of international dance education opportunities.
“We call ourselves the Internet of the dance world, a global network of opportunities connecting dancers, teachers, schools, and companies all over the globe,” Saveliev explains. “The age for everything—gymnastics, figure skating, dance—keeps getting younger and younger. Kids need exposure at a much younger age now than they did 30 or 40 years ago. No matter how great a dancer you are, people must know you exist.”
Today, YAGP is open to competitors ages 9 to 19 and features three divisions: Pre-Competitive (9–11 years), Junior categories for women and men (12–14 years), and Senior divisions for women and men (15–19 years). “The pre-competitive division gives students a taste of the process of preparation for competition,” Saveliev says. “Some students that age are not even doing pointe work yet, but it gets their feet wet. I believe we offer the youngest age category for international competition.”
YAGP distinguishes itself from other competitions through its awards system as well. Rather than allowing only the medal winners themselves to choose scholarships, YAGP invites school directors to watch daily classes as well as the competition rounds, in order to decide whom they would like to offer scholarships to.
In the end, many scholarship recipients are not medalists. Tadeusz Matacz, director of the John Cranko School of Stuttgart Ballet, has attended the YAGP since 2002 as both a judge and a school director, and he appreciates the extra time given for watching the dancers in class. “We have five days to observe not only the possibilities of their bodies in terms of flexibility, line, feet, and proportions, but also to see what they have inside of them, to see what their spirit is like. In class, you can really see how they work, what their focus is like, and whether they are open to new teachers and different styles of moving,” he says. “While the competition rounds reward what they are doing now, in order to invite them to our school, we have to see the potential they have for future development.”
Adam Sklute, artistic director of Ballet West and a first-time YAGP judge, agrees that recognizing a student’s potential is one of the most important aspects of the competition. “YAGP is developmentally oriented and student oriented. A lot of what we are judging is based on potential, not necessarily on a single competition variation,” he notes. “I have four or five dancers in my company who were once competitors in YAGP. They didn’t all win something. But if you’re competing, you may get noticed at any level. I certainly am not always interested in just the winners.”
In order to best reveal a student’s potential, Sklute believes that teachers must choose a competition variation that suits the individual dancer. He says, “Teachers have to really know their dancers’ abilities and prepare them with a variation that they are actually capable of doing. In many regional rounds, I saw variations that didn’t serve the student well. I always wondered why the teacher gave the student something so hard. Sure, doing something highly technical is impressive, but it is less impressive than doing something well.”
Sklute also stresses that teachers must know their student’s temperament. “It is not just a question of technical level,” he says. “Is your student mentally ready? Just because someone is a good ballet dancer doesn’t necessarily mean that they are ready for the pressures of competition.”
Edward Ellison, artistic director of the New York City–based Ellison Ballet, agrees. He has coached his dancers for YAGP; the World Ballet Competition in Orlando, FL; and the USA International Ballet Competition in Jackson, MS. So he knows that competition, as well as the process of preparing for it, can be highly demanding. “Only enter if you will be properly nurtured and given ample time to prepare by a dedicated professional coach,” Ellison advises students. “Give yourself to the process without reservation. Remember that you always get the same amount out of it as you put into it.”
Ellison prepares his students for YAGP through private coaching sessions that start in the fall. “I begin with a minimum of three one-hour rehearsals per week, which become daily rehearsals as the competition draws near and their strength and stamina increase,” he says. “I make it clear that to embark on this journey requires 100 percent focus and dedication, and I feel there’s no better way to get that across than to be that example in my work with them. It’s give and take. I feed them as much of my power as I can and fully expect the same in return.”
Ellison’s dedication to his students was recognized by YAGP this year. In a special awards ceremony before the closing gala, the Ellison Ballet Professional Training Program was presented with the Outstanding School Award of 2008. It was one of several honors of the weekend. Ellison Ballet student Emily Kadow became the only American to receive a medal in the Senior Women’s Division. Her bronze medal was followed by scholarship awards for summer study at both The Royal Ballet School (UK) and the Princess Grace Academy of Classical Dance (Monaco). In addition, Ellison Ballet student Kaleigh Schock was awarded a contract with Ballet West II while yet another Ellison dancer, Christina Schifano, received a contract with The Washington Ballet Studio Company.
For Kadow, 15, the excitement of the awards ceremony was further heightened by the opportunity to perform in the gala. “I was very surprised when I won the bronze medal,” she says. “I knew I was dancing with some of the best dancers from all over the world and I felt very honored to be recognized. Then, having the chance to dance next to professional dancers and perform on the City Center stage was amazing! The theater was completely packed. It was definitely the largest stage I’ve ever danced on!”
The Youth Grand Prix (best in overall Junior Age Division) went to Derek Dunn, 12, of Edna Lee Dance Studio in Glen Burnie, MD. It was an especially touching award because Dunn’s coach, Ashley Canterna, won the Youth Grand Prix in 2000. Like Kadow, Dunn thought the gala was the highlight of the weekend. “Having the chance to perform your variation again during the gala, without being judged, was great. You could show all of the people watching why you love to dance,” he says. “Plus, the experience of seeing the professionals practice and perform was really inspiring.”
Norbert Lucaszewski, 18, winner of the overall Grand Prix Award, stands on the brink of the professional dance world. Currently a student at the John Cranko School, he’ll be joining the Stuttgart Ballet next year. However, winning the top prize at YAGP expands his options for the future. “To win the Grand Prix Award is a dream of many dancers. I never thought that this could happen to me,” says Lucaszewski. “The award will open a new door in my career. I think I’m going to have less of a problem finding a job in Europe if I ever want to leave Stuttgart.”
The gala’s theme, “Stars of Today Meet Stars of Tomorrow,” encapsulates the educational aspect of YAGP by introducing the young student participants to a wide cross-section of professional dancers. Saveliev says, “We try to invite professional dancers from those companies who offer scholarships. This helps the students learn about the different styles of different companies and schools. It informs their decisions about where to study and may reveal what their dream company is.”
Saveliev has found the professional dancers to be very generous with the student competitors. She notes, “For many of the students, this is the only chance to see some of these artists perform live. The stars understand how important live performance is in furthering dance education and appreciation.”
“Not everyone will become a professional dancer—they may have other careers,” continues Saveliev. “But they will then become the audience for dance and will make sure the passion for this art form never dies.”
The value of competition critiques
By Marcia Aller
Most dance teachers would think twice before saying that the reason they send their students to competitions is to win, win, win! There’s no denying that coming home with an award in hand is a heady feeling, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But the real reason for competing, most would agree, is that it offers students—and teachers as well— one heck of a learning experience. Although the in-the-moment glow of being onstage has its own lessons, much of what can be learned at a competition comes in the form of words: valuable words of advice and constructive criticism offered by the event’s judges.
Adjudicators, whether they are young, not so young, male, female, from the East Coast or West Coast or anywhere in between, all have one thing in common: their love of dance—good dance. Their goal is to help the dancers perform at their best, and their means for doing that is to offer feedback that will promote technical and artistic growth in the hundreds of dancers they see on a given day. Some of those critiques are written and some are recorded on tape or CD, but all are valuable tools to help both the performers and their teachers, and perhaps even educate the spectators (if parents listen to their children’s critiques).
But a judge’s critique is worthless if it’s not read or listened to carefully and taken to heart. Sounds like a no-brainer, right? But you would be surprised at how many instructors do not bother to pick up their students’ critiques after a competition. They usually pick up the score sheets, but not the information that will help them understand how those scores were determined. Teachers should be anxious to know why a certain score was given and where improvement needs to occur—and the judges’ critiques are the key.
Good judges understand and appreciate the skill levels and potential of dancers of all ages. In other words, they recognize that a 7-year-old who can do a clean time step is a wow. So is an allegro ballet combination in which the dancers show proper placement and heels-down fifth positions. They understand—and will make a comment—when choreography is simply not safe for young, developing bodies. Some teachers might put their very young students on pointe, thinking that they will dazzle the judges (at the risk of having those students suffer back pain and foot problems later in life). An educated judge will not reward that kind of inappropriate presentation with a high score.
Caring and knowledgeable judges will gently counsel the performers and teachers about what they should be working toward. Tricks, tricks, and more tricks generally do not add to a score, although sometimes an audience doesn’t understand that. Likewise, plastering the dancers with more rhinestones, feathers, or props than anyone else in the competition usually won’t bring home the top score. Presenting very difficult steps that a dancer can “almost” do is also a poor way to go; judges repeatedly say that they would prefer to see a single turn done well rather than a wiggly, messy double or triple. Solid technique trumps everything, though it’s often difficult to convince parents of that. They want to see their kids do flashy moves.
Although the in-the-moment glow of being onstage has its own lessons, much of what can be learned at a competition comes in the form of advice and constructive criticism.
From the critiques, teachers can learn what works and what doesn’t in terms of costuming and presentation as well as actual dance steps. Busy teachers, many of them good choreographers, sometimes overlook things like the flow of the fabric, the appropriateness of the design to the choice of music, and the impression of care that comes through in the details. A good judge will be able to offer advice about what works well onstage to flatter the performers. Most would agree that the cost of the costume is not important; what matters are age-appropriateness and the fit with the choreography.
Teachers and parents who believe their students and children should have scored better often say, “Well, they just didn’t like us.” That’s very far from the truth. Most likely the judges found the technique lacking, a not-quite-there-yet commitment to the piece, or steps that are beyond the ability of the performers. With that kind of attitude, they’re not likely to be open to the pointers and suggestions in a critique—and chances are they won’t bother to find out what the judges had to say.
Whether teachers choose to listen to the judges’ comments privately or share them with their students, a positive attitude and willingness to accept the help they offer are important elements in improving. If you glean just one helpful fact, consider the event a success. Your students’ attitude about competition depends almost entirely on you. Winning the top spot is not as important as your dancers doing their personal best and trying to improve each time they perform.
Competition is a healthy way to fine-tune your skills and those of your students. Entering into it with a positive attitude and an expectation that there is much to be learned should be the goal. Use each competition as a performance opportunity, yes, but also as a learning opportunity.
Here’s a real-life scenario that most judges would love to see repeated around the country, at every competition: Two fine schools were competing, and each had technically strong dancers and sensational choreography that was beautifully conceived and executed. And each won the top score in their age division and category. Had you been in the audience you might have thought that these kids and dances were as good as it gets. But as the two teachers picked up their critiques, one said to the other, “Now the work begins, when we listen to what the judges had to say.” The other nodded in agreement. Resting on their laurels would have been the easy thing to do. But reaching higher, pushing harder, and continually learning is what gives them an even sharper edge.
Six young dancers on the rewards of competing
By Nancy Wozny
With the competition field growing every year, there must be some persuasive reasons why young dancers keep showing up at these events weekend after weekend. Who better to tell us why they compete than the students themselves? Dance Studio Life talked to six students who told us why they put their hearts and souls into the competition team, what they are learning, and the joys and sorrows of competing.
Erin Bailie, Easley, SC
“It’s not all about winning; sometimes it’s about learning to be nice to each other,” says Erin Bailie of Easley Dance Conservatory. The 18-year-old has learned a lot about how to treat other dancers, especially those who never seem to be able to even say hello. Bailie sailed into competition life from a gymnastics background; she has been dancing for six years and started competing after only one year of dance training. “My gymnastics training made it an easy transition,” says Bailie. “I was used to working hard on my technique.”
For Bailie, the challenge was developing her emotional range. She developed her performance skills last season in a lyrical duet with her dance partner, Ethan Goodman. “Our dancing got so much better through competitions and all the judges’ comments,” says Bailie. “Our lifts and timing kept improving, and we ended up winning the highest honor in our category.” But the experience that she most treasured was being selected as “Dancer of the Day” in 2007 at the Dance Machine regionals. “It was so cool and unexpected,” she says.
Bailie now attends Columbia College on full scholarship and plans to major in dance education. She hopes to import much of what she learned on the competition circuit into her own teaching. “There’s nothing quite like the competition experience,” she says. “I always leave itching to choreograph, and completely inspired.”
Channing Cooke, Haverhill, MA
Channing Cooke, 17, has been competing since she was 9. A student at Karla Pattavina’s Dance Academy, Cooke spends nearly every other weekend at a competition and attends one national event per year. She sees a big opportunity for growth in competitions. Putting yourself in front of judges is the ultimate confidence builder, she says. “You get past the nervousness and really grow as a dancer.”
“Solos are my favorite—I get to do my own thing and show the judges what I can do,” Cooke says. Performing the same two solos all season allows her to add polish as she progresses from event to event. “I can see a big difference in my dancing when I watch videos from earlier in the season. I am more on my music; my dancing is cleaner; and I understand the movement so much better.” She choreographed her first solo, set to music by Coldplay, last season. “Putting my own movement to music was a different experience,” she says. “I really get to show the judges who I am and my unique strengths.”
But, Cooke says, the busy competition schedule is not easy on her body. One time, during a solo, she felt short of breath and thought she wouldn’t be able to continue, much less make it through the group number that came next. “I finished my solo and tried to collect myself—relax, gather my strength, and just breathe,” says Cooke. “I couldn’t let my team down.” Although she admits it wasn’t her best performance, she made it through the group piece partly because of the comradeship of her teammates. Since then she has been careful to avoid letting the stress get to her by pacing herself and not overworking in class. For Cooke, dancing with her friends and being there for each other are some of the many perks of competition life.
When it comes to winning or losing, there’s a lot of learning there too. “You learn to be a good winner and a good loser. If you lose and feel angry or upset, you still smile and congratulate the winner,” Cooke says. “Sometimes you realize you could have done better. I can get down in the dumps when I get beat, but then I want to work even harder.” Cooke thinks she is the ultimate judge of her performance. “No matter if I win or lose, it’s more about what I think about my own performance,” she says.
‘There’s nothing quite like the competition experience. I always leave itching to choreograph, and completely inspired.’ —Erin Bailie
Though it’s fun to travel with her team, for Cooke the best part of competing is watching the other dancers and getting inspired to work hard. “You see all these crazy-talented people,” she says. “You would never see that kind of dancing if you stayed in the shelter of your own studio.”
Jordan Horne, Aston, PA
Jordan Horne, 11, who has been dancing for eight years at the Concord Dance Center in Aston, PA, says that nothing polishes your technique like a competition season. “You rehearse so much more than in recreational dance,” says the young dancer, who is now in her fourth year of competing. “Judges can be very specific and see things your own teacher misses. Once a judge told me to work on my turns; I wasn’t on top of my foot and it was affecting my landings. Once I understood what I was doing wrong I could correct it.”
Horne believes that competitions help a dancer measure improvement. Mixing with other dancers is a highlight of competing, she says, because seeing dancers from other studios helps her know where she stands.
According to Horne, she does best in solos. While some students might quail at the thought of being alone onstage, she loves dancing solos “because if I mess up nobody knows about it but me,” she says. “There’s not as much pressure when it’s just me out there.”
Jenna Matuszek, Narragansett, RI
According to 11-year-old Jenna Matuszek of Narragansett Performing Arts Center, it’s the close contact with top dance professionals that keeps her on the competition circuit. To maximize her exposure to great teachers, Matuszek, who has been competing since she was 7, attends competitions that come with conventions. The pairing, she says, can double the learning. “You get to take classes from these amazing professional teachers and learn a variety of styles, and that’s so exciting. Then these same teachers are your judges. That’s my favorite way to compete.”
Matuszek says there’s nothing like the self-esteem builder of putting yourself in front of competition judges. “I was shy at first, but it’s a total confidence booster to be able to withstand the judges’ comments,” says the sixth grader.
Sportsmanship is another growth opportunity, especially when Matuszek competes against her own teammates. “It’s so important to wish my teammates the best, even when they are my competition; we support and encourage each other all the way,” she says. “My teammates are my friends. You really get to know the people you dance with.” Matuszek’s generosity extends to teams from other studios. “It’s important to remember to clap for everyone, even if they are not from your dance studio,” she says.
Vanessa Mercado, Riverside, CA
Vanessa Mercado doesn’t remember the pressure of her first competition—she was only 4 years old and had just started dancing. Now 8, Mercado is a total competition kid, taking two classes a day in addition to rehearsals. She studies ballet, tap, jazz, and lyrical at Kristi’s Forever Dancin’ and competes as often as she can. “It’s fun to go up there and show your talent,” says Mercado. “I never get nervous.”
The third grader competes with solo and group entries and says that the judges’ comments are a big help. “Sometimes they compliment me and sometimes they tell me what to fix,” she says. “My shoulders were a big problem; I needed to put them down and I didn’t know that. Now I think about it all the time, and they have gotten so much better. My arms have changed as well; they are much sharper now,” she says. “Judges see you differently than your usual teacher. They catch different things that I need to work on.”
For Mercado, competitions are a time to learn, not only from the judges but also by watching others. “You show your support for other dancers by staying to watch,” she says. “And that’s the fun part.” Her school’s recital feels like a vacation for this young dancer, who knows what she needs to work on as a result of competing and has all season to improve. “Competing is really fun. It’s different than going to my everyday studio.”
Miranda Carter, Arvada, CO
Miranda Carter, 15, of Westwood Performing Art Center, thinks competitions are all about getting out of the comfort zone of your own studio and comparing your skills to others. “You also see different styles of dance. For example, one studio may do a more classical style of jazz,” she says. “All studios are different. Competitions help you see a lot of dance, period. Watching is a big part of learning.”
Carter remembers her first competition, at age 6. She was nervous and recalls being comforted by the older girls at her studio. Now she’s one of those who comfort the new batch of first-time competitors. “We always stay backstage with the younger ones, help them get ready, and cheer them on,” she says with an air of maturity. For Carter, helping the next generation of younger dancers is only one of a long string of positives about competition. Nothing beats being part of a competition team, though. “You get to know the other girls really well. You become best friends and they are your family.”
Proximity to professionals—convention teachers and competition judges—is also near the top of Carter’s list of competition perks, as is getting the judges’ comments on tape, a service offered by many companies that she finds particularly helpful. Also, she has found that her stage presence has improved drastically. “You have to connect to the audience and make the judges want to watch you,” she says.
Carter’s attitude about winning and losing? “You have your good days and your not-so-good days,” she says. “Also, sometimes you don’t win because the judge just didn’t like your performance as much as something else. You have to remember it’s just one person’s opinion.”
Fair practices for disbursing competition awards cash
By Jennifer Rienert
Owners of dance studios that participate in competitions know that to do well requires hard work, good choreography, and dedicated and talented dancers. So when you hear “And the first-place winner is . . .” and your studio’s name is called, you have reason to be excited and proud of your accomplishments. It’s likely that a lot of people participated in making that number first rate: the teachers who gave the students good technique, the studio owner who provided them with the opportunity to compete, the choreographer who shared his or her creativity with them—and of course the students themselves, who carried out the assignment effectively.
But sometimes, along with the first-place trophy or plaque comes a white envelope containing a cash award. While this is a much desired and appreciated perk, now comes a tricky question: Who gets the money?
Varying viewpoints abound on how to disburse the money, but there are no right or wrong answers, no rules, no guidelines. Many studio owners don’t ponder the options for sharing this financial recognition until their studios begin to win a few first-place scholarships. Since so many people were involved in the process of bringing the winning piece to the stage, who is entitled to the cash? What’s best and what’s fair?
Sometimes this dilemma sneaks up on you. When my school first started competing 16 years ago, my staff’s goal was to obtain high silver and gold medals; we never even considered the possibility of winning high scores. But when our entries did begin to bring in some cash, I wanted to be fair. I had no idea what other studio owners were doing with the money their schools won, but since in the beginning I was the sole choreographer and teacher, I kept the check. I felt it was a fair payment for my choreography and time. I never charged the students any fees for my time on competition weekends—my babysitter, gas, and hotel expenses came from my own pocket. And if my students won nothing for the weekend, then I wasn’t paid.
If the award was a large sum, after my expenses were paid I put whatever was left (maybe $150 to $200) back into the studio. Sometimes that money paid for new costumes or props; sometimes it helped with the cost of a new rug or studio repairs. I felt that this policy was fair and for the most part I still live by that belief today.
However, some of my teachers now do some of our competition choreography, and if one of their routines wins first place, I pass the cash award on to them. Most of my choreographers are on my staff, so they are the ones who rehearse the students on a weekly basis and attend the competitions. For their efforts and loyalty, I believe they should receive the scholarship money for their winning routines. However, guest choreographers are paid well for their services, and I do not feel obligated to give them additional funds if the piece created for us takes the high score.
There is one time when I believe students should receive the cash award, and that is when they win for a solo, duo, or trio. This is a personal victory, since high scores are primarily based on performance quality; also, these students must pay substantially more in entry fees than those who dance only in group numbers. So at my school the $50 or $100 award for an overall high-score winning solo or duo/trio goes to the students. In most cases the check doesn’t even cover the cost of their entry fees, but it helps.
Sometimes a duo or trio wins the highest award in the event, which comes with a substantial check, sometimes as much as $500. In this case, if the high score was based on both performance and choreography, I split the award between the students and the choreographer.
Often parents choose to apply their student’s winnings toward the next month’s tuition or the next competition. However, if a family owes money to the studio for tuition, competition fees, costumes, or any other expenses, then I apply the award check directly to what they owe, with no option. I believe this process is fair, and it has worked well for us over the years.
Linda Juliano, owner of Dance Connection in East Haven, CT, has been teaching for 50 years and her students have been competing for about 35. She understands the dilemma about disbursements since many people feel that the choreography is such an important factor in a winning piece. Still, she gives all cash awards to the students. “I have always felt that the parents pay the competition fees and the kids need the money,” she says. “If the money is won by a group, then it is divided evenly among the dancers; if it is a soloist, [he or she] receives all of the money.” Juliano stipulates that cash awards must go toward paying for dance lessons, costumes, or other studio-related expenses and allows the parents to choose how the funds should be used.
Bobbie Tauber, owner and director of Bobbie’s School of Performing Arts in Newbury Park, CA, says, “The prize money from our company helps to cover various expenses such as transportation of props, hotel rooms for faculty, master classes, awards banquets and celebrations. We will sometimes use the money to buy a specific kind of dance shoe for a dance number or costume parts that are shared by all. When students win cash prizes for solos, duos, or trios, they receive all but 10 percent of that money. The 10 percent covers my tax liability, since the check is made out to the studio.”
Some studio owners, like Lisa Kaplan Barbash of The Dance Studio in Stoughton, MA, come up with interesting ideas about how to use award money. “If it is a year that we are not going to a summer national competition,” she says, “I design an article of dancewear, usually a sweatshirt, or a dance bag,” which is embroidered with the students’ names and title. “This really makes the dancers feel special. However, if we are going to nationals that year, I usually disburse checks to the parent of each dancer to use as spending money on their trip to the finals.”
Some teachers feel that there is no fair way to distribute cash winnings among a group of students; therefore, to alleviate any problems and allow all the students to share in the benefits, they use the money for school improvements. Cindy Flanagan of Concord Dance Academy in Concord, NH, says, “We have written into the teachers’ and the students’ contracts that all monies won belong to the school. The first thing we do at the end of every season is have a competition banquet where we feed all the students and their families and give them all the trophies they have won that season. If there are funds left over after the party, we always upgrade something in the school that all can enjoy.” She has used the funds to paint the dance classrooms, update the bathrooms, and buy a refrigerator for the students to keep their drinks and snacks in.
Studio owners should consider all of the options for disbursing cash awards and then make it known to all staff, students, and parents how any winnings will be handled each year. Being consistent and clear about the expectations and rewards of competing will eliminate the chance of questions or hard feelings that could negate the joy of winning that first-place award. Having a plan will help keep everyone focused on their accomplishments rather than squabbling over what’s in that white envelope.