March-April 2016 | On My Mind

Words from the publisher

The very first time that I knew dance was going to be my thing was in the early 1970s at a weekend competition hosted by the New England chapter of Dance Masters of America. The routine, to “Harrigan,” an old George M. Cohan tune, was a jazz duet with my twin brother, Rennie—and this was my first competition experience. I loved the applause, the judges took time to encourage both of us, my mom was proud, and we won a trophy; what more could a 10-year-old ask for? That night, for some reason, for the first time I understood what “dancing full out” really meant. I never looked back.

Photo by Mim Adkins

Photo by Mim Adkins

Years of competing made me a stronger dancer and at the same time taught me to set goals and inspired me to achieve many of them. I produced dance competitions for 24 years before I sold my competition company in 2003, opening the door for me to become the publisher of Dance Studio Life. My heart is filled with memories of the kids I watched grow up before my eyes and the teachers I watched become some of the best educators and choreographers in the country.

Through 40 years of competition experience, onstage and behind the scenes, I have seen dramatic change. The scoring is different. The number of events available for today’s dancers has grown substantially, and almost every dancer competes now. Even the very serious ballet world has caught the competition bug.

For some in dance education, this might seem scary, but I don’t think it is. The years have clearly shown me that the quality of training now offered at studios is vastly higher than what it was before competitions began. Our dancers are capable of more than ever before, and many are launching from the competition world into professional careers. The choreography on the competition stages in America is superior to that of just 20 years ago. The competition world has exposed teachers and dancers to what good dance is all about.

I think that all children who strive to make dance more than a once-a-week experience as well as those who want to move into the professional world can gain much from competing. Exposure to stronger dancers and schools reveals to us how far we can go with dedication and hard work.

Winning (or not) is part of competition, but the process is what offers the most gain for the kids. It bothers me when teachers, dancers, and parents can’t see the life lessons because they are so focused on winning. The high level of commitment expected of today’s competitive dancers is an excellent teacher of how to balance demands (of academics and of dance), to understand sacrifice, to appreciate the results of hard work, and so much more.

During this competition season, then, let’s all recognize the process as much as we do the outcome.

DSL publisher Rhee Gold has owned a dance competition, presided over national dance teaching organizations, and founded Project Motivate. His book, The Complete Guide to Teaching Dance, is in its second printing.