Monday, November 14, 2011

Competition vs. Art and Entertainment

Part 2: The competition business

Over the past 20 years, the field of dance competitions has ballooned from a select few in to thousands of different companies holding events around the country every week. There are competitions that stand alone or others associated with conventions. There are also conventions that just offer classes and showcases. Some are quality organizations with the best intentions. They hope to share their knowledge of dance and the arts, give constructive critiques, and encourage young dancers to stay with it. However, in recent years a certain culture seems to be emerging. I'm going to call it "The Dance Mom Culture". I don't think I need to say more if you've ever seen the show "Dance Moms" currently on television...

The competition circuit has literally created it's own style of dancing. It's full of tricks, turns, amazing jumps, incredible displays of flexibility and peppered with gymnastics and wild gyrations. Generally the costumes are scant and loaded with hundreds of rhinestones (why not just rhinestone fabric?) and the song choices and subject matter are often provocative. I've already voiced my opinion on this to my own peril. (and support!)

For me, competitions are always a touchy thing in dance. It seems unfair to judge art or entertainment with a point system. I realize the judging is based partly on technique - which is most certainly an important part of dance.  However, dance is personal and a matter of taste and style too. It's sometimes a ridiculous thing to try to put a number on it. I spent some time working for dance competitions in my early teaching years. It was grueling and difficult. I tended to score the entertaining numbers higher as I value the enjoyment as much as the accomplishment. Hence my love of the "Entertainment Award" at any competition. It's the one I want to go home with. Dance is a performing art, meant to be shared and it's impact on an audience is the most important thing to me. The other thing I always took notice of was the choreography. It's an amazing feat for a teacher to create art with their students. That is why the other award I always hope for is the choreography accolade. The competition scene does not always reward creativity, but often encourages conformity. Not something I feel is enhancing the art of dance.

My reasons for attending competitions with my dance studio have always come from my students. They want to be able to get out there and show what they are doing as well as see what their peers are up to. However, the more I attend these competitions, the more dismayed I become with what they are rewarding and how they are influencing young dancers. The style of dance that competitions are encouraging is close to absent in the professional dance world.

After my last exposure at competition, I have decided to be as selective as possible when choosing a company to work with. These competitions exist because of businesses like mine. They would not BE if it weren't for the dance studios that they solicit. They charge between $30 and $100 per number in some cases just to perform, and many times my dancers leave feeling let down. We are not the type of studio that pushes for the technical perfection at a young age. It's about development and timing. So, we sometimes are overlooked because our routines do not include moves that seem to be compulsory to the top scorers. Most of my kids understand this but the younger ones have a harder time.

 Perhaps finding a way to bring some of the dance community together to celebrate what we do rather than compete is a better idea! I don't like feeling competitive towards other dance studios as I think those of us who dance and teach dance have so much in common! A love for dance and children and a desire to share our knowledge and love for the art form. As a creative person, when obstacles arise I am interested in finding a way around them. How about we create something BETTER for kids to achieve rather than a plastic trophy and an elite top first platinum titanium award. Isn't it time to find a cause other than winning to use our talents towards? I think so.

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