Well, we subjected ourselves to another dance competition this past weekend. Yes, it's true. And you know what that does to me... I get that annoying urge to voice my opinion. Fortunately (or unfortunately depending on who you are) I have a forum for that! :)
Ok, it was early in the year for competition, but we usually do this with what we can salvage from last season's numbers. We are in the early stages of our year and aren't quite unified and defined yet but I think it's good to get a look at the current cast of characters, let them perform, and decide where we go from here.
I don't take my students to competition to "win". I go to showcase our work, give the kids a chance to enjoy performing, and perhaps get some valuable feedback. I usually come away with that, and I also get a chance to see what other dance studios in the area are doing. I definitely experience some positive things - getting to be with the families I serve and seeing my students dance. However, on occasion I leave feeling like an outcast or the red headed stepchild. That's fine because I get a renewed sense of who I am, what my studio philosophies are, and why I teach dance in the first place.
I don't come from a pageant background and did not grow up when studios were teaching the stuff I see at competitions today. Some of this stuff looks to me like a cross between acrobats, contortionist movement, pageantry, and over the top facial expressions mixed with a few turns and jumps. They are dressed in thousands of rhinestones and little else. (must cost a fortune for very small items!) It looks a little bit like Cirque du Soleil style stuff and it is quite amazing, but it doesn't appear to be a lot of dance.
Now, I also notice the huge patronage it attracts and many times for somewhat conservative (in everyday life) folks. When I see that, I think "Is that what I'm supposed to be doing?", "Is that what kids should be learning at dance?", "Am I doing the wrong thing?" "Should I be pushing for more from my students?" "Do I need to offer more gymnastics classes?". Then I stop myself and realize there are many people who want their kids to dance and don't want to be a part of that particular culture. That's what I'm here for!
My students come out and they look like students. They look like children doing dance. They do not look like professionals or the Peking Acrobats. (I did a show with them once - amazing!) They have days where my company students don't dance, they may be on the cheerleading squad, or softball team, and they have time to do their homework and play with their friends! They still have dance class to enhance their life and if they want it... they can still become amazing dancers and go on to become professionals. Like DSD alumni Austin Brue currently on scholarship at the Edge Performing Arts Center in Los Angeles, or Kristyn Nurkka who is living in LA and pursuing her dreams of professional dancing. I have lots of former students who have gone on to work in the entertainment field or have become dance educators. I know my staff and I am capable of training a professional but we leave it up to the student to make that choice once they become teenagers or graduate from high school.
I am not writing this to knock any other studio or say what they are doing is not valid. I do have an opinion that it might not be totally healthy physically and emotionally, but they have their own philosophy and reasoning for doing what they do. I can't say I totally understand it, but I think in every sport, art, etc. there is always this side of things. The extreme... when my son was in soccer, there was the recreation league and the "Arsenal" league. The big guns.. practice every single day, travel games, and so on.
At Desert Star Dance, I hope to find the middle ground. Somewhere between recreation and insanity. I hope to be a place where kids can feel a sense of belonging, learn the art of dance, strive for excellence and still have fun. I want them to develop their skills steadily without burning them out. I see the other studios winning tons of awards at these competitions and my ego says "I need to change.. I need to win... I need to push harder" and then I come to my senses and remember why I'm doing this and what my ultimate goal is. It is to help kids become better people and teach them about the art and joy of dance. I go against the tidal wave that is turning dance in to sport and the TV culture of reality shows focused on competition. I'm not saying competition isn't important in the dance world - everyone feels compelled to compete, but sometime it squashes the creative aspect of dance. Even the hip hop dance world is about the "battle", but for kids there is an important element - BALANCE.