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Competitions: winning ways.

Some say competitions are an exciting opportunity for young dancers to perform: They raise the stakes for technical mastery, offer exposure to role models, and challenge young people to their personal best the way that athletics do. Others say competitions turn the art of dance into sport, and divert the focus from bettering oneself to that of winning the top prize.

Regardless of which side of the debate you fall, dance competitions are the lifeblood of a great many dance studios across the country. As a new season kicks off, we hear from teachers, choreographers, and judges about what it takes for success--not only how the winning teams do it, but why.

SHELY PACK-MANNING

Shely Pack Dancers

Half Moon Bay, California

I try to stress the process and how important that is, and explain to my students the reason they're competing. It's not for a title or a crown or a prize, but what they're learning in the process. The experience can train them for auditioning for a show, or for preparing to interview for a job.

Mainly I try to take the stress away from them. If they feel it's part of a process, they go into it much more relaxed. If they feel like we expect them to win, that's when they don't do very well.

Feedback is really important. I believe in adjudication where everybody receives a score. They're placed into a scoring range for bronze, silver, gold, platinum. I believe every student should receive a score because that's how they climb to a higher level. It's a measuring stick. But they also have to know the overall score--who was the very top.

Young teachers starting out in competitions can look at it as a learning experience for themselves also. When I started 30 years ago, I put too much emphasis on competition. It mattered too much for me. I learned to watch my kids progress through competing, not through winning. It's much more rewarding to view it as: You guys have a goal and that is to work for it. My students rose to the occasion. Put the emphasis on progression, not only for the students but for yourself.

SUZY STRAUB

Straub Dance Center

Westerville, Ohio

I'm a believer in competition. We've had a wonderful time getting to see the country from New York to Anaheim, Las Vegas, and Florida. Families make it a vacation as well.

We choose the competitions where we know there will be age-appropriate choreography. We've gone to some where our parents have been offended by what they've seen onstage. We want to know that won't happen. Also we want to know the level of dancers will be high, that there will be strong technique.

I tell my students that their goal is to be better than they were the previous year. I love for them to sit and watch when they can, and to attend the classes. It's such motivation to see other dancers.

Your score is not the end result. The end result is that you have improved. You can learn from mistakes and keep practicing. It's the experience of going through it, learning to handle your emotions and stress. Most of these kids aren't going on to be professional dancers. Learning to accept criticism makes a better person. If they have this experience of getting up to perform in front of people, it makes a difference in life.

MELISSA HOFFMAN

Melissa Hoffman Dance Center

Hudson, New Hampshire

We have groups that have been very successful in competitive events, but it's never been about that for us. Competition is about the kids having a venue to perform. We have a spirit circle before they go on. We tell them to go out and dance from their hearts.

We stress technique classes--we don't do a lot of rehearsals. Our kids come in on a Sunday for maybe five hours to learn a piece. There is some clean up during the week, but we don't over rehearse numbers. We may run the number once or twice a week between competitions.

Each choreographer approaches the piece as choreography rather than a competition routine. Same with costuming. We don't necessarily follow the popular trends. We'll come out in jeans and a t-shirt if that's what the piece wants.

We dare to be different. If we notice for example that fouette turns are winning, we don't come home and add fouette turns to all of our dances. We stay true to what the choreographer intended.

Our kids know what they're dancing to and why. The teachers spend time talking about what the piece is about--particularly in lyric. The kids know the story from beginning to end and the character they're trying to portray.

I choose not to go to the venues where everyone going in the door gets a medal. In our own school we have a range of dancers. That range of ability should be reflected in the medals. If they get a gold they didn't deserve, it sets up a false expectation. They go out in the real world and they aren't who they thought they were.

--Karen Hildebrand, Editor
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Article Details
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Author:Hildebrand, Karen
Publication:Dance Magazine
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Oct 1, 2005
Words:857
Previous Article:Attitudes.
Next Article:The judges weigh in: what they look for, what they reward.
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