The Value of Dance Competition
This year was my studio's very first year of dance competition. Not only is it the first year of competition as a studio, but for 8 out of my 10 competitors, it is their first experience with dance competition ever. Out of my 5 competitive soloists, 3 of them have never performed a solo, not even for recital. It's been a year of many firsts!
Photo taken after our first competition - Groove @ East Haven, CT
As I sit at my day job anticipating our competition set to begin in 4 hours, I'm reflecting on why exactly I love dance competition so much. First let me say, dance competition isn't for everyone and if you are someone who dances just for fun, that's fine! I tell any parents looking into the studio that I will never push competition on anyone. If I see a dancer who has talent and drive, will I approach the parent about competition? Sure! But ultimately it is their decision to participate in competition. I do believe that there is a lot of value in competitive dance and I'd like to share these benefits and how I've personally grown from competition and how I've seen my dancers grow this season.
The number one value of competition is the EXPERIENCE! Sure, getting awards is great. Being recognized for doing something well is great. But the experience is everything.
Train Your Brain
There's many scientific studies that show how dance itself trains your brain; however, dance competition trains your brain to an even greater extent. Because you are learning more technically challenging choreography and because the choreography is taught so quickly over a short amount of time, the benefits of dance on the brain are amplified. Dancers have something they call muscle memory, which is basically when you know the choreography so well in your muscles and within your body, that when you hear the music, your body just takes over and the true performing starts. You don't have to think about what move comes next, you simply get lost in the music and the emotion. This is something your brain needs to LEARN how to do. I love this article from the NY Times that examples exactly how dance impacts your brain:
In the competitive world, it's not like a sporting event where you have one team versus another. With dance, teamwork means coming together as a team to execute a beautifully rehearsed, emotional performance. Often times, especially in tap, you will hear dance teachers saying, "Don't make this look like 5 soloists." Every routine, whether it has 3, 4, 50 dancers in it, has to be one unified routine, and that takes dedication and practice. You have to know where everyone is on stage at all times. You have to know who is displaying a certain move or certain emotion at a certain time. Are you all dancing in sync? Are you in formation? Are you all exuding the same emotion or energy? It's also an AMAZING, weekend long team-bonding session. This is something I have seen my dancers do over the past season. The 10 dancers that I have couldn't be more different from each other, but they have one thing in common - they love to dance. Their love for dance bonds them together and genuinely motivates them to motivate each other. They don't compete with each other, they cheer each other on. They don't compare scores. They show up to support each other even when they are not dancing themselves.
How To Take Criticism
This, in my opinion, is one of the most important take-aways from dance competition. If you are not familiar with dance competitions, what usually happens is a panel of three judges watch a routine and give scores on choreography, technique, performance value, etc. With today's technology, 99% of competitions will record video footage of the performance with live judges comments dubbed over as judges speak into a microphone while you dance. This video footage and judges scoresheets are all made available to teachers and dancers (also immediately). I find these comments to be invaluable as a teacher to help dancers perfect technique and to clean up choreography; however; even most important is what this does for my dancers. It's not easy to have three people pick apart something you have put your best effort and your heart into, but I feel my dancers need to know that there's always something you can do better. There's ALWAYS room for improvement. It's okay for someone to tell you that you can do better. In an industry that revolves around trying-out and judgements and rejections, its important for dancers to know that rejection/criticism is simply a step to betterment. I do not let my dancers get down on themselves. After a "messy" performance, I am completely honest with them. I tell them what went wrong and what didn't work, and then we fix it. I always make sure to remind them of where they started in September and how much growth has happened, and now I need even more. This is a lesson that extends past the world of the performing arts. In life, you need to learn how to take criticism gracefully... how to turn criticism into something that drives you to do better, not something that bogs you down.
There are many more benefits to dance competition, but I just wanted to touch on a couple of the big ones. I'm excited for what this weekend has to hold for my dancers and looking forward to watching them perform!