Enrichment, Stage & Screen, Stages

The Truth About Dance Competitions

The benefits of enrolling your child in dance classes are many: while they are being physically active, they are also making friendships, learning important life skills, and establishing routines in their young lives. If your child loves these dance classes, you may want to consider enrolling them in a competitive dance team. Competitive dancing is a big, yet rewarding, commitment for dancers looking to take their passion to the next level. You may even find it rewarding as the dancer’s parent. Amy Foreman, our associate publisher, discusses what it means to be a “dance mom” and what it takes to be a competitive dancer.

Describe a day in the life of a dance competition.
“Kylee has been dancing since she was two-and-a-half years old, and she’s been competitive dancing for the past two years,” Amy says of her daughter, who competes with DeFrances Academy of Dance. Her competitions range from local to across the South, from Biloxi to Texas or Florida. No matter where they take place, they are an all-day affair.

Ballet competitions are a little different from standard dance competitions, but they take just as much time and preparation. “Generally, dancers prepare one or two variations, a short, classical ballet dance of 1.5-2.5 minutes,” says Christine Perkins, the Assistant Artistic Director at Baton Rouge Ballet Theater. “On the whole, the dancer starts preparing months ahead of time for one single variation. It involves hours of coaching to perfect this one dance…and it gets to this really specific level of exactly where your hand or eye should be. It’s not just knowing the dance, but cleaning it with a fine-toothed comb.”

Kylee has four-five competitions per year. On top of that, she has two conventions where she learns different dances. The competitions require three days of practice per week, but for a national competition, they are practicing for two weeks straight, four hours per night.

Ballet competitions involve about three days’ worth of dancing in front of four judges who give rankings or scores to the dancers. Depending on the score, a dancer has the opportunity to advance to a
national competition.

Dance competitions are undoubtedly an exhausting sport, but the hard work pays off when your team is awarded a trophy, medal, or even a scholarship. Even if you don’t win, there are still plenty of benefits to being a competitive dancer.

Understanding the Benefits
Speaking of winning, your dancer will learn all about how to handle life’s wins and losses as a competitive dancer. They’ll learn how to take turns, build tenacity, and develop empathy for those who aren’t on their team. An even greater development takes place within the team.

“They learn teamwork and how to work out conflicts,” Amy notes. “They are constantly critiquing each other and building each other up.”

Competitive dancing will also help your child develop social skills by interacting with other children. This camaraderie will in turn give your child a confidence boost as they develop a support system that will extend beyond the studio. Plus, your child will be prepared to take on life’s challenges.

“When you’re putting yourself in a difficult situation, one as anxiety-ridden as putting yourself in front of judges who critique you like crazy, that can be scary,” Perkins notes. “But, the more times you do something like that, the less anxiety-ridden you are in a difficult situation.”

Perkins also emphasizes that dancing teaches you that everybody is nervous and messes up occasionally, and having experience in these life lessons makes them less frightening and makes you more of a toughened spirit that doesn’t feel the need to worry about every little thing.

What are some stereotypes or myths you would like to debunk about the world of dance competitions?
The biggest stereotype of parenting a child who dances competitively is that you are a “dance mom,” which refers to the TV show, Dance Moms, in which moms are notoriously too demanding of their daughters, who participate in dance competitions across the world. However, this doesn’t make the reality TV show, well, a reality.

“It is not this Abby Lee situation,” Amy laughs. “I have only encountered one group of crazy ‘dance moms’ in the last two years, and nobody liked it. We did our changes and got out as fast as we could. Otherwise, I’ve made a lot of friends with these moms. We are there to support our girls, even if we are on different teams.”

Another stereotype pertains to a dancer’s success hinging on the competitions they participate in. “Some people think you have to be successful in competitions to be a successful dancer, but you don’t really have to participate in competitions to find a route to professional dancing,” Perkins says. “It helps because it gives you a bit of performance quality, but you don’t have to be in competitions your whole life to succeed as a dancer.’

What are the mental effects on a child who competes? How can they combat these issues?
Being a dancer requires a lot of work on your self-esteem; you have to build yourself up and accept lists of critiques of your craft. These critiques will ultimately make your child a better dancer and learn that nobody is perfect, but it can be detrimental to a young person’s mental health if you are not careful.

“It’s different for everyone. I’ve noticed some dancers thrive on competition, but some dancers feel like it’s almost incapacitating,” Perkins notes. “They’re having panic attacks and need lots of love and support, and maybe they need to realize this isn’t what they need to do. You don’t have to force yourself to do something if it’s going to cause this much stress.”

Most of all, it’s important to understand that winning isn’t everything because dancers grow in technique, strength, and confidence whether they win or lose. If your child is ready for the commitment, dance competitions can be a rewarding experience for both of you, even if you don’t bring home a trophy at the end of the day.

This article was originally published in August 2023.

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