As a young girl, I took dance class every day after school. It was my extra-curricular activity. While my friends were participating in team sports or clubs, I was racing to the studio to take ballet, tap, jazz, and modern dance. At the time I just enjoyed movement and music, I never fully believed it would morph into a career. Luckily, my training emphasized technique and diversity of style, which prepared me well for auditions in the real world.
But that’s not to say there is just one way to train for a successful career in dance. I studied at a performing arts school, but many of the dancers I share the stage with today as a professional come from a competitive dance background.
With the recent popularity of shows like “Dance Moms” and “So You Think You Can Dance,” competitive dancing has had a renaissance.
Today we are focusing on how competition dance training prepares our future performers for a career onstage.
As with all methods of training, competition has it’s pro’s and cons. That’s not to say this training is insufficient. Instead, keep in mind the greatest audition tool you have: knowing your strengths and your weaknesses.
The Strength and Weaknesses of Competition Dance
STRENGTH: Familiarity with the stage and performance atmosphere.
Competition dance undoubtably offers the most stage exposure for dancers in training. During competition season this could be as often as every weekend. Having plenty of practice to perform onstage prepares the dancer to cope with nerves. Often times “the jitters,” can infringe on an audition and throw even the most technical dancer off. Competition dancers have the advantage of not being fearful away from the mirrors or in front of an audience.
WEAKNESS: Lack of variety in movement.
How many Sarah McLachlan lyrical solos have I seen on youtube? I’ve lost count. The dancer is usually wearing a flowing dress while falling to her kneecap and rolling into an emotional ball. Or maybe you’ve seen the group numbers of angry dancers in ripped tights, stamping their feet to Florence & The Machine? I know I have. My point is, there are trends in competition dance and they tend to circle around and repeat themselves. This can work to the disadvantage of the dancer, failing to introduce them to different kinds of styles, moves, and emotions.
HOW TO PREPARE: To combat this, try attending performances by noncompetitive studios in your area for an expanded education. Variety is key in the audition room.
STRENGTH: Competition Dancers are great team players.
Though “team building” is never an official class offered at dance studios, dancers are doing it everyday. Perhaps no one more than competition dancers, who have to perform in sync down to their pinky fingers. As well, competitive dancers are accustomed to re-blocking on the fly when a cast-mate gets sick or is out on injury. These are real-life scenarios that I encounter in the field too. Re-blocking and ensemble dancing only improves with practice. Competitive dancers have nothing to fear here.
WEAKNESS: Favoritism and special casting goes out the window
We’ve all seen Maddie Ziegler make her way to the top of the pyramid on “Dance Moms.” But hopefully your studio doesn’t display such blatant favoritism. Instead, maybe it honors a system of seniority. Either way, once you’re in the real world all special treatment is out the window. This can often be a shock to the system for the star competitive dancer who’s used to having a solo each year, but must now make a living in the ensemble.
HOW TO PREPARE: At an audition, how many trophies you have does not matter. You must show your skills and talents in the audition room, and not rely on the glitter of your gold medals.
STRENGTH: Competition prepares dancers for high-intensity dances and long days.
Competition dance is not for the feint-hearted. You must have discipline and endurance to make it through the rigors of a competition season. This is not unlike the expectations of performing 8 shows a week on Broadway, or traveling on tour and being ready to rehearse at a moments notice. Competitive dancers are strong, fierce, and prepared for the demands of a full-time career in dance.
WEAKNESS: Technique can suffer in light of “tricks”
Sometimes I see competition dancers spinning like a top. We think ‘How did they just do nine pirouettes?!’ But unfortunately these were not pirouettes or turns. They were spins. One is about whipping your body around and hoping for the best, the other is about being on the ball of your foot, pulling up in your leg, and suspending in your torso…And you guessed it, the former requires a lot more time and practice to master. To the laymen, you can’t tell the difference between a spin and a turn. But to a dancer the difference is crucial to dancing healthily and with longevity. In efforts to receive high scores and the “Wow” factor, competition dance often sacrifices technique for “tricks.”
HOW TO COMBAT IT: Be sure to take extra ballet classes when competing heavily. Ballet is the foundation of a healthy dance career and it still important when performing other styles.
Kelsey is a classically trained dancer and Actor’s Equity performer. She has performed for companies such as Central Florida Ballet, Tokyo Disney, Walt Disney World, Universal Studios, and at sea with leading luxury cruise lines. A dancer by day and a writer by night, when Kelsey is not performing she shares her love of dance, travel, and finding a good cup of coffee on her blog Wend Away Travels. Find her full performance bio and show gallery at www.kelseyannglennon.com.
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