My Competition Opinions

Hi everybody!  Today’s blog post is all about ballet and dance competitions.  (There is a difference between the two).  I hope you find it useful in making a decision, and let’s get right into it!

But wait…there’s more!  I wanted to do a quick disclaimer – this is a very opinionated post (not necessarily biased – just quite opinionated).  Not everything I say in this post will be true for everybody, this is just what I’ve largely seen.

Ballet and dance competitions are known for their pausiness, rigor, and awards.  In this blog post, the goal is to explore the underlying tones and details within these assumptions.  How hard is it to get these awards?  Who’s watching at these competitions?  What is the future like for most of these dancers?  We will also explore dance competitions as well, debating whether or not they are a good start for a classical ballet dancer.

Two Types of Competitions

There are two types of competitions – ballet competitions and dance competitions.  There is a stark difference between the two, notably where they take place in an aspiring professional’s career, and what the goal is.

Dance competitions are usually a start for a young dancer.  They are what you see on “Dance Moms” – small, regional competitions with little ones in (usually skimpy) outfits doing tricks.  Now – there are a few benefits to these competitions, and there are a few downsides.

The first general characteristic of these dance competitions are that they are for fame and studio name – not necessarily scholarships or exposure of an individual.  Sure, if you’re doing music videos and are famous on television like Dance Moms’ Maddie Ziegler, they may benefit the individual as well, but they are primarily for, again, fame and studio name.  Think about it – all of those girls when they go to a competition are thought of as the Abby Lee Dance Company…there’s a stark difference there with ballet competitions.

Also, the approach is much more contemporary.  There is a reason why they’re called “dance” competitions, not just “ballet.”  The most common approaches to soloists are usually lyrical dances, as well as jazz or tap.  You rarely see a classical ballet solo, and if it is, it’s typically on flat and has a specific approach to it.  You almost surely won’t see a full-out tutued ballet dancer performing the variation from Act III of Swan Lake.  Almost definitely not.

And then there’s the question – are dance competitions a good start for an aspiring professional classical ballet dancer?  Well, there are some pros and cons.  Let’s lay them out here:

The pros:

  • They gain the dancer exposure to modern and contemporary early on.
  • They help the dancer develop great artistry.
  • They give the dancer lots of stage opportunities and on-stage time.
  • Former competition dancers know how to develop close friendships and learn how to work as a team, which is important in a corps de ballet.
  • Often times ex-competition dancers can handle competition and rivalries in the ballet studio well.
  • They develop good audition skills.

The cons:

  • There is lots of competition – they often learn to dislike people better than them.
  • There is less classical ballet training.
  • Dance competitions are often less technique-based.
  • They have less exposure to large companies.
  • There are less professional performance opportunities.

On the other hand, ballet competitions are different.  Instead of being all about awards and trophies, the main focus of awards at these competitions include:

  • Exposure
  • Scholarships
  • Company contracts

This is mostly because ballet competitions are less about fame and studio name and more about the individual.  It’s true that the dancers represent their school or teacher, but it’s more about them and their dancing.

Also, they are much more focused on classical ballet.  At most competitions, the dancers select a variation from a classical ballet to perform, and they have the option to perform one contemporary piece as well.

Setting a Goal

Which competition you select, and if you choose to do competitions at all, largely depends on your goal for your professional career.  There are a few groups that are watching at dance competitions:

  • Companies with schools

This would be the goal of an older dancer looking for a company contract with a larger organization.  The truth is, not a lot of them employ from ballet competitions.  The most known are the American Ballet Theater and the Royal Ballet – they have a presence.  But, companies like the New York City Ballet only take dancers from their school.

Larger companies, especially stylized ones, need a specified training regimen to allow their dancers into the company.  That is very, very difficult to see from one audition or one variation performed at a ballet competition.  These companies have lots of better options to select from at their school.

If you’re at a ballet competition for a company contract with a large and stylized company with a professional school, your chances are slim.  A scholarship to the school is your best bet, but often these dancers are too old for that.

  • Companies without schools

Some dancers come to ballet competitions to get contracts with companies that don’t have ballet schools.  These are often the more contemporary or modern companies, or newer ones.  Some of these companies do have schools, but they are just smaller and the company doesn’t take many dancers from them.  That is why American Ballet Theater could also fall under this category.

Companies without schools like to take dancers from ballet competitions because they often have no other options.  Their only opportunities for absorbing company members are their auditions and competitions.

Companies to look out for at these competitions are usually ones with a less stylized approach to their dancing, and lots of new and modern choreographers coming in.

  • Schools with companies

I would say that these have about an average presence at ballet competitions.  Again, these schools like to snatch dancers from competitions, convert them to their specific style, and then put them in the corresponding company.

But, again, these schools have plenty of opportunities to take students from their auditions and summer programs.  They often don’t need to bring in dancers from competitions because of these summer programs.  That’s why I would say they have about an average presence in the competition world.

  • Schools without companies – “The Dispersers”

These are the schools that have lots of opinions.  Some people believe that they are great schools, they train their dancers well, and they get them into fantastic companies.  Others say that they create robot dancers that do too many competitions.  I do believe in the latter, but that’s just my opinion.  Let’s talk a bit about the process of a dancer in one of these schools:

  1. Snagged from, typically, dance competitions or smaller ballet competitions.  Former dance comp or TV stars (like Sophia Lucia) are often grabbed by these schools and put into classical ballet.
  2. They are trained with perfect technique, using their modern backgrounds to help create perfect turns.  But, this often eliminates artistry, where I use the term “robot dancer.”  They look good at ballet competitions and in auditions, but they aren’t the best to watch in a full length ballet.  They become extreme technicians.
  3. They are put back into big ballet competitions like the Youth American Grand Prix or the Prix de Lausanne.  From here, they are grabbed by medium to big companies with or without schools.
  • What’s your goal?

It all comes down to your goal for your career.  If you want to achieve a larger company that is very stylized, stick to a more traditional approach by attending their summer program and trying to stay for the year, then being taken into the company.

On the other hand, if you want to go to a disperser school or get into a smaller or more contemporary company, ballet competitions could be right for you.

Expenses and Awards

Competitions are COSTLY.  Think about it…here’s what you’re going to end up having to pay for:

  • Costumes
  • Pointe shoes
  • Private training
  • Competition fees
  • Travel fees and plane tickets
  • Lodging at competitions

It all adds up pretty quickly.  The question is…is it even worth it?  Maybe not when you think about the award process.  At YAGP for example, you only receive awards when you make it to the final round.  That’s pretty far, suggesting the talent that is there.

And, exposure is limited even at regional competitions.  It’s hard to get anybody to see you dance beside your parents and the judges.  So, is it really worth it?

A Decision

Participating in dance or ballet competitions or not is really up to you.  Are the costs and expenses worth it?  Which companies or schools do you eventually want to get into?  What is best for your training?  Do what’s right for you.

Thanks for reading today’s blog post!  I’ll see you Monday on (or maybe earlier!) with more informational things.  Bye!

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