Competition for our youth has become such a complicated ideology. Our kids today compete in and for everything. They compete for grades in school. They compete for spots on the soccer team, hockey team, gymnastics team, probably even Russian math team. Sometimes they even compete for friends and to be in the “popular group” at school. Most of this competition is unavoidable and simply just a part of life. In my opinion, however, competition in a dance studio setting is completely avoidable and should be avoided at all costs.
As the parent of a 12-year-old daughter and 9-year-old son, and as the owner of a dance studio, I have a unique perspective on the role competition plays in our children’s daily lives. I feel very strongly that in sports where scoring is inherent to the game (soccer, or baseball for instance) that it’s okay for kids to be clear on who won or who lost a particular game. The kids know which team scored the most amount of goals each game, so why not just call it what it is and announce the winner and loser of each game?
But, dance is different. How do you really judge what is so clearly a subjective art form. And, honestly, why would you want to judge it in the first place? Dance competitions have become quite the rage in recent years. I believe this is largely due to the extremely popular TV show “So You Think You Can Dance” and equally popular but extraordinarily disturbing show “Dance Moms.” Impressionable children watch these shows and then dream of being the next big WINNER or “IT CHILD.”
As adults, we know that reality TV is not reality. But, our kids don’t understand that concept yet. And, for every winner of SYTYCD and Maddie Ziegler (child star of Dance Moms), there are thousands of other kids who are either losing at these competitions or who are getting the “thanks for showing up and trying” medal.
I recently attended a national dance teacher conference in California, where hundreds of dance teachers and studio owners were given the wonderful opportunity of studying with Master Teachers and today’s hottest choreographers. These master teachers are also judges at many of the dance competitions. Class after class after class, these teachers/judges bemoaned the dance competition society. The beauty of dance is lost when the only objective is to do a triple pirouette followed by an aerial landing in split. And, perhaps saddest of all, the judges repeatedly said that the joy seems to be lost on all the dancers’ faces. One teacher actually stopped my class and said “How is it that YOU teachers look so happy while you are dancing and yet your students at these competitions NEVER crack a smile?”
My philosophy has always been that competition just doesn’t belong in the dance world. Let the winners and losers remain on the soccer fields. And let the dancers remain happy simply expressing themselves through the wonder and beauty of this amazing art form, DANCE.