Five Dance Competition DO’S

Here I am giving a Special Award to young dancer at a regional dance competition in Houston, TX in 2010.

Competing at professionally organized competitions either locally, regionally, or nationally, can be a marvelous educational experience for young dancers, for their teachers, and of course, dance parents and friends. As a professional competition judge, I have traveled around the United States and judged thousands of dancers. While some competition DO’S are obvious—such as showing up early and making sure you have all the costumes, accessories, shoes, and supplies you’ll need—here are just a few others I think are really important and will help you make the most of your adrenaline-filled dance experience!

1.  DO ensure that you are physically prepared for the competition day or weekend. Dance competitions, especially in recent years, have become virtual dance marathons. Depending on the competition’s location in the country and when it falls during the competition season, you may be in for a pleasantly short afternoon or a full three day weekend that you’ll be spending on the run from six a.m. to after midnight! Throw travel and packing time and maybe a hotel stay into the mix, and you might have yourself the recipe for extreme exhaustion if you’re not prepared. In order to get the most out of the competition experience—and of course to dance your best!—you’ll want to be well-rested. Depending upon the circumstances, it might be worth taking a day off from work or school. Unless a student has a hugely important test or other commitment, they are likely to one day look back on that competition as a more rewarding experience than one ordinary school day.

2.  DO be friendly and gracious to other dancers and teachers and try to make new friends. Since many competitions these days employ a system of adjudicated scoring, where your award is determined by your score rather than your rank amongst the other competitors. With the exception of titlist categories, dancers are essentially competing against themselves, not each other. This means that there is no reason to wish ill on another dancer and I’ve never felt that there is a need for a cut-throat and tense attitude toward competing. If you see another dancer do exceptionally well, or someone in your category has an awesome costume, or you notice a teacher who seems especially gifted at choreography, go right up and tell them! Don’t be shy; most dancers and teachers will feel wonderfully flattered to receive a compliment from a peer. You may even take the chance to get their name and become friends on Facebook! This is a great way to develop a network of dance friends. And, since dance is such a small world, you never know when you might end up in a professional relationship with that new friend!

3.  DO be respectful of the judges. As obvious as this one sounds, some dancers and audience members forget that the judges are the ones who decide your fate! Never walk in front of the judges’ table nor sit directly behind them. They need privacy and concentration to do their jobs. If they happen to be the ones passing out the trophies at the awards ceremony, always say “thank you.” Do not question their decisions or directly approach them. Judges are qualified professionals and they are not “out” to be unfair to anyone. Another important tip: judges may be working very long days with very few breaks. If there is a line at the restroom, it’s in everybody’s best interest to let the judges cut to the front of the line. Since the competition can’t begin again until the judges are seated, you won’t want to further delay them. Remember, you don’t want to be remembered as rude by someone who will ultimately determine your score!

4.  [For Teachers!] DO examine the judges’ critiques and score sheets BEFORE sharing them with the dancers. While I and the other judges I know are very positive in their critiques and  do their very best to offer constructive and helpful criticism and advice, some critiques may be more blunt than others. I have heard stories of some that have been outright insulting. Although these occasions are a supreme rarity, teachers will not want to risk their students hearing a hurtful or inappropriate critique. Just to be safe, listen to the critiques and examine the score sheets before sharing them with anyone else. Use your best judgment to determine if a certain criticism may hurt a dancer’s feelings. While honest advice is invaluable to a growing dancer, damaging his or her self-esteem does not accomplish a thing. Don’t hesitate to contact the competition director if you receive a critique that you feel is cruelly harsh or inappropriate. The director will likely thank you for bringing the issue to their attention.

5.  DO make the most of the opportunity to compete. While it’s easy and understandable to get all wrapped up in the stresses and logistics of competitive dance, I think it’s so important to remind yourself to once in a while take a moment to marvel at this unbelievable opportunity. You get the chance to dance before a huge audience, surrounded by dancers, teachers, dance parents, and dance fans. You have the opportunity to be surrounded by people for whom dance is also their whole world! Plus, you have the chance to improve your dancing by listening to critiques by dedicated dance professionals. We are so lucky to have these opportunities! Make sure to take time to enjoy yourself and to reflect on the ways your life can be enriched by competition! Smile!

I hope you enjoyed reading these suggestions and I wish you the best of luck this competition season! Feel free to post your own competition DO’s and share your experiences with us!

Coming tomorrow: “Five Competition DON’T’S’.” Stay tuned!


About Jesse Katen

Jesse Katen is a professor, dance studio owner, and competition judge who lives in Binghamton, New York. In 2004, he opened his studio, The Jesse Katen School of Dance, which is in Windsor, NY. He travels extensively throughout the United States as a guest teacher and professional competition judge. In 2016, he was awarded the Industry Dance Award for Outstanding Judge by the Association of Dance Conventions & Competitions at their annual gala in Las Vegas. He also teaches in the English department at SUNY Broome Community College. Jesse's professional and volunteer work focuses on education, dance, literacy, and the arts. Check out the WBNG-TV news feature on Jesse: This blog by Jesse Katen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

Posted on November 10, 2011, in Dance, Dance technique, Performances, Teaching Dance and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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