Five Competition DON’T’S

As promised, here are my five DON’T’S! This is not meant to be an exhaustive guide to the competition world, but here are some suggestions that might not be as common as you’d think.


1. DON’T enter the competition with a “Winning is Everything” philosophy or with defined expectations or hopes. Walk into the competition site confident and excited. There is nothing wrong with hoping to do well, in fact that’s the best attitude to take with you. You never know who else is going to be there to compete and you have no idea what the judges’ preferences or thoughts are going to be. In addition, being intent on “beating” someone else leads to an atmosphere of tension and resentment. Instead, try to beat your own best score from a previous competition or, even better, consider this a chance to land that perfect pirouette you’ve been working so hard on all year.

2.  DON’T resort to “cram rehearsing.” Whether in a ballroom, school, or theater, wherever a dance competition is being held, you will notice corridors and dressing rooms doubling as rehearsal space for last-minute run-throughs of routines. Unless the routine was learned at the very last minute and is in definite need of repeated drilling for the sole purpose of cramming the dancers’ heads with choreography so that they don’t forget it on stage, backstage rehearsing really shouldn’t be necessary after months of intense preparation. Plus, I’ve found such “cram rehearsal” to actually be more anxiety-inducing in the dancers than anything. They are forced to perform their dance in an awkward public space, with no real room to do serious leaps or extended combinations, plenty of distractions, and many times, there is no music other than the teacher’s counts. Spend that time instead stretching, focusing, and envisioning a flawless performance. Maybe try a few pirouettes or fouettés to feel warmed-up, comfortable and confident. Aside from all that, rehearsing in hallways proves to be an inconvenience to fellow competitors who have to walk around you.

3.  DON’T run off stage if something goes wrong! Crises happen on stage. It’s a fact of life. However, you can turn any crisis into a unique and powerful opportunity to prove yourself to the judges depending on how you handle it. No matter if you totally blank and forget your dance, or part of your costume falls off, or even if you fall off the stage and land face-to-face with the judges (I saw it happen once!), always remember the old adage, “The show must go on.” Just keep going. Smile big, perform your routine with genuine enthusiasm, and tell your audience, “I don’t care that something went wrong, I’m having the time of my life! I love dance!” You just turned your potential tragedy into a MAJOR triumph! Not only will the judges probably forgive the flaw, but they may even reward you for your professionalism and bravery. I’ve seen it happen countless times. The worst thing you can do is just run offstage. Some competitions will not offer you a second chance, and even if they do, judges may refuse to re-score your performance.

4.  DON’T litter the stage with debris if you can at all avoid it. While some errant feathers and sequins will unavoidably find themselves on the floor of the stage, you should resist intentionally making any mess on stage, even if you plan to clean it up after your performance. Not only does that clean-up time delay the competition, but any residual liquid, glitter, rice, etc. poses a danger to others, especially the dancer who must go on next. Remember, the judges are professionals who are going to be impressed with your technique, ability, and stage presence. While you may think “throwing a fistful of glitter in the air” may be beautiful, or you that it would be awesome to re-enact the Flashdance water-chain moment, the judges are looking to be impressed by your DANCING. Save the cool special effects for recital.

5.  DON’T freak or flip out! We all know how stressful the competition season can be. With so many details to worry about, the possibility of things going wrong and people ending up not in the best of moods is inevitable. However, a mere snafu doesn’t need to provoke a dramatic meltdown. Remember, there is a solution to every problem, but you’re not going to find it if you panic or lose control of your emotions. Dance is a dignified artform and if you allow yourself to slip into an angry, explosive state, nothing will get accomplished and you will be setting a bad example for the young people around you. Stay in control, stay pleasant, and work through any issues like a professional. This goes for dancers, parents, and teachers.

Consider some of these suggestions and if you agree, make them a part of your studio’s culture at competitions. Remember, dance competitions should be educational, positive, and productive experiences! Make the most of them! Best of luck this competition season!


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 11, 2011, in Dance, Dance technique, Performances, Teaching Dance, Uncategorized and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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