The following is a guest post written for Dance Outlook by one of my favorite bloggers, Sharon from Tutus And Tap Shoes.
As a competitive dance teacher in Southern California for the last ten years, I have seen it all, from insanely intense stage moms to teachers throwing fits backstage. It’s a weird world, I tell you, and one that is hard to swallow from the outside.
Right now, Southern California is really leading the industry. I thought I’d give a little breakdown on what it’s like here, to give some perspective to readers elsewhere.
Most competition kids in Southern California take about 12-16 hours a week to even hold a candle in the competitive world. Half of it is technique, half of it is choreography. At our studio, most dancers perform at least 10 routines, and maybe 6 solos, duos, trios. Even the little ones. So at any given competition, a seven-year-old might be performing 16 different dances.
When I used to compete, there wasn’t a huge commitment to technique. It was more about showmanship and entertaining the audience. This was about 15 years ago. In the last seven years or so, the industry has really moved toward tricks, which is good and bad. On one hand, kids are getting amazing technique and are able to perform quadruple pirouettes and double leg spins at seven years old. On the other hand, creativity and “thinking outside of the box” is getting pushed to the back burner, to make way for how many pirouettes, fouettes and layouts we can fit inside a three-minute routine. So I’m hoping the industry will soon find some kind of middle ground, between incredible technique but also exciting, fresh choreography. Right now, a lot of stuff just looks the same, like teachers just take the same routine but put it to different music, without regard to the FEEL of the piece. That is totally, utterly annoying.
Competition isn’t cheap. The average costume runs about $250-300…now times that by 13 dances. Yeah. I’m telling you, I’ve seen parents mortgage houses over dance. It’s nutty. A lot of kids, just to be contenders, take three technique privates a week on top of their choreography privates and class fees. At $30 a half hour, the bill runs up quick. So to a certain extent, it’s kind of sad, because the more privileged kids are able to take more technique and privates, causing this huge gap between kids who aren’t able to afford it.
There are a lot of things to love about competition. If it’s done right, it can really make a dancer appreciate teamwork, discipline and the benefits of hard work. Often, it can teach a dancer how to lose gracefully, and how to pick herself up after she falls. It’s a humbling experience, and a satisfying one, and also a grueling one.
If it’s done wrong, it can turn a dancer into an egotistical, temper-throwing, self-absorbed witch. Seriously. It all boils down to parent’s attitudes, and also to how a studio approaches competition. Do they cater to the “good kids” by letting them (and their parents) run the show, or do they keep everything in perspective? The other drawback is that sometimes, kids don’t necessarily love to DANCE because they are so focused on WINNING. And once the winning stops â€“ and inevitably, it does â€“ they don’t know how to relate to something they were so once so passionate about.