The competition stage is consistently invaded by dancers who seem unchallenged and underutilized in order to create clean, winning pieces. When I'm an audience member I'm constantly expressing "Wow, that was really clean....but there was no vocabulary in that routine, they didn't do anything, they're not even out of breath…" Other times I’m left completely offended by what choreographers are trying to pass off as “jazz, ballet, or hip hop” these days. The problem is, at competition, when these dances take the cake, this misguided pattern is, more often than not, reinforced and supported by the dancers and parents who don't know any different, using awards to gauge whether or not they’re getting the training they need.
It‘s a full time job for me to keep our dancers confident in the fact that it‘s ok not to win at competition because our focus is on training, not rehearsing dances. The ridiculous social hierarchy that competitions create in our schools makes it hard to keep young dancers invested in their futures rather than the here and now. Because of this, Sweatshop teachers feel a heightened sense of responsibility and urgency to make sure every single one of our dancers is being well-trained above and beyond anything else. We hope that channeling our passions directly to the kids in their classes rubs off and they are more than satisfied to come in second place at competition knowing that, in return, they’ll have a better chance to succeed as young professionals. Since the rehearsal of our routines takes a back seat to all else, it’s almost a guarantee that we won’t always “win” over the studios who spend the majority of their class time rehearsing. However, in this day and age, I feel that every dancer needs to be pushed to his or her limits throughout their training years in order to have any shot of really making it in the dance world. The dancers of today have to have stamina, performance quality, fire under pressure, technical execution of the widest range of vocabulary as possible, and consistency. Rehearsing routines helps with some of this, but quality class time helps all of it. The dance world is saturated with amazing individual dancers coming together in professional productions as companies, the vast majority of whom are individuals who received the best training possible and never competed in dance competitions. Other than providing performance opportunities and opening their eyes to the world outside their studio, the competition trends of today don’t do much to help the dancers of tomorrow, diversity in quality training does.
From someone who has seen and lived, obviously, more dance than the average person, it's easy for me to see that, as of late, competitions are won or lost based on the use of a series of formulas to ensure the following criteria: the cleaner- the better, the more distracting the costumes - the better, the more obvious the story - the better, the more props and gimmicks - the better. It's funny to me, what that means to me is "the least amount of dancing - the better". A current trend has choreographers placing twenty dancers on stage to dance back-up for a soloist who, alone, executes all of the real dancing. I suppose from a completely competitive standpoint I understand the thought process; only one dancer has the opportunity to screw it up and, if and when he/she does, nobody knows it. The core dancers' movement is so simple the dance is excessively easy to clean, so the overall appearance is good which, in turn, has a lot to do with a dance being successful at competition. These formulas consistently work to win competitions, but fall short when it comes down to fulfilling our obligation to all of our dancers and parents (who give up their lives for us) to give them the opportunity to become the best individuals they can possibly be.
I suppose that, in some ways, dancing back up to a soloist is very realistic in terms of what a dancer can expect when they become a professional. Here's the caveat - these kids aren't professionals yet! At this stage in their lives, as dance educators we’re supposed to be giving all of them the opportunity to be all they can be, aren't we? I wouldn't be able to sleep at night
knowing that I'd only given one dancer an opportunity to actually shine, allowing everyone else to work below their potential in an effort to showcase the soloist and my studio. We are constantly striving to provide each dancer with as many opportunities and challenges as possible. Only then does the studio operate as a true team of individuals. And yes, the kids need to learn to “take one for the team”, but they also need to be trained to be frontrunners and leaders. If we don’t do all of this for every single dancer, we’re failing in our mission and obligation to them.
To sum it up, as professionals, allowing our clients to think that competition wins are indicative of becoming successful professional dancers and individuals is just plain irresponsible. Do you think a Broadway producer cared how many times I won at competition? Heck no! Now, as a studio owner, I understand why. True story: I got a teacher resume in the mail two weeks ago, in the "experience" column the individual had a lengthy list of her competition wins and titles. I couldn't help but chuckle as I put the completely subjective list of experience through the shredder.
A lifetime in dance is a lifetime of auditions - a dancer isn't measured by what they have done, but what they can do. At Sweatshop, our dancers will constantly be expanding their horizons so they have the best opportunity to succeed we, as the strongest team of dance professionals around, can provide them. Sweatshop knows that true dance is never about