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Questions about dance competitions


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I'm a teacher, and our London based dance school would like to start doing competitions but would like some advice on where to start. Any good local competitions to start with? Are solos or group dances better to begin with? Are there criteria for each style/age group? Any other advice for starting out? 


We currently have some very talented children with strong technique up to age 14 in all genres.


Thanks so much in advance! 

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As purely a mum of competition dancer, I have no idea about finding dance comps etc.  


I know that the ones we do,  are usually linked to the exam board that DDs dance school are affliated with. Maybe you could ask some local dance teachers for recommendations of comps? I think comps have listed criteria of length and type of music,  but as DDs teacher arranges that,  I don't actually know! 


Personally, when DD started, she liked doing duets, as she had someone to dance with! 

I think a group dance gives security, but then,  you need everyone to be available for the competition! 

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The All England website gives a good list of well-established dance festivals. It’s normally here (https://www.all-england-dance.org.uk/nominated-festivals) but is being updated to allow for changes due to Covid-related cancellations this year. The website also has information about rules that are followed at all the linked festivals, including time limits for dances depending on the number of dances, age etc.

Groups are fun, and a nice introduction for dancers new to festivals, but more difficult to arrange rehearsals. Trios and quartets are easier from this point of view. Solos require more confidence, but the dancer can practice at home more easily.

If there is a festival relatively near to you, going to watch will give you an idea of how it runs and the standard at each age group. They are great fun and build confidence and performance skills as well as giving students a chance to stretch their skills.

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I'm not a teacher, and I am nowhere near London so can't help from that perspective, but  my DD did festivals for many years, so I do have a bit of knowledge.

Each festival should publish its syllabus well in advance and that will tell you the rules around age groups, length of dance, age restrictions on pointe work, props etc etc. Festivals that are affiliated to All England will follow their rules but there are plenty that aren't and sometimes rules are subtly different so its always worth carefully checking each time.

I always advise parents who are thinking of starting festivals to start out by watching a few to see if its its something they are sure they want to get into, as it can end up a lot of time, expense and work for both the dancers and the parents. I guess the same applies to teachers!

Whilst the big, All England qualifying festivals tend to be the highest standard and often have the best adjudicators, I would give serious consideration to starting off with some smaller local festivals if possible. That would give you, your dancers, and their parents the opportunity to find their feet a bit more, rather than jumping straight in at the deep end. Doing your first festival somewhere where there are 35 dancers in the section and the other 34 are confident, experienced competitors could be a very daunting experience for a young person. Some festivals have Novice and Open sections. The Novice sections are often restricted to dancers who have not been placed in the top 3 at a previous festival (though the rules do vary, so be sure to check!) so they are ideal for new starters as often give a confidence boost.

The genres available also vary but broadly speaking there are the Classical genres which are ballet, character,national, and sometimes classical greek, and the Cabaret classes - tap, modern and song & dance. Some also have a separate lyrical modern section, contemporary and acro, and there are sometimes sections for the dancers own choreography and impromptu. I've probably forgotten some too! Then there are duets, trios and troupes often split into broader age groups and categories than the solo classes eg it might be classical duets which would have duos from any of the classical genres competing against each other.

Personally I would suggest duets/trios or solos as a starter, and don't enter each dancer for more than a couple of dances initially. There is a special stress that only the parents of dancers who have had 10 solos, 4 duets, 3 trios and 3 groups in one festival know about and you really need to build up to it! 😁

Groups might seem attractive as the dancers are not on their own, but as others have said they are a huge amount of work for all concerned and have their own pressures. My DD used to find groups the most stressful, partly because if you mess up your solo, its only you that's affected, but in a group, you feel like you've let all your friends down. Also, if something goes wrong in a solo it can be disguised, whereas that's very hard in a group. My DD won the ballet championship at quite a big festival once doing a dance that bore absolutely no resemblance to what her teacher had choreographed. She went completely blank when the music started so she just improvised! Obviously you can't do that in a group.The other stress with groups is that there seems to be continual rechoreographing as people come and go, often last minute if someone is ill or suddenly decides to go on holiday 2 days before the festival.🙀 If you have a group already suitable, say from a show, and you have a group of very committed dancers and parents, then it might be ok as a starter, but otherwise I would leave it until you have a core group of dancers who are established in festivals.

Also, you get all kinds of shapes and sizes of stages at different festivals and adapting the dance to the space on the hoof (literally!) can be very difficult. Dancers get better at that with experience and it is easier to develop that skill in a solo or duet than in a group. My DDs old teacher used to hire the theatre where our local festival was held for an evening a week or two beforehand. It was great for first timers or those with new dances to have a few run throughs on the actual stage so if you can do that it is worth considering. 

OK, I think I've rambled on a bit! There are pros and cons to festivals but overall we had very positive experiences and made lots of friends. DD learned a lot - life lessons as much as dance lessons-and I'm glad she had that opportunity. Good luck!

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follow your dreams , ultimate dance showcase , british ballet grand prix, scottish youth ballet grand prix are ones i have found along with above ones

the below FB group seems to advertise  comps aswell .....

coming from an oz perspective dance comps here are massive and go from commercial to strict ballet board RAD/ceccheti  ones  plus we get YAGP comps coming here now  . You can do a dance comp every weekend if you wanted to here ! 

A lot of schools will do groups  ( by age ) at several local comps    and then maybe a few kids from each year will do solos or duets in various genres  . We started in groups  then moved into solos aswell and now just left groups as not enough hours in the day . We love comps  but they must be taken  with a pinch of salt at times  wrt results and not take over from solid claswork we have noted over the years   . What they do do is give stage time-confidence/organisation /resiliance  i have found for my child in  the solo world   ...however they empty your wallet aswell wrt extra lessons/privates /choreo -costumes-days off work -travel etc etc .😂

Our school does groups with weekly rehearsals and holiday blocks that must be commited to  for at least 4 months of year . We had great times in groups as a lot of fun for kids x

Dance Festivals and Competitions in the UK

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 As a parent of a DD that competed from aged 7, with her first Dance World Cup gold medal at that age in a group dance from our small past-time school in out town, we discovered that it focused attention in many different ways. The teachers gained students who concentrated better at technique classes , applying this to the competition choreographies, the school gained more money from extra classes, parents became important to the team for their sewing skills, media skills- photgraphy, filming, writing copy for publications or social media, connections to potential sponsors-corporate or fund-raising initiatives. The fund-raisers usually involved some sort of presentation of the works to be performed, so extra performance time is gained in all sorts of spaces, schools,town squares, hotels, social clubs, garden parties, you name it . Try  being aged  8 doing a solo ballet with three grande jetés in the chorepgraphy diagonal and deciding that the 3 metre quare space won't let you do more than 3 chenées and just getting on with it without instruction from your teacher. Believe you me they are prepared for anything. The kids get used to putting on a show, quickly lose nerves, gain confidence,  so by the time they hit a linoleumed stage  10m x 12m it is a piece of cake.

Anyway the upshot is our school ended up with a higer that average number of kids moving into full time vocational dance education, including my daughter. And the school still regularly brings the house down at Dance World Cup Finals, representing their country .  


As for me, with all that I learned as a supporter of the competition project at our school, I ended up not just being a dance mum, taxidriver, seamstress and fundraiser, but an integral part of the volunteer team backstage of Dance World Cup Finals since 2014, and now organiser of Algarve Dance Open, and volunteer for Viva Dança Convention.  My older daughter who danced but not as competetively as the DD is also now a competant stage manager and also on the DWC team.  Consequently, we have friends all over the world through the experience, and have  visited some very interesting  places. The adrenaline rush of contributing to the general energy of such events is addictive. I still can't get enough of watching all of these kids do their stuff and the sheer brilliance of you teachers and your imaginations. I am missing this year's event. 


It is a great way for you to build your school, build your pupils confidence, and introduce them to other opportunities and motivate supportive parents.It can wake up the dreamers. I always say that the dancers and teachers can learn almost as much from watching the efforts of others as doing their own dances. It is important to learn that you can be a big fish in a little pond but a small fish in a big pond. The medals not won are as important as the tropies on the shelf. 

Try some of the smaller competitions first. Indeed there are even some small  online competitions at present, and this format will probable continue for some time. So sign up to view some for levels and style. Check out the rules closely for each...ages. classes, make sure you can clearly define in the rules what you understand contemporary is from modern or lyrical. Jazz from Showdance etc. Ballet variations from Free Ballet, Neoclassical from Modern Ballet etc.  In order that dancers are not penalised by being in the wrong category. We frequently have teachers trying to sneak contemporay into lyrical because in our country contemporay has many more entries so chances of medals fall, or try putting good students doing neoclassical/ Free ballet in pointe shoe into the lyrical class  just to pick up another medal. The judges  will often mark down on technique or artistic for not being adequate for the style, whilst being quite obviously a strong dancer.It can cause great disappointment for teacher, student and parents. So be advised. Time limits too are to be observed because of penalties.

 Bad language in Hip Hop , Urban classes in any language will result in disqualification, so in DWC foreign teachers will not always be atuned to inappropriate English if they are not fluent in the full range of Anglo-Saxon expletives or the modern American slang.Listen very carefully and choose the clean version.


In Algarve Dance Open, we expect very strong Ballet and Contemporary classes from some excellent school, national and international, so we try to chose specialist international judges in these because medals will be divided often by less than one mark. and different ones  each year that have NO previous links to any school participating, and then specialist judges for the jazz MT styles. Many winners have been offered scholarships for vocational schools or prestigious summer schools by these judges.Notes and judges comments are passed on to the teachers. We try to arrange that the judges give  workshop classes included in the entry fee, and videos and photos useful to build portfolios, media release to newspapers, potential sponsors for schools dancers, school websites . We try to choose accessible locations with good transport links, raod , rail, air, and accommdation for all budgets. Catering services with healthy meal options and pre-ordered packed lunches for school parties accompanied by teachers only. Compact days of varied classes carefully timed so as not to run late , attention to individual costume changes in schedule when advised by teacher, an early gala to allow for transport back to home in time for school on Monday. Little extra things: one  we tried, was a small improvisation competition between sections and it proved popular, with unusual winners. One minute of completely blind- choice  current music,: Line on stage of entrants, one  steps forward, hears music , moves, any style, any shoe, any costume, then back into the line.  Just a fun section but full of spontaneous surprises and such a united admiration of all the audience with school loyalties completely forgotten .

We have tried to apply all the positive experiences that we as parents and DD's liked from the experiences we had in the past, and avoid the negatives. From feedback, we seem to be doing more things right than wrong  and our judging panel independence is valued by the experienced teachers as it gives a sharp and accurate evaluation for preparation for even bigger international events. Sometimes the judges, previously new to the scene here, maintain contacts with us and return to teach workshops or auditions later, or continue to offer more scholarships knowing that the standards warrant it. So its a win, win situation not just for the students.

So there you go, right now you want to dip your toe in the water to try competitions but who knows if you or one of your parents will be running them in the future? So all that remains is to say, good luck to you and yours on another of life's  great adventures. 


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Just a mum here! But festival/comp experienced. Start small and with solos/duets/trios at most. The largest stress in our school is group dances- trying to organise rehearsals, people being ill, sorting and paying for matching costumes etc. Our school is v experienced at comps but this is THE hardest thing. You need dancers and parents that are invested in it and put it ahead of other hobbies/commitments otherwise a group dance will never work.


Look at the All England dance website- you’ll find info on the affiliated festivals on there. They move around with say a festival being a ‘qualifier’ one year but not the next. 

check out Instagram and websites of dance schools in your area- most will have pics of dancers at the festivals they go to so you can start to look at the info for those and build a list of possibles that way

most importantly you need to be open with parents especially if they are new to it. It is a massive time commitment. Festivals are usually in half term/school hols (fine if it’s a solo dance and dancers away but not if you suddenly have a dancer short in a duet or trio because they’ve gone on hols). Entry to the comps are usually reasonably cheap but you have hours of rehearsals to pay for not to mention costumes (tutus are upward of £130 new) and shoes etc.


it is incredibly rewarding to do if you go ahead though- so good luck!

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Just a note in defence of group numbers. From a teacher's point of view they may possibly be preferable to doing solos etc depending on how many children you are thinking of involving. If you have, say, 15 students that you think would benefit from competitions and you give them all solos then that is 15 pieces of music to find, 15 costumes to source and 15 numbers to choreograph, teach and clean. Whereas you could do 2 or 3 group numbers and every student is involved in 2 or 3 dances rather than just the one solo. Also, and this is especially the case with festivals, if you have lots of solos and want to support and watch your students competing then you may find your entire half term is taken up with it as each child is on a different day at different times. Whereas with a group you may just have to do one day, plus all the children and parents are there together so there is more of a social and supportive aspect to it too.

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On 16/07/2020 at 10:04, PJW said:

you could do 2 or 3 group numbers and every student is involved in 2 or 3 dances rather than just the one solo.

Personally  I agree with this approach for the start.

It allows equal access to as many as possible, and from that initial investment in time and commitment, from which you will see those that become the natural leaders  that can be soloists in a set group piece or soloists in  independent works. It builds team work , unlike exam work which works towards individual goals, and that can be between same year groups or vertically with little ones incorporated into pieces with older ones and then watch them evolve faster as the older ones lead and encourage( Some of the greatest pieces  I have ever seen at  DWC have had aged 4 yrs working with 20+'s in Senior acro ,flying through the air ito the arms of safe catchers.)


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