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Ballet Competitions - Races that can never be won?


Ian Macmillan
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From this morning's Links - a reflection by former Australian Ballet dancer Annie Carroll as she looks back on her days in competitions (eisteddfods) down-under against the reality of stage performance:

 

http://dancelines.com.au/elusive-position-ballet-race-won/

 

I doubt that they will stop happening any day soon, but her thoughts are worthy of consideration.

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Competitions etc are fine for those kids who want to do them...if they are that keen then so be it...but I'm sure they re not absolutely essential for a successful ballet career.

 

 

Well no I am sure Michael Phelps hasn't experienced having to find the level of artistry required for ballet in his swimming performances

But nevertheless there is a certain amount of artistry in perfecting and refining the swimming strokes to such winning levels and as in ballet physique is also very important....just different ones!!

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I did competitions in England throughout my childhood and I adored them. I really think that it is the child's attitude towards them, together with sensible parenting that makes the difference. I adored them because they gave me the opportunity to dance on stage - as simple as that! I didn't particularly enjoy standing on stage at the end waiting to hear if I had won a place or not, but performing - that was my whole life. I was really quite shy off stage, but ON - that was a different matter altogether! We did solos in everything - ballet, demi-charactere, national, greek, modern, song and dance, plus duets and groups and troupes in ballet, modern and national. I honed my craft on those competition stages. I learned how to work together with other dancers and to have the confidence to get up on stage alone and perform. I learnt that you have to work hard and practise hard to get anywhere and I became very versatile as a dancer and performer. Sometimes I came first and sometimes I placed amongst the top and sometimes I didn't - I understood that not every performance turned out perfectly, but that was life - it was OK to flop, but if you did you had to learn to "pick yourself up, dust yourself down and start all over again" Maybe things have changed in the 50 years since I last did a competition, but dancing is a PERFORMING art - it is not enough to have fantastic technique, what makes a dancer special is his/her dance quality, musicality and presentation and to get that you need to perform.

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Agreed you need to get performance experience but you dont necessarily need to do this via competitions....Or at least not competitions all throughout ones childhood. However if you enjoyed them that's really the main thing isn't it? You were happy and probably gave a lot of pleasure to a lot of people.....Horses for courses as they say!!

But not everyone is cut out for them not even aspiring dancers! Some people are born competitors whether ballet or something sporty.

 

At some point all dancers are going to have to face judgement of some kind though......to get into a school/company etc and of course if lucky perform to an audience who have paid to come and see them!!

Just some people cope with this better when they're a bit older.

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I think the teacher's input in these situations is crucial as in a way they need to mentor students through the process. Sometimes too much weight is placed on the importance of these competitions within schools to the extent that the dancers lose out on other things.

Dance competitions will always be there, the challenge is how can these be used by students and schools to enhance experience and learning.

The motive and approach of the teacher and sometimes parent seem to me to be key contributing factors to making this an enhancing and enriching experience.

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I think what was good about the school that I went to was that all competition work was separate from our regular classes, so we still had our usual morning ballet class and regular afternoon dance classes, however, because it was an arts day school, we had the time to do performance rehearsals as an extra and of course we had privates for the solos and duets.  We also only took part in a few competitions, such as the All England, spread out throughout the year, additionally, as our competition dances were of such a high standard, we were often invited to perform them in various concerts as well. 

 

I certainly do not agree with teachers spending all their time on competition choreography and rehearsals at the expense of proper technique classes, nor to the practise that I have seen in the States of travelling long distances to a different comp every week.  I was very fortunate that I was able to have the best of both worlds, technique and performing opportunities, 

Edited by Dance*is*life
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I agree with you Dance is life! I loved the comps because it gave you the chance to perform. We had a great experience making friends with students from other schools, we all grew up together. I still relish the time when I beat David Yow in one section, there was no animosity between us we were all there for the sheer joy of getting up on stage and dancing. It was never at the expence of exams, they were the first and foremost but oh what fun we had!

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Wow Dramascientist - that was quite an achievement!!!   I have never forgotten entering for the modern cup they introduced in the early 1960's.  Our teacher got Ben Stevenson, then with Festival Ballet, who was just starting on his choreographic career, to compose dances for five of us.  I had a super dance - very different - and the judges voted me runner-up. However, the winner was an outstanding boy, Tony Kemp, who became quite famous, and they obviously felt that none of the girls had a chance against him, so they made me a miniature duplicate cup as compensation, which I still have.   So many nice memories.........

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I think the key to a getting the most from an Eisteddfod competition is having a 'well grounded' dancer and parent combination.  It depends completely on how the competition is approached.

 

If the importance is placed only on the win then this not only makes failure inevitable for a large percentage of each dance section but they also fail to benefit from the other positive factors which are there to be experienced.

 

A win is fantastic but if errors were still made and perhaps the level of the age group is a little lower than at other competition then is it something to be overly proud of?  Sometimes another placing or even a mention on stage can mean even more if its a dance style which is found more difficult or a new dance with choreography which is out of a comfort zone.  There are so many other areas which are a great learning experiences and the friendships my daughter has made with dancers across the UK are very important to her.  

 

It is lovely to see a group of girls compete on stage very competitively and then sit in the dressing room laughing and chatting together.  Children have so few opportunities to be competitive nowadays - its a very realistic approach to dance - not every audience member will appreciate the same dancers qualities - we all walk away from a performance with a difference of opinion.  Nobody is wrong just being individuals - adjudicators are just the same.  Often they will say "another day it would be a different placing as the standard is very high, its my personal preference".  Enjoy the glory whilst it lasts :-)

I think the article makes a good point in that having experience performance is vital in promoting confidence, its very different from dancing exceptionally well at the barre.  Yes some of these festivals are badly run, have poor facilities, adjudicators have strong 'favorites' and/or a group of 'overly enthusiastic Dance Moms'!  Surviving these is part of the challenge ;-)   

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It's all a matter of balance in my opinion. My DD has danced competitively in festivals for a decade and she has got a lot out of it. Some of the things she has learned have benefited her dancing. She is very confident on stage, she has learned to cope with mishaps such as props/costumes/music malfunctioning and she has had a fair bit of useful feedback from adjudicators over the years. She's also learned a lot about life. How to be gracious in both victory and defeat, that life isn't always fair but yiu have to get on with it, and that people aren't always nice but you need to rise above it. There's also lots to learn about team work, the need to be reliable and so on.Plus there can be a lovely social aspect, which is one of the things my DD likes best.

It's true that there are down sides to festivals. Not all adjudicators are terribly good and the best dancers certainly don't always win. Some of the mums, children and teachers take it all extremely seriously and can be quite unpleasant sometimes.

But it's up to you whether you get sucked in to all that or not. If you keep a level head and see the festivals as a means to an end, rather than an end in themselves then there is no reason for them to be anything other than positive. The problems arise when people lose sight of the fact that dance is an art form and start to treat it like a sport. If my DD thinks she has danced well and her teacher is pleased with her performance then she is happy. If she wins something it's nice of course, but it's not massively important to her. If she ever says she wants to stop, I won't lose any sleep over the matter, but whilst she is having fun then I am happy to support her.

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I just have to join in ....

though I am trying to keep quiet and get on with the name sewing and packing of uniform etc . ..

that we have enjoyed all aspects of the festivals and All England competition , not just because DS was so successful and it was his first year to get so far, but because of the social aspect , teamwork , and opportunity to perform with other like minded dancers , to meet other boys who love to dance .

Other than at the school shows ,( which is also full of stressed out and over competive mums) , where else do the children that love to be on stage get such an opportunity !!

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My daughter competes regularly with a number of other students from her dance school and thoroughly enjoys it.  They all have a great cameraderie and are happy for each other when they win.  They meet and make friends with lots of children from other dance school and most importantly they get to perform on stage. 

I have seen some beautifully technical dancers who are the most boring to watch as they have no performance skills.  Ballet requires drama and performance as well as technique therefore the chance to perform and hone those skills are vital.

Yes there are the overbearing mums who think that their dc is the best, and there are also the times that you wonder at the adjudicators decision, but that is a fact of life and competition is a great opportunity to teach your child to be gracious in winning and losing, which is a vital life skill.

 

 

Edited for spelling mistakes

Edited by Huddsballetmum
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  • 2 weeks later...

I agree that festivals provide performance experience and that the ability to perform is vital in order to stand out in auditions etc, but I have seen some festival competitors whose performances are affected and mannered. A dancer whose enjoyment and understanding of their dance and of their music is conveyed to the audience is one thing, an overly 'stagey' ballet performance full of toothy grins and obviously 'practised' facial expressions (I privately call these the 'Violet Elizabeth' performers) is quite another. Possibly those dancers who train and compete in various dance styles may be more likely to fall into this category during their ballet performances in terms of crossover from their more 'commercial' dance styles?

 

I have also been surprised that the experienced and successful festival competitors are by no means always the ones who stand out in master classes or summer school performances, although I don't know if this is because they haven't had the coaching to which they are accustomed prior to these performances and therefore lack confidence or whether it is due to the difference between performing as a soloist in festivals and 'catching the eye' when performing with others.

 

A balance between experiencing varying kinds of performance, both as a soloist and otherwise (including exams, which are not only a recognised means by which non-vocational dancers can have the satisfaction of measuring their progress and demonstrating the level at which they are working but can also be seen as an opportunity to perform) and building technique and strength in class work with various teachers if possible (for older dancers) would presumably be the optimum?

Edited by Legseleven
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I agree with Legseleven that there are some very 'strange' and unsuitable performances at times but to be honest its another learning experience for my daughter - of why its not the right thing to do!

 

Its down to the individual to find the right balance for them and learn how to gain from the positives and negatives. :)  For her it offers a chance to show her capabilities to a wider audience and gain some feedback (hopefully constructive ;) ), and put into practise what she learns in the studio, its a huge confidence boost as well.

 

I haven't been to a drama or speech festival - sounds intriguing.

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Certainly a balance is what's needed, BankruptMum and I agree that festivals do provide valuable experience. They are not, however, the only way to develop ballet performance ability and I would have thought that they should take a back seat to the development of technique, strength and artistry through quality ballet tuition. Performing ability can be and should be encouraged and developed during ballet class, both syllabus and otherwise and can be honed by performing as a soloist and with others in festivals, concerts, youth ballet companies, at the end of master classes and summer schools, etc.

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Certainly a balance is what's needed, BankruptMum and I agree that festivals do provide valuable experience. They are not, however, the only way to develop ballet performance ability and I would have thought that they should take a back seat to the development of technique, strength and artistry through quality ballet tuition. Performing ability can be and should be encouraged and developed during ballet class, both syllabus and otherwise and can be honed by performing as a soloist and with others in festivals, concerts, youth ballet companies, at the end of master classes and summer schools, etc.

Absolutely not the only way of gaining artistry but any work performed in the safety of a studio is not the same piece performed before a very critical audience, that's what builds confidence. Any opportunity should be grabbed.

 

Without secure foundations there is no progression regardless of the opportunity.

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It's all a matter of balance in my opinion. My DD has danced competitively in festivals for a decade and she has got a lot out of it. Some of the things she has learned have benefited her dancing. She is very confident on stage, she has learned to cope with mishaps such as props/costumes/music malfunctioning and she has had a fair bit of useful feedback from adjudicators over the years. She's also learned a lot about life. How to be gracious in both victory and defeat, that life isn't always fair but yiu have to get on with it, and that people aren't always nice but you need to rise above it. There's also lots to learn about team work, the need to be reliable and so on.Plus there can be a lovely social aspect, which is one of the things my DD likes best.

It's true that there are down sides to festivals. Not all adjudicators are terribly good and the best dancers certainly don't always win. Some of the mums, children and teachers take it all extremely seriously and can be quite unpleasant sometimes.

But it's up to you whether you get sucked in to all that or not. If you keep a level head and see the festivals as a means to an end, rather than an end in themselves then there is no reason for them to be anything other than positive. The problems arise when people lose sight of the fact that dance is an art form and start to treat it like a sport. If my DD thinks she has danced well and her teacher is pleased with her performance then she is happy. If she wins something it's nice of course, but it's not massively important to her. If she ever says she wants to stop, I won't lose any sleep over the matter, but whilst she is having fun then I am happy to support her.

Absolutely spot on

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