To compete or not compete….that is the question?

Hello dance world.

I am fully aware of how cheesy it is to start a blog or any body of writing with a definition, but I am astounded at how many people have forgotten the meaning of the following word:

COMPETITION

  1. the act of competing; rivalry for supremacy, a prize, etc.:
  2. a contest for some prize, honor, or advantage:
  3. the rivalry offered by a competitor:

I didn’t create the word. I didn’t create the meaning of the word. And I certainly haven’t forgotten what it means. But sadly the dance industry has forgotten what it means to compete and it’s ruining dance for a particular group of dancers: Competitive ones.

These days everything has to be inclusive, easy and fair. I believe it shouldn’t be. I bet there are a bunch of people reading this and now hate me; Thinking that I am a horrible human being. That all children deserve a chance. That they should all be celebrated and given positive reinforcement all the time because that makes them happy. Go on haters and hate me; I have learned that I can’t make everyone happy so I may as well be authentic:) Look, I know what I am saying is a major faux pas but I know personally that others think this way and are often too afraid to express it. When we do, we start second guessing ourselves often thinking: “Am I a bad person if I want to win?”; “Everyone is giving praise when clearly that person doesn’t deserve it. Guess I should too!”; “I/We are really good and have won everything, but if I celebrate I’m not being humble and thats bad.”; “My child isn’t ready for comps but everyone is doing them. I don’t want them to miss out.”; and the list goes on. Essentially we are being guilted in to celebrating mediocrity.

I guess it is now time to write the rest of the blog defending, oh um I mean, explaining what I said. You know, elaborate on my bold and very unpopular statements.

Over my many years of dancing, teaching and parenting I have realised one very simple rule: EVERY SINGLE CHILD IS DIFFERENT FROM THE NEXT. This is the key to making decisions as to what is best for each child. Growing up I liked winning and still do. I like trying to work harder than others; more often I try to work harder for myself. I love setting goals and achieving them. I love getting even the most harsh criticism, which I am sure there will be plenty of after I publish this, and make improvements based in them. And ultimately prefer hard work to leisure and fun. Fun, FOR ME, comes at the end of achievement. What motivated ME to want to strive for excellence was and still is achieving something I know is difficult, challenging and way outside my comfort zone. Being comfortable is actually incredibly uncomfortable for ME. When I am comfortable I feel bad, unmotivated and most importantly less like myself.  THAT IS OK! I AM STILL A GOOD PERSON WHO HELPS OLD LADIES WITH THEIR SHOPPING, PAYS MY TAXES AND LIVES A VERY POSITIVE LIFE. The fact that I need certain things as a person to motive ME means that is ME. There are OTHERS like ME. And its absolutely OK to be LIKE ME. I recognise what I need to be MY best self and seek people, situations, organisations and forums that suit ME. So, my parents found a highly competitive dance school that provided a very challenging dance environment that entered in to highly competitive competitions that competed against others who were and are JUST LIKE ME.

I wonder how many of you are picturing me as a rude mean girl that thought she was the best. If you are, then it is important to educate you on something: WANTING TO WIN AND BEING A JERK ARE NOT THE SAME THING. Not only did I keep my head down when at comps, I worked day and night. I learned, respected and employed the necessary but often boring art of repetition and had a knack for listening, absorbing and applying everything my teacher said. I always said good luck to my competitors, shared a needle and thread, hairspray or even pair of tights with anyone who needed it and always appreciated talent and hard work when I saw it; and guess what? I still conduct myself like his to this day.  Back when I was competing it was very simple: People like me, came to similar venues to achieve similar goals. Not once did you see competitors that were out of their league because teachers, parents and students were self aware (a skill greatly lacking in 2017, in my opinion of course) and I believe most truly understood and respected what competitions were, why they existed, what they entail and what they stood for.

Having said all that, those who do not belong (yes I just said some children do not belong at everything you want them too) at competitions in dance or any type of competition means that they should seek other forums that will help them flourish i.e. end of year concert or school performances. I teach children with autism. Children who are not as physically fit as some. Children who attend OC therapy for a ray of genetic birth defects and not one parent would say I do not excel at teaching them. Just because I am an elite comp teacher does not mean I do not appreciate everyones’ journey. It means that the well being of my students is the absolute top priority. So part of my job is identifying what level a student is at, how they learn best, who should be in their classes, what pace I should be teaching at, how to build confidence and how to provide the RIGHT kind of experience for my students. No I am not going to put a child that dances once a week in a competition no matter how talented their mom thinks they are. That is not enough of an investment in dance to warrant that kind of forum. I also don’t care if a child dances all week but is simply not at competition level. I will not put them in comps. Mentality, outlook, investment, ability and a multitude of other things play in to putting children in competitions.  Some children are not designed for stress whether that is now or at any point in their lives and so for goodness sakes know your students and or child enough not to enter them and find a forum that will suit them.

NOT EVERY EXPERIENCE IS A GOOD EXPERIENCE! Putting a child in a situation to fail miserably without the right mental and physical preparation is borderline child abuse, in my opinion. When 8 year olds are doing triple turns, with incredible facial and musical connection, while executing their routines with skill and poise and your student is doing wiggles and looking at the wing because they forgot their dance 3 times throughout means they shouldn’t be there. This does not help them learn. It is embarrassing. At no point is this making them a better person. If you haven’t asked your students what losing to this magnitude feels like then you should. I often have the gruelling task of un-teaching all the terrible and damaging habits instilled by wannabe or just plain terrible dance teachers and competition teachers. Children who have competed and clearly were not prepared have expressed the following: They knew they were clearly not good; They realised they were unprepared; and for some reason they no longer trusted their teachers and/or parents; because despite what people might think children know so much more than what they would like to give them credit for. They definitely know it is their teacher(s) and parent(s) job to prepare them. And so if you notice children just don’t try in class or take a long time to execute a new step or skill than it may be because they don’t trust you because of situations like this. Children often internalise these experiences and start thinking it’s because they aren’t good enough in general; when in reality no one told them what it means to compete, what they realistically should be doing to have even the slightest chance of looking like they belong there and that it isn’t their fault that they failed it’s the ill prepared comp teacher and uninformed parents fault for not educating them on the reality of life and what competitions should be.  Don’t believe me? Try to get your child or student to be honest……. If you haven’t already drilled in the “this all about having fun” stuff .

I think now is a good time to address the poppy in the room lol!!! Something I have been schooled on a lot here in Australia is “TALL POPPY SYNDROME.” For those of you who do not know it is jealousy with a twist. As you rise up through your profession, sport or hobby many people will try to cut you down so that you are at their level. Let’s say for a second that you are better than me at what I do. You are doing that through hard work, focus, knowledge, time, perseverance, dedication, talent, effort, problem solving, networking, blah, blah, blah. See how none of that had anything to do with me. So why would your achievements bother me or cause me to speak rudely about you, try to make things harder for you or simply devise an evil plan to ruin you or your business? Well I wouldn’t. I love seeing other people who deservingly receive recognition for their achievements. But yet, people continually and without fail make others’ achievements about them. Celebrating hard work, talent and achievement is one of the best parts about competitions. Because, if people didn’t strive for excellence there would be NO PROGRESS. And at no point should a person achieving in their life apologise for how that achievement is making OTHERS FEEL!!! And this is where the problem lies. If someone wins then someone else has to lose in order for this to happen. Your job as the loser is to learn from the winner, not cut them down, get upset that its not fair or be celebrated also. Everyone in that comp is there for their chance to be the one complimented, celebrated and rewarded for their  hard work. If this process bothers you then why in the world are you attending competitions. It is clear that they are not for YOU! And ultimately if anyone is trying to diminish those who are better than others in order to make themselves feel better than that means that they are the ones with the issues. Losers who are self aware do one of two things when they lose: 1) Learn everything they possibly can and improve themselves for the next competition; or 2) realise that they are not meant to compete in this particular sport or in some cases not at all. I have lost so many times I can’t count. I have failed so many times that I honestly think its a daily occurrence. And since I was raised to be self aware I recognised my competitiveness and learn from every single person who was, is and will be better than me in order to be my best self.

So the reason for my post is that I am seeing a multitude of children who are lacking any real motivation because those who are just like me aren’t being provided any forums that NURTURE THEIR COMPETITIVENESS. It’s all about making sure everyone is celebrated. Then let me ask you, if a person at your work sat on the floor in front of your office colouring all day for the exact same pay as you while you busted your hump day in and day out would you still be motivated to work hard? ABSOLUTELY NOT. This is no different. And for those of you who think that we should just be doing it for the love of dance than you are deluded. Having a love for something does not equal output or excellence. Dance teachers, can you count how many times a parent has called you up and told you how much their child loves dance and then you get them in class and they aren’t trying their hardest or willing to miss a party for a very important rehearsal? Too many to count! So we need to give those children who thrive in competitive forums actual competitive forums that provide well earned prizes, comparable rivalry, and a safe place for them to celebrate how they feel best in order to give them what they need to succeed. What are we doing instead: Worrying about those who feel bad about how well someone else is doing!! I am absolutely appalled at how we build up mediocrity and pooh pooh excellence. And whats worse is that when someone wins they are supposed to be quiet and congratulate everyone instead of allowing themselves to revel in their glory. Jumping up and down, getting excited, accepting compliments (something women have been taught not to do since the beginning of time), walking with pride and however else that child would like to celebrate their OWN ACHIEVEMENTS should be accepted and honoured. Not only do we give everyone a prize but we dictate how children should celebrate their achievements so as not to upset someone else. REALLY!! That celebration is about them not you. Are people so insecure that they have to make everything about themselves!! “How dare they dance around like that!!”. “How dare they make noise and celebrate their hard work!!”. “That is making my child who lost feel bad!!”. UGH, giant sigh, absolute annoyance with the world and total and utter confusion as to why someone feels that they have the right to dictate someone else’s behaviour. In my day, when someone else won I watched them and their team scream with joy. I knew why they were doing that. All of their sacrifices (also something people in 2017 so many have no clue about, in my opinion of course) had paid off and it was a release of joy, disbelief and excitement that hard work TRULY PAYS OFF! A message totally and utterly lost these days and it saddens me to no end.

We need to stop pointing fingers at others for our dancers lack of success!

I get it, many of you will openly disagree with my above opinion however this blog really is designed to help so I would like to discuss some of the pros and cons of competing and how to make the best decision for your child and or students.

Pros

* Children learn so much from watching their peers. Its is a necessity for all students wanting to achieve excellence in their sport to attend forums where other students are also striving for excellence. Seeing what is truly possible, feeling the movements from the audience and hearing the feedback from the judges for not just themselves is crucial to creating a well rounded competitor.

* Parents are forced to see their children through other’s eyes. This is a big one. I find some parents really put a damper on elite training because they think their children are amazing and that the sun shines from you know where which means several things:

1. These types of children put a massive strain on the class and often shows attitude which unfortunately affects the outcome of the class for all students in such a negative way. I personally have had a few of these and they make class incredibly unpleasant.

2. The child doesn’t reach their full potential. Believing you have nothing to learn from anyone means you just don’t become the best dancer you can be.

3. They just can’t keep up in the real world. Unfortunately the reality is that these children have been sheltered from the outside world so criticism, real hard work and dance habits that lead to success are all missing. Leaving your comfort zone and venturing out into the big bad world of exams, competitions and auditions often prevents this from happening; Students are ultimately aware of where they stand and are able to rise to the occasion of becoming something great.

Moral of the story …. listen to your teacher. They are teaching your child because they care and if there is a problem its probably true!!

* Parents can see whether they are getting great training where they are. If you are a studio and are claiming to be great than you need to make sure your parents can see what else is out there so they can confirm this and, in turn, have enough information in order to decide what is best for their child. It’s really only when a school has something to hide or claims to be better than they are do they advertise as “serious” but hide their children from the outside world. So parents be weary of this. If you want serious training you’re going to have compete and travel far and wide to judge and compare your training to others.

* Children mingle with other super motivated dancers who have the same goals. This is so nice for the students and parents who make dance a priority because they can meet, learn and become friends with like minded motivated parents and students.

* Hearing other professional opinions is awesome. Dance teachers at times sound like a broken records to their students. When a judge gives them the same correction it helps to affirm your class teachings. How can this be a bad thing!!!! Well it’s not!! Remember students, crit sheets are your friend unless no criticisms are to be found. Watch out for super positive competitions that only praise competitors. What a waste of an entry fee!!!!!!!!!!!  if they are not going to provide me or my students with information that will help me get better than the comp is partly a waste of time.

* With comps come workshops. This experience really is a combination of the previously mentioned points. Take as many as you can from as many teachers as you can. So let me repeat: Take any and all workshops and auditions you can get your hands on. You can bet your peers are!!!!

Alright so I am obviously pro competitions because I am a competitive teacher. However, there are so many situations where comps will have a negative impact on a child.  Let’s talk about the cons:

* Some children are not suited for a dance comp environment. This could mean that their personality type, work ethic, life situation and/or level of dance involvement is not conducive to high stress situations. If they are not living for the stage and are more worried than happy at comp time than you should rethink elite dance and the competition scene.

* Not all comps are made equal. Dance is not as subjective as everyone says. There are long standing dance standards and practices that make it clear as to who the top 3 should be. A competition that understands the difference between genres, does not give out pity prizes, and has clear rules based on tricks are just some if the things you should be looking for when choosing a competition. Trick after trick and yet winning everything UGH….can I get an amen dance teachers! Spreading around prizes is a big no no in my books but is done as a result of greed by the competitions. More students, more studios, more money. This saddens me because it teaches students the wrong message….”it doesn’t matter how hard you work and how good the outcome is, it only matters if its fair”; and thats just it competitions are not supposed to be fair in that way. Sitting in audience after audience thinking “Oh hell no, that did not just win.” You all have thought it. You all have experienced it. And yet no one speaks up about it!

Now before you all say ok we have a sore loser here let’s chat about it. When son first started dancing, and was training in a country town, I brought him to some of the largest dance comps in Australia knowing he would lose. Why would I do that…well because he needed it in order to decide whether he wanted to work harder or try something else. Losing and winning honourably is what I am about. I am his biggest critique and supporter and I work on creating an educated and realistic dance so they know when a win is a proper win; and that losing with pride and honour is equally as important. This means everything.

* Some kids just want too have fun in dance. If this is the case and you use the word fun and dance exclusively than you should under NO CIRCUMSTANCES BE COMPETING IN ANY FORUM OF ANY KIND. You see, losing is not a fun experience. Useful and necessary if your end goal is excellence but not really fun. So in my opinion it’s just a form of torture to make these children go up against others who are training their butts off . These recreational dancers feel inadequate and lose self esteem. Why? Cause they think they are not good enough. I just can’t stress enough how awful these kids feel in this environment; and if they don’t feel awful than it’s fair to say they do not understand the concept of ‘the harder you work the more you get’. They would be given prizes for showing up and as you all know, that is a massive no no in regards to long term behaviour that breeds success. My teaching philosophy includes respecting each child’s journey. I am here to build children up, not tear them down. Some rec student’s could be very capable if they invested themselves in the craft but that’s not where their passion lies so let them enjoy a totally fun experience. One way is not better than the other. They simply have different journeys in dance with totally different intended outcomes. Recitals are a great way to show progress without the pressure of being compared to students who have a different, more intense relationship with dance. I know the saying these days is “it doesn’t matter if you win or lose, just have fun”. That may be the case where fun is the intention but have you ever asked a dancer who trains day in and out if loosing is fun, or the the dancer who has been waiting hours for an audition after travelling hours to get there if they are happy with a fun audition…No of course not. They want to see their hard work pay off and there is nothing fun about losing out on an opportunity. To put it in perspective, imagine a sports caster asking any of the Australian olympic swimmers if they had fun even if they lost……That’s right you wouldn’t ask because it’s an embarrassing question. When a child shakes their head and says “yeah I had a great time” after loosing, I promise you they are lying. Let’s be respectful of the children that want to have fun with dance and give them a loving and nurturing environment that will build them up as people.

* Nastiness. Ok I really did’t experience nastiness in the industry until YouTube teachers entered on to the scene. You see, by not going through the proper channels to become a serious teacher or choreographer they have essentially skipped the stuff that gives dance its best qualities which is discipline and respect; and basically aren’t good at their job. Crappy dances galore with terrible technique and tricks that don’t belong and are brutally executed are in no shortage at comps in 2017.  These days anyone and everyone can teach dance so when a student does really well at a competition against students that, yet again, just don’t belong for many reasons, parents and students start asking questions. The usual response for these teachers is to cover their butts: “That teacher pushes them in the splits”; “That teacher puts their students on diets”; “That teachers is scary and so all the students do what she says.” And the list goes on. They say these things because their own teaching abilities are lacking and so they need to cut others down that are really good at their job. On a side note, I do think this is a major reason why everything has become fun, fun, fun because studios and teachers that did not belong at comps started making the environment very ugly. You know complaining when they lost (always). Lengthy emails to organisers how the judges were unfair exc exc. And instead of educating people as to what they should be doing in order to be successful at comps, they have developed this strange ‘everyone’s amazing’ mentality to combat it. FYI – Wrong approach people. It has simply lowered the overall standard. Yes there are still amazing dancers coming out of these comps but the rest of it is like eating sandpaper…excruciatingly painful.  I remember when every single dance at a comp was enjoyable to watch… Yes folks there was a time when this happened.

To finish this very honest and open blog I think the only way to decide whether comps are right for you is to determine why you are doing them. This will guide you to the right forums. Remember to be respectful to all dancers. I think what has frustrated me the most is hearing the saying “we are not dancing for sheep stations.” Ok….. well …….for some parents they would like to see their investment become a living for their children and these students may one day be dancing to pay their bills. We need to be respectful of these parents too and their process of preparing them to be successful in this industry.

ALL children require different things. So be mindful of their level, experience and goals:)

 

LIVE LOVE DANCE

Published by everythingdancewithashley

Ashley Grottoli is an award winning dancer and choreographer who has helped thousands of students achieve their personal and professional goals. "Teach a dancer tricks and they are impressive on Instagram; Teach a dancer to harness their mind and body’s full potential and they can become anything they want to be" says Ashley.

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