12 Pros and Cons of Competitive Ballet & Dance

In the world of dance, the place of competitions is a contentious issue. Some ballet schools argue that students who focus on competitions learn to be ‘trick ponies’ and their technique suffers as a consequence. Others dance studios argue that competitions offer dancers many opportunities to perform and are important in developing an all-round dancer.

Because of the controversial nature of the topic, I thoroughly investigated both sides of the issue. There were 6 pros and cons on each side that really stuck out to me as being strong cases for why or why not you should allow your child to take part in the competitive world of dance. I hope they help you in working out what is best for you and your child!

Pros Cons
Work in a teamThe focus is in the wrong place
Performance OpportunitiesIt brings out drama
Boradens HorizonsAmplify’s perfectionism
Teaches Grace in Winning or LosingThe costs!
Gain ExposureNot all competitions are equal
It can be a lot of funCommitment – all in or all out!

Pros

Competitive dance can be an enriching experience for kids of all ages. Like any other sport or club that competes, it offers many benefits that they wouldn’t get going to a non-competitive dance school. So let’s take a closer look at the pros of participating in competitive dance.

1. There is no I in team!

Dancing can be a very lonely hobby to follow. This is because when dancing, you focus on yourself. How your lines are looking, what you need to work on to improve your strength, alignment, and flexibility. What you need to do to get the next principal or featured role. When you look at others in a classroom it becomes very easy to compare and judge yourself and them and making friends based on comparison and judgment is not easy nor a great basis for a friendship.

Now it could be said that when you are at a dance school you are on a team, whether you compete or not because you will generally work within a team to create recital routines or even a full ballet. But I can tell you from experience that being on a competitive team creates a different atmosphere between dancers and reals sense of camaraderie between dancers.

Being on a team that competes will teach your child to act as a member of a team. They will be in a position where they can learn to respect and value the other members of their team for their individual talents. It instills a sense of community in them and gives them that support system they may not have found otherwise.

It’s extremely important for children to have a system of friends or teammates as they grow. I personally made better friends with the girls on my dance team than I did with those at school. Although there was definitely some rivalry, we learnt to overcome that and be each others supporters. Being on a team of any kind helps hone communication and cooperation skills. You learn to have more confidence in yourself and learn how to work with others.

Team activities can also lead to better decision making and time management skills. Competing at anything puts the responsibility on a child and teaches them how to function more efficiently while juggling more than one task. When you are on a team, you have others that are relying on you and so it is essential to learn how to balance a schedule to get everything done which is a valuable life lesson.

2. Performance Opportunities

Becoming a good dancer requires a lot of training and practice. Your child may be spending hours a week in the studio, honing their skills. But at the end of the day, dancing in the studio is not what dancing is all about for everyone. For most, it is about sharing your passion for dance with others through performance. Competition provides a multitude of performance opportunities for your child.

The chance to perform can be a great confidence-building exercise. The more your child performs, the more they get used to the nerves which will most likely always be with them before they go on stage, the more they perform the more they will be able to handle any anxiety or stress they have about getting up there. The more they perform, the more confident they will become in general when having to get up in front of others for anything in life whether that be to make a speech at a friend’s party or wedding one day or making the valedictorian speech at their high school graduation ceremony.

For example for my daughter who can get quite anxious, her goal is simply to get up on that stage, not forget the steps and do her best for her team. After all her hard work, the outcome of the actual competition is not her goal it is the opportunity to perform and overcome her anxiety.

3. Competition Broadens Their Horizons

Staying put within their community or studio can isolate young dancers from what is achievable out there in the world of dance. This isn’t so much of a problem with the internet being what it is, but it can still limit them in terms of their experience.

Going to competitions and the many intensive classes they also offer gives them the chance to experience other forms of choreography they may not have been aware of before. They get to see other dancers from different places show off their stuff and maybe learn something new from it in the process.

They will also have the opportunity to meet new people. Just because they are competing doesn’t mean your child can’t make friends through competition. Getting out in the world for even a short amount of time and being exposed to new things is a great learning experience for anyone.

4. Learn Grace in Winning or Losing

Competition is, by nature, extremely competitive. There will always be winners and losers. It can be hard to separate the focus of winning from the focus of just getting to dance because it’s fun, but it can also provide a useful life lesson.

For many kids, especially the younger ones, it can be difficult to handle big emotions. Being exposed to the world of competitive dance can help teach them how to deal with both disappointment and satisfaction.

Being graceful in defeat is an important thing to learn at a young age. You don’t want your kids to lose sight of the real reason they are dancing. Possibly more important is teaching them how to be graceful when they win. Having these skills will benefit them throughout their life.

5. Gain Exposure

Traveling for local, state or national competition is a good way for your child to gain exposure within the world of dance. They will be seen by and will meet more people than they would by simply dancing in their own studio. This can lead to incredible opportunities.

Many competitions attract the best talent by having judges on their panels who are currently working within the dance industry or have a lot of experience and connections. It gives exposure to the competitors to possible future employers and allows the judges to see what talent is currently out there.

Many of the big competitions also offer (sometimes compulsory) intensive classes or a dance convention as part of the competition event, hiring out a large ballroom at the convention center or hotel they are using to put on classes with guest teachers. In this way, your child gets to show off what they’ve learned and prove how skilled they are, or learn new skills and become a better dancer overall. These intensives give your child the opportunity to be taught and seen by the best in the industry.

The thing is just because nothing comes of your performance in a competition today, your child might be remembered in a future audition, might have made friends with another dancer who becomes a choreographer or finds out about a new course, teacher or school which might just help them land a job in the future!

6. It Can Be a Lot of Fun

Probably the most important benefit of doing competitive dance is the aspect of having fun. I loved doing competitions, although I started late as a teen and only did a few each year, so they were never the total focus of my dance training. Of course, they can be a lot of pressure which I can attest I felt during my first ever solo competition, but that doesn’t mean it’s all hard work and tears. Getting out of the studio and going to competitions with your child and their friends can provide you and them with some of the best memories of their life!

If your child is enthusiastic about the prospect of competing, it may be what’s best for them. They will be gaining life experience and, even more than that, just plain enjoying themselves. Some kids were just made to be in front of a crowd!

Cons

As with anything in life, competitive dance has its downsides. There are many people that swear off ever competing or putting their children into competitions. If you’re curious to see why some are so against dance competitions or need some ammunition for your argument against them, read on.

1. The Focus Is in the Wrong Place

One of the main objections I see on many dance school websites that claim they prefer to work on exam work or follow through teaching a certain syllabus of dance will be that the time it takes to adequately prepare students for competitions, the focus on showmanship and entertainment can be detrimental to developing sound technique within their students. These studios prefer to spend the bulk of their school year focusing on grounding students with the best technique possible and spending a smaller portion of their time with students preparing for school recitals and concerts that showcase their student’s learning over the year. They are looking at the long road and future journey of their dancers rather than what they can and could be doing right now.

Many competition schools to help combat this lack of focus in creating technically efficient dancers have rules in place that state their competition students are required to attend a certain amount of technique-based classes a week, on top of competition training. But there are still drawbacks. For two students attending 10hours of classes a week, the child at the non-competitive school will be getting focused training on developing their technique for the majority of those hours. For the child at the competition school, 3-5 or those hours might be focused on building technique whilst the other hours are spent learning routines and repeatedly going over and over those routines until they at competition standard.

Some would argue that you repeat ballet exercises or even tap ones anyway so what is the difference between training for competitions and repeating a dance over and over again? The difference is usually the strain on the dancer’s body. When training for a competition the body of a dancer can sometimes be repeating leaps, falls and tricks over and over again, steps that unlike ballet or tap barre and centre exercises which are created to strengthen and train the dancer, put the body into compromising positions repeatedly and therefore the risk of injury or even problems later in life because of the repetition are more likely.

2. It Brings out Drama

We’ve all seen it on TV. Competitions tend to bring out the worst in people. There are horror stories all over the place about the way kids, moms, and teachers act when in the heat of competition. It’s not very flattering for anyone.

Even if you are sure about the people in your child’s studio, going to competitions means they are exposed to a lot of outside people you’ve never met before. Even other parents of the dancers on their team can turn to ugly behavior if they are deeply invested in the idea of perfection and winning.

Personally I was once caught up unknowingly in a bout of drama that I am sure led to the cold shoulder I received from friends at a competing dance school. I joined some other members of my dance team in the front row of the audience as we weren’t competing in the midday section. I thought it was odd they were sitting at the front until the next performer came on stage. Her solo was exactly the same as the one other girl in my class performed. To this day, I am not sure of all the details, whether it was the hired choreographer’s fault in selling the same choreography to two people, the dancers or the dance teachers?? I really didn’t want to know, I didn’t want to be part of it, but became part of something I had nothing to do with because my studio was involved in some way in it. I hated that part of competitions!

The culture of competition can be toxic. You must be vigilant in what is being said to your child to ensure they aren’t being bullied or berated for things that shouldn’t even matter in the long run. For some people, winning is everything, and it may be an uphill battle to keep your dancer from avoiding that mindset.

3. Amplify’s Perfectionism

Because of the way competitions are set up, and the aforementioned dramatics, there is always the risk of a dancer taking things way too hard. If they lose, if they are called out, or if they are simply too hard on themselves you could end up with a child that is never happy with their performance.

A lot of stock is put on competition, which means there is often a need to be absolutely perfect. When they don’t reach a certain standard or if they make one little mistake, a dancer could feel that they have failed their team or themselves. This takes all the fun out of dancing.

It’s important to remind your child about what’s important as often as you deem necessary. If it seems that they are leaving competitions constantly in a state of disappointment, then maybe it’s not the best place for them to be. Dancing should be enjoyable, competing should be enjoyable, and anything else just isn’t acceptable.

4. Extra Money

If you didn’t already know it, now you do – competitive dance will cost you more money.  You have to make sure that your wallet can accommodate any competitions the studio enters to make it work.

Lots of things are necessary to be purchased for a competitive dancer to compete and it can end up costing hundreds and even thousands of dollars for every competition. On top of monthly dance class fees, you will be looking at:

  • Extra class fees for competition training.
  • Competition entry fees
  • Fees for convention or intensive classes that might need to be taken to be eligible for competition entry
  • Costumes
  • New shoes or several different pairs of shoes might be needed in different colors
  • Hair accessories
  • Makeup
  • Dance school tracksuit or uniform might be required as well
  • Travel to the competition and if they are located far from your home possibly hotel rooms, food, etc.

If you make it to nationals you might have to add airfares on top of all this. And this is all based on having one child in competitions, what if you have two, or three?

5. BEWARE: Not all competitions are equal!

It is important to point out that not all competitions are equal! There is no comparison between the Prix De Lausanne and a local ballet competition for example. So how do you know if the competition is worth your time? The best way to know is by the type of talent it attracts. It can also greatly vary by how well they are organized and by whether they, for example, give all competitors a participation prize rather than have experienced adjudicators or judges.

In many cases you won’t be choosing the competitions you attend, your teacher or studio will, but you can choose your studio and teacher. So if competitions are an important part of your child’s dance journey then looking into which competitions a school competes in before committing to them might be something that is on your agenda to look out for.

At the end of the day, the people who run dance competitions are businesses trying to make a profit. Some cut corners and others don’t, you generally get what you pay for. When you go to make a purchase you will usually read reviews, get advice or try it out, so be mindful of this – the same rules apply for the competition circuit!

6. Commitment – All in or All out!

Competition is absolutely a commitment for you as well as your child. Many studios will ask you to sign a contract stating that you will ensure your child attends the set lessons and is available for competition days. There are many that state that they will not make exceptions for any events including family weddings or holidays for example and that if you know of an event occurring at the same time as the dance competitions that your child needs to attend they cannot be part of the competition team. And you might say, oh well I just won’t tell them – but this could mean your child is taken off the team indefinitely and not allowed back on!

Depending on how many competitions a studio enters a year, you could be looking at a pretty hectic schedule. As long as you are ready for that, there shouldn’t be any problem. It’s just something to keep in mind.

ARE COMPETITIONS FOR YOU?

These pros and cons have gone over some of the most important aspects of competitive dance that you as a parent should be aware of. My daughter was recently asked to join the junior competition team at her school. They only compete in about two or three a year and we are at a small school and the competitions she will be attending aren’t overly competitive as we live in a small town far from a capital city. So I said yes to her being involved. But I am not sure what my answer would have been if we were at a hugely competitive focused school doing the top competitions in the country, because from my experience in the dance world that takes a new level of commitment and is a totally different ball game!

What are your thoughts on competitive dance? I would love to hear your views in the comments below!

About the Author

Samantha Bellerose

Samantha is a wife and mother of four kids aged 1-9. She danced and acted from the age of 5 and performed in film clips, on television, and in musical theatre professionally. She also taught dance, but after leaving the profession to backpack through Europe, Canada and the USA with her husband for three years, she then completed an Education Degree and taught within primary schools in Australia. Today she is a business owner with her husband and the creator and writer for Dance Parent 101 where she hopes her previous experience as a dancer, current experience as a dance parent and the research and writing skills she gained completing her education degree will help enlighten parents on their journey with their child through the world of dance.

Leave a Comment