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What Happens at A Dance Competition – A Parents Perspective

By Teresa Nelson / Edited by Samantha BelleroseB.Ed, Dip.Dance (Performing Arts)

With only a few days left before the first big dance competition of the year, I found myself running around like the Mad Hatter in Alice in Wonder Land. My daughter, Sophia has her first performance on Friday night with several more performances through the weekend as well as the convention classes. Somehow, we always manage to get through it and still have our sanity. So, What Happens at a dance competition? The best way to share the experience is to describe it as it unfolds. 

Friday 3PM – What Happens When We Arrive at The Competition?    

Hotel Arrival

It was a 3-hour drive to Chicago, so I decided to wait to do Sophia’s hair and makeup. We arrived at the hotel just shortly after the 3 pm check-in. After several trips from the car to the hotel room, I collapsed on the bed. It’s a short break, but long enough to drink water and eat a protein bar. Sophia’s fellow dance mates have already found us, and they are giggling wildly as they skip from room to room attaching embellished posters with words of encouragement on the doors. 

Friday 4PM – How Do I Get Ready for the Competition?

Photograph by the author of her daughter Sophia who is ready with her middle part, low bun, makeup, and costume almost ready to go!

I grab my schedule and realize we have less than an hour to get ready.  I locate her costume, tights, hairpiece, and company jacket. For tonight, we can prepare in the hotel room, but we will have to find our assigned dressing room soon. I quickly steam the wrinkles from the costume and give it one last look over to make sure there is no repair needed, hanging it on the portable garment rack when finished. I set up Sophia’s makeup trolley and lighted mirror and beckon her to come and get ready. She knows the routine by now and gives her friends a quick hug goodbye. I stand patiently at the chair as she finds her comfy bathrobe and her favorite fidget toy. Her demeanor changes quickly as we both recognize its game time. Hair usually takes us about 15-20 minutes if it’s a simple part down the middle with a low bun. It’s the make-up that usually gets us bickering at each other. We succeed in applying makeup with some efficiency, adding fake eyelashes and studio-required lipstick last. It took 45 minutes and we have just a few minutes to get the costume on and meet down in the lobby area with the studio owner and other dancers. She looks fantastic and I must get one picture, maybe two…

Friday 5PM – What Happens the First Night of a Competition?

Meeting up in the lobby

Checking first that I have my room key, and phone, we open the hotel room door. It’s like the running of the bulls as the dancers with their moms are racing towards the elevators, with their tote bags bulging with makeup, hair supplies, and snacks.  We step out into the race, and I make brief eye contact with the other moms as we try to offer encouragement in the frenzy. Unlike our beautifully prepared dancers, we usually look at how we feel, a hot mess. No matter, it’s about my dancer. As we tumble out of the packed elevator, we have the long walk to the lobby. The hotel is huge, and I have not had the chance to scope out where the competition is being held. We eventually met everyone in the long corridor near the convention halls. 

Friday 5:30PM – Where in the Hotel is the Competition Being Held?

The host hotel has opened the grand ballrooms for competition and convention. The Opening ceremony is usually held in the same room as the competition. During the opening ceremony, the energy is high with bright lights and hip music. The competition director and master teachers are introduced and perform a stunning dance on stage before the competition begins. After the opening celebration, it is performance time. There is a big stage, displaying the competition’s host logo banner and lots of lights. Photographers and Videographers are set up on a platform at the back of the room. The judge’s tables are set up in front of the stage. 

Do I Have to Register My Dancer for Competition?

Our studio owner has arrived early enough to check us in and has already submitted our music online through the competition’s website as part of the competition registration process. Thankfully, I am not responsible for that. 

What Are the Performance Categories?

Our studio owner is also responsible for registering each dancer’s performance within the guidelines of the competition. This is based on age and experience as well as the type of performance. There are many different categories of dance, and each competition is slightly different. There are Jazz, Hip Hop, Lyrical, Contemporary, Tap, Musical Theater, Acro dance, and Open as well as Ballet and Pointe performances.  Within each category of dance, there are age and experience levels: Beginner aged 5-7, junior age 8-10, intermediate-age 11-12, Teen’s age 13-14, and senior age 15-18.

Friday 6:00 PM – Where Do I Wait Before performance?

I start to see familiar faces as the moms of dancers who are performing tonight make their way into the dressing room. As much as I want to chit-chat and relax, now is not the time. Everyone is tense. Sophia is already stretching and running through her choreography with her earbuds drowning out the noise. She is scheduled to perform in about 20 minutes, so I tap her on the shoulder just as I see one of her teachers from the studio glancing over at us with that “it’s time” look on her face. Sophia runs on over and the two of them disappear into the hall. The dancers usually must be at the side of the stage about 15 minutes before they perform. 

Is there Somewhere Private to Change?

The dressing room is labeled with our studio’s name and located about 20 feet away from the stage. I quickly found a spot to set up her staging area and open my stool. Our duffel bag has a collapsible garment rack that we set up and hang our costumes on. We sometimes use a blanket or drape to place over the rack to give more privacy. But there are bathrooms close by to use if desired.  

Friday 6:20 PM – Where Do I Go While My Dancer is Performing?

I meander my way through the crowd and into the performance and stage area, I am nervously excited. I try to push thoughts of what could go wrong out of my head and find a place to sit. Sophia always knows I will be watching as she performs, but I usually try to find different places to sit near the back of the room so as not to distract her when she’s dancing. I glance at my schedule again just as I hear her music start and there, she is…on the stage! I cannot take my eyes off her for a moment, I watch every detail during the longest two minutes of my life. She has worked so hard for many weeks perfecting her skills and choreography for this moment, and I know the routine as much as she does at this point. We realized long ago that even if you perform your absolute best and nail your routine, the judges may or may not like it. We both know and accept that winning is great, but it is not the only reason for dancing, and although it can be disappointing when you don’t score as well as you had hoped to, it is not the end of the world. Her performance is a musical theater number and she performed it the best I could have hoped for. She’s off stage now and I rush from my seat back to the dressing room where we will meet.

How Are Dancers Judged at Competition?

Adjudication

Immediately after leaving the stage, Sophia and her choreographer will wait with her as the judges give their adjudications. The judges give their adjudication with a scoring system based on points. The total score determines the specific category. The categories tonight are Platinum, Elite High Gold, High Gold, Gold, Silver, and Bronze.  I imagine the judges, five of them sitting at a table just feet from the stage, each watching something different, performance, costume, technique, music, and level of difficulty. Typically, the dancer receives the adjudication in the moments after leaving the stage and is awarded a certificate or pin.  

When will I know If I Won an Overall Award?

After all the dancers have completed, the scores are compared, and the judges choose the final winners in each category. Overall award winners can receive a cash prize and big trophies. But it is the title that most dancers desire. The final winners, rankings, and placement of all the dancers are usually made available to the studio owners who communicate overall placement to us at some point through the studio.   We will have to wait a few days to find out how Sophia placed and who the big winners are. But she is always a winner to me!

Friday 6:30 PM – What Happens After My Dancer Performs?

Sophia runs into the dressing room with a big smile on her face and proudly shows me her adjudication pin. She received High Gold. Most dancers in this age group receive a high gold adjudication but, there are a few superstars out there that do receive platinum at age 11. Some, however, get lower adjudication such as bronze when there has been a big mistake on stage. She is happy with her pin, and we are excited for tomorrow to see how the older, more advanced dancers place after all the performances are done. Meanwhile, we spend the night running back and forth between the dressing room and the performance room watching and cheering on her studio pals. When we get back to our room at the end of the night, we are exhausted. We will clean up and will try to get a good night’s sleep. There will be more competition performances on stage tomorrow afternoon after convention classes. 

Saturday 7:00 AM – What Is a Convention at a Dance Competition?

Photograph taken by the author of her daughter Sophia in a class at the convention.

Convention Classes

Convention classes are usually fun. It’s a wonderful opportunity to learn new, bold choreography from the best master instructors across the country. Convention classes take place throughout the weekend. Each convention day is scheduled in blocks that last about an hour. Each block has a different style of dance. A typical convention day will hold about 4-6 different styles of dance but generally, dancers can expect classes in ballet, jazz, hip hop, and contemporary. Dancers enjoy wearing clothes that help them stand out and express themselves during class. Sophia loves coordinating outfits that match the dance style or class she is taking. Mid-morning, I left the convention room to go back to the hotel room to pack up our belongings before checkout. Afterward, I grab a big coffee and head back to observe class. I love watching her learn new choreography and dance so the time flies and before I know it, it is lunchtime. I have learned to order lunch early at the hotel restaurant or get it delivered because there is very little time to eat.  After dancing her heart out all day, we head up to the hotel room but not before a stop by the vendor’s table to buy a convention shirt and a trinket or two. 

What Is a Convention Audition?

During the first day of convention classes, one of the class routines will be the choreography chosen for the audition number.  The dancers will not know until the next day, which piece it will be. It is not mandatory to audition but it is highly encouraged, especially for those who want to be professional dancers someday. Participating in an audition helps to prepare dancers for the process of a real audition. There are short-term benefits to participating in the audition as well. This is an opportunity to show how well you have learned the choreography and if performed well, dancers get awarded scholarships. During the auditions, parent observers are asked to leave the room. Convention scholarships are announced at the end of the competition weekend during the closing celebrations. 

Can I Win Cash at A Convention?

Dancers can win scholarships but usually not cash. Scholarship amounts and types vary. Some scholarships pay for the cost of the next convention, and some pay for a week-long workshop. But the coveted prize from a convention is being chosen as a convention ambassador. These amazing dancers are sometimes called prodigies or proteges. Most conventions actively seek elite, talented dancers to represent them as they go from city to city. It is a big honor to join the stage with the industry’s top choreographers at conventions. 

Sunday 2:30 PM – Where Do I Go for The Closing Ceremony?

We have already loaded all our things from the hotel room in the car earlier in the day, so we just head over to the main ballroom for the closing ceremony. Sophia had a total of 4 performances. One solo on Friday night and a duet, small group, and a company production number on Saturday afternoon. It has been an exhausting but fun-filled weekend. When we arrive in the main ballroom, music is booming loudly, and all the stage lights are on. The dancers have all gathered here with the parents and teachers. As the music slowly fades, the convention director comes onto the stage to announce scholarship winners from the audition. The biggest awards from the convention go to the dancers who have made a huge impression throughout the weekend.

Should I Stay for The Closing Ceremony?  

Most dancers and parents stay until the closing ceremony is over. If a dancer has won a scholarship, they want to be present to receive it. If a scholarship is not received, then the right thing to do is stay to congratulate those that did. It is always a good gesture to show appreciation by thanking the convention staff, teachers, and directors for the amazing experience and memories. After the closing ceremony, we sometimes meet up with others from the studio to get ice cream or dinner, and then we head home. 

Time for Reflection

Competition and convention weekends are exciting and fun but can also be exhausting and stressful. In the heat of the moment things can get tense and you may lose sight of the reason you are there to begin with. Dancing. You love it, your dancer loves it, and these experiences can make you or break you. I know we are all competitive by nature in this dance world, but it is important that competitions and conventions are not just about winning and scholarships. Try to experience the moment as if it was the last time seeing your dancer on stage or dancing to a beautiful, unique piece of choreography from a master dance instructor. At the end of the weekend, find a time to reflect on the experience with your dancer. This is so important. If they did not score well or win a scholarship, always be positive and supportive. That’s what dance parents should do best.

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Further Reading

You might also be interested in reading more about competitions and we have a huge selection of articles which you can find here: