Competitions from a Teacher’s Perspective
25 December 2013
Emma Hawley polled pupils and parents at her school to discover more about the pros and cons of entering dance competitions
As a teacher from The Ipswich School of Dancing, which has both a strong social dance and competitive scene, I find myself asking what encourages dancers to choose to take part in competition? It’s not for everyone but as a teacher I feel there are many benefits to competition dancing; encouraging discipline and commitment, promoting a healthy and active lifestyle as well as creating friendships, not just from our own school, but from all over the country and then the world if we choose to take it further.
When looking at the composition of our school as a whole, it is easy to see, that there are far more adult social dancers; children are more inclined to be competitive dancers. With this in mind I decided to poll our dance school to understand the reasons behind these demographics.
Since re-entering the ISTD medallist competition world three years ago it has become a significant part of our calendar, from the examinations and area competitions to the prestigious Grand Finals. These events have now become the highlight and driving force for many of our dancers. When I was asked to write this article I spoke to our pupils asking them what motivates and encourages them to take part in competitions, the answers I received were very interesting.
Firstly, I sat my Saturday morning children’s class down and asked them, “What do you like about competitions?” The initial response that they love getting dressed up, wasn’t quite the response I was expecting, but it was a valid point all the same. The girls love putting on their dresses and having their hair done. They see other girls at the competitions and get more ideas for how they want to look. I know this is frowned upon by some people who feel the dressing up is not always necessary for children, but it is very much part of the dance scene and always has been. However, the competition dress rules are responsible in the way that under-12s have to be covered up and are not allowed to wear high heels. This is an important point when trying to convince new parents that dance competitions are not like the television show Toddlers and Tiaras! It is about projecting a dance image that goes hand in hand with a good performance.
“The parents viewed it as an excellent social activity, providing a safe environment to develop valuable social skills and confidence”
The next thing I was told by a pupil was: “I like dancing in front of an audience.” Now, for those dancers who are driven and confident this is a huge plus point of competitions; as the Ipswich School of Dancing is predominantly Ballroom and Latin and we do not put on many of our own shows. Competitions are the place to showcase the students’ talent, reap the rewards and achieve goals, acknowledging the time and effort they have applied in the preceding weeks and months. Competitions can also be a useful tool to motivate pupils in lessons. Dancers want to achieve at competitions, but children especially, need encouragement in lessons to enable them to continue to develop and improve.
Alternatively, for those pupils who are a little bit shy, competitions can seem a very daunting proposition. My teaching experience over the years has led me to believe that competitions can be a useful and stimulating environment that enables the less confident to flourish, guided by an empathic, experienced teacher.
The next response from the group was, “I like the coach journeys.” This is not surprising, for most competitions we travel together as a school, by coach, usually leaving Ipswich around 6am. The children take great delight the day before we travel, deciding how they are going to entertain themselves; often this involves matching onesies and we generally have two to three hours or more of singing, fun and games. I used to feel bad for the driver but that was until he started joining in with the fun!
After getting my Saturday morning class back to their dancing, I approached their parents for their views on the competition world. Primarily the parents viewed it as an excellent social activity that kept their children occupied, fit and healthy, but equally stimulated them mentally, providing a safe environment to develop valuable social skills and confidence.
Many felt that it was a positive experience for their children. It keeps them entertained, busy and it encourages determination to improve and keep working towards a goal, even when things get tough and results may not necessarily be forthcoming. These are early life lessons.
Further to this many parents felt that because of the awareness of rising obesity, dancing is an enjoyable and sociable activity that benefits the health and social well being of their children. Not just now, but in future years, once their formal education ended and mandatory physical education lessons are no more.
I then took the opportunity to poll some of the school’s adult competitors and this only emphasised the wide range of opinions, reasons and motivating factors for taking part in competitions. Some competitors mentioned that they took part and enjoyed competitions not because of how they perform in them, but because of how they can then document and record how much they have improved since the last competition.
I was told that an encouraging factor is that there is always someone who makes you think that you would like to dance as well as them. It is motivating and reassuring to have something to aim towards, when you think of everyone else, ahead of your own performance.
There are, of course, negative factors associated with competitions, as there are with anything. Some points mentioned included negative results destroying a dancer’s confidence, but this can be managed with supportive teachers. There was also the time factor; dedicating so much time to one thing leaves little time for other activities. This is where area competitions are a good compromise as there is less pressure than being an international competitor. Negative factors in competitions are the same as anything else – to gain positive results you need to embrace any negativity and use it to motivate and succeed.