Competition Dance: Good or Evil?
Considering the fact that all of my training has been at pre-professional ballet schools, it is not surprising that prior to my time at SMU my opinions about competition jazz dancers were far from positive. I’ve been told repeatedly that dance is a disciplined form of expression, not a gimmicky showcase for tricks. I thought that competitions were nothing more than an excuse to show your biggest smile while executing meaningless and passionless choreography in revealing costumes. Coming to SMU, I met a number of very talented dancers who were trained in studios that focused on jazz competitions. Needless to say, meeting these dancers made me rethink my poorly thought out prejudices against competition dance. While I now admit that there are definitely many benefits that this kind of training can offer, I still hold to a few of my won opinions about competitions.
In competitions, dancers are scored on the technical difficulty of their steps. Because of this, competition dancers demand an exuberance of everything: more turns, higher jumps, higher extensions, etc. I cannot deny that some of the best turners I have met were indeed competition dancers. The frequency of competitions also requires dancers to become comfortable performing often and under high-pressure circumstances. I have noticed that this sometimes gives competition dancers a very definite stage presence that is often absent in classically trained dancers. The demanding nature of competitions requires that dancers execute steps precisely. They must be able to pick up choreography taught at the conventions and retain that choreography for later use.
Though I admit the benefits of this training, I still feel that there are a few rather large problems with it. I think that the pressure for dancers to perform challenging steps often causes them to do so poorly. I have seen many competition dancers who could do multiple pirouettes, and had ridiculous extension but poor placement. When the focus is centered upon the ends and not the means, dancers will often take shortcuts in order to produce the desired results. Thing like turnout and pointed feet often fall by the wayside in attempts to achieve the desired five pirouettes and double axles. There is also a lack of expression in most competition dances. Cheesy smiles and slutty costumes do not connote artistry. I have seen “lyrical” dances that contain an exaggerated sense of emotion. I could see a usefulness to this but feel that the exaggeration is just a bit too much to watch.
While there are definitely days where I wish I could turn and jump like these dancers, I feel that this kind of training does not produce well rounded and artistic dancers. These dancers often became amazing at performing tricks and showing all their teeth onstage but the overall lack of technique and artistry outweighs these benefits in my opinion.