Saturday, April 5, 2008

The Competition Dance Phenomena . . . When Enterprise Meets Training

Dance training for children can be valuable on many levels. It provides and outlet for early training in creativity and exercise. Dance can be fun, educational, motivational, and a great source of developing interpersonal skills. It also gives children an opportunity to be exposed to a side of American culture and art to which many still remain ignorant. Unfortunately, this opportunity often becomes overshadowed by the dark side of dance training: the growing industry of competitive studio dance.

They key to understanding the motivations of this trend is to look at it from a capitalist perspective. Competitions are a major source of revenue for fledging dance schools. Parents pay, in addition to tuition for basic classes and training, fees for entry, costumes, extra rehearsals, private lessons, travel/lodging and often time for the trophy or medallion won at the competition. Competitions also provide the small town dance studio go-er a chance to travel and a be a part of a larger dance community. This fact is many times abused by Competitions organizers and is used as a selling ploy to get studio to enlist in the progressively bigger and more elite competitions.

Again, looking at the competition world as a capitalist environment, the only way to get to people to repeat their investment is to produce positive returns, thus many of the organizations focus on the axiom “Everyone’s winner.” Some, curiously, are more of a winner then others. After everyone has performed and the results are tallied, it is rare that any competing group goes home empty handed, with even the lowest ranking entrants often earning some sort of medallion or participation trophy. Groups who actually perform well and place highly in the competition are honored with material goods of large trophies and many times the opportunity to continue to the next level of competition, to test their skills against similarly ranked teams. For the corporation and studio this advancement will start the entire process again, incurring a fees, costume, extra rehearsals, travel expensed, etc . . .

If the children are being trained well and enjoying the experience, who cares if those at the top are taking home a little extra? Unfortunately many children and parents who are seeking honest to goodness training are unknowingly thrust into learning environments that are less then optimal and overshadowed by this growing industry.

In efforts to pump out as many “successful” routines, or pieces as quickly as possible important aspects of training and cultivating the student into a dancer, as well as an artist seem to be over looked. Training the students receive seems to be focused on the extreme shape, with sacrifices made to overall health of the instrument. The exploiting, particularly younger dancers extreme flexibility and resilience leads to physical aliments later in life. The intensity of the physical, social, and emotional situation created by the competitive environment also leads to students burning out quickly.

Despite boasting a “Where are they now?” portion to the websites of many of the competition corporations, a closer look at the biographies of those deemed success stories will show that many have progressed on to climb the ladder of the company, now working the administration end of the competition establishment which includes becoming master teachers at conventions, judges, and studio directors of winning teams. A select few have moved on to a career in either commercial or concert dance of varying idioms. But given the overall number of participants in the competition, this ultimate career aspiration seems to be far from the norm.

As in any situation, there are exceptions to the overriding trends presented by the competition dance world, but unfortunately they are few and far between. Good dancers, teachers, and an enjoyable experience is an integral part of the learning process for dance students, and all of these are capable of being found in the competitions environment. But it begs to question the future of this enterprise? How long can it sustain itself? And what long term effects will it have on the arts community to which dance is apart of?

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