Rhinestones, spandex zebra print costumes, 3 minute dances featuring a mega mix of the latest musicals to hit the movies, and more rhinestones- how could this possibly benefit the growth of a professional dancer, least of all a professional concert dancer? While it is true that Martha Graham herself had a penchant for flamboyant costuming it seems highly unlikely that she could find any worth in competition jazz but more and more these days the two worlds of commercial and concert dance are converging and there are some that successfully make the leap from Miss Betty’s School of Dance to the great companies of the world. Tiler Peck, a soloist in the New York City Ballet, is a California native and a junior national champion of Showstoppers Dance Competition (Check out the hair and pink halter). Jon Bond, Jessica Lee Keller, and Matthew Rich are all dancers that trained heavily in jazz and received awards and scholarships from competition. Today they are members of Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet Company
The most prominent competition to concert crossover is the runner up to last season’s television show “So You Think You Can Dance”, Danny Tidwell. Growing up dancing for his adopted mother and competition jazz studio mainstay, Denise Wall, Danny became a major competition winner. In high school Tidwell decided, after receiving most of the accolades one can achieve in competitions, that to continue to challenge himself he would delve deeper into the world of ballet. He was accepted to the Kirov Academy in D.C.
He would later join ABT before coming back to commercial dance with SYTYCD. The bios in programs and stories in trade magazines prove that there have been many successful dancers that have won acclaim in competitions and the concert halls.
While there are many detractors for children competing in competitions, what cannot be taken away from competition jazz is the discipline it instills in the kids at a very young age. Many will have rehearsals after school late into the night and more rehearsals, competitions, or conventions on the weekends. The commitment they are already making to their art is tremendous and good time management skills are a necessity. What I think is even more important is the diversity in styles that competitive jazz dancers acquire. If you were to walk into any ballroom for a convention you would quickly realize that the most awarded and lauded dancers are those that adapt to the styles of every teacher that weekend. Every convention stresses the value of being able to switch styles at a moments notice for the commercial world. This skill of impressing a choreographer by taking their style quickly is a wonderful asset for modern companies like Paul Taylor’s where you might be performing a somber requiem to Mozart and the next piece will be a jazzy fifties teen bop to the Andrew’s Sisters.
It would be impossible to immediately segue from years of competing to a professional company but with as much talent that is found out there and the good habits learned through years of competing it is not unusual for competition kids to make the top university dance programs in the nation. Dance companies are always looking for their next star and they might just be competing this weekend at the local dance competition… wearing lots and lots of rhinestones.
regards ~ Lee Duveneck