November 19, 2013 by Nicole
When we talk about dance, especially from a professional perspective, it’s hard to not talk about competition. And for the purposes of this post, that does not include dance competitions/competitive dance teams. I mean competition as a force in the industry – it’s likely part of the pressure that a dancer can experience in class, in auditions and sometimes even in performance.
For dancers, competition is a part of life – there will always be fewer parts, open positions or promotion opportunities than there are dancers who are eligible for them. So what do you do with that?
I think competition can very easily turn into a negative aspect of dance life, but it doesn’t have to be. I believe competition is negative when you allow it to become so. When you start taking class in competition with every other student, the problem is that you’re focusing your attention externally only, instead of spending most of your time and energy on yourself. If you start competing with your classmates to be the “best”, you’re no longer able to be objective, either about them or yourself.
Comparing yourself to others is always a losing game, for several reasons. When you start playing the “who can kick higher” (or jump bigger or whatever) game, it becomes very easy to obsess over that one aspect. And let’s say you do “win” – you kick higher than Student A…..but you sacrificed the straightness of your knee and the alignment of your back to do so. So, what did you achieve? You were able to superficially “win” – yes, your leg went higher – but it was technically wrong. And working from a bad place, without attention to the technique hurts you in the long run.
Working with competition in the forefront of your mind also hurts you from a mental/emotional perspective. If you take class with the goal of being “the best”, all you’re going to start seeing is the ways you’re not meeting that goal. So instead of seeing the improvement in correctly raising your leg from 90° to 95°, all you’re going to see is the student who can correctly place their leg at 105°. Instead of focusing on the emotional quality of your movement, all you’re going to see is the student who performed the combination “perfectly” (to your eyes). Instead of being inspired by the things that other students do well, all you’re going to feel is the discouragement that you’re not doing those things well too. The real reason this particular brand of competitive thinking is destructive is because its false logic and it just puts you more in your own head. Every dancer has strengths and weaknesses – this is also a fact of dance life. Approaching dance from a competitive perspective makes you forget that.
I actually believe competition can be healthy once you really understand – and I mean down to your bones – that dance (and any art) is subjective. There is no best. Winning – the part, the job, even the competition – is based on someone else’s opinion and/or needs for that day. Sometimes it literally comes down to the last one was exactly this height/measurements and we want exactly that to replace them. Once you understand that and know that sometimes you are going to lose, even if you danced at your very best, even if it was the best you EVER danced, competition can actually become a great motivator and inspiration source for you.
It becomes the difference in looking around class or the audition room and being inspired by what those artists are doing. Instead of focusing on what everyone else is doing better than you, you’re able to really notice what they’re doing and how they’re performing. Sometimes seeing your corrections being performed, even in another student, helps you understand them better than hearing them from your teacher. If it’s a performance aspect, you can start taking the things you liked and enjoyed watching in another dancer and figure out how to apply them to your own dancing. Being able to watch from a more objective perspective, you’re better able to get more out of class, an audition or any other scenario you’re dancing in.
Competition can be a great motivator as well – it’s often hard to not notice another student executing a skill more proficiently than you currently are. It can be the push you need to keep working on something. Seeing something done well can help reassure that even if you’re struggling with it, it’s actually physically possible to do.
Competition is kind of a double-edged sword. You want to use it to motivate and push yourself to be better – and I do think an absence of competition in your dance environment can be detrimental for that reason – but you don’t want it to turn into the driving or a destructive force in your learning/practice environment. And I think that’s true regardless of your reason for dancing, as a professional choice or just for the love of it. Using everyone around you, including your classmates, as a resource to improve turns competition into something healthy and positive and only helps you on your dance journey.
How do you deal with competition? Has it been a positive or negative force in your dance life? Do you think it can be positive? Tell me what you think in the Comments section.