Dance Competition Season!
Whew! What an incredible experience we’ve just had at the international dance competition, Youth America Grand Prix! ADA has been participating in this renowned ballet competition since 2012, and we believe this is one of the best dance competitions available to young dancers ages 9+. Some people compete to win, and winning is great (we’ve actually won a lot over the years!) but the reason we partake in this competition is for the incredible growth it offers our students.
Whether preparing a classical variation, contemporary solo, or ensemble piece, the coaching process proves invaluable year after year. As dancers, we have a huge priority list of things we’re meant to be showing in our dancing at all times. Footwork, coordination, clarity, lines, turnout, musicality, expression, dynamics, alignment and port de bras to name just a few! The more we advance as a dancer, the longer this list gets! It can be incredibly daunting, confusing and frustrating to have so much information in our brains and feel that our bodies are not performing the way we want them to. Add to this the pressure of getting judged and scored at the upcoming competition and it gets real, real quick! How do I do this and that in the time I have?! What’s the most important thing for me to focus on today? What if I fall? What if I fail? What if they don’t like me? (Aren’t these totally normal, human, day to day questions, by the way?!!)
Enter, THE PROCESS! This is what we teach in coaching sessions to help our dancers get a handle on these priority lists and make serious and lasting headway with them as well as making strides in the life skills department! What is this magical process, you ask? It’s quite simple really and boils down to a few basic things.
1) Build Awareness: We utilize a variety of methods to help bring awareness to what’s actually happening while the students are dancing. It’s a lesson we learn repeatedly over the course of our careers that our dancing usually doesn’t look how it feels! Recording and reviewing these recordings is one of the most helpful awareness building tools, as well as taking notes, as these allow the info to enter the brain through a different door.
2) Break it down: This is where the student studies each step of their dance in the greatest possible detail. They practice just the upper body in slow motion, then the lower body in slow motion; they repeat, repeat, repeat; then they put the upper body and lower body together; repeat, repeat, repeat; speed it up…repeat! Then start it all again with the next step! This helps dancers get very intimate and comfortable with their material. Thereby helping them feel ready for whatever comes their way. It’s like the saying “practice makes perfect” but multiplied by a million. Oh, and by the way, you never get it perfect! We like to think of it more like, “practice makes better, and better is great!” Breaking their material down also helps dancers sort out which of their thoughts are helpful and eliciting good responses from their muscles, and which thoughts aren’t working as well. After all, it is the brain sending all those signals to the muscles, and it needs to find a way to be efficient to do all that stuff at once! Talk about multi tasking! And fun fact: dancing has been shown to reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia!
3) Refine it: This is layering in expression and artistry, playing with dynamics and breath, squeezing more turnout where we can, working to get the third or fourth revolution in our turns, pointing our feet even harder, jumping higher, etc! It’s quite endless and we never really get as far with this step as we would like; but that is the nature, and in my opinion, one of the most fascinating facets of the art of dance. As technicians and artists, we are endlessly reaching for the pinnacle of perfection, all the while knowing we will never reach it because it’s always possible to do more! It takes a certain type of person to understand that and willingly choose it day after day! Like, what do you mean I never get there!? Well, yeah… you don’t! But that’s where passion and drive come in, so if you truly love it, it means you’ll never, ever be bored!
After several coaching sessions, the dancers will have made amazing discoveries about their own dancing, which they will bring to all their classes. They will gain confidence as they start feeling their bodies respond quicker to the signals their brains are sending. They will feel successful and proud of themselves as they notice that a step that seemed impossible two weeks ago is now happening with ease! They will feel less afraid as they have learned to trust themselves and their technique. (How about confidence, self trust, and creating your own success as some gained life skills, huh?)
The process takes time, patience, courage, commitment, and discipline, (what?! more life skills?!…yup) but if the student diligently and repeatedly goes through the process they get the progress, and the progress is the real prize! I mean… First, Second, Third, Top 12, Best ensemble, Outstanding Choreographer, Outstanding Teacher and Outstanding School are also pretty real awards that we have won….a few times… but still… eye on the prize people, progress!
So instead of thinking of competition in terms of winning, losing, first, second, third, or whatever- our question is, what do you want to get out of it for you? And then, together with the students, we hack away! Regardless of what happens at the awards ceremony, each dancer is left feeling proud of themselves and knowing that they’ve accomplished something wonderful that they can take with them, and that’s what we’re in it for!
Thanks to our ADA families for your ongoing trust and support and for reading my first ever blog post! I hope it was a boom!
If you’re new to ADA and finding this blog (and had the patience to read this far!) and if that philosophy on competition sounds cool to you, come check us out! We welcome students of all ages, levels, and degrees of seriousness to our classes. We are housed in a secure professional facility, and we offer an inspiring, engaging and exceptional training experience! Reach out to set up a tour and observe us in action, or to set up a free evaluation! 732-842-9262. firstname.lastname@example.org
Shayne Mishoe, Co-Artistic Director, The Academy of Dance Arts
February 19th, 2020