Competition and Dance Education
LaPointe-Crump, Janice, JOPERD--The Journal of Physical Education, Recreation & Dance
For as long as I can remember, dance as an art form and the word "competition" are not spoken in the same breath. To do so cheapens dance, reducing it to a kind of crude commercialized combat. Artistic intention and expression are destroyed when dancers prepare tricks and a kitsch routine to win prizes. Art on the other hand is a free, open experience bound up in the uplifted thought and vivid emotion. Devoid of meaningfulness, competitions are incompatible with art.
Or are they? Young musicians are involved in local, state, and regional contests. Community theater actors and school drama students compete with scenes and cuttings of plays to receive awards and scholarships. The same is true for visual artists. In some states, school competitions are governed by education agencies. Competitions are a fixture in American arts education, except for dance.
I urge dance educators to reconsider the long-held antagonism about this issue. In light of the evolution of dance competitions and the way judging functions, a contest may spur students to go beyond technical skills and raw talent to artistically move hearts and minds. Additionally, students may be seen by university and company scouts.
Let us begin with the word itself. The Latin root of "compete" is competere, meaning "to seek or strive together" (American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language). Competitive dancing is a sport, a category of dance, in which contestants endeavor to do their best by performing beyond what the experts expect.
We herald those who have been acknowledged by a respected body. Fernando Bujones and Mikhail Baryshnikov were proud to remind audiences that they won gold medals at the International Ballet Competition in Varna, Bulgaria. Kurt Joos came to world attention in 1932 when his ballet, The Green Table, won first place in the Concours international de choregraphie, in Paris. After winning the USA International Ballet Competition (USAIBC) in 1990, Cuban dancer Jose Carreno, a principal with American Ballet Theater, said, "My life changed. From there everything started to cook" (USAIBC, 2007).
Think about the dancers and choreographers whose careers were celebrated and heightened when they received the Kennedy Center Honors. If you have run for office, been a finalist in a job search, or auditioned for a company, you also embarked on a romantic journey centered on striving to be the best, the first among many.
Competition and Performance
When dancers step onstage, they compete in a unique world. In this world, dancers exhibit themselves for the attention of the audience. Viewed in this way, the exquisiteness of their embodied performance invites appreciation and evaluation. What an audience feels and understands is not controlled solely by the dancers but results from an interpretation within the context of the dance and the venue. This is the dancer-viewer connection.
I agree that when performing in a contest, dances are crafted to demonstrate technical and artistic prowess within the aesthetic and judgmental construct of the competition, which includes the dancers' imagination, abilities, musicality, and energy. Here the dancer-viewer connection is specialized. Adjudicators' opinions are negotiated within the context of a panel. The viewpoint is respected not only because it is final but because judges are seasoned professionals, perhaps even former competitors and winners.
Competition in dance already exists in studios. Teachers evaluate students' performances during the course of a lesson. Students accept criticism, being compelled to improve through our direct interaction with them. Whether evaluators or teachers, we hope to make a difference in dancers' lives and contribute to the art form.
In tracking the interaction of judges on the latest reality television shows, Dancing with the Stars and So You Think You Can Dance?, I was reminded of the similar ways in which educators and judges encourage, monitor, and challenge growth over time. …