Art in Competition

Winners! My students just participated in 2 dance competitions. I have a love/hate relationship with dance competitions.

I love that it gives the kids something to work toward. More than just an end-of-the-year recital. This way, all those weeks and weeks of work get to be performed more than once and seen by more than just parents! Additionally, competition helps them set goals, and measure success.

However, there are plenty of issues. Beyond what I perceive as an objectification of little girls, which is a pretty big issue, in and of itself. There is the question of how we quantify art.

Some things, like technique, are a bit easier to measure. Are their toes pointed? Are their legs straight? Are their turns in the right position, with the correct spot, and done in precision? Are their formations clean?

Then, we get to the performance aspect. Are they in character? Is their intent clear?  Are they focused and “in the moment”?

And then, the questions that I think are super-important, and seem not to be addressed. Do the dancers understand what they are doing- in the technique and the performance realms? Is the audience engaged in the performance? Did the students enjoy the process of learning and performing?

Tricks are cool. Kick your face, do a backflip, execute 32 fouettes. Props and sets and flashy costumes are neat. They are exciting and eye-catching. But, does any of this communicate meaning? Is the audience a necessary part to the experience, or are they just insignificant others that happened to be in the room to witness these feats of physical excellence?

I love well-executed, precise, clean, beautiful technique. I also love an experience of the arts that draws me in, tells me a story, and makes me, as an audience member just as crucial to the event as the performer. And, I love examples of arts education that result not just in a good product, but a deeper understanding among the participants- of their art, of themselves, of others.  

How do we measure all of that? I think we should. I think we can. And, I think it again comes down to valuing the process as much as the product. And valuing the audience as much as yourself. If we, as performers, take the audience for granted, there will soon be no one there to witness our amazing talents. They will be in the comfort of their own homes, watching something similar, or perhaps even better, on TV. If we are teaching our students that tricks and flash are what is rewarded, what does that mean for their future?

The reason people attend live arts events is to experience a connection with the performers. To experience a moment that can never, will never, happen again, because it was shared between that gathering. Where’s the award for that?