Every dancer wants to open their competition score packet and see high marks that sing their praises. But a less-than-stellar score can quickly sour what was meant to be a positive learning experience.

While winners walk away with cash prizes, glistening trophies and scholarships to their dream schools, it can be tempting to let a low score be your one-way ticket to self-pity city. But with the right mindset, even a lackluster competition performance can be made into a constructive rather than destructive experience.


Sit Down With Your Dance Teacher ASAP

Communication is key to getting the most out of your competition experience. Photo by Stocksnap.

Schedule a meeting with your dance teacher as soon as possible to look at your scoresheet together. They can help you identify areas of improvement and brainstorm a plan to move forward. Withdrawing out of embarrassment only takes away from the time you could be using to improve; tackling what went wrong right away can help you get back on track and avoid dwelling on the negative.

Know That Some Things Are Subjective

Every judge draws from a different background of experiences that influence the way he or she scores. Photo by Unsplash.

While you shouldn't dismiss all of your feedback, know that judges might bring in personal preferences. Some might appreciate subtle artistry and soft port de bras, while others are looking for high extensions and an exciting stage presence.

Mariaelena Ruiz, director of the professional training program at Cary Ballet Conservatory, encourages her students to keep this subjectivity in mind when they look at their scoresheet. "If one completely did not like you but then the other four were consistent in what they said, then you just take it with a grain of salt," she says. Focus on the corrections they've offered but don't get too caught up on comments that are a matter of personal preference.

Focus on Your Progress

The time you spent preparing for the competition likely led to improvements in your technique and artistry. Photo by Michael Afonso via Unsplash.

Preparing for a competition typically means clocking in extra hours and can lead to vast improvements in both your technique and artistry. Rather than obsessing over how you stacked up against your competitors, look at how much you've improved in the last few months. The gains you make during the preparation process mean more than a pretty trophy anyway.

Consider Pursuing Other Dance Opportunities

Try trading in competitions for master classes. Photo by Danielle Cerullo via Unsplash.

If you find that you're more concerned with winning prizes than growing as a dancer, it might be time to take a break from competitions. When Ruiz sees her dancers struggling to pull themselves out of the competition blues, she encourages them to seek out other opportunities that aren't competitive in nature. Consider signing up for master classes or filming some of your favorite solos that you could use for future auditions.

Use It As a Life Lesson

Competitions can help you build resilience, which is a valuable asset in the dance world. Photo by Brooke Meyer.

The dance industry is an incredibly competitive field, so every dancer needs to be equipped to handle disappointment with grace. Kristy Blakeslee, director of KJ Dance in Plano, Texas, sees competitions as an opportunity to teach students life lessons they can apply outside of the studio. "One day somebody will accept us and the next day maybe somebody doesn't accept us, and it's something that we have to become accustomed to and prepare our minds and our hearts for," she says.

Remember That Even Great Dancers Have Bad Performances


Remember when Misty Copeland caught an outrageous amount of flak for struggling with Swan Lake's infamous 32 fouettés? Or when Isabella Boylston fell flat on the floor during her debut in La Bayadère? Even ballet goddesses aren't immune to bad performances and reminding yourself of this can help put things into perspective.

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Dance Teacher Tips
At CPYB, students learn from an early age the importance of strong corps work. Photo by Rosalie O'Connor, courtesy of CPYB

Dancers at the University of Arizona recently performed Jerome Robbins' Antique Epigraphs, an ensemble piece for eight women that requires intricate linear formations and walking in unison. "It was super-challenging for us," says dance professor Melissa Lowe. "Students needed a heightened sense of awareness, or it wasn't going to happen." Lowe asked dancers to use their intuition and aural sensibilities to help determine where they needed to be, when they should be there and how to get to those places—together.

Teaching dancers to work in unison, whether as a large corps de ballet or small ensemble group, is an integral part of their training. It requires teamwork, attention to detail and thoughtful preparation for a successful group effort. Teachers need to provide the right steps and counts to ensure cohesiveness, of course. But how you set the material will also encourage dancers to be in line and in sync—while still allowing them to be individuals.

Make sure they show up

Photo by Ed Flores, courtesy of University of Arizona

University of Arizona students at the end of Balanchine's Serenade

Missing dancers can be disastrous for a group piece. "If it's a studio production, there has to be an agreement up front for students who want to be involved," says Lorita Travaglia, ballet mistress at Colorado Ballet. "When one person is missing and doesn't know what they're doing, it really does affect the whole group." Understanding the importance of commitment is a crucial part of dancers' (and their families') training. "They have the responsibility to everyone, not just themselves," she says.










Showstopper is the nation's leading dance competition. It provides the perfect platform for dancers, teachers, and choreographers to showcase their talents and hard work. Showstopper's environment is inviting, motivating, and above all, inspiring. If you haven't experienced it, now is the time!

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After returning from my first summer intensive away, I started my first diet at 13. My teacher patted my thigh and told me, "that wasn't there before."

Without any nutrition education and because I was too embarrassed to tell my mother what had happened, I started restricting food and only eating things that contained three grams of fat or less. Clearly, as a young teen, I didn't have the knowledge to safely wade through dieting tips and formulate a plan for myself.

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Photos by Jayme Thornton for Pointe. Modeled by Anna Greenberg of American Ballet Theatre's Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School.

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This weekend, The Maria Torres Emerging Artists Foundation is making the dreams of 12 young girls come true.

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Though a new studio year brings with it its own stressors—class scheduling, orientation, newly sore muscles—you'd be remiss if you didn't also use this opportunity to carefully consider what's been working (and what hasn't) for your studio. Is it time to repaint your lobby? Get rid of that more-trouble-than-it's-worth vending machine? Finally add a social-media clause to your student handbook? August is your chance to roll up your sleeves and give every aspect of your business the mental elbow grease it needs.

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Via @tilerpeck on Instagram

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Because I know our readers are dance addicts, too, I thought you might relate to my oh-so-dance-obsessed 24 hours as well. Check out what made the list, and let me know if there are any "MUST-DO'S" that we should have included over on our Facebook page. On your next free day (lol, cute right?) give it a try, and let us know if it's as fabulous as we think it is!

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Booker T. Alum Celeste Robbins and Linda James. Photo by Brian Guiliaux

Linda James, a dance teacher who retired in June from Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts in Dallas, Texas, recently wrote for Arts+Culture about her 36 years of teaching.

"I am proud to say that I am a former member of the dance faculty at Booker T. (an affectionate name given to the school by recent alums). In June 2018, I retired from BTWHSPVA—a privileged position that fed my soul. When school resumes in the fall, I know that I will miss the hugs, boisterous clamor and rhythmic outbursts of spontaneous movement as students dart down the halls on the way to class and rehearsals."

She goes on to praise the success of the school's graduates, including the five male dancers in 2016 who were accepted to The Juilliard School, which admits only 10 males each year. She also thanked the local dance schools that have enriched the community:

"Thanks to the outstanding training provided by area dance studios and schools, the skill level of incoming BTWHSPVA dancers has grown steadily. The Booker T. dance faculty eagerly amplify the students' technique and foster the development of their artistry."

For the full story published at Arts+Culture, visit here.

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McSwain is particularly known for her work with the "littles," the 5-and-under dancers, having begun as an assistant teacher in the preschool room of her local studio at age 19. Combining her own dance background (her resumé includes dancing for Britney Spears and *NSYNC) and her genuine love of children, McSwain went from assisting classes to running the studio's performance and competition teams.

"It was better than anything I'd ever felt dancing professionally," she says. "I never looked back. I always tell my faculty that their class can either light up a kid's world or it can add to the darkness most kids are already dealing with. There's nothing in-between—so let's light up their lives."

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We asked and you answered! Here are the top 11 things dance teachers wish their students understood. Let us know if you agree with these over on our Facebook page!

Thanks for being fabulous and keeping your students' best interests at heart. We vow to love you all forever and ever! xoxo

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