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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