Ask the Experts: Comp Girls Feel They're an Exception


Q: One of my competition families feels their two girls are an exception to my team rules about missing class. I'd hate to lose them, but how do I justify bending the rules for them?

A: This is a problem we all face. Rules are in the best interest of our comp dancers. I believe in updating and revamping them when necessary—but once they're in writing, I feel we must uphold them.

We make sure ours are published with our class schedule before registration begins. We state that no full-time comp student can miss class, from the start of choreography until our last competition. The only exceptions to this rule are illness, religious commitments and a one-time pass for a school commitment (we have many students who attend art schools, so we try to accommodate school performances). Optional school trips or family vacations are not exceptions.

I know it can be hard to stick to rules that you know are going to cost the studio, both financially and talent-wise. Before you make your decision, think about how it will affect you and your team—not just this year, but in the future, too.

I once had a dance mom lobby for me to bend the rules for her. “We've been with you for 10 years and never asked for vacation time before," she said. My answer was, “Well, if you've been with me for 10 years, then you know the rules." I learned long ago that if you make an exception for one person, you have to do it for everyone.

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Courtesy Lovely Leaps

After the birth of her daughter in 2018, engineer Lisa McCabe had reservations about returning to the workforce full-time. And while she wanted to stay home with the new baby, she wasn't ready to stop contributing financially to her family (after all, she'd had a successful career designing cables for government drones). So, when she got a call that September from an area preschool to lead its dance program, she saw an opportunity.

The invitation to teach wasn't completely out of the blue. McCabe had grown up dancing in Southern California and had a great reputation from serving as her church's dance teacher and team coach the previous three years (stopping only to take a break as a new mother). She agreed to teach ballet and jazz at the preschool on Fridays and from there created an age-appropriate class based on her own training in the Cecchetti and RAD methods. It was a success: In three months, class enrollment went from six to 24 students, and just one year later, McCabe's blossoming Lovely Leaps brand had contracts with eight preschools and three additional teachers.

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Courtesy Shake the Ground

Dance competitions were among the first events to be shut down when the COVID-19 pandemic exploded in the U.S. in mid-March, and they've been among the last able to restart.

So much of the traditional structure of the competition—large groups of dancers and parents from dozens of different studios; a new city every week—simply won't work in our new pandemic world.

How, then, have competitions been getting by, and what does the future look like?

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Despite worldwide theater closures, the Universal Ballet Competition is keeping The Nutcracker tradition alive in 2020 with an online international competition. The event culminates in a streamed, full-length video of The Virtual Nutcracker consisting of winning entries on December 19. The competition is calling on studios, as well as dancers of all ages and levels, to submit videos by November 29 to be considered.

"Nutcracker is a tradition that is ingrained in our hearts," says UBC co-founder Lissette Salgado-Lucas, a former dancer with Royal Winnipeg Ballet and Joffrey Ballet. "We danced it for so long as professionals, we can't wait to pass it along to dancers through this competition."

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