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?
When the Pandemic Hit<p>In mid-March, when competitions first began seeing cancellations, charting a path forward felt like taking shots in the dark.</p><p>"What made this thing so frustrating and scary was that we didn't know what we were dealing with," says Shari Tomasiello, CEO of Headliners. "We didn't know if it was going to be for a week, two weeks, a month. We didn't know if we would be able to reschedule events, or when we would be able to reschedule events."</p><p>While Tomasiello completely canceled some events, about 90 percent of her studios said that they wanted to move forward with competing, so she rescheduled as many as she could. Many of these eventually had to be canceled too—Headliners ended up holding just 12 of its 34 planned competitions. One of those canceled events was Headliners' Nationals, which accounts for 10 to 15 percent of the company's annual revenue.</p>
A recent Headliners competition.
Photo courtesy Headliners
The Reality of Pandemic Competitions<p>The few competitions that have gone on as planned since March have looked quite different from the norm.</p><p>Some—like Youth America Grand Prix, New York City Dance Alliance, Starbound and Break the Floor—have happened virtually. Tomasiello emphasizes that they aren't moneymakers, just opportunities to keep studios and dancers engaged.</p><p>Rather than holding a virtual competition, Lissette Salgado-Lucas and David Lucas, founders of Shake the Ground, launched a free online workshop series for their studios, and got to work formulating a plan for a potential in-person event.</p><p>In mid-June, Shake the Ground was able to host its first competition since March, in Jacksonville, Florida, with a whole new structure: studio blocks. Each studio had its own time slot in the venue, where the dancers performed all their routines in succession with a limited audience of one family member per child. Shake the Ground also livestreamed the events, as well as the awards ceremony, and trophies were mailed to the studios after the fact. (This was a popular setup for studio owners and parents, who only had to be present for a few hours instead of an entire weekend.) Shake the Ground was able to hold four rescheduled events in this format, including its Nationals, and several other competitions have implemented similar procedures.</p>
A recent Shake the Ground competition.
Photo courtesy Shake the Ground