It Takes Heart to Win Trophies

Three successful competition studios that differ in size and location have at least one thing in common.

CC & Co. performs Boneless at NUVO, 2013. Below, studio owner Christy Curtis (on the right) leads class.

For studios big and small, attending conventions and competitions is a chance for students to explore beyond the walls of their home studio: to learn from new teachers, evaluate dancers from other schools, test their own abilities and, most of all, participate in the larger dance community. There are as many ways to approach competitive dance as there are dance studios. Here, DT compares strategy and details for three—and talks to the founders about training dancers who are deeply engaged in the competition scene.

CC & Co. Dance Complex

Raleigh, NC

Events attended each year: advanced company: five conventions mandatory; dancers may attend up to four optional conventions. Recreational company: two competitions.

Attend Nationals every other year as a group (not mandatory).

Total enrollment: 1,000

Dancers competing: 100 (advanced company)

Dances created for competitions per year: at least 40 group numbers, 50–60 solos/duets/trios

Faculty: 22

Competition support staff: three

From Broadway shows to touring with Rihanna to dancing with Limón Dance Company to appearing on “So You Think You Can Dance,” the successes of CC & Co. Dance alums exemplify the versatility that is founder Christy Curtis’ vision for training. “Since I started the studio and the company, I’ve always made sure that no matter what they wanted to do in the dance world, if they left the studio they could do it—all of it,” she says.

Each year she tailors her convention schedule to the training needs of her dancers: If she has a group of dancers who are not as strong in hip hop, she’ll add a convention focused on hip hop; the following year it might be a convention specializing in contemporary.

And when a chance arises to offer her students a new kind of

experience, she jumps at it.

This past year she entered a group of dancers in the improv category for the first time. “It was completely different,” she says. “For the first time in many years, I had no clue what would happen onstage. And it was incredible. For me, it was the camaraderie among the dancers that made it special. Their performance got one of our highest scores of anything we had at the studio, including work by amazing guest artists. I believe it’s because they are so well-rounded—at any moment they could add tap phrases if they wanted, or hip hop. They felt comfortable enough to do whatever worked. It was the coolest thing.”

Robert Contreras keeps his business small to focus on artistry.

Inspire Dance Company

Las Vegas, NV

Events attended each year: four convention/competitions, two competitions, one national convention/competition.

Total enrollment: 43

Dancers competing: 23

Dances created for competitions per year: 15 groups, 15 solos

Faculty: six

Competition support staff: one (Contreras)

Robert Contreras was a comp kid himself before performing on cruise ships and with Siegfried and Roy in their famous Las Vegas show. Now that he’s become a teacher, he deliberately keeps his business small. Since 2008, he has rented studio space on afternoons and weekends in a physical therapy building. “My heart’s in the artistry,” he says. “If it became a bigger studio, I might lose some of that. After 10 years I might want my own space, but I’m happy now.”

Contreras

As a teacher he had to learn the same lesson he now relates to his dancers: It’s not as much about winning medals as it is valuing hard work for its own sake. “I was that teacher—I felt like winning high points would prove to everyone that I was a great teacher,” he says. “I felt it would define me. That drove me crazy, and I was more stressed and I yelled at the kids more. Believe it or not, the more I removed that and focused on the process, the more the accolades came.”

A few years ago, Inspire had a large group number competing against another group number that wasn’t as strong. At the medal ceremony, the director announced the other group as winner, in error. “The other kids were so excited, screaming and jumping,” says Contreras. The announcer realized his mistake and corrected it, taking the trophy back. “The dancers’ shoulders melted,” says Contreras. “But before I could even get backstage, my company had given the award to the other team. The owner of the other studio was in tears. My dancers realized it was the best thing to do, to let them keep that honor. It meant the world to them. To me, that was a huge moment—it isn’t all about trophies.”

Dance Connection 2 minis

Dance Connection 2

Chandler, AZ

Events attended each year: three convention/competitions, two competitions, a few more optional competitions for solos.

Total enrollment: 500

Dancers competing: 90

Dances created for competitions per year: 40–50

Faculty: 25

Competition support staff: four (including Gooch’s daughters)

When MaryAnna Gooch launched Dance Connection 2 dance studio, she had two young daughters who were dance students. Two and a half decades later, the school has blossomed, with the same two daughters now working enthusiastically alongside her. She credits DC2’s success in competition to solid training (including at least four to eight hours per week of ballet) and especially great choreography. “Everybody can train dancers, but you have to have really good choreography to win,” she says. “My daughters are really good choreographers.”

Gooch

Though competition plays a big role at DC2, Gooch also instills in her dancers the desire to give back to their community. “We get so involved in competition and each girl thinking about herself: ‘When am I going to do my solo, where am I going to place?’” she says. “Trying to get away from that and to realize that not everybody has that opportunity or that ability can really help.”

Each year, the studio donates the proceeds from its Christmas show to a charity. This past year it was Hope Kids, an organization that creates events for children with life-threatening illnesses. In a workshop, a DC2 dancer partnered with each child from Hope Kids, dancing alongside them.

“We wanted our dancers to know what it’s like to help someone,” says Gooch, “and to realize how lucky and fortunate they are.” The school then invited Hope Kids to perform in the finale of their Christmas show. “After the show finished, I was so exhilarated and happy,” she says. “I thought, ‘What is this feeling?’ It just comes from doing something helpful. And finally I realized—that’s what hope is.” DT

Former DT editor Caitlin Sims grew up dancing with Ballet Pacifica in Laguna Beach, California, and is now mother of a serious ballet student. 

Photos (from top) courtesy of CC & Co.; Graciela Federico, courtesy of Inspire Dance Company; courtesy of Dance Connection 2

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