By Rebecca Martin.
From a small town eisteddfod to the international Prix de Lausanne, there is a ballet competition for every age and every level of dancer. Whether you’re a young ballet student, in full-time training, or are a seasoned professional, the benefits of ballet competitions are numerous. However, there are some drawbacks, and the ongoing question of whether ballet should even be competitive. If you’re weighing whether or not to enter the world of ballet competitions, or are already a regular on the competition scene, Dance Informa has put together a guide to ballet competitions to help you navigate the tutus, tights, tears and trophies.
For younger dancers, competitions expose them to the fun of stage lights, costumes, make-up and prizes. For parents, it can mean long car rides, tantrums and endless sewing of sequins. Yet the pros far outweigh the cons, and the skills and discipline learned through competing can be carried on to other aspects of the dancer’s life, making them a more focussed and mature adult. Personally, some of the fondest memories of my childhood involve ballet competitions. I formed great friendships, developed an affinity for the smell of backstage, learned to be organised and to perform even when nervous. Importantly, I learned the spirit of sportsmanship. It wasn’t about winning, it was about performing on stage in front of an audience, having fun and being friendly with fellow competitors.
If you’ve ever seen an episode of the television show Dance Moms, you will be forgiven for thinking that competitions are cut throat events that involve screaming teachers and complaining mothers. While that may happen from time to time, it’s important to find a ballet teacher who is encouraging and selects students for competition who are able to handle the pressure and are up to standard. Competitions are not the be all and end all of ballet training. If a teacher is putting too much emphasis on competition and neglecting the technique and enjoyment aspects, then consider trying other ballet schools.
For older dance students, ballet competitions can mean scholarships to prestigious schools, prize money or even job prospects. While bringing home a medal or wad of cash is fantastic, the greatest benefit of competing can be the connections dancers make to ballet companies and their peers. Competitions are reshaping the way dancers audition for companies. Rather than attending multiple auditions at what is often a great financial expense, major ballet competitions are used by ballet company directors to source new recruits. Directors can see the dancers both in class and on stage, something they cannot do in a regular studio audition. USA’s International Ballet Competition (IBC) is basically an audition for attending company and school directors. According to Australia’s Stanton Welch, who is currently Houston Ballet’s Artistic Director, competitions augment the audition process and are a great way for directors to shop for talent.
The Prix de Lausanne, one of the world’s greatest ballet competitions for pre-professional dancers now schedules networking into the program. An afternoon is set aside for schools to set up booths to talk with potential new students, so dancers don’t have to be a prize winner to be awarded a scholarship or offered a place in a training programme.
For dance students of any age, it is important to keep expectations realistic. Judging is subjective, and things can go wrong on stage. No matter how much dancers rehearse, they still may fall out of a pirouette or fluff their balance in arabesque, and no matter how well they perform, they still may be beaten at judging time. It is important to value the quality of the learning experience and the performance itself over the number of medals or prizes won. Students can return to class after competitions with inflated egos after winning or become overanxious about their dancing if they aren’t as successful as they hoped. Some dancers receive scholarships and job offers after being eliminated from competitions, which is far more beneficial in the long run than a medallion or prize money. Both dance students and parents, as well as teachers, need to keep things in perspective and not focus on a gold medal.
For dancers in a ballet company, their career is going to consist of constant auditions, so the practise early on is extremely beneficial. Every time a visiting choreographer comes in to watch company class and cast for their next work, they will be auditioning for them. The competition doesn’t end once a dancer gets a contract with a company.
Most local competitions allow entry through an application form. Some may request a photo or video. The bigger competitions will require dancers to attend an audition class or series of elimination rounds, and international competitions will first need to see an audition video.
- Speak to your ballet teacher about local competitions and check Dance Informa’s listings for upcoming opportunities.
- Do your research. Visit the website of the competition and carefully read the entry form and guidelines.
- Make sure you are eligible. There are often age restrictions and sometimes even syllabus restrictions.
- Pick a routine or variation that compliments your abilities. Don’t do something that is too difficult for you. It’s better to do a simple routine well than fumble through a tricky number.
- Make the most of every experience. Listen to the judges and teachers and apply their feedback.
- Enjoy the experience! You’re on stage in front of a supportive audience.
- Talk to as many people as possible.
- Have a make-up kit that you take with you to every competition. Include needle and thread, resin, hairspray, hair pins and spare tights.
- Be prepared! Rehearse, practise in your costume, test out the stage before you go on, get plenty of rest, and fuel your body.
- Have a back up copy of your music.
- Remember that people are not only watching your dancing, but the way you behave. Be professional, attentive and courteous.
- Give up! The more competitions you do, the more confident you will become.
- Let your nerves get the better of you. What is the worst that can happen?
- Be negative or critical of others.
- Put anything extra on your application form or audition DVD. Follow the guidelines.
Remember that the process is the prize. Here is a listing of various ballet competitions around the world:
Photo (top): Under 12 dancers from The Dance Spot perform Tchaikovsky’s Serenade for Strings at McDonald’s Sydney Eisteddfod. Photo courtesy of Sydney Eisteddfod.