Friend or Foe?
Madi Thielman isn't fazed by the fact that her best friend is up next. (by Propix)
You’ve rehearsed your competition solo for months. But on the day of the event, who takes the title? Your best friend. Then, when you’re both up for the lead in your studio’s big performance, who gets it? She does. Your feelings toward her probably aren’t very friendly anymore. You don’t even want to talk to her, much less watch her perform and cheer her on. How can you fight these feelings—or avoid them entirely?
In the tight-knit dance world, it’s common to have to compete against someone you’re close to—at a dance competition, for a scholarship or for a coveted role in an upcoming show. Try these tricks to keep your friendship on track.
1. Put Your Friendship First
Lindsay Arnold and Witney Carson, both of “So You Think You Can Dance” Season 9 and “Dancing with the Stars,” have gone head to head for years—first at ballroom, jazz, contemporary and hip-hop competitions growing up, and then, in 2012, on live TV. Throughout their years as dance rivals, they’ve remained close friends. What’s their secret? “Friendship should come before competition, no matter what,” Lindsay says. “Never sacrifice a good friend for the sake of winning.”
Nadine Kaslow, a psychologist who works with dancers, agrees. “Talk with each other about the priority you’re placing on your friendship,” she says. “A good relationship can withstand challenges if you’re committed to each other, and if you’re honest and open in sharing your feelings.”
2. Focus on Doing Your Best
“If you’re feeling anxiety about competing against a friend, remember that first and foremost, you’re competing against yourself,” Kaslow says. It’s more productive to focus on your own performance than to stress about your competitor’s.
“I always tell my students not to worry about the competition, but to aim for their personal best,” says Deborah Agrusa, director of Deborah’s Stage Door Center for the Performing Arts in Rochester Hills, MI. If you’re confident that you’ve given your best effort, you may find it easier to be happy if your friend gets the prize.
3. Push Each Other to Improve
"SYTYCD" Season 9's Top 16, including Lindsay (center) and Witney (bottom row, second from left) (by Adam Rose/Fox)
For Lindsay and Witney, training together meant seeing each other’s growth firsthand. “Having someone close to me who works as hard as Witney kept me motivated and pushed me throughout my dance career,” Lindsay says.
Best friends Paige Moss and Madi Thielman, both 14, dance at The Dance Zone in Henderson, NV, and try to learn from each other’s strengths. For example, “Paige has beautiful emotions when she performs,” Madi says. “She always gets compliments about her facial expressions. I try to copy that.” Paige, meanwhile, says Madi’s achievements at competitions, including several scholarship wins, have pushed Paige to want to be better.
“Being surrounded by excellent people will help you to become a better dancer, performer and person,” Agrusa says. “Aspire to be like your friend. You’ll be better off because of each other.”
4. Respect Each Other’s Feelings
Losing hurts, even if you lose to someone you care about. While it’s important to congratulate your BFF if she’s excited about winning a role or title you wanted, your friendship should also mean being able to share your own pain and disappointment. If you end up on the losing side, “be patient with yourself,” Kaslow says. “Seek support, either from your best friend or from other friends or family. If you let that pain fester, it will be harder to move past it.”
If you won a competition or scholarship over your friend, try to understand how she’s feeling. “She may need you to comfort her,” Kaslow explains. “Or, she may ask you for some space. Respect that. Say, ‘OK, let’s talk again in a few days.’ ” Think about what you’d want from your friend if the roles were reversed.
5. Step Outside the Studio
Onstage and off, the dance world is naturally competitive. Get away from that atmosphere by spending time with your friend outside of dance. “It’s always good to do social things beyond the dance setting,” Kaslow says. Go shopping. See a movie. Talk about things you have in common that aren’t dance-related.
“Witney and I hung out all the time,” Lindsay remembers. “We were close because of dance, but the outside things were what really strengthened our relationship.”
Even the most talented dancer won’t win all the time or dance every principal role. Disappointments, when they come, will be easier to handle with a friend by your side. “In life, you’re going to face losses, but you have to stay positive,” Madi says. “Paige and I are grateful to have each other.”
Much of Janelle Ginestra's career has been about helping others shine. She's dedicated herself to supporting and cheerleading her partner, WilldaBeast Adams; the emerging talents in their dance company, ImmaBEAST; and the countless dancers she inspires at master classes and conventions. Her YouTube channel has become a launching pad for young talents like "Fraternal Twins" Larsen Thompson and Taylor Hatala, thanks to viral videos featuring Ginestra's creative vision.
But Ginestra's a skyrocketing success in her own right—an in-demand choreographer, a social media influencer, and a dance entrepreneur, building a legacy one eight-count at a time. It's time for her turn in the spotlight. And she's more than ready. "I want to be a legend in whatever I do," she says. We'd argue that she already is.
For more on choosing whether to compete or not, click here.
I started dance classes at a young age. By the time I was 3, I was training at The Dance Club, and I grew up there. I started with the basics—ballet and jazz—and eventually added tap, tumbling, contemporary, and hip hop.
Early on, I did compete. I remember my first time: I did a trio at a small local competition, and it got first place. The trophy was as tall as I was, and I loved it. I attended conventions as a mini, and had the opportunity to take classes from Travis Wall, Sonya Tayeh, Andy Pellick, and Joey Dowling-Fakhrieh. There was so much variety—I was in awe.
For more on choosing whether to compete or not, click here.
My mom was a dancer growing up, and she went on to become a dance teacher, so I've really grown up in the studio. I started classes when I was 2, and by the time I was 9, I was training at The Dance Club and knew I wanted to dedicate all my time to dance.
Daphne Lee is a queen, and not just in the "OMG Girl Boss Alert" sense of the word. She's an actual queen—a beauty queen. Crowned Miss Black USA in August, she's been doing double duty as she continues to dance with the Memphis based dance company, Collage Dance Collective. Lee's new title has given her the means to encourage other black girls and boys to pursue their dreams, while also pursuing dreams of her own. The scholarship money awarded with the pageant title will assist her as she earns a Masters of Fine Arts degree at Hollins University.
When a choreographer finds a composer whose music truly inspires her, it can feel like a match made in dance heaven. Some choreographers work with the same composers so frequently that they become known for their partnerships. New York City Ballet soloist and resident choreographer Justin Peck, for example, has tapped composer Sufjan Stevens numerous times (last spring, the two premiered The Decalogue at NYCB, to rave reviews); L.A. Dance Project's Benjamin Millepied's working relationship with composer Nico Muhly has spanned a decade and two continents; and when tap dancer Michelle Dorrance premiered the first-ever Works & Process Rotunda Project, a site-specific work for New York City's Guggenheim Museum, last year, percussionist Nicholas Van Young was by her side as an equal partner. Successful collaborations require compatibility between artists, direct and honest communication, and flexible, open minds. But when the stars align, working with a composer can be extremely rewarding.
For ballerinas, it's the dream role to end all dream roles: Odette/Odile in Swan Lake, the type of part dancers spend years preparing for and whole careers perfecting. And it's a role that New York City Ballet principal Tiler Peck never thought she'd dance. Though Peck is one of the world's preeminent ballerinas, her short stature made Odette/Odile, typically performed by longer, leggier dancers, seem (almost literally) out of reach.
Then—surprise!—her name popped up on the cast list for NYCB's fall season run of Swan Lake.