To Compete or Not to Compete: Why This Dancer Chose the Non-Comp Route
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.
I sometimes competed solos, and did seven to eight numbers per competition. It was a lot. We'd usually rehearse right after school, from 3 to 9 pm. It was difficult to balance dance and school, and there were many late nights as I tried to fit it all in.
(Photo by Misty Matthews, courtesy Matthews)
A few years ago, I choreographed my own solo and competed it at NYCDA. I enjoyed it more than any of my other solos—and it got first place at Regionals. It was so rewarding to show the judges that this is me, this is something I made. I realized I wanted to explore my own choreography, instead of spending all my time practicing someone else's.
So, eventually, I stopped competing. Comp season can be kind of crazy. I didn't necessarily like the logistics of the whole comp scene, partly because I'm not a competitive person in the first place. I'd rather dance in a concert than perform for a panel of judges.
I joined my school's dance team and began choreographing for them, and I further developed my love of choreography. Last year, I entered a video of one of my self-choreographed solos in a school art contest called Reflections, and I ended up winning first place in the dance category—not just at my school, but in the entire country. I was invited to fly to the annual Reflections gala in Las Vegas to perform the piece. It was a huge moment. I felt like I'd figured out what I wanted to do.
(Photo by Misty Matthews, courtesy Matthews)
Since then, I've developed many new friendships and relationships with mentors, artistic directors, and members of the dance community. I've been exploring ways that will further my dance career beyond competitions. I recently auditioned for SALT Contemporary Dance Company's second company, SALT II, and earned a company contract. I'm still not entirely sure how I want to pursue dance in the future, but I know that eventually I want to be part of a dance environment where I'm allowed to create. I'd love to teach other people my choreography and encourage them to make their own movement, too. I want to help other dancers understand that it's more important to be better than you were yesterday than to be better than anyone else.
A version of this story appeared in the October 2017 issue of Dance Spirit with the title "I Don't Compete."
Harper Watters is a ballet dancer for today's generation. A social media maestro and a charismatic performer, the Houston Ballet soloist is equally at home in front of the camera hosting his hit YouTube series, "The Pre Show"; interacting with fans on his crazy-popular Instagram account; or showing off his beautiful classical technique onstage. It's a multifaceted identity that's proven to be invaluable to his career—and it's taking him to places he never even dreamed of.
Getting corrections from our dance instructors is how we grow, and as students, it's important that we do our best to apply every correction right away. But sometimes—whether it's because we're in physical pain, or have a lot on our minds, or are just not paying attention—those corrections don't sink in. And from a teacher's standpoint, giving the same corrections time and time again gets old very fast. Here are 10 important corrections dance teachers are tired of giving. Take them to heart!
The dancers who take our breath away are the risk-takers, the ones who appear completely fearless onstage. "When you see somebody trying to travel more, go farther, push the limits of their physical abilities, that's always going to be inspiring," says Ballet BC dancer Alexis Fletcher.
But dance training can feel like it's in conflict with that idea. We spend thousands of hours in the studio trying to do steps perfectly, and that pursuit of perfection can make us anxious about taking risks. What if we fail? What if we fall?
Luckily, fearlessness is a mental skill that you can work on, just as you work on your technique. Here's how you can learn to push yourself past your limits.
When we think of a dancer who's broken barriers, American Ballet Theatre principal Misty Copeland tends to be the name that comes to mind. And though Copeland has been a crucial advocate for equality in the world of ballet, Raven Wilkinson—a mentor of Copeland's—is considered one of the original pioneers of the movement.
In 1955, Wilkinson became the first African American to dance with the renowned Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo. Her fortitude in the face of bigotry and hate cemented her legacy. Now, with the release of the new children's book Trailblazer: The Story of Ballerina Raven Wilkinson, a new generation of dancers will be inspired by her tale of overcoming obstacles to achieve a dream.
The book details Wilkinson's life, from her experience as a young dancer training in Harlem, to her run-ins with the Ku Klux Klan while on tour with Ballet Russe, to her later ballet career in Europe. "There were times where my heart really hurt because of the situations I had to deal with," she says. "But I always had faith that I was made to be a dancer and that I was gonna dance."
Dance Spirit spoke with Wilkinson to discuss the new book and get her take on racial equality within the ballet world.
Postmodern pioneer Trisha Brown redefined how dance is seen and felt. A founding member of Judson Dance Theater, Brown frequently collaborated with other experimental artists like Yvonne Rainer, Merce Cunningham, Twyla Tharp, and Steve Paxton.
She embraced pedestrian movement, pairing everyday gesture with rhythm and fluidity. "It's liquid," says Wendy Perron, who danced with Brown in the '60s and '70s. "Like a river with many tributaries, water coming out of a faucet, or being on a raft and seeing the water move away in different directions." Brown also pushed beyond stages with choreography in fields, museums—even on the sides of buildings.
There's a common misconception that a dancer's body has to be thin. But the truth is that talent knows no body type, and the number on the scale never determines an artist's capabilities. Here are some extraordinary dancers fighting the stereotype of what a dancer "should" look like.