How to Do Competition Season on a Budget

Center Stage Dance Academy at Diva Dance Competition (photo by Daedalus Media Group, courtesy Diva Dance)

Diving into the competition and convention circuit with your studio's team can be an exhilarating experience. But it frequently comes with a steep price tag, including entry fees, costume expenses, and (especially) travel costs. "The remote location of our town means we inevitably need to travel to compete," says Mary Myers of The Dance Connection in Woodward, OK. "Dancers have to budget for gas, hotels, and food." When Nationals roll around, that travel bill can skyrocket with the added price of plane tickets.

All this money talk have your heart racing? Don't panic! A conservative budget doesn't mean you have to sit out the season. Here's how to get the most bang for your competition buck.


Plan with a Purpose

The most important money advice for comp season is also the simplest: Make a specific budget. That may seem self-explanatory, but drawing up a budget involves a good deal of planning and communication between you, your family, and your studio. Your studio director will probably know the season's competition and convention schedule well in advance, for example, which can help you spread out expenses. "We build competition and convention prices into students' monthly tuition, so that they don't get hit with a surprising bill," says Tiffany Prout-Leitao, director of Center Stage Dance Academy in eastern Massachusetts. If your studio asks for these payments à la carte, consider reaching out to the director about setting up a payment schedule instead.

If you're really ahead of the ball, you could even help your studio director by researching some of the more cost-effective competitions or conventions in the circuit. For the most part, entry fees are a set rate, which makes cost comparisons fairly simple. Debbie Roberts of Showstopper recommends keeping an eye out for hidden costs, like overpriced performance videos and apparel, or parent "observation fees" at conventions.

Finally, planning ahead can help cap the cost of travel. "A lot of hotels will offer group rates, if you have the numbers," Myers says. And you can combine cost-saving forces by carpooling and packing food together, too.

Think Local

Yes, a lot of competitions and conventions happen in bigger cities. But being a small-town studio dancer doesn't mean you'll need to fly to have a great comp experience. "Nearly every smaller city hosts competitions or conventions of some sort," Prout-Leitao says. She encourages students to explore budget-friendly options that are within driving distance.

Center Stage competing at Step Up 2 Dance (photo by Take 2, courtesy Showstopper)

You can also ask your studio director about bringing the convention experience to you. Prout-Leitao invites local talent to offer in-house workshops, which are both less expensive for students and more tailored to their needs. "They may not be the big-name choreographers students are used to seeing on TV, but that doesn't mean they don't have something valuable to offer," she says.

Put the "Fun" in Fundraising

Whether it's selling seasonal items door to door or holding car washes and bake sales, many studios offer students traditional fundraising methods to help defray some of the costs of competition. And reaching out to community businesses for support can be even more effective. "We discovered that offering an experience was a great way to raise substantial funds," Myers says. The Dance Connection's fundraisers have included a package deal with a local hair salon—moms could get their hair styled while their kids played and danced at the studio—and a lottery-based fine-dining experience. "These events don't cost us a penny, because businesses happily partner with us for the exposure," she says.

Sponsorship is another way to leverage your community to raise funds. At Center Stage Dance Academy, dancers have the opportunity to seek out sponsors, who get free advertising on T-shirts and in recital brochures in return for their support. "Dancers get to keep all of the funds from the sponsorships they solicit, so it can be very beneficial for them," Prout-Leitao says.

Speak Up

Ultimately, each studio has its own approach to accommodating students' financial needs, so open communication between students and instructors is key. Prout-Leitao recommends setting up a meeting involving you, your parents, and your studio director to set goals and establish a reasonable budget. "A lot of studios can offer work-studies or assistantships to students, where they do things like bookkeeping in exchange for discounted rates," she says.

Dancers competing at Showstopper (photo by Mid Coast Photo, courtesy Step Up 2 Dance)

Money matters are always sensitive, and it's normal to be hesitant about bringing up your family's situation. But there's never any shame in asking for help, and most directors will appreciate your honesty. "We try to respect families' privacy when it comes to matters of financial need," Myers says. "Never be afraid to speak up if you need extra funding. Otherwise, we just won't know."

A version of this story appeared in the October 2018 issue of Dance Spirit with the title "Competing on a Budget."

How To
Ballet Academy East student Stella MacDonald (Erin Baiano)

It's the rite of passage every young ballerina dreams of: getting her first pair of pointe shoes. But it's important to remember that a lot (and we mean a lot) of hard work and technique-honing leads up to this moment—not to mention getting the green light from your teacher. Dance Spirit turned to Jenna Lavin, former Miami City Ballet dancer and principal of the pre-professional division at Ballet Academy East in NYC, for three exercises meant to strengthen, train, and stabilize the muscles you'll be using once you're on pointe.

Keep Reading Show less
Fitness
Rochelle Mendoza-Axle, Courtesy Stiskin

In today's dance world, versatility is key. It's not enough to be a master of one style—even when they specialize in one area, dancers are frequently asked to fuse multiple genres, or step out of their comfort zone for specific projects. With their wide variety of summer programs, Joffrey Ballet School aims to prepare dancers for the demands of a professional career. We asked five faculty members to share how they do this:

Keep Reading Show less
Sponsored by Joffrey Ballet School
Kendra Oyesanya, Marcus Mitchell, and Carlito Olivero (courtesy YouTube/Lionsgate)

Happy "Step Up: High Water" eve, y'all! Everyone's favorite internet dance show makes its triumphant Season 2 return tomorrow, March 20th, on YouTube. In anticipation of the premiere, we turned to Kendra Oyesanya (Poppy), Marcus Mitchell (Dondre), and Carlito Olivero (Davis) for the scoop on all things "Step Up"—from on-set shenanigans, to embarrassing stories, to scenes to watch out for this season (hint: Episode 2's dance battle, and the season finale's final number!).

Keep Reading Show less
Dance News
The cast of "Oklahoma!" during last year's run at St. Ann's Warehouse (Teddy Wolff, courtesy DKC/O&M)

You may think you know Oklahoma!, the classic Rodgers and Hammerstein musical that made history when it first opened in 1943 and is best known for Agnes de Mille's groundbreaking dream ballet. But the latest Broadway iteration of the musical isn't your average trip to the frontier. Opening April 7, the revival features new choreography by Mark Morris alum John Heginbotham, and swaps the traditional windswept-prairie set and full orchestra for an intimate, minimalistic staging and a bluegrass band. Coming fresh off an acclaimed run at St. Ann's Warehouse in Brooklyn, the daring, unconventional production is sure to turn heads when it begins previews on Broadway tonight. Dance Spirit caught up with Heginbotham to get all the details on the dancing, and what it was like choreographing his first Broadway show.

Keep Reading Show less
Trending-posts
BLACKPINK has worked with A-list choreographers, including Kyle Hanagami and Parris Goebel.

K-pop is in the middle of a stateside takeover. South Korea's boy bands and girl groups can always be counted on to produce catchy, upbeat songs—and, most importantly for us dance fans, to feature colorful choreography prominently in their music videos. Over the past few years, the K-pop machine has been churning out a seemingly endless stream of talented groups with choreography worth watching on repeat, and some of them are starting to make names for themselves in the U.S. Check out our list of the dancetastic K-pop bands you need to know.

Keep Reading Show less
Commercial
Briar Nolet did NOT come to play. (NBC)

Have you ever felt that the Duels round on NBC's "World of Dance" was a bit unfair? During the Duels, each act's success hinges not on how objectively good they are, but on how good they are relative to a single challenger. Which means that mediocre acts can move forward if they best slightly-more-mediocre opponents, while frontrunners who're given tougher matchups end up knocked out.

Newly-engaged goddess J.Lo and her team get that. Which is why, last night, "WOD" introduced a twist designed to make the Duels more just: a redemption round. Formerly, five acts were eliminated in each division during the Duels. But from here out, the two highest scorers of those five will go head-to-head to earn a wild card spot. And that made last night's Upper Division Duels significantly more exciting.

Who just dueled it? Who was redeemed? Who made Derek Hough scream like a teenage girl? Onward to the episode highlights!

Keep Reading Show less
Dance on TV
American Ballet Theatre principal Devon Teuscher (left) meeting with Bloch owner David Fox (right) in NYC. (Marius Bugge for Bloch)

For professional ballet dancers, the search for the perfect pointe shoe is a lifelong quest. Even the smallest adjustment in manufacturing can make the difference between a shoe that allows a ballerina to soar and a shoe that detracts from her dancing. So what goes into creating the perfect fit? A lot of hard work, patience, and masterful attention to detail. We got the inside scoop on how a Bloch pointe shoe is made from beginning to end, and went inside one of American Ballet Theatre principal Devon Teuscher's touch-up fittings with Bloch owner David Fox in NYC.

Keep Reading Show less
Ballet
Martina Sandionigi as Giselle

We updated your favorite story-ballet tutus with modern details that'll please any 21st-century prima ballerina. Who needs a cavalier, anyway?

Keep Reading Show less
Dance Fashion
Dancers are total brainiacs.

Dancing impacts pretty much every aspect of our lives—including our brains. That's right: Dance makes us smart. Like, super smart. Here are seven ways being a dancer enhances your brainpower.

Keep Reading Show less
Just for Fun
Ballet Academy East student Stella MacDonald (Erin Baiano)

It's the rite of passage every young ballerina dreams of: getting her first pair of pointe shoes. But it's important to remember that a lot (and we mean a lot) of hard work and technique-honing leads up to this moment—not to mention getting the green light from your teacher. Dance Spirit turned to Jenna Lavin, former Miami City Ballet dancer and principal of the pre-professional division at Ballet Academy East in NYC, for three exercises meant to strengthen, train, and stabilize the muscles you'll be using once you're on pointe.

Keep Reading Show less
Fitness
The ultimate dance mom: Debbie Allen with her daughter, Vivian Nixon (courtesy Nixon)

Dance moms: Where would we be without them? We all know how much support and help they give us—in addition to loads of love. Here are 10 reasons real-life dance moms are undeniably the best.

Keep Reading Show less
Dancer to Dancer
Photo by Samantha Little

It's the fall of 2018. As the Brigham Young University Cougarettes step onto the field at LaVell Edwards stadium in Provo, UT, a crowd of nearly 64 thousand erupts into cheers. The dancers take their places, and a feeling of anticipation hangs in the air: Their reputation precedes them.

The music—Ciara's banger "Level Up"—begins, and unbelievable precision ensues. Eighteen dancers attack the highly technical choreography, which nods at viral social-dance sensations and continuously builds in energy. The school's mascot, Cosmo the Cougar, joins the team on the field, and the audience goes wild. As the piece ends, the sound in the stadium is deafening. The 16-time national-title-winning group has proved once again why they're the standard for college dance team success—they're just that good.

Keep Reading Show less
Dance Team
Paloma Garcia-Lee (center, in gold) and the cast of "Fosse/Verdon" (FX)

The extraordinary Paloma Garcia-Lee, who's danced in no fewer than five Broadway shows, can adapt to any choreographer's style. And before heading back to Broadway this spring in Moulin Rouge! (choreographed by Sonya Tayeh), she's tackling the work of one of the most iconic choreographers of all time: Bob Fosse.

Garcia-Lee plays Adrienne in the new FX limited series "Fosse/Verdon," premiering April 9, which follows the romantic and creative relationship of Fosse (Sam Rockwell) and his muse Gwen Verdon (Michelle Williams). Hamilton's Lin-Manuel Miranda, Thomas Kail, Steve Levenson, and Andy Blankenbuehler serve as executive producers, with Kail directing and Blankenbuehler choreographing.

With the exception of performing on The Tony Awards, "Fosse/Verdon" marks Garcia-Lee's TV debut. "I'm really setting my sights on more on-camera work," she says. "Getting the chance to flex my muscles as an actress in this different medium, but still have the dance part, is all really exciting." (She's got real acting chops, too: While a student at the North Carolina School of the Arts, she actually quit dance briefly to study acting instead.)

Dance Spirit spoke to Garcia-Lee about "Fosse/Verdon"'s epic final callback, how she got cast, and the transition from stage to screen.

Keep Reading Show less
Dance on TV

Video

mailbox

Get Dance Spirit in your inbox

Giveaways