How to Keep Dance Competitions from Ruining Your Friendships

Ellie Wagner (center) at Hall of Fame Dance Challenge's 2018 Nationals (photo by Hall of Fame, courtesy Wagner)

Each competition season comes with a range of emotions—emotions that tend to test even our strongest dance friendships. We spoke with comp-world veterans about how to deal with five common friendship-ruining competition scenarios, so you can keep the "forever" in "BFF."


Your bestie was chosen to be highlighted in your routine, and you're instantly envious.

It's natural to feel that way when other dancers get opportunities that you want. Of course you're happy for them, but it's hard to not take it personally.

When faced with this situation, Abigail Werner from Center Stage Performing Arts Studio in Orem, UT, recommends channeling your envy into something more constructive. "When I get jealous, I just tell myself to work harder, and make sure I congratulate the person who got what I wanted," she says. "They earned it, and that's how I would want to be treated, too."

Ellie Wagner, a dancer from Larkin Dance Studio in Maplewood, MN, says she tries to look at the bigger picture in times like these. "You'll dance with these people at least until you graduate high school," she says. "Cheer your friend on, because your team should feel like family."

The same dancers win every solo comp, and it's souring your friendships.

Joanne Chapman, owner of Joanne Chapman School of Dance in Brampton, ON, Canada, says competition should move you forward, not pull you down. "It doesn't matter if your friend always gets first overall with a triple-titanium-platinum and you don't. Judge yourself through your own eyes. If you've made progress from the last time you performed, you've succeeded."

After years of dancing together, Werner's team members have learned to deal with serial winners by remembering that individual successes benefit the team as a whole. "We're all one big family, and we want each other to do well," she says. "There've been times where we've each wanted to win the competition and someone else has beat us, but over time we've learned that we have our own abilities that work together to make something beautiful."

You're the dancer who's always favored, and your team's annoyed.

Chapman says dancers can salvage their friendships by being gracious and humble when things go well for them. "In my 45 years in the business, I've never seen a dancer who was the whole package," she says. "Never forget everyone has something to work on."

That said, Werner recommends keeping your head up if you suspect people are belittling you behind your back. "You've worked hard to get to where you are, and the people talking badly about you are probably just jealous," she says.

Abigail Werner and partner Matthew Bezzant representing the USA at the Backpool Dance Festival in England (photo by Blackpool Dance Festival, courtesy Werner)

As someone who's experienced a few negative comments herself, Wagner also feels the best thing to do is be kind. "Hear them out when they're frustrated, and then kill them with kindness. If they say you're getting opportunities you haven't earned and you know that isn't true, continue working hard and encourage them to do their best, too."

You're starting to think politics are involved at competition, and are tempted to gossip about your suspicions.

While politics have been known to play a role in competition, think before you attribute someone's successes to favoritism. "Don't waste time sitting in the audience talking about how someone might not have earned their win," Wagner says. "Those feelings are natural, but it's what we do about them that'll decide how our friendships turn out. Learn from what others did well. Turn something negative into a positive."

You just won, and your teammate is obviously upset about losing.

Werner experienced this last summer while attending Radix's Nationals. "I got into the Top 4, and I could tell one of my teammates was really discouraged," she says. "She seemed less confident in class, so I made sure to cheer her on and congratulated her when she got noticed. She's an amazing dancer, and just needed to be reminded. I had the power to boost her up, so I did." Focus on being a good person—and friend!—first, and a good dancer second.


A version of this story appeared in the December 2018 issue of Dance Spirit with the title "Friendship Goals."

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