Presenting awards at Showstopper Nationals in 2017 (photo by Aaron Williams, courtesy Showstopper)

How to Lose Gracefully at Dance Competitions

Competition award ceremonies represent the culmination of months of preparation. It's no wonder dancers feel the pressure! But the truth is, most of us won't come away with the grand prize. How do you prepare yourself for the results, whatever they may be? DS spoke with teachers and comp judges on how to cope at different stages of the competition—and to use any disappointment to your advantage.


You're Getting Ready For The Competition, And You're Already Nervous About How You'll Place.

"Being competitive isn't bad," says Bea Arnold, competition judge and former jazz program director for United Spirit Association, and dance team director for Classical Academy High School in Escondido, CA. "That's where drive comes from, and it's how we push each other to improve. But don't lose sight of your larger goals and objectives."

Set goals that aren't tied to the awards podium, like technical or showmanship elements that you hope to nail. Offstage goals could include taking a workshop from a choreographer you admire, or representing your team or studio well by being friendly and encouraging to your peers.

The other side of preparing for a competition involves managing your expectations. Working hard in hopes of earning recognition is one thing, but expecting a certain award sets you up for disappointment, no matter how talented you are. "Work really hard, but remember there's always somebody better, so don't expect anything," says Christy Curtis, owner and director of CC & Co. Dance Complex in NC.

You Just Finished Your Routine, And You Feel Like You Messed Up And Hurt Your Odds Of Winning.

Disappointment is natural, but "when you come offstage, know that everybody who loves you is moved by your courage to perform, regardless of the outcome," says Curtis. "Your mistake does not determine your value as a dancer." Tapper and choreographer Anthony Morigerato, who judges at competitions like NUVO and The Dance Awards, advises dancers to do this: "The minute you come offstage, write down three things you think were amazing about your performance. Then, write down three things that could've been better." This helps put mistakes in perspective and has you take responsibility for your artistic and technical development. "Your performances will improve because you're in competition with yourself—not with an adjudication system or another dancer," he says.

You're Disappointed By The Outcome At The Awards Ceremony.

Etiquette and sportsmanship help you handle tense moments. Many studios and teams have awards-ceremony guidelines: "No talking, phones down, pay attention. 'Eyebrows up' to show you are engaged and thankful to be part of this process," Arnold says.

Applaud for all categories, and stay for the full ceremony. Your reaction reflects your character, and graciousness goes a long way. As a director and choreographer, Morigerato hires dancers from competitions, and talent is not the only factor he considers. "Being a good person is more important than winning an award," he says.

As the awards wrap up, express your gratitude. "Acknowledge and thank everyone who participated in the event: fellow dancers, staff, and administrators," Curtis says.

Other Dancers Are Posting About The Competition On Social Media.

Never complain about competition results on social media. "Being passive-aggressive or a sore loser on social media is just as bad as in real life," Morigerato says.

How to engage authentically if you're disappointed? Lift up fellow dancers. "Give fair due to everybody's effort and energy," Morigerato says. You may notice that being positive about other performances and people who inspire you helps buoy your spirits.

You're Back At Your First Rehearsal After A Loss, Reviewing Judges' Feedback.

Remember that critiques are for your benefit. "As a judge, I'm trying to find constructive things for dancers to work on to help them become better performers," Morigerato says.

(From left) Anthony Morigerato and Mike Minery presenting the Best Tap Performance award at The Dance Awards (courtesy The Dance Awards)

At Curtis' studio, dancers use this to their advantage. "Every criticism is taken into consideration," Curtis says. "Feedback videos are valuable rehearsal tools."

Compare the judges' notes to your own, and work with your teachers to prioritize and address them. Morigerato encourages dancers to focus on a few notes at a time instead of trying to correct everything all at once.

Keep in mind that this score sheet represents one performance and one panel of judges. Subjectivity is unavoidable in adjudication, which is why it can help to attend multiple competitions in a season to get a range of reactions to your work.

In the end, the process and the experience matter more than the outcome. "When you really work hard at something and you enjoy it," Curtis says, "the reward is that you feel great about yourself."


A version of this story appeared in the March 2018 issue of Dance Spirit with the title "Winning Isn't Everything."

Latest Posts


Viktorina Kapitonova in "Swan Lake Bath Ballet" (photo by Ryan Capstick, courtesy Corey Baker Dance)

Please Enjoy the Quarantine Genius of “Swan Lake Bath Ballet”

That old saying about limitations breeding creativity—hat tip to Orson Welles—has never felt more relevant than in these lockdown days. Here's the latest brilliant dance project born (hatched?) of quarantine restrictions: "Swan Lake Bath Ballet," a contemporary take on the classic featuring 27 A-list ballet dancers performing from their own bathtubs.

Keep Reading SHOW LESS
Project 21 dancers (from left) Selena Hamilton, Gracyn French, and Dyllan Blackburn (Photo by Quinn Wharton; hair and makeup throughout by Angela Huff for Mark Edward Inc.)

How Project 21 Is Shaping the Next Generation of Competition-Dance Standouts

"I wish I had a better story about the name," says Molly Long, founder of the Orange County, CA–based dance studio Project 21. In truth, it's a play on the fact that she was born on the twenty-first of August, and 21 is her favorite number. "I was away on a teaching tour, the audition announcement was going live on Instagram the next day, and I desperately needed a name. Project 21 was just the least cheesy of the options I thought of!"

The fact that fans might expect the name to have some profound meaning speaks to the near-mythic status Project 21 has achieved on the competition and convention scene since its founding in 2014. Long's dancers are all wholly individual, yet jell seamlessly as a group, and are consistently snagging top prizes everywhere on the circuit. Each season brings a slew of new accolades, high-caliber faculty, and legions of devoted followers.

The industry has taken notice of the studio's unique ethos. "Molly gets through to her dancers in a special way, and they have this incomparable level of commitment to their craft as a result," says dancer and choreographer Billy Bell, who's worked closely with Long and her dancers. "That's what sets them apart—it's like a little dose of magic."

Keep Reading SHOW LESS

Editors' Picks

contest
Enter the Cover Model Search