In today's culture, winning is everything—so much so that most dance competitions highlight trophies above all else and emphasize the importance of being on top. But before platinum and first place became top priority, competitions were a chance for dancers to be inspired, have an incredible experience, and grow, as both artists and people.

Some competitions, like National Dance Showcase, are committed to presenting a new model, in the hope that other comps follow suit. Instead of promoting a culture where only winning matters, NDS focuses on nurturing the whole dancer. That doesn't mean NDS or comps like it are any less competitive—it's just about striking the right balance and remembering what a dance competition should really be about:


1. Sportsmanship 

Learning to win—and, more importantly, lose—gracefully is a far more telling test of character than earning a trophy. At NDS, exceptional behavior is celebrated with a special honor: the Backstage Award. "It's given to a studio that exemplifies sportsmanship," says Christopher Jackson, NDS judge. "Who's being really nice to the other dancers in the hallway, who's clapping for the other dancers from the audience, who's really tidy in cleaning up their space, who's treating the backstage staff kindly."

Get Shot by Brian, Courtesy National Dance Showcase

2. The chance to perform 

At its core, a comp is an opportunity for dancers to get onstage and strut their stuff. "A lot of students only get an opportunity to perform in their studio's Christmas show and the spring/summer show, so that's just twice a year," points out Jackson. "It's great to come to a competition and perform—with lights, costumes, makeup, onstage—without even worrying about a trophy."

Competitions are also a way to build confidence and eliminate debilitating stage fright. "Especially if you're doing a solo," says Bria Walton, NDS judge. "Just the confidence to go onstage by yourself and do a routine, that's huge."

3. Community 

Dancers get to forge relationships and network with peers, teachers, and judges. "We try to build and foster a community of dancers that transcends their home studio," says Sonia Pennington, executive director of NDS.

Get Shot By Brian, Courtesy National Dance Showcase

4. Inspiration 

With the chance to take class from renowned teachers, observe the talent of their peers, and learn valuable life lessons about collaboration, competitions are an incredible springboard for young dancers. "Our push for this year at NDS is to inspire dancers," says Pennington. "We want them to see how wonderful they are—how much talent they have—and use that onstage and off. We want to support dancers in mind, body, and spirit."

5. Feedback 

Both in class and onstage, dancers receive valuable feedback from teachers and judges who see them and their routines with fresh eyes. And feedback doesn't mean untempered criticism, either. "With our judges, we emphasize that for every negative critique, there should be something positive," says Pennington. "We look for balance in our judges—although all have professional working experience, we also have seasoned teachers."

6. Personal growth 

"The dancers are developing personal relationships that allow them to grow as dancers and people—not just at NDS or their studio but outside the studio, as well," says Pennington.

Get Shot by Brian, Courtesy National Dance Showcase

7. Teamwork 

It's more than just making sure they dance together in careful unison—dancers who compete together develop problem-solving and team-building skills that will last a lifetime. "Teamwork is the foundation for everything," says NDS director of logistics Alan Donato. "No individual is more important than the other; all must work together to achieve the common goal."

8. Exposure 

For many students, a competition is a chance to see what else is out there—and for others to see them. Sometimes, says Walton, the best teachers are your peers. "You get to interact with other dancers and learn from watching them," she says.

9. Camaraderie 

Any competition worth its salt stays far away from drama and catfights. Comps should instead be about forming new friendships and strengthening existing ones. At NDS, for example, Pennington reports they have "zero tolerance for the 'dance moms' atmosphere."

10. Celebration of who you are

More than anything, a competition is a way to recognize the uniqueness and talent of every dancer. "At NDS, it really is all about creating an experience for celebrating what this dancer is doing and bringing to the table," says Walton. "It's embedded in the culture here, from the top down."

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