Mason Evans assisting at New York City Dance Alliance in Orlando, FL (Evolve Photo & Video, courtesy Mason Evans)

5 Dancers Share What It's Really Like to Return to Competitions Right Now

For the first time since the coronavirus hit the U.S., competitions and conventions are meeting in-person once again (brimming with safety precautions, of course), and dancers couldn't be more thrilled.

We asked five standout comp kids about their recent experiences attending competitions around the country—and how they're taking advantage of these long-lost opportunities.


Hailey Bills

Studio: Center Stage Performing Arts Studio

Age: 14

Competition: 24 Seven Dance Convention, Provo, UT

Dance Spirit: What did it feel like to attend your first in-person competition since March 2020?

Hailey Bills: "It was so amazing. I don't think any of us realized how much we missed being onstage. It's what we train for, and we hadn't been there in a year."

DS: What were some of the differences you noticed about this competition versus those pre-pandemic?

HB: "Socially distanced squares to dance in, which were surprisingly nice. Everyone had a spot to dance in, and it was much more organized than usual. I also saw a change in my studio: We all seemed happier to be there, and we had more gratitude."

DS: Were there any unexpected nerves from being out of performance practice? How did you work through them?

HB: "I will always be nervous to compete. That's just how it goes. More than anything, though, I was just excited to be there. That kinda blew away the stress so I could be stoked."

DS: How did your competition preparation differ from before?

HB: "We had a dress rehearsal, but nobody could watch us, and we had to be in a different room when other groups danced. It's always fun watching other dances at your studio, so that was sad."

Mason Evans

Studio: Performance Edge 2

Age: 16

Competition: New York City Dance Alliance, Orlando, FL

Dance Spirit: What did it feel like to attend your first in-person competition since March 2020?

Mason Evans: "It was nice to just be there, around people with the same passions after being away for so long. Over quarantine I did a lot of self-reflection about both my dancing and myself. Now, I have the urge to get out and show what I have discovered creatively, so being back onstage was really fun."

DS: What were some of the differences you noticed about this competition versus those pre-pandemic?

ME: "You could feel the difference in the energy from the audience while competing. There were a lot less people than usual, and I felt it lacking."

DS: What were some of the things you missed about in-person competition/convention while you were away?

ME: "I really missed the chance to observe others in person. As a dancer, we get to watch, analyze and adopt things we like. Not doing that for a while was really hard. But seeing people now, it's like we never skipped a beat. We still have that same connection."

DS: Were there any unexpected nerves from being out of performance practice? How did you work through them?

ME: "Actually, no: I felt the opposite. Being locked away in my mind for so long, I gained a lot of confidence and stopped being nervous about the stage. I was looking forward to it because it had been taken away from me. It's not a burden—I don't dread it, I'm just excited."

Selena Hamilton

Studio: Project 21

Age: 16

Competition: Radix Dance Convention, Phoenix, AZ

Dance Spirit: What did it feel like to attend your first in-person competition since March 2020?

Selena Hamilton: "It was pure joy. I felt like everyone could finally see what my teachers and friends and I have been working so hard on over these difficult months."

DS: What were some of the differences you noticed about this competition versus those pre-pandemic?

SH: "The changes to competition weren't my favorite. We had time blocks where we only had five dances between each performance. There was no catching our breath, just changing and running back to the stage. By the time we got to the last dance we were all really low-energy, and we had to push through."

DS: What were some of the things you missed about in-person convention/competition while you were away?

SH: "I attended Nationals online, which just wasn't the same. Teachers couldn't correct us one-on-one. I lose focus easily, so staring at my laptop was hard for me. It was great to come back."

DS: Were there any unexpected nerves from being out of performance practice? How did you work through them?

SH: "Definitely—I was so stressed out. I hadn't learned choreography from these challenging teachers in such a long time. I was getting comfortable at my studio, and I knew the weekend would be tough."

DS: How did your competition preparation differ from before?

SH: "It was harder to have outside choreographers come in. To protect our team members, we didn't go outside of our studio bubble. We had to keep masks on and stay six feet away from them the whole time they were there. We don't want to ruin things for each other, so we stay safe."

Ruby Castro

Studio: Dancetown Miami

Age: 17

Competition: JUMP Dance Convention, Miami, FL

Dance Spirit: What did it feel like to attend your first in-person competition since March 2020?

Ruby Castro: "I was really excited to be on a stage and get ready for a competition again. In a way, it was a good wake-up call to really appreciate what I had before."

DS: What were some of the differences you noticed about this competition versus those pre-pandemic?

RC: "Doing everything in a mask is not ideal because breathing is so important for dance. Still, I would rather it be that way than not compete at all."

DS: What were some of the things you missed about in-person convention/competition while you were away?

RC: "More than anything I missed being inspired by dancers standing next to me. When I came back, I realized how much the energy of others rubs off on me—in both good ways and bad."

DS: Were there any unexpected nerves from being out of performance practice? How did you work through them?

RC: "Yes. When we first started rehearsing again for competition, I was overwhelmed. I didn't realize how much I was dancing before the pandemic until I tried to get back into it. Doing hard numbers back-to-back is really difficult, and this was a wake-up call."

Ella Horan

Studio: Westside Dance Project

Age: 16

Competition: Radix Dance Convention, Phoenix, AZ

Dance Spirit: What did it feel like to attend your first in-person competition since March 2020?

Ella Horan: "There was magic that happened when everyone came together. I can't really explain it. The whole weekend was a dream. We got to indulge in the in-person, live experience, which was so missed. Dance connects us in such a beautiful way."

DS: What were some of the differences you noticed about this competition versus those pre-pandemic?

EH: "The room had a big transformation in energy. Honestly, we had all taken for granted how special it is to be together."

"Beyond that, Radix requires masks for everyone at all times. Temperatures were taken before walking in. If you wanted to grab a drink of water, you could step outside. They taped squares on the floor and advised us to dance within them. Other than that, it was as normal as you could get right now."

DS: Were there any unexpected nerves from being out of performance practice? How did you work through them?

EH: "Nerves definitely got the best of me. I went into this extreme mode where I was like, 'OK, first convention back—gotta be on my A game.' Thankfully for me, nerves are something that help me improve. I do better under pressure."

DS: How did your competition preparation differ from before?

EH: "The pandemic caused changes to space, time and room availability, which affected my preparation. You have to take advantage of every bit of time you have. Before I left for Radix, I stayed after my ballet class for five hours to rehearse my solo and technique. I indulged because I didn't know when I could again."

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