To Compete or Not to Compete: Why This Dancer Chose the Non-Comp Route

Madison Warnick (photo by Misty Matthews, courtesy Matthews)

For more on choosing whether to compete or not, click here.

I started dance classes at a young age. By the time I was 3, I was training at The Dance Club, and I grew up there. I started with the basics—ballet and jazz—and eventually added tap, tumbling, contemporary, and hip hop.

Early on, I did compete. I remember my first time: I did a trio at a small local competition, and it got first place. The trophy was as tall as I was, and I loved it. I attended conventions as a mini, and had the opportunity to take classes from Travis Wall, Sonya Tayeh, Andy Pellick, and Joey Dowling-Fakhrieh. There was so much variety—I was in awe.


I sometimes competed solos, and did seven to eight numbers per competition. It was a lot. We'd usually rehearse right after school, from 3 to 9 pm. It was difficult to balance dance and school, and there were many late nights as I tried to fit it all in.

(Photo by Misty Matthews, courtesy Matthews)

A few years ago, I choreographed my own solo and competed it at NYCDA. I enjoyed it more than any of my other solos—and it got first place at Regionals. It was so rewarding to show the judges that this is me, this is something I made. I realized I wanted to explore my own choreography, instead of spending all my time practicing someone else's.

So, eventually, I stopped competing. Comp season can be kind of crazy. I didn't necessarily like the logistics of the whole comp scene, partly because I'm not a competitive person in the first place. I'd rather dance in a concert than perform for a panel of judges.

I joined my school's dance team and began choreographing for them, and I further developed my love of choreography. Last year, I entered a video of one of my self-choreographed solos in a school art contest called Reflections, and I ended up winning first place in the dance category—not just at my school, but in the entire country. I was invited to fly to the annual Reflections gala in Las Vegas to perform the piece. It was a huge moment. I felt like I'd figured out what I wanted to do.

(Photo by Misty Matthews, courtesy Matthews)

Since then, I've developed many new friendships and relationships with mentors, artistic directors, and members of the dance community. I've been exploring ways that will further my dance career beyond competitions. I recently auditioned for SALT Contemporary Dance Company's second company, SALT II, and earned a company contract. I'm still not entirely sure how I want to pursue dance in the future, but I know that eventually I want to be part of a dance environment where I'm allowed to create. I'd love to teach other people my choreography and encourage them to make their own movement, too. I want to help other dancers understand that it's more important to be better than you were yesterday than to be better than anyone else.

A version of this story appeared in the October 2017 issue of Dance Spirit with the title "I Don't Compete."

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