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Competitive Dance February 17, 2013

Filed under: Uncategorized — theworstat @ 9:37 pm

I saw a video somewhere on YouTube of some of the Dance Mom daughters auditioning for New York’s Joffrey Ballet School (not to be confused with the Joffrey Academy, which is the school now associated with the Joffrey Ballet).  One girl made it into the school, but I believe she spent a short time there and then went back to competitive dancing.  The other one shown on the video was told outright that she was not using her feet properly and needed some basic dance education.  That’s a pretty damning criticism, as from day one in classical ballet training, one is taught to mind the foot on the floor.

The point is, these girls are not very well-versed in ballet.  They know the names of the steps but that’s about it; other than that, it’s all on-with-the-show gyrating.  And that’s okay…for what they’re doing.  Apparently it’s more than enough for a Broadway dancing career these days (back in the day, I believe, one needed a firm grounding in classical ballet for that profession).

One differentiation I wish would be clearly made is between competitive dance and artistic dancing.  This is why I have so much trouble with the whole YAGP circuit: in a way, it diminishes the years of accomplishment usually needed for those at the top of the ballet profession by rewarding kids for doing tricks instead of rewarding them for their possibilities.  In ballet, a kid is usually just that…a kid.  He or she will not arrive until age 24 or so.  Sometimes not even that soon.

Once in a while, one sees a prodigy.  But that is rare, and the burn-out rate is high.

On the other hand, the kids on the competitive dance circuit are all made to look like prodigies, much like (female) gymnasts peak before age 20: there is no soul or art to contend with; it’s all tricks.  So as long as one has the physical ability, that’s all one needs.

We really need another name for dancers like this, one that would bring into the public’s mind a firm difference between these kids and the ones with the inner life that may someday bring them to ballet stardom.

Once upon a time, ballet didn’t place so much emphasis on physical prowess.  These days the line is blurred between ballet and sport.  Ballet students are pushed harder and harder to Olympian levels.  And that is not what ballet should be about.

For that, we have competitive dance…and like I said, we need another name for these dancers.  A firm line needs to be drawn.  These kids are not and will never be ballerinas.

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6 Responses to “Competitive Dance”

  1. Jennifer S. Says:

    I cannoy agree more with your assessment. I will also add that the problem is compounded further by the ballet world itself with these second tier YAGP style competitions. As if ballet needs more help to turn it into being more soulless and sports-like than it already is right now. In the US these YAGP comps often serve as scouting grounds for ADs here. Edward Villela former AD of Miami City Ballet said he used to hire dancers right out of ballet comps. What does that say about the state of American ballet? Of course wannabe ballet dancers here are salivating to place or win these comps if that is the main way of getting noticed. But they are as you say, getting noticed for having the ability to practice and perfect variations well enough to showcase athleticism and technique. I don’t care how organizers put it but nowhere is artistry as important a criteria as technique is in ballet competitions.

    Find it funny that these Dance Moms girls think thry can walk into any proper ballet or dance schools and be placed there. Tricks do not require proper technique in ballet, extensions do not require proper turnout. Just look at those Olympics rhythmic gymnasts who have amazing side extensions in a la seconde while supporting leg is completely turned in (knee facing front not side). These Dance Moms girls with their trick dancing have more in common with rhythmic gymnasts not ballet. So it would actually be more apt for them to have comps. Just don’t call them “dance”.

    • theworstat Says:

      Yeah, the routine the one little girl on DM did for the Joffrey School judges was pure…junk. I mean, she rolled on the floor and simpered. They quickly called her out on it, and also for her non-usage of her feet.

      I think “trick dancing” is the best term I’ve heard for it.

  2. atlantic Says:

    Are the judges in those competitions actually former/current dancers? I am not at all professionally trained, but I can tell right away if someone has poor technique, especially bad turnout. Anyone with any training should be able to see through the tricks immediately. The turned in legs and feet, the changing of the spot during the fouette turns etc. So either the judges are not dancers or just don’t care.

    I am surprised about YAGP. I know that they have true former dancers as judges (First Position shows Elisabeth Platel as a judge). I just cannot accept that she would give good marks to a dancer who pulls this stuff. Higher extensions can be acceptable in certain instances, but I have seen YAGP videos of kids doing some pretty awful stuff.

    I also feel bad for the kids on that show, they are being over worked at such a young age, who knows if they will be able to walk in five years :(.

    • theworstat Says:

      I’ve wondered about the DM kids’ workload and how long it is sustainable. Kids in the Russian schools, and in some state schools elsewhere, are worked that hard…but they are in the hands of professionals who have years of education in training child dancers properly. As I have questions as to the quality of the training the DM kids are receiving, it is a bit of a worry. No one in a “professional company” should have to be told to keep their legs straight and their toes pointed, for instance, yet this has happened in DM. One girl had a back problem. And then there was the incident where one girl was hinted to be “too old” (at age 14 or something). This tells me that there is not enough actual training in dance going on, that these kids are trading on their youth instead of actual dance knowledge. And that’s scary.

      I also don’t like to see little girls onstage with makeup and “sexy” outfits, but that’s for another post.

      I’m having trouble with the whole ballet competition circuit because as you say, it is leading to the same sort of flash-and-trash. One wonders that the pressures are to go along with it, given that some of the judges are famous, well-trained dancers. It can’t be that the big schools are hurting for promising students, or that companies are hurting for lack of dancers knocking on their doors. Actually if you take that away, one wonders what the purpose is. Certainly it isn’t doing ballet any good. The only thing I really understand is the scholarships, but aren’t there other ways of awarding those?

  3. atlantic Says:

    I suppose for the organizers of most competitions, including YAGP, they are making money (I know PdL is an exception). I agree that there is no shortage of dancers, even without the competition. Take Melissa Hamilton. She was discovered from YAGP, but yet the Royal Ballet has a school full of talented kids, with at least 15-20 kids graduating a year. But they still go to YAGP and PdL to find dancers. Does this mean the RBS is not producing good dancers? I’m not really sure what the deal is. At this point, if I were a young English person, I would go for YAGP at 16 instead of training at the school from age 8.

    But this is happening at most companies, the only exception really are the Russian companies and NYCB (they seem to be the only company that actually hires kids from their own school).

    I wonder, if dancer from the POB school with solid technique and artistry competed against the flash and trash, would she win?


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