Competitions: Good or Bad? with Clare Morehen —


Whilst on Queensland Ballet’s recent London tour, I had the opportunity to share my career experience with a group of children attending a Professional Teachers Summer Course.

Colleagues of mine, who I trained with at The Royal Ballet School, kindly invited me to speak and answer questions from their students. I was delighted to chat to this eager generation and amazed to discover the similarities within the questions they posed. We really are all connected through this wonderful language of movement. One of the questions I thought most interesting and important was, Do you think dance competitions are good?  I wanted to take some time to share my view point…

Dance Competitions are everywhere these days. Programs like So You Think You Can Dance, Dancing with the Stars, Australia’s Got Talent, and the US show, Dance Moms have really thrust dance into popular culture and informed the world about an otherwise relatively small and misunderstood industry. When questioned, most people are unaware of the amount of training dancers do to hone their craft and are quite shocked when we don’t have another ‘real’ job!

My utmost belief is that dance is an art and should remain that way. The idea of a competition begins to place our beautiful craft in the realm of a sport; somehow making our expression quantifiable. If we are unsuccessful, it can also instigate negative attitudes and doubts about our abilities.  I believe that dance competitions have value and are useful when approached and utilised for the right purposes.

There are many similarities between competitions and performances. You have a scheduled date, time and venue when you must be prepared. You may be performing in a new space and will be confronted by the attention of a new audience. The pre-performance routine of warm-up, hair, make-up and costuming must all be timed and organised in order to execute your performance to the best of your ability. Feelings of anticipation, anxiety, excitement, fear or adrenaline may be present and can cause any number of physical changes within the body. Competitions are great training to learn preparation skills, maintain focus and thrive through a performance and situation that may feel foreign.

When winning, beating our peers or adding to our trophy cabinet become our main priority, the potential gains of the experience are being missed. Dance Moms (and yes I watch, it’s like a cute kitten, you can’t look away!) promotes the idea that winning is paramount. I disagree with this and feel sorry for the ideas and attitudes being instilled in those children. When you apply for a job, no choreographer or director asks how many competitions you have won. They are interested in your technique, skill and performance ability. Competitions will help you develop and improve these skills, but the actual result is somewhat redundant. If we compete to compare ourselves to others, we are also doing ourselves a great disservice. We should be aiming for a personal best and critiquing our performance in regards to our last.

As a child, I was a late bloomer to the stage. I only performed a small number of solos at competitions in my teens, and I never won. I loved the technique and challenge of ballet, but the stage was something that scared me. I had no natural stage presence and to the horror of my dance teacher, spent my routines with my eyes on the floor with not even a hint of a smile (sorry Miss Kim!). This had no bearing on my career. I worked and developed at my own pace and still managed to achieve the required skills to make it into the industry.

When deciding to participate in a competition, make sure you are doing it for the right reasons. Be confident and focus on all the important things you’re learning and discovering about yourself. Don’t be disheartened if you don’t place. Trophies and accolades are nice, but technique, skill and ability will last a lifetime!