Dance Competitions for Children
An Essay On The General Idea Of Dance Competitions
The Olympic Games and Dance
In all our minds we still have the close memory of the Olympic Games 2004 in Athens or 2006 in Turin. A large variety of different kinds of sports had been presented to us in the wonderful atmosphere of Greek sunshine and two year later in winter in front of the picturesque Alps. To us, the dancers, the question arises: What about dance competition?
Immediately those against it come up and say: But dance is not sports. It is art. You cannot measure art. This definitely is true in a way. Yet there are dance competitions, and there are more and more coming up. So it is worth keeping an eye on them.
In this report I exclude ballroom dancing which is considered as sports, and I also exclude dance sports with itís acrobatic elements. This means that I also exclude the IDO dance competitions which originally have established as sub competitions to ballroom dance competitions. Actually I am mainly focussing on ballet and all those folkloric or modern forms of dancing on stage that are based on classical Russian ballet.
It is quite absurd to compare two prima ballerinas or two principal dancers. You cannot possibly say that e.g. Margot Fonteyn would dance in any way better than Maija Plissezkaija or vice versa. Each of these great, wonderful ladies in ballet had her own style of dance, and it is up to us to bow before them and not to judge their dancing abilities.
Yet the young upcoming dancers strive for competition. They want to compare each other, and this helps them on their way to technical perfection which then gradually moves from an accumulation of artistic steps to using these steps for artful expression.
History of Dance Competitions
As from the middle of the last century dance competitions have been established in various cities of the world. In their rules they are all similar. They expect the young dancer to perform technical steps which are sometimes judged within a ballet class. Then the candidate has to perform a ballet solo variation out of a list of well known classical variations of famous choreographers. In the so called "free dance" the candidates show their abilities of modern movements. Here is a list of some of the most famous ballet competitions including the year of their foundation:
Apart from theses there are more and more local competitions coming up in various countries. Yet all these competitions are for young dancers at the border to professionalism. The competitions help them to become internationally known and possibly enable then to get a job in one of the big theatres of the world.
The Dancing Child
Yet what about dance students? What about all those thousands of children that simply enjoy dancing?
Let us once more have a look at the Olympic Games. Where have all these outstanding sportsmen (and women) originally been recruited from? When you have a young child you hardly ever say: This will once become an athlete in this or that field. You cannot say this because you do not know how the child will develop. The only thing that parents can do and usually do is trying out the one or the other kind of sports. Then you gradually discover what your child enjoys and what he or she is talented for. In some of the former communist countries it had been a habit to examine the bodies of young children in order to find out what they are talented for, and then to put them into state schools or training camps in order to develop their talent in the best possible way.
Concerning dance or ballet in particular in many countries parents have the choice between state schools and private schools. In order to enter a state school children have to pass an exam where mainly their physical abilities concerning ballet are being tested. These exams regularly continue, because only those really talented for ballet are supposed to have the benefit of such schools.
All the other more or less average children that enjoy dancing go to private ballet schools. Their parents take them there because they themselves think it is good for the childís body or because the child shows that he or she loves moving to music or simply because the child has a friend that goes there, too.
It is the task of the teachers of those private ballet schools to find out which of these children are possibly talented enough for a professional dance career. A teacher that is aware of this responsibility then carefully guides those talented children.
The dilemma here is that a child should already seriously emphasise on dance at an age between seven and ten years, yet it is only after adolescence that it can definitely be judged whether a childís body really is fully talented for classical ballet. Especially a girlís body may change considerably during the period of adolescence.
The question now is, what to do with these possibly talented children and what to do with all the others?
If we dare to compare ballet with sports we again have the argument: Ballet is art! That is true for sure. Nevertheless classical ballet has a certain technique, and this technique can simply be taught and can be learned. And this technique can also be measured.
In the former communist countries the question of the quality of a dance school or an individual dance teacher had never really existed as a problem. There had been the state schools only, and parents were absolutely sure that what their child had been taught in these schools had definitely been correct. In the so called Western countries the situation had been completely different because of the large number of private dance schools. How are parents able to judge whether their child attends a good ballet school or not? Parents are amateurs and are not really able to judge the quality of a dance school and -teacher.
This problem had clearly been recognised in Great Britain, and thus already in the year 1920 the Royal Academy of Dance had been founded. The academy publishes dance syllabi according to which private ballet schools can teach. They provide seminars for the teachers, and annually send examiners to these schools in order to check the dancing quality of the children there.
Yet there are many ballet schools that either are not member of the R.A.D. or do not really like their examination syllabi. In many countries ballet schools prefer the dance educational system of the outstanding Russian teacher Agrippa Waganowa to that of the R.A.D..
Well, and in Great Britain itself dance teacher considered it not enough to have teaching syllabi. These syllabi merely are for class work, yet ballet means performing on stage.
So in 1960 the All England Dance Competition had been established. About at the same time similar dance competitions for children in private ballet schools had started to exist in the USA and in South Africa.
The Idea of Dance Competitions for Amateurs
On the contrary to the mayor dance competitions for (almost) professional dancers these competitions precisely meet the childrenís needs.
The children do not all of them have to learn a certain established choreography but they learn a choreography of their teacherís choice. They perform this dance just as they use to perform it in a local school recital. The only difference is that the dance is being judged by certain adjudicators. So while performing on stage the children are in a situation that in a way they are basically familiar with.
In order to make judging possible the children are divided into age groups. Furthermore it is being distinguished between solo, duet, trio and group dances as well as between different styles of dance. These usually are classical ballet, national and folklore dancing, modern and jazz, tap dance, song and dance.
The quality of each dance is being judge with points. At the end the children get certificates stating the precise number of points as well as the place they achieved within their category.
The main question now is: What are the advantages of these competitions with regards to the children, to the parents, and to the teachers? Which children should be sent to these kinds of competitions?
The advantages for the children
It lies within the nature of all human beings that they want to compare. "I can run faster than you, my hair is longer than yours, I eat more than you." These things you already hear in nursery schools. "Who is the most beautiful of all?" is the big question in the fairy tale of Snow White. Children definitely enjoy these comparisons. They want to know where they stand. They principally enjoy getting marks.
Some people argue that children get marks in school, and that this might be stress enough. They should not also get marks in their recreational activities. Yet children like it. However, it is upon us the adults to show the children the right approach to these marks, the judging and the competitions.
When a child enters a competition for the first time it can only win. No matter which place it achieves, it had worked hard to enter at all. So if e.g. the child, no matter whether in a group dance, in a duet or in a solo, becomes eighth out of eight dances, you can nevertheless say. "Great! You really did well. You worked hard to enter at all. You gained so and so many points, and that is great. All right, the others were a bit better because they are older or because they already have more experience, but you definitely did well." The child receives a certificate that can proudly be shown around. After all on the certificate there is not written "last" but "eighth place".
The result will be that the child is happy and it is eager to work hard for next yearís competition.
Of course, by the time the child recognises better what this is all about. But when it had been educated to have an open mind and to be fair, he or she will realise when others are better, when they have more technique, more expression or simply more talent, and the young dance student will not be jealous.
On the contrary to the average children each ballet school also has the school stars. There is this child that is better than all the others, and it is not always easy for a teacher to correctly handle such a specially gifted child.
Especially for these children comparison is extremely important. Being the best in the own school does not mean being the best in town. Being the best in a country does not mean being the best of the world. Only in competitions do these children learn that there are others that are still better, and only by learning this are they able still to improve their own dance qualities. When you are the best, there is nothing left to strive for. Yet when you have a sense of humility towards art, you gradually become able to approach art in a creative way.
Above all this a dance competition is a wonderful opportunity to meet children from other places that have the same ambitions. Experiences can be exchanged and friendships may be established.
The advantages for the parents
As parents usually are not professional dancers or dance teachers, they do not have much knowledge about the quality of their childís teacher, and they are not really able to judge.
For some private dance schools this indeed is an advantage, because they can do with the children whatever they want to, always claiming that this would be art, and the parents will never find out.
Yet the responsible and good teacher will want to prove the parents that they had made the right decision by precisely choosing this dance school. How else can this be done better than by entering the children into an dance competition? Here the parents may compare by themselves. They see the other schools and the other children. Even if parents do not know anything about dance, they will soon be able to distinguish between those children that are outstanding talents and those that have average talents yet go to very good schools. By talking with other parents they will find out how often a week other children go to class, how much they pay, and how other teachers treat their pupils. Quite soon thus the parents will learn to get an eye for the quality of a dance school.
The advantages for the teachers
Only those teachers that have a feeling for responsibility will at all enter their students to dance competitions. It means a lot of extra work to a teacher not only with respect to special choreographies and many extra rehearsals for the competitions but also concerning all the administrative work like registering the dances and making all necessary travel arrangements. So why should he take up all these efforts? On the one hand the teacher does it for the benefit of the children. They usually tremendously enjoy participating in such events. But on the other hand a competition brings extremely good public relation to the school especially when the children achieve good results. The teachers can publish the results, they may really be proud, and they may thus attract new students to enter the school.
Trophies in a studio, articles in the press, all these are of very good reputation to a dance school. The better a schoolís reputation is, the more students will come, and the bigger the chance is that among these students there might be some children with outstanding talents, whom to teach really brings a lot of joy.
If there are so many advantages for children, parents and teachers as well, one might be wondering why there are not more schools that are entering there students to dance competitions.
Well, by doing so the school has to openly show itís abilities. The average routine is not enough. Going to competitions means work to the school. If a dance school is the only one in a certain area, the director might not consider it necessary. Numerous children are coming anyhow, so why taking up all these efforts. The situation is a lot different in an area with many dance schools. There it is a lot harder to get children, and the school permanently has to struggle to convince potential students to come as well as to keep and satisfy those that are already members of the school. If a school does not have a certain teaching quality the director will find all kinds of excuses why the students should rather not enter competition just to avoid that they will start comparing themselves with others.
Which competition to go to
Having once decided to enter students to a dance competition the teacher has to choose which competition to go to. In recent years more and more dance competitions have come to exist. Not only is the quantity increasing but unfortunately also the quality varies enormously. In any way before going to an international competition it is recommended to enter a local one. So let us have a look at what is being offered in the countries of the world.
- Great Britain, South Africa
The All England Dance Competition in Great Britain shows perfect order. There are many local dance competitions spread all over the country. All these competitions have equal rules. The winners of these competitions may enter Regional Competitions for the North, East, South and West. These winners then may enter the All England Dance Competition.
In South Africa the system is similar. In many towns the lists of the winners of the dance competitions are being published in the press just as in other countries football or soccer results are being published. This is of tremendous advantage to the schools and to their students and thus helps a great lot to rise the quality of dance education in these countries.
In 1983 the first German Dance Competition for Children took place in Munich. The rules of the competition had been taken over from the All England Dance Competition by kind permissions of the organisers there. The German Dance Competition had first been held every three years in different theatre in the suburbs of Munich. Since 2003 it has been taking place annually, always in the greater Munich area. The competition is open to all nationalities.
Since the end of the nineties some further local dance competitions have started to exist. Their rules had partly been copied from the German Dance Competition, yet unfortunately there is no co-operation between the various organisers of the competitions.
Every two years there is the Austrian Dance Competition in Vienna which had been established in 1995. It is for Austrian ballet schools only and has two categories, one for students from state schools and one for students from private dance schools.
There also is a dance competition in St. Pölten which is for older children onwards, yet it is similar to the competitions for professional dancers.
The "Austrian Open" also is taking place every year, and the basic idea of the competition is similar to that of the German Dance Competition. There also is a co-operation between the organisers of these two competitions. Concerning the dance styles and age categories the focus is slightly different.
There are several dance competitions for older children. Yet all of them are mainly for soloists, and their rules are similar to those for the professional dancers. A special Dance Competition for children with the same rules as in the Dance World Cup is planned for 2007 in Lyon.
- Italy, Spain and the Czech Republic
In 1982 there had for the first time been a festival for dance schools in Northern Italy. It had been a festival not a competitions, it had been for children as well as for young adults, but at least it had been a meeting place for dance schools from all over the country and even for schools from abroad. Selected schools were invited and awarded the "Tersicore díOro" for their good teaching quality. This festival had been held in several North Italian towns for quite some years.
In 1998 it moved to Prague and had been called an international competition. Schools got about 10 minutes time to present themselves with whatsoever style or students that they wanted to. For almost a whole week there had been performances in different theatres in towns near Prague, and at the end every school got some kind of an award for having participated.
As from 2002 the organisers in addition to the competition in Prague founded the "Dance Grand Prix" in Italy and in 2004 in Barcelona the "Dance Award Europe".
The idea of all these festivals is the same. All participating
schools in the end get some kinds of trophies to make them proud and to
show off back home. In addition to the international meeting of dance
students the participants are also taken around for sight seeing which
turns the whole package into a nice vacation. Probably due to the quite
high participation fees there are mainly young adults taking part and
quite few children.
In 2001 the "Hellas Dance Festival" had taken place for the first time. The organisers of the German Dance Competition had been invited to establish a dance competition in Greece. They managed to invite some German an Austrian dance schools so to make the competition more attractive for the Greek schools. In 2002 the "Hellas Dance Festival" had been organised again. Then the Greek partners claimed not to need the Germans any further and to continue organising their competition themselves. In 2003 the competition had been announces yet cancelled again. In 2004 it had been announced.
Every two years there is a competition in Gdansk, yet it is for students of state schools and for soloists only. As from 2005 there will be an annual dance competition in Wroclaw with the same rules as the Dance World Cup.
Since 2004 there has been a dance competition for children and juniors in Faro. The rules are the same as those of the Dance World Cup.
There are quite a number of different dance competitions for children. The organisers do not work together, and school have the free choice to participate where they want to.
Most competitions for classical ballet are for soloists only. Yet there are quite a number of different competitions in folklore dancing for groups.
In Vesprem every autumn there is a dance and singing competition for children taking place. It is an international competitions for dancing children from the Balkan countries, it is of high standard, and it is similar to the English and German dance Competitions.
- India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Nepal
Since 1999 there has been the annual Childrenís Festival of Performing Arts in Delhi where usually representatives from the above stated countries participate. The festival is organised by the Ryan International Schools. This theatre competition with a large variety of categories also includes Folklore Dancing and Ballet, yet for groups only, not for soloists. It has to be mentioned that in this festival the word "Ballet" does not mean classical Russian ballet. It can rather be defined as contemporary and / or modern character dancing in the sense that the dance tells a story and / or describes very specific characters like animals or figures from fairy tales.
- USA and Canada
There are about 150 different dance competitions scattered all over the country and covering many different styles of dance. Yet there are only two (New York and Miami) which are mainly for classical ballet for children. In Canada there are several dance competitions for children and juniors.
- Mexico and Latin America
In Mexico every two years there is the "National Ballet Competition for children and teenagers" which, however, is for soloists only. Apart from this there are several competitions for jazz and modern which are of lower standards.
- Nigeria, Ghana, and central African Countries
Since 2001 there has been the "Opal Award" in Lagos, a dance competition for children, yet not for classical ballet but for African dance styles. It started timidly and small yet is continually growing and spreading to the countries of the neighbourhood due to the great enthusiasm of the organisers.
For sure this list of dance competitions is not complete. But it shows how there are people all over the world that are working hard for the benefit of dancing children. The addresses of the organisers of the various dance competitions can be obtained from the author. In case the visitor of this site knows about further dance competitions for children, please inform us so that we can add them to this list.
The Dance World Cup
It took place for the first time in June 2004 in Germany. It is a co-operation of the Ballettförderkreis Munich e.V., Germany, the Centre of Co-operation and Development in Moscow, Russia, The Opal Award Association in Lagos, Nigeria, the Wroclaw Musical Theatre "Capitol", Poland, The foundation for Dance in Faro, Portugal, Prof. Nora Mackh, Austria, and dance organisations in Ukraine, Mexico, Estonia, which together for the Dance World Cup Association. The Dance World Cup Association is a non-profit association for the benefit of dancing children and may only have one member per country. This should preferably be a dance association. All national members that organise dance competition in their countries use the same rules as in the Dance World Cup.
The Dance World Cup is taking place every year in a different town in a different country.
Only those dances may participate that qualified through a national competition in their home country, provided their home country offers dance competitions.
In the competition 2004 and 2005 schools from ten countries from four different continents participated. They were from Germany, Austria, Poland, Portugal, Russia, Ukraine, Estonia, Israel, China, Nigeria, and Mexico. Of course, this is still very little compared to the 201 countries that participated in the Olympic Games. But it is a beginning to unite the dancing children of the world and to give them a platform to show the great variety of their dancing abilities.
In the solo dances and in the duets outstanding talents are being presented to the public. Yet in the group dances the average child has a chance, too, provided it is being guided and trained carefully by responsible teachers.
"Where else but in dance can I make a whole group of children so happy within a few minutes, children that would have no chance alone but in a group manage to rise to the stars!" This had been the comment of a teacher whose students had just won in a competition.
©; Korinna Söhn