Professionals will tell you: ballet belongs to the stage with an audience, ballet conveys emotions to the public. It is an art devoted to the beauty of movement, and the appreciation of a dancer’s qualities can be very subjective. As such, ballet is not really compatible with the spirit of a competition with a jury counting point(e)s associated with technique, artistry, musicality, etc. Ballet is an art, so why do dancers participate in ballet competitions?
1. Participate in a ballet competition for the stage time experience
Perfect your professional look
For some of us, stage time is limited to a single annual recital where you may, or may not, have a solo part. You spend weeks preparing for a few minutes on stage and the next thing you know is that it is over and done with. Stage time is key to growing as a dancer. On stage, you have only one chance to complete your variation: you cannot redo this diagonal if you did not do well enough. It might be daunting at first, but with time and practice you will get used to the short-lived experience of the stage life.
A competition is a great opportunity to practice your professional look. For some of us, looking professional and having presence on stage is pretty natural, but for most of us, it requires a little bit of practice to be comfortable and look natural. We have covered a few key elements that are sometimes missing in our article 5 tips to prepare for a ballet competition. Two recommendations: (1) Practice ahead of time to be at your best, and (2) get access to video recording of your stage performance to assess how you did.
Confirm that dancing is what you want to do for a living
As an aspiring dancer, you love dancing and you take classes every day in order to get a contract in a company in a recent future. But dancing in class is nothing compared to dancing on stage. It is only on stage (or similar settings) that you can grasp the life of a professional dancer. You must be able to control your nerves and stress level. On stage, you must fill this huge space with all your soul, presence and charisma. You give life to your variation, you build a connection with your audience. In a company, this will be your daily life; so you might want to take the opportunity of a competition to assess if being on stage is really something you enjoy.
That said, if you dislike the experience, do not give up at the first, or second trial. Discuss with your ballet teacher before, during and after the competition to be prepared and understand what you are going through. Seek advice from a coach if you have access to one. Give it a trial with your full heart and energy and see what comes out of it. There is nothing wrong with discovering that dancing professionally is actually not your thing. Maybe it was and it is not anymore, maybe it has never been. In any case, it is OK. Each experience is different, each competition is different, and again, a competition is not the same as a full length ballet.
2. Stretch your limits and discover your full potential
Don’t go to win: go to get out of your comfort zone
Learning a variation from the repertoire will inevitably make you work outside of your comfort zone. Whatever variation you can think of, it will always have elements that you do not master very well: turns, jumps, swift change of weight placement, you name it. When you work on your own time, you might focus on the parts that you master very well and set aside the rest. We all know the “I’m not a turner”, “it’s my bad side”, “that’s not really my style”. You can follow variation coaching prepared by Principal dancers who were famous for those role in our Video Training offer.
Surround yourself with a motivating ballet teacher and face the challenges of the variation with all your energy. There is NO reason that you cannot do it and you will be so proud of yourself once you can finally flow through the variation.
Give yourself at 120%
In the same line of thinking, most, if not all, of the dancers I have talked to mentioned that working for a competition helped them work harder and better than ever. When you know that you’ll go on stage and present the variation to a jury of peers, school masters and ballet masters, you will prepare like never before to be at your best. You will not give up easily, you will do your best to overcome the challenges of the variation, you’ll give 120% of yourself into it.
3. Meet new people and expand your world
But I do not want broken glass in my shoes!
The words ballet and competition are often associated with fierce jealousy and we all heard backstage / changing room stories of stolen items, glued shoes and other terrible things. It might happen sometimes but the dancers I’ve worked with so far have not mentioned anything of the kind. It might be less likely to happen in world renown competition where the organisation is on top of things and such behavior is not tolerated. Do some research and choose your competition wisely.
Make friends and observe various ballet styles
A competition is a great opportunity to network and meet other dancers from around the world. At the personal level, you’ll get to spend time with others who share your passion for ballet, make new friends who you’ll be so happy to meet again in the future. At the professional level, you’ll be exposed to various ballet styles. It’s a tremendous learning opportunity and it can be eye opening for you. I have met a dancer who suddenly realised, in a competition, that he would strive in the Bournonville style instead of the style taught at his school.
Finally, a ballet competition is a good opportunity to meet school and junior companies directors. There are usually scholarships and merit awards for dancers who do not win the top prizes but have the potential and mindset for becoming excellent professional dancers. Even if you don’t come back home with a scholarship, you might have been noticed.
So, should I sign up for a ballet competition?
A ballet competition is an excellent way to strive for more and push yourself outside of your comfort zone. If you’ve been thinking about entering a competition and you can afford it, then do not hesitate one second. You have nothing to lose and much to gain.
That said, a competition can be an expensive journey: fees to cover for your rehearsals, costumes and travel costs can add up very quickly. If that’s not something you can’t afford, don’t worry, there are other ways to become a professional dancer. Also, you do not have to participate “just because such and such dancer I know did and is now at the English National Ballet”. It is certainly not a mandatory path!
If you need help deciding or preparing for your competition, Core de ballet offers Decision making coaching and Video Analysis service. Feel free to contact us or book a session directly. You’ll get where you want to be with your smart and hard work and by seizing the right opportunities when they arise.