Why are more and more moms and dancers turning up at the Ruhala Center saying they want to dance without competition? Some come as newbies who don’t want to enter the world of dance competitions. Others come as worn-out dance competitors who are ready for a change. All come because they know we do not offer dance as a competitive activity. We engage the young dancer as a whole person, learning the art of body expression within a larger context of life herself.
In the spirit of art, let’s question. Artists, akin to scientists, question what is taken for granted.
Is dance a competitive activity? Is competition the spirit and foundation of dance? What is the difference between dance learned and performed as a competitive activity or without competition as an art form?
Dance is an expression of the human being. Humans made up dance –the movements, the word itself, and all the styles. In this way dance can be seen to be whatever one makes of it. It can, and has, evolved to mean different things to different people. There is no right or wrong idea about dance: some like it competitive and some not.
Having grown up in an earlier era, learning dance beginning in the 1970’s, I was introduced to dance as an art form, not as a competitive activity. The only competition that was talked about in classes was the idea that we only compete with ourselves, can we do better today what we did better yesterday.
Competitions separate winners from losers. Competitions put us up against each other to compare and grade. Competition requires a specific mindset that is wholly different from a non-competing mind.
When we express ourselves without the frame of competition we are not worried about winning or losing. Perhaps most difficult of all is that dance competition is based on subjective opinions, not who scored the most goals, which is clear-cut and sure. Subjective opinions can be swayed, a scored goal cannot. I reckon almost all competitors know this fact.
Performing arts require introspection and getting to know one’s essential self, which is constantly changing anyway. Hence the work never ends and is a process. Dance asks for vulnerability, for showing inner life, emotions, fears, desires, and opinions. This is scary often, and is best done in a highly supportive, loving studio space that will not judge.
I have noticed that competitive dance has emphasized the value of tricks – complex and difficult jumps, turns, extreme flexibility, and super-charged combinations. This has left behind nuance, musicality, movement quality, and sophisticated styling. In a recent performance for children, the Alvin Ailey company warmed-up on stage and every time a dancer jumped high in a split or a double tour en l’air, the kids erupted in pleasure. The same when a male dancer lifted the female dancer over his head. These kids are primed for the tricks of dance and do not recognize the art of dance.
I prefer, although I reiterate there is no right or wrong way, dance as an art form of intense personal expression. I prefer to see kids dancing for the joy of it and the freedom and release of it; not to compete, or to try to win.
In sports I prefer that we emphasize winning and losing and teach and model how to be a good sport. Ironically we shield young kids from this competitive reality of sports by shifting rules and not keeping score, or deemphasizing the role of winning and losing and the score. Sports are a great activity to learn about our competitive natures.
Dance is an ideal activity to learn about our bodies and self-expression without the added layer of being judged a winner or loser.