With movies like First Position, and with youtube broadcasts, ballet competitions seem to be popping up all over the place. More kids want to compete, and the stress level is on… (Read this post about that.) Ballet competitions are great exposure, they are great for scholarships, and they are great performance opportunities… but that is not the ONLY route to become a ballet dancer. The majority of dancers who make it into companies don’t compete, and those who do compete, on the international competition circuit are probably on the fast track to become principal dancers, most of them being prodigies. (Diana Vishneva, Maria Kochetkova, Marcelo Gomes, Julie Kent, actually half of the ABT roster has won a competition, like Royal Ballet vs NYCB dancers, none of them really did the competition circuit.)
There are numerous ballet competitions: YAGP, Prix de Lausanne, IBC USA, VARNA, Helsinki IBC, Moscow Ballet Competition Capetown IBC, the list goes on and on. Regardless, these competitions are way to see kids in and out of the classroom. Most auditions only allow directors to see you in class, your work ethic, your facility, the competitions allow directors to see what you can do with that, and how artistic you are.
How do you know if a ballet competition is right for you? you really don’t know. If you don’t like the pressure of competition, then it is probably not right for you. If you thrive off of competition and perfecting a variation, then it might be a great environment for you. If you want to go for the experience then it might be great, but just know that it is costly.
Ballet competitions are expensive. Here is the problem, when training for a competition, a lot of young dancers cut back on technique classes so their parents can afford the privates, the choreographers, the studio rentals, the travel expenses, the costumes, etc. Unfortunately, that isn’t really how it should be done. If you are thinking about competing, you should wait a year and get as strong as you can, and allow your parents to save money. Maybe you can do extra chores around the house.
What to expect at a ballet competition. If you have ever done the audition circuit for summer programs, companies etc, take that environment and multiply it by 10. A ballet competition is that much more stressful, because you have to prove yourself in less than a minute. In edition, you are facing elimination rounds. Like that Prix de Laussane, just because you fly to Switzerland, that doesn’t mean you are going to perform. You have to make it through all of the classes. You are also not just competing within a region, most every ballet competition is international, which means you are competing against the entire world, and usually with top students from very prestigious schools who are wanting jobs, apprenticeships, and the chance to transfer to a different international school.
Misconceptions: You don’t have to do a million pirouettes to go and win. You don’t have to have an extension to your ear, few dancers do. All you have to do is be clean, strong. Know your body’s turnout and limitations and how to work with them. You have to know how to be solid, strong and confident. Most importantly you have to know how to use what you have. In the video above, she does not have AMAZING Alessandra Ferri feet, her turn out is okay, the most she does is a double pirouette, and her arabesque line is clean, refined and placed. Nothing is forced, there is no doubt behind her technique, no hesitation in her attack, and her musicality is on. Her artistry is pretty, and in Shades it is more about the technique than the artistry, as there is no story to develop behind the pas de trois, but she is young… Artistry comes, it is a process. How is a 15 year old supposed to know how to portray emotions she has never even experienced? Again, this goes back to being clean, strong, confident, and fearless.
Suggestions… The amount of pressure a dancer in training is already immense, so I always think, why add more stress by doing a competition. Now, if your dream is to go to JKO school, or Royal Ballet, and you are technically ready, and a clean dancer, then it might be a great chance to get a scholarship. Just remember winning isn’t everything. I did a whole post in it and linked it above. The reality is, ballet competitions allow for ONE winner and ONE winner only. Yes, people will be given scholarships, but I always encourage students to go the normal company route: train at your school, go to a summer program, train at your school to get better, go to a summer program on scholarship, get asked to stay year round, work your butt off, get asked to stay on as a trainee, land an apprenticeship, and get promoted into the company (or audition elsewhere). You don’t always have to jump the gun and hope to compete and land a job. You don’t have to compete and spend thousands of dollars for a scholarship, when you can get one just by doing the summer course audition (max $35 dollars and gas), and proving yourself during that time to get asked to stay year round.