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Ballet Talk for Dancers

To Compete or not to Compete

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Having sat down and analyzed how much money we will have invested in YAGP competitions this year (and the results of that analysis will only finally come in after the New York City Finals have finished in just over a week) it occurs to me that, together with regular year round school fees, we are spending approximately the equivalent of what it would cost to send DD to a solid residential program (or about twice the amount we spend on her regular tuition).This feels like a 'waste' to me, even though much of that money is invested in private coaching that presumably allows her to improve as a dancer. On top of this, I personally just don't care for competitions very much, especially at a younger age (DD will turn 14 in a month or two). I don't trust the system where a few judges spend the entire day watching dancer after dancer, and are forced to make a quick evaluation in under 2.5 minutes. Even though DD placed first in a second attempt at a regional, her performance there was much, much worse than her first attempt where she was judged surprisingly harshly (not just my observation, but the opinion of teachers from other schools and people who observed, but weren't necessarily connected to DD). I know - that goes with the territory of competitions; which is why I don't care for them. I go along with all this reluctantly because of the joy she gets from learning variations that she may never have an opportunity to execute for the rest of her life, the sheer joy of performing on stage before a discerning audience, and because this is the culture of her current school. YAGP isn't mandatory, but if you are a 'serious' student it is wise to participate at both the solo and ensemble level.


However, I really would like to really reconsider this approach to ballet training. I am currently looking at schools that don't necessarily participate in YAGP at this age or don't emphasize it at all. I should add that the core training at her small, unknown, and young YAGP-friendly school seems to result in excellent training (not merely evidenced by YAGP success, but by the fact that many of their students seem to do well, get noticed, and receive great offers at respected auditions, master classes, SI's and elsewhere). So in one sense, if the thing isn't 'broken' then I shouldn't be trying to 'fix' it. Especially when 'fixing' it will result in so much upheaval on multiple levels. At the same time, I just feel that involvement with YAGP seems to bring a level of stress, heart-ache and increased self doubt that perhaps she shouldn't be dealing with until a few years down the line, and that doesn't exist in a normal performance/production. And it seems to artificially rank the students who compete against each other in their home studios in a way that doesn't always make sense based on year-round performance and teacher evaluations.


What I would be interested to know, and this ties in with another recent thread I read on this topic on BTFD, is whether choosing a school that does not train students for this kind of experience might result in a loss of a competitive edge down the road, should DD eventually decide that she would like to aim for a ballet career? I know that this has not been true up to this point, but I am wondering if new expectations are currently being developed that might leave 'old-school' methodologies at a disadvantage. For example, I watched a 13 year old girl do her 32 Fouettés as part of a Flames of Paris pas de deux on the YAGP "How Judges Judge" presentation. I am wondering if it is a typical part of the average 13 year old's technique class to learn how to do that and other advanced technique that this pas de deux demands? If it is, then that answers my question. If it isn't then does the fact that a 13 year old who has 5 more years to work on all these things because of a decision to do YAGP put him or her in a better place than the student who has followed a slower, but very solid traditional time line that has worked for many dancers for centuries? And are more 'serious', respected schools looking at YAGP and similar competitions in any different manner than they have in the past - is there more pressure on them to participate in such events?


I understand that a child who learns to read at age 3 doesn't necessarily do better in college and the workplace than the child who learned to read at 5 or 7. But I do not have a way to compare that with situations that require physical conditioning. I might also refer to the "10,000 hour" concept introduced to us by author Malcolm Gladwell (Outliers) who cites studies on musicians (and some others) who tend to fall into the superior category at college level when they have accomplished an average of 10,000 hours of practice - a quantity that seems to have some kind of brain mastery significance across many different disciplines. He didn't elaborate as to whether the 10,000 hours were mainly composed of practicing scales or the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto over and over again for the local competition! :) And although I haven't done the math, I suspect that most serious ballet students meet their 10,000 hours of training by age 18 in one form or another - whether doing Fouettés or 'simple' pirouettes!


So I hope I'm making sense here, and not regurgitating old discussions too much! I am simply trying to understand what we would 'lose' should we decide to take a different approach to competition involvement and ballet training. Thanks in advance to all who respond.

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  • Momof3darlings


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  • LovesLabor


What I would be interested to know, and this ties in with another recent thread I read on this topic on BTFD, is whether choosing a school that does not train students for this kind of experience might result in a loss of a competitive edge down the road, should DD eventually decide that she would like to aim for a ballet career?


In a word, no. As a parent, I feel fortunate that my DD attended a very good pre-pro school in her high school years that did not emphasize competitions (nor put on pressure on families to make them feel that in order for their DKs to succeed that they need to spend $$$ on private lessons, expensive costumes and competitions, esp. at a young age).


And the school has produced (and continues to produce) students who have received SI acceptances to company-affiliated program (many with partial & full scholarships) with their older dancers going on to company trainee programs, second companies, and competitive college dance programs. I would say only a few competed in YAGP & other competitions, but sparingly and mostly in their latter years in high school. (And those students at DD's school who received those SI scholarships simply attended an SI audition for about $25, or sent in a DVD. They did not have to undergo the expensive process of attending a ballet competition.)


Quality training with top-notch teachers, a supportive & nurturing environment (for both students & parents), and performance opportunities are what I feel DKs need most, esp. in their younger years.

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You have thought this out quite clearly, LovesLabor, and gogators answered it quite succinctly: No, you need not have a YAGP or any other comp record in order to become a professional dancer, or to remain competitive, provided the training along with all of the other ingredients exist to begin with.


Yes, you will see the names of competitions in bios; but bios are built by sales and marketing people, and those types of "headline-grabbers" are encouraged, but they will NOT get you any farther than you're meant to go.


To compete or not is a very unique and personal decision, so if it is an enjoyable thing, and the fun of the travel, meeting other dancers, and performing is exciting to her, and your family can foot the bill, then why not? It's fun. But in your case it sounds very much to me as though your gut is telling you some really important things.

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Wow, Loves Labor, I could have written this post. I have been contemplating this as well. Suffice it to say that I tend to agree with Clara. My DK's enjoy it but the expense and stress of it all is wearing on me.


One side benefit I will say has come out of the whole process though and it has forced me as a parent to become educated on dance and an active participant in the process of their dance education. Without stumbling into a competition like YAGP, we would have continued to fumble around at our Dolly Dinkle school where we thought our children were getting good training, only to discover much later that we were not. As a result of YAGP, I have learned a lot more about the art of ballet. I grew up in a small town with no exposure to the art of dance. I was 25 years old before I saw my first Nutcracker and that was the only ballet I had seen until 2 years ago. Now, I not only know the difference between a pas de deux and a plie' but I also appreciate the subtlety between tricks and technique!!! I no longer think that the costume makes the dancer and I also can identify innumerable variations. Best of all, my kids and farm boy husband appreciate the art and its intricacies. I am not sure that I could make that claim without having gotten on the YAGP roller coaster, however, I am glad that the ride is coming to a complete stop soon. I am not sure if we will visit this amusement park next year or not, though!


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I know you mentioned looking at other schools who do not do YAGP, but is that the only option? Can your child not stay at the school where they are and simply not participate in YAGP?


After our years of attending YAGP, and reading of people's thoughts here. I am hearing that the tangible growth doesn't come from the attendance at YAGP at all, but the extra time and attention to preparation through coaching. So my question is, why are studios/teachers not seeing what I'm seeing and figuring out that they can provide or make available these things to students without the extra expense of the competition itself. I don't mean simply Variations class, but I'm saying why not mimic YAGP preparation as a part of the program itself. If the biggest growth comes from the personal coaching and preparation, then this is something that can be added to the home program and presented as a presentation at the end of the year that is different from recital. The only thing that would then be missing is the score and seeing the other dancers for inspiration. I do think the inspiration factor can be huge and was for us, but it can also be intimidating to the point of frustration for others. I'm not so sure that a well chosen SI doesn't provide the exact same inspiration if one really looks though.

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Can your child not stay at the school where they are and simply not participate in YAGP?


Some students do not participate. However, over the years I have noticed that the students that get the most private coaching are the ones who shine in the classroom. The more they get, the more they seem to shine. If you are not participating in a competition then you do not have priority to receive private lessons, and this year for the first time, it may have meant losing some additional, non-technique classes such as Variations, Contemporary, Character etc. if a student opted out of the ensembles. DD was invited to participate four years ago as a soloist. My response at the time after looking at the potential expense was "this is ridiculous!". On our budget, it just didn't seem to make sense to make that kind of investment at a stage when I was not even sure about DD's commitment to ballet. The following year I was told by the school Director that sometimes it just isn't possible to get all the training that is needed to succeed in ballet through the core classes alone. Since DD was much more focused and serious about ballet that year, I let that reasoning guide my decision that year. There is just a very lonely, sad and forgotten quality to the odd student who isn't involved in all this. Less opportunities for them at the end of year recital.


I'm not naive enough to believe that all dancers are created equal when it comes to talent etc., but I do believe it is important to have unity of purpose and opportunity in a school. And I also believe in the concept of 'buyer beware'. If a school has a stated philosophy then it is up to the consumer to be aware of that and make an informed decision. One parent I know rejected another school because they did not provide this kind of competition opportunity and she would have to fight to get it from them. So I am really not trying to be negative about the school, or YAGP, or people who love to compete and see a plethora of benefits from it all. I'm just trying to make the most informed decision I can, guided by my gut idea about what is right for my child and my family (as Clara76 pointed out above).


I completely agree that it would be wonderful to mimic the training process and simply leave out the actual YAGP part. It might also free up some dollars for the parents to direct towards supporting the school. When my kids were involved in music lessons there were multiple opportunities to have "Trophy Recitals" where respected members of the musical community volunteered to provide critiques of the students in a low key, less externally competitive but still useful fashion. However, based on the amount of energy that I have seen go into the preparations for YAGP et al, I wonder if the motivation would still be there if you removed some of the prestige and incentives that major competitions provide.

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  • Administrators

If the school is doing it's job, and doing it well in terms of providing quality training, and enough of it, then participating in YAGP or any other competition should be totally up to the child and the family. It is extremely expensive, and not all children will thrive in that atmosphere. Many do, many do not. There in no way should be any penalty for not doing it, nor any loss of classes.


Yes, the private coaching is a good thing. But, it is just that, coaching, not exactly the same as a private lesson. Coaching for YAGP is about working on one or two pieces of choreography intensively and exclusively in those sessions. In my opinion, yes, they can be the major benefit of entering the competition.


Private lessons, when not aimed at something specific, can also be beneficial, if you have the right teacher for the student, you can afford it, and the teacher will make the time. I do very, very few of them, because I prefer to do classes, and can only do so much each week. I do enjoy coaching, though. But here is the thing...the privates are not essential to making a dancer! Many, many, many working professionals never had any privates or any competition experience.


If this studio is putting preparation and competing in the forefront, and not giving equal opportunity and training to those who cannot, for any reason, compete, then I would start looking for another school.

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I think competitions are valuable for the same reasons momof3 stated above, as well as exposure to a few ADs whom kids may not have had exposure to previously; scholarships; and there are some company contracts given out, to my understanding.


Now, can dancers gain those same things any other way? Yes! SIs are good ways to gain exposure; community scholarships and corporate scholarships can be obtained, along with school-offered scholarships; and company contracts are offered via auditions.


I think it goes back to the same things we've discussed above: If competitions fit well with your family in every way, there's no harm, and if they don't, then don't do them. Your child will not be missing out on her entire future if you don't, or if you choose to slow down, and the future is not based on one or 2 decisions made by the parents. Even if you were to sacrifice everything in order for her to attend every single event available, there's still no guarantee that her future as a professional dancer is then laid in stone.


In fact, the more that a family sacrifices, the more difficult it can be on the child to make any decisions herself about what she really wants.....I've seen kids who were born under the "Dance Goddess" star sign, blessed with every single quality necessary to become a ballet star, hit 18 or 19 and suddenly, they want to become a vetrinarian or a doctor or a lawyer. They stick their feet in the unpredictable waters of professional ballet and decide that a large paycheck, and financial and job security look pretty rosy.


The nice thing is that ballet students who have trained to an elite level can go on to almost anything else their heart desires, because they have the attitude, work ethic, intelligence, and self-discipline that those things require. They also usually have an advantage when it comes to college/university choices, because they have demonstrated a level of commitment to something so beautiful, so beyond-the-common-man, that they become sought after college applicants.

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I agree with Clara76 and Momof3darlings. For DD, the benefit was in the individual coaching and learning of a variation. If that could be mimicked in a class setting as extensively, or made affordable and available through private lessons to interested students, that would be better than competitions, in my opinion.

My fear, though, is that so many individuals and schools are now jumping on the competition bandwagon (even in this economy?!) that it might become the norm, or expected, or the deciding factor when an A.D. is choosing between 2 dancers. On a different thread, we recently discussed how summer intensives, once relatively rare for an elite few, have now become the norm. I don't mean to disagree with previous posters, especially the teachers, but this does concern me and might be worth considering. I will stand corrected if I am thinking incorrectly on this.

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I hope you are not thinking correctly, pointeprovider, but, I have to admit that you might be. I don't want to think so, but, things change, and that could be one of the things that is changing in the ballet world. When I was dancing it was non-existant, then it became existant but not that prominent, and now, it is indeed very prominent. I don't think it is yet to the point where it is essential, but, I guess it could get there. :(

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I don't think SIs became the norm because they were the best way to train though. I believe they became the norm because they became a money maker and with that there are now so many that any dance student regardless of level can basically find one to attend. This was not always the case. So while there was a more elite feel to them, it wasn't only about money. It was that you truly only recommended a few students try for them because only a few were accepted.


Competitions are a very different discussion to have than simply SIs became the norm.

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  • 2 weeks later...

YAGP has added a "job fair" this year, bringing in AD's from quite a few companies. Looks like you have to have been a finalist attending the New York competition in order to qualify. There is an attachment on their website showing the companies that will be in attendance. If this works out, to me, it's a definite plus for taking part in YAGP.




The link is below.



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DD started at a residential school in the fall and while the school hosts YAGP they do not have their students compete. They did address this in our first meeting at the beginning of the year and I really liked and respected their reasoning. They believe in training a dancer to become a profeesional dancer and to be ready for what ever is thrown their way. The have A LOT of performance opportunity and they allow as many dancers as possible to learn as many roles as possible. They said that they prefer this over focussing on one or two pieces for months on end to perform for one specific competition...in other words they see more value in training the dancer for the life of a dancer and not for one competition. I can absolutely see how someone could argue the benefits of training for competition but I respected their position. And it made sense to me.


Also, the reality is that we would not be able to afford to do YAGP and I feel like at some schools that really push it, dd would be a little left behind or left out if she were not participating when many are - it should not be the case...but I think that the reality is that it would be the case.

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I have been reading this thread with interest because we are think of having DD participate in the YAGP next year. I completely understand lorrainegd's studio's position of training the dancer for a career, not just one competition, and I agree. That being said, I have read a lot of articles in dance magazines that say many dancers enter the competition, not necessarily to win, but to be SEEN. My DD will be 17 by next year and it seems like YAGP would be a great place to be seen by a lot of AD's in one place, rather than traveling to many auditions. Of course, there is the added bonus that if you make it to the finals they have a job fair there as well. If DD trains and competes, that would be our reasoning, exposure and networking, not necessarily winning. Are there any thoughts on YAGP from this perspective? Thank You.

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I thought this was an interesting review of the YAGP in the NY Times. Is it appropriate to post in this thread? I think it addresses the topic of competitions and how participating is preparing young dancers. http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/24/arts/dan...ter-review.html

I especially feel that virtuosity is replacing artistry, the attempt of physical feats in young dancers is scoring higher than turn-out or proper placement en pointe. I did not see YAGP, so I am not addressing that competition specifically, but I did watch a ballet oriented competition this year and I did not quite understand the scoring. It left a negative impression on me as far as competitions are concerned. I see the value in being "seen", but I'm not certain that the positive outweighs the negative for the dancer who is not a wunderkind at a young age or an international student looking for a US contract (and vice versa).

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