Tantrums and Tiaras: Dealing with the Competition


Staff member
Used with full permission by Rachel Holland (also meaning: you can't reproduce this elsewhere without her permission!)

Rachel Holland said:
Dance Today![/i], Jan. 2004]Tantrums and Tiaras: Dealing with the Competition

How many times have you competed in events and felt that the better man didn’t win....namely, you!? Are you experiencing sour grapes or is there a lesson to be learned? According to top Ballroom judge Dan Messenger, the key to being a good sport when competing with other dancers is all about attitude. He told Rachel Holland about the do’s and donots of competing

“I can think of several competitors in the dance world that never quite made their ultimate goal, whether it was to win a US title or Blackpool, or whatever title they may have been chasing,” recalls Dan. “The fact is, there is only one first place and only so many years for a competitor to try to get it.”

Competition is something you’ll encounter many times in your dance career. Left unfettered, competition can be an ugly thing, turning people against each other, destroying friendships and creating rivalry. However, having a healthy attitude towards competition can inspire and motivate you to work harder and perform better. Using competition as a means to motivate you as a dancer is extremely important. Your attitude towards competition, and your understanding of it, can help you grow, improve and even add to your enjoyment of dancing throughout your life.

Dan recalls running into a young competitor who was not happy with regard to how he and his partner were placed in their event. “It brought back memories of my competing days and that awful feeling of paranoia that you can get,” says Dan, who now judges international events. “Unfortunately, no matter what I had to say, this dancer was in no frame of mind to listen. ‘That’s it, I’ve had it!’ he stated, ‘It’s all rigged! Why do I bother when I’m never going to be a champion?’ So I took him aside and tried to explain how being a champion is not just about being the one who holds the title,” Dan reflects today.

It’s all about attitude! Let’s say you’re in class with other students who, in your eyes, are extremely talented. These students may be more advanced in their technique, dancing with a seemingly effortless quality of movement that might make you feel jealous for a moment. Instead of giving up, thinking you will never attain that level of technique, apply yourself and continue working hard to improve. It’s very important to keep negative thinking out of your approach to competing. Tell yourself, ‘I like the challenge. I can do this’, ‘I want to improve’. Find ways to thrive on the difficulty of studying dance. Ask yourself, ‘How can I compete and keep my concentration and positive attitude in class? How can these classmates positively influence my work?’ Notice which dancers you can learn from. In class, place yourself next to those who possess a kinetic sense of movement or a high energy level.
“Let them inspire you: rise to their level of energy and apply it to your own style.

“Make the competition exciting for yourself. For instance, before you attempt a pirouette, tell yourself that you will do one more turn than usual and concentrate on achieving the necessary balance. If you do this in every class, you will improve and eventually reach your goal. Competition is about striving for perfection and gaining excellence in your work; it’s not about being ‘better’ than others.

Keep in mind that it takes time to train your body and mind to work in new and better ways. Be patient and work hard. Through dedicated study of dance technique and a commitment to continual improvement, you will use your attributes to the highest level and achieve many of your goals. Be proud of your accomplishments! You made a commitment to reach a goal, worked hard to achieve it and you did! That’s no small task. Find a way to be comfortable with and even proud of showing what you can do. Self-confidence, accepting yourself in body, mind and soul is essential in order to compete with fellow students and dancers in a healthy way.
The challenge will be exhilarating if you think of it this way: every accomplishment in dance is significant. Every success you have, no matter how small, is a positive step in preparation for the career you aspire to. The thrill of competing and exhibiting your talents, reaching deep inside to reveal abilities you may have never thought you possessed, will lead you to the realisation of how enjoyable and satisfying it is to dedicate yourself to dance. Competition is a great learning and motivational tool. Use it wisely.

Although competing against fellow dancers can strain an otherwise good relationship, try not to see yourselves as competing with each other; instead as competing against YOURSELF.”

So what advice does Dan Messenger have for us all? “I can think of so many other qualities, besides winning the title, which makes someone a champion,” he says. “One important quality of a champion is the ability to be able to build a rapport with the dance community...to let them see your human side. This is one quality that can not be staged or choreographed.

“It is essential to carve out a life for oneself, not only as a dance competitor but as a well rounded person who loves dancing! Your competing days will eventually come to an end. You may win a bunch of titles but it’s hard to go beyond the years you’re competing without having built a bridge with your fellow dancers.

“It is so easy to get caught up in all of the negatives of the dance scene. It’s easy because your mind is so set on winning, which if you are a good competitor, is where it should be. But, what keeps it healthy is what you do in your life to create balance when you’re not competing. What is your reminder of what is truly important in life? For me, it’s my family. When I would come home from a competition, I would have my wife to vent to. She didn’t really care if I thought my marks were correct or not. My kids didn’t care if Daddy didn’t place well because he thought he had the panel from hell and his partner didn’t dance well that day, or the floor was too small, big, crowded, sticky, slippery... They were my reality check and I am thankful to this day that I have my family to bring me down to earth when needed. I think it is important for everyone to have a reality check, whatever it may be. Hopefully, we first of all have someone in our life that can help us keep a healthy perspective on things. It can be a spouse, significant other or a good friend. Sometimes we are so caught up in the events of our own lives and our own interpretation of these events that we may lose objectivity. The overly self-focused person can be a real bore! Other things we can do include exercise, hobbies and sometimes just reading a good novel or watching a movie. Whatever it is, it is important to have balance in your life.

“I think it’s important for everyone involved in our sport to, every now and then, take a deep breath and relax. At the risk of sounding trite, the most important part of what we do is the journey, not the destination. There is so much to be gained from the journey, useful information and experience that help to form us as people. Hopefully we are always learning in life, just as we are all always students of dance. Things may not always go our way or turn out the way we want them to. That is just a fact of life. Remember, what is really important is not that you win the title that night, but that you act like a champion throughout your life.”

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