The first time I ever heard the term, I thought it was a joke, or at least a chuckle-worthy oxymoron: competitive ballet.
I mean, really? Dance — and maybe particularly ballet — is an art. And the very nature of art (at least in my understanding) is so rooted in personal expression that I couldn’t imagine it becoming fodder for competition. Can you imagine a sculpting competition? Or an oil painting competition?
You see my point.
But then again, we are all familiar with music competitions (who didn’t attend a Kiwanis Festival at some point during their choir or band experience at school?), and artistic expressions similar to dance have been competitive for years (think: figure skating, gymnastics…even ballroom dancing). So as my daughters reached dance class age, I assimilated the idea of the ballet competition into my psyche, although it wasn’t something they were interested in, at least initially.
But then my eight year-old saw the TLC show Toddlers and Tiaras (I blogged about that nightmare here). For well-nigh a year she begged me to let her enter a pageant. HA! As if… I did relent enough to let her dress up as a “pageant girl” for Hallowe’en in an authentic two-piece glitz pageant dress complete with cupcake skirt that I found on e-bay. It cost me about as much as I typically spend on costumes, and it’s since had a lot of wear in plays, videos and dress-up games.
Around the same time, the director of our dance studio put out a call for girls interested in joining the competition groups and I thought, well, maybe here’s a way for my little girl to get a taste of the pageant experience, but in a more reasonable way.
And that’s how we started in competitive ballet. And you know what? It’s been a fantastic experience. My little one and her BFF compete together in the novice duo-trio division for their age group, and they’re loving every minute of it. Both girls seem to love the extra choreo classes, and they are over the moon with excitement when we go to competitions. Perhaps unsurprisingly, ordering and receiving their costumes was a definite highlight, overshadowed only by getting their first medals.
We’ve had some eye-rolling fun along the way – on the afternoon of her first competition my little ballerina came home from school with “I’M GONNA WIN THE COMPETISHUN” scrawled in purple smelly marker all over her left forearm. It was like something out of a Robert Munsch story, truly: super-indelible-never-come-off-till-you’re-dead-and-maybe-even-later-markers! We rubbed her arm raw and it was still there; after this photo it had transferred onto her white leotard…you get the idea.
As for their results, they are decent. So far the girls earned an “honours” ribbon at their first competition and at their second they got a gold medal and secured first in their division (although they may have been the only team in their division). But the point is that they had a great time and they felt wonderful about themselves. Also, they’ve been dancing about twice a week for the past 8 months…that never hurts either! And we knew when we enrolled them that we are not at the most intensely competitive studio – our director’s philosophy is fun first, trophies second. And the studio still does win its fair share of trophies, so she’s obviously doing something right. But all this suits me just fine – I never wanted the Dance Moms experience anyway. Too reminiscent of Toddlers and Tiaras.
So when I asked her if she wanted to do competition again next year and she shouted an enthusiastic “YEAH!”, I was happy. In the end, I guess competitive ballet isn’t such a bad thing after all.