Navigating Competition with Younger Dancers

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by Lauren Lombardi

A dancer’s first competition season can be very exciting! As we bring dancers to the competitive stage for the first time, it is important to think about how the experience can be different for our youngest dancers and first timers.

Before the season begins, it is important to offer opportunities to simulate the competition experience so that young dancers will know what to expect. Practicing choreography without the mirror, dancing in front of an audience, and utilizing a dress rehearsal in full costume and makeup can be very helpful to those who have not participated in a dance competition before. Consider offering hair and makeup tutorial classes for parents who are new to the competition scene as well. If you are able to obtain a venue, having a showcase or a mock competition can be very helpful to get out those potential jitters and create an environment more comparable to competition. You can even announce dancers with pretend entry numbers, or give out your own special awards at the end!

In the week leading up to the first competition, allow time during rehearsal for your dancers to ask you questions that they may have. You can also use this time to talk about the importance of getting a good night’s sleep before performing, eating well, and warming up before taking the stage. This is also a good time to talk explicitly about competition etiquette. What are the expectations you have for your dancers during awards or during downtime? What should they wear in between performances? These are topics you most likely cover with parents, but it is important to discuss with your dancers as well.

Having a conversation about nervousness can be helpful too. Consider bringing in older dancers to talk about how they combat their own stage fright. When dancers know others experience it, it seems less scary! Remind students that feeling nervous is normal; it shows they care very much about what they are about to do, but not to let that feeling take over. Teaching a simple breathing exercise, perhaps incorporating affirmations with it, can be a helpful tool at competition when students need to feel grounded. 

On the day of the competition, I like to write personalized notes to my dancers reminding them how proud they make me. Sometimes I will include inspirational quotes to help them get into a positive mindset. We warm up together, breathe together, and huddle up to go over the very important reminder that we do this because we love to dance. We often share what our favorite part about dancing or performing is in anticipation of the performance. With the youngest dancers, this is all about creating a positive competition culture and nurturing their passion for dance. I try to talk to each dancer individually after they perform and emphasize something positive that they did. I praise the application of even the smallest correction that they had in the studio during rehearsal. I always ask, “did you have fun?” 

Here at Penny Prima we believe in instilling this passion for dance in our tiniest competitors. We created the Penny Prima Passion Award for soloists in the petite age division with this in mind. Petite soloists are awarded for sharing their love of dance from the moment their performance begins, to the moment they leave the stage. Winners are awarded a plaque and a special collection of Penny Prima toys and books. Look for our award this competition season at True Talent, Backstage Dance Competition, and Full Out Productions!

What are some of your favorite things you do to prepare your own tiny dancers for comp season? Comment below!

Lauren Lombardi

Lauren Lombardi is the Digital Marketing Associate for Penny Prima.