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re: Are Competition & Social Dance the Only Choices?
Posted by KarenLile
8/11/1999  11:52:00 PM
Had to wait until the new discussion board was up to post a reply to your last message.

I believe you asked about my dislike for competition. I am not specifically against dance competitions. I just feel that the choice of using a competition format for preparing and presenting artists of any kind is not the best choice. My experience with this comes from my exposure to the piano competition world. I have been through the experience with my husband of many competitions, some of which my husband lost and some of which he won. (He is a concert pianist). What I discovered is this:

1. The major motivation for the competition is to promote itself, not build the individual winner's careers. I am not saying that some winner's don't benefit. It is just that they usually benefit because they have combined their efforts with some hard work and because others (i.e. managers, booking agents, etc) have also put in some hard work. The next year, when there is a new competition winner, the one from last year is dropped in the shadows. I realise that if a dancer wants to teach, winning a major competition can bring students, so this is a bit different than the piano world where the goal is to perform in concert tours around the world.

2. I don't like the idea of "pitting" artists against each other to see "who's best". To me, a performance and a dance is an inspired and joyful thing. Trying to judge who is best is kind of like trying to judge who prays the best.

3. I don't like the way that people start to behave towards each other when they are operating in an environment of "scarcity." The competition sets up an artificial scarce environment. The goal is to win. There is only one first place winner, etc. So automatically, there is a scarcity of opportunities to win when several couples are entered into a competition. I have always found that if there is enough recognition to go around, the environment is entirely different. People treat each other better and with more respect when they don't feel they have to fight to get their needs met. Also, there is more cooperation between those who have more skill than others when those at the top don't feel they have to fight to protect their position. Of course, I don't mean "fight" literally, I just mean the struggle that develops between people when there is something to be won.

4. I don't like the idea of judges making judgements on who is the best artist without being held to a higher standard. It would be entirely different if there were a standard of dancing that was measurable that everyone knew they would have to meet in order to achieve a certain recognition or level. I have no objection to that. If a dancer met that standard and a judge's only job was to determine if the standard was met, then all would be fair. Also, there would be no reason that everyone who met the standard could achieve the recognition. There could be as many winners as there were skilled dancers. (I realise this causes problems where cash awards are given, but there are other ways of solving this problem). In a competition, however, it is a judge's responsibility to keep their opinions somewhat to themselves. And it is also their job to pick only one first place winner. So, even if there are several couples who might have equal skill and talent, they can only pick one. Because the judges reasoning for the decisions are kept confidential, the dancers competing feel they have to please the judges, not meet a certain standard of dancing. This becomes dancing to please a person, or group of persons. If you were to make an analogy to a political system, you might say that I would be for a government governed by law not by a king or dictator. I would rather see the people establish the law and abide by it than see everyone scrambling around to please the whims of a person in a position of extreme power. I believe that one of the reasons that there are so many behind the scenes "uglies" that can and do happen in some competitions is because the system itself is designed to create those problems.

5. I don't feel that the competition creates an environment that truly inspires creativity. I believe that many people find their creativity shut down in such an environment

6. I don't believe that artists, performers, etc. are being presented with the respect they deserve when they are forced to perform under the conditions that usually exist in a competition. Every performer is deserving of respect and appreciation, no matter what their skill level. Being a producer of musical/dance variety shows for TV/Theatre, I have spent a lot of time making sure the stage is set for a performer to look and feel their best and to be recognised by the audience as worthy of attention. I see competitors often thrust into very difficult situations without that type of support and to me that shows a lack of respect for the work that the performer has been through to prepare their performance.

I know a lot of people who produce and perform in competitions. I have heard both the pros and the cons. I believe that great people can make inadequate systems (i.e. the competition) do amasingly wonderful things in some instances. I don't object to other people doing the competition thing or think that they are "bad" people because they do it. I just question the use of the competition form for any kind of motivation for excellence. It is so pervasive that people don't even think about the alternatives that are available. And there are so many alternatives that I believe would accomplish more towards the goal of building fine performers, athletes and artists and that would develop a social environment much more conducive to showing respect for each person and working cooperatively as a community.

I realise that my views are somewhat radical. However, I would not be surprised if many people started thinking about these things and applying their creativity to finding alternative solutions to the problems of presenting and preparing artists, we might see some really inspired productions and opportunities for dancers.

There is no reason that the business of presenting and preparing artists cannot be approached with as much creativity as we desire to achieve when preparing a performance.

Just my thoughts.

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Karen E. Lile

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