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Ah, the fall. The weather gets crisp, the days get shorter, and most importantly for dancers, convention season is in full swing! Dance conventions as we know them today became popular in the 1960s as jazz dance emerged in popularity, and teachers wanted to expand their repertoire and expose themselves and their students to new styles. Conventions like Dance Masters of America and Dance Educators of America started the trend, and since then, the industry has exploded, with convention season being almost as busy as competition season! Dancers have the opportunity to learn from talented professionals either in a traditional convention setting, with boutique, “in-house” conventions that bring the convention to you, and even remote, Skype conventions, enabling dancers to learn from teachers no matter where they are! Here at IDA, we are lucky to have several judges who teach regularly in the convention circuit. Eddie Bennett, Drew Burgess, Robb Gibbs, Courtney Ortiz, and James Washington share their advice and tips for dancers to get the most out of their convention experience!
Even though conventions are wide spread and popular, it is always someone’s first time experiencing a dance convention. Eddie Bennett, IDA judge and convention teacher for the 2017 season with Spirit of Dance Awards “The SDA Class Experience”, encourages studios “to emphasize how wonderful an experience a convention can be in regards to being able to dance with different dancers. Enter the convention as a studio, enter the room individually. Get to know new dancers. I will purposely split up groups when I see they are only dancing with each other. You should be able to dance beautifully in Group A even if the rest of your studio is dancing in Group B.” This sentiment was hands down the most consistent advice from all of our judges. Dancers from other studios are not only potential competitors during competition season, they are also potential colleagues, friends, choreographers, directors and teachers in the future. It pays to get to know them!
Courtney Ortiz, owner of Impact Dance Adjudicators, also teaches on the circuit with Revel Dance Convention and this fall with Artistry Dance Invitational. She stresses to first time convention attendees that “if you need to ask a question - make sure it’s a good one that others can benefit from as well. If you hear someone else ask a question, be sure to listen, as it might help you, too.” This was also a common piece of advice from our judges. Nothing wastes more time than dancers asking the same questions over and over.
Robb Gibbs, IDA judge and convention teacher with Platinum Dance Experience and Diva Dance, says to studio owners, “Challenge your dancers to ask fewer questions and try to pick up on their own before asking unnecessary questions. Always watch first before doing. This is a great tip for classes even at your home studio. Take a step back and try to take in information. You can’t take in the choreographer’s style if you’re already doing the combo.” Even though the energy of a convention class can be hectic, take a breath, be in the moment and really focus.
Convention teachers tend to have the same expectations as your typical in-studio teacher – except there are hundreds of students at a time to have expectations of! A few basic tips for proper etiquette from Drew Burgess, convention teacher for Dance Masters of America and Dance Educators of America, are to “uncross your arms. Bad body language will NOT make me want to learn your name or help you. Please refrain from yawning. We are all tired – smile through it if you love to dance.” Drew also adds, “I'm not always looking for the most perfect "dancer" in the room. I often seek out the best "student" in the room. They, more often than not, are usually the hardest worker, the one that's picking up small details and making every effort to apply what I'm saying immediately.” You might not have the highest battement, or 32 fouettés, but concentrate on the things you have control over, and your hard work will be recognized.
Courtney’s biggest pet peeve about convention etiquette is how dancers use the space. “If it's time for groups and you are not the group on the floor, move back. There are so many times where I see dancers on the sides, not practicing like they should, but literally standing in a line with their arms crossed watching or even worse, sitting on the floor in the way. If it's not your turn to dance, go find a space in the room that is out of the way for you to practice. You will get your chance on the floor.” Since most conventions are held in large ballrooms, there should be more than enough space for everyone, if everyone is mindful of using the space properly! Additionally, Eddie adds, “Spread out! You’re in a convention center in these massive rooms and yet everyone wants to dance on top of each other. I always love the eagerness of learning, but if you are so squished up front, the quality of what you’ll be able to do lessens. Give up the front sometimes and live your life in the back.” Use the space to your advantage and allow everyone to have a moment in the front.
The amount of observers in a convention setting is also a challenge to convention teachers. James Washington, teacher for Revel Dance Convention and IDA judge, says, “It's very distracting when there is a lot of noise on the sides from parents or observers. I understand the aspect of observing, but parents and teachers need to also remember - with them being in the room, it may actually cause a distraction for your dancers. Allow them to take class and not be distracted or feel the need to look for your approval throughout the day.” Studio owners, teachers, and parents can all learn from observing, but make sure to remember that the classes are designed for the students to learn – if you’d like to have conversations, please take them to the lobby!
Conventions are an incredible opportunity for dancers to learn styles that might be out of their comfort zone, from teachers who excel in their particular style. It can be daunting and intimidating to step into a new style but teachers have high expectations for dancers who attend conventions. Robb says, “I'm looking for a dancer to want to get something out of each class. Dancers that excel in all genres are hard to come by. Therefore, I want dancers to step outside of their comfort zone and try to the best of their ability. If you are a strong hip hop dancer, then I expect you to try your hardest in the other classes.” The point of conventions has always been to learn new styles, so all dancers are encouraged to try every style and not only choose to take the classes that they are comfortable in.
James adds, “I encourage dancers to remember - a convention is to learn. It’s an experience for growth. Receiving a scholarship or being called out in the "select group" is great, but should not be the goal. Take class to take class. There is such an emphasis on being featured in the video for social media or winning the top scholarship. I want dancers to remember the idea behind the convention in the first place - to take class with a teacher you normally don't, learn something different and most of all, take what you've learned back to your studio and have fun.”
Finally, make sure to remember that conventions cannot take the place of consistent training. Drew believes that “moderation with the conventions is key. Dancers should never drop their home studio program to go "assist" at or for any convention full-time. Conventions are a supplement to studio training...not an alternative.”
While the prevalence of dance conventions has increased tremendously since their inception, the focus has not changed – conventions exist to help further dancers’ knowledge of multiple styles of dance and encourage continuing study from different teachers. Knowing how to properly engage in a convention class will help dancers get the most benefit from the experience, and influence their dancing for years to come. The bottom line, however, is to have fun! Dancing is fun and what could be better than an entire day, weekend, or week full of dance? Enjoy yourself, learn, and leave a better dancer than you were before!