Spring has officially sprung which means that we’ve reached the height of competition season. While the middle of the season is jam-packed and exciting, it can also bring on major exhaustion and burnout for dancers, teachers, and judges alike. So how can you stay on your ‘A-game’--or platinum game--to ensure a successful end to the season? This week, we asked the IDA judges to share their advice on how to remain engaged and excited, both on long competition weekends and in the studio during this especially busy time.
Let’s face it: competition weekends are long. Often, each day begins at seven or eight o’clock in the morning and doesn’t end until well after ten. This schedule is grueling for dancers, teachers, and judges. As judges, though, our job is to stay invested from entry number one to 600, and each judge has different strategies to do this. For instance, IDA judge and teacher Kelsey Nelson encourages judges to take the day step by step, looking at each session separately to avoid feeling overwhelmed. She also shares the importance of taking advantage of breaks and explains, “During breaks it is important to do something for myself whether it is walking outside, calling family, or scrolling social media for a few minutes...doing something to refresh is so important.” IDA judges Jessica Olinik and Amy Maze echo these sentiments, emphasizing the importance of going for walks outside to enjoy sunlight and keep their minds clear. In addition to taking advantage of breaks, IDA judge Miranda Spada strives to get a workout in, no matter how short, at the beginning of each judging day. She shares other tips, including the importance of eating well and staying hydrated--which applies to both dancers and judges--and keeping her go-to favorite item, sugar free sucking candies, on hand to stay alert and keep her throat coated.
All judges agree that they constantly remind themselves how hard the dancers have worked and that each routine deserves the same amount of love and attention. Amy explains, “It doesn't matter if it is lyrical #455 or the 100th time I've heard ‘Popular.’ The dancers don't know that and they deserve the best from me.” No matter how long we’ve been sitting or how hungry or tired we may be, it’s important for us to provide a quality critique every single time we hit the ‘record’ button. After all, we choose to spend our weekends traveling the country and inspiring young dancers and we wouldn’t have it any other way! With an emphasis on education, judge and teacher Holly Collins shares, “As a teacher, remembering why I do this is really important, and reminding the students to put their heart on the stage is also crucial. It is easy to get caught up in all of the technical things that need to be cleaned up, but when all else fails, the fact that we encourage them to do their best and tell their story is what wins in my eyes!” The opportunities to inspire are endless and that makes competition weekends a pleasure.
Beyond the dancing, these weekends are great chances to meet new people. First, dancers should enjoy the opportunity to make new friends backstage. After all, you never know who you’ll see at your next audition! Similarly, as judges and educators, these weekends provide amazing opportunities to network with each other and enjoy the company of both new and old friends. Ask any judge and they will probably tell you that meeting fellow judges and amazing competition staff members is always a highlight. Our field is small, so connections are widespread and the judges’ table is no exception! There are always opportunities to enjoy the company of the other judges and sometimes even to enjoy a new city, both of which can help combat feelings of burnout on long days! Amy shares, “What I like to do is approach each weekend as a new adventure. I like to explore the town or city if I can, or find a local restaurant to try.” We truly have the best job: we get to travel, meet new people, enjoy amazing dance performances, and help the next generation of dancers to grow!
On the subject of growth, sometimes the height of the season means a lapse in progress in the studio. Dancers get into a rut with the routines they’ve been rehearsing since the summer and the work starts to feel stale. There are so many ways to keep routines and classes fresh, though. First, both Miranda and Jessica suggest having the dancers perform their pieces in groups so that they can get a better idea of what’s happening around them. So often, dancers get tunnel vision and only know their own pathway in each piece. In seeing the routine holistically, each dancer can gain a better idea of the role that they play, as well as their importance, especially if they feel like they are not being seen. In addition to zooming out, Amy likes to turn rehearsal into a team bonding game, and have different groups try to perform other routines. “Have your seniors perform the minis’ routine and the minis perform the juniors’. This is a great team bonding experience and seeing them all laugh and be kids having fun is so great!” Similarly, Jessica values team bonding and uses written exercises with her students, mentioning, “Each year the dancers write down goals for the rest of the season and goals for the year ahead. My older dancers write letters to themselves to reopen a year from that date.” She saves all of the letters for her older company dancers so that they can reflect later, “The girls get a kick out of the papers, especially from when they were little, and look forward to reading them every year. It has become a great tradition.” Team bonding makes all of the difference in rehearsal, which ultimately translates on stage.
Kelsey shares another strategy to keep training exciting that also contributes to team bonding. She explains the value of introducing guest teachers during competition season, “We have brought in guest instructors after each competition this year and it has been such a breath of fresh air for the kids and for us as teachers. It has given us a night to watch the kids dance and learn, and [it has given] the kids an awesome new experience they wouldn't otherwise have.” So often, studios only bring in guest teachers during their summer intensives or to set choreography before the season begins. But Kelsey further explains, “If [the dancers] aren’t staying inspired, and if we aren't as instructors, then there won't be much ground covered in terms of growth.” Bringing in guests inspires students to further their training, even after a long weekend of competition.
Jessica encourages dancers to “support one another and [your] entire dance family,” and Kelsey reminds teachers, “Communication is key. I know if I am feeling spent, then my students must feel it, too. Remember that you are all on the same team.” When teachers and students provide a network of support both in and out of the studio, the possibilities for growth become endless! As judges, we, too, aim to be supportive and encouraging. So as you start to feel burnt out at the height of the season, strive to find more joy in your dancing and remember why you do what you do...and we, as your judges, promise to do the same!