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In today’s dance competition circuit, solos have taken a front seat. The majority of most competition weekends are filled with solos, which makes it even harder for dancers to stand out. So what can dancers do to take their solos to the next level, especially now that we’re approaching the mid-point of competition season? On this week’s episode of Making the Impact, Courtney and Lesley sat down with IDA Judges Cheryll Custer Klein and Alicia Sehn to talk all about competitive solos.
When it comes to having a solo, there are some non-negotiable responsibilities. First, having a solo is a privilege. While having a solo may seem like a given these days, back when the judges were competing, solos were not guaranteed to all dancers. It’s important to remember that a solo is a privilege and with that privilege comes responsibility.
Alicia notes that it all starts in the classroom, from work ethic to etiquette, especially because the dancers are part of a team. It isn’t just about the individual and the solo. Cheryll agrees, noting that it doesn’t matter what genre or which teacher you’re studying with, but that it’s important for dancers to give their all in every class, and once the dancer is in rehearsals for their solos, they have to keep up with their training across genres and with their team. While it’s important to work hard in a thirty minute solo rehearsal, classes are where technique and artistry really develop, so it’s crucial that dancers give 110% in every class if they expect to succeed and continue to progress in their solo(s).
Cheryll also emphasizes the importance of taking feedback from a young age, reminding her students that constructive criticism is positive and not negative. Her dancers are then set up to enjoy receiving feedback from both their teachers and judges, which ultimately helps them grow. On the topic of growth, she also notes that it’s great to throw some challenging elements into the solo to push the dancer, but don’t be afraid to dial it back as the first competition approaches to ensure that the dancer takes the stage at their best. For instance, if they’re consistently falling out of their triple pirouette, change it to a double for competition and as the dancer continues to hone their technique in class, perhaps by the next competition or even nationals, they’ll be ready to nail the triple every time. Alicia agrees, noting the importance of making the dancer feel confident so that they can perform at their peak. She also reminds dancers that the judges will have no idea that a beautiful double pirouette was originally a triple--they only see the gorgeous, sustained turn performed in front of them!
Another important topic that is always at the forefront of dance competition conversations is around levels. If a dancer, especially in the teen/senior age division, has consistently been competing in the intermediate level, how can they literally “level up” into the advanced level and still be successful? One way to start is to register for a competition that a dancer’s full studio isn’t attending. This strategy alleviates some of the pressure while allowing dancers to feel out how they will compare and score in the advanced level. Alicia notes that now is a great time to take this approach given the abundance of virtual competitions. They can see where they fall and get some feedback without the high stakes of having to perform all of their other routines.
Cheryll also advocates for “small victories.” For example, if a soloist scores in the lower to middle range of high gold, she’ll encourage them to work to achieve the high end of the high gold range, as opposed to shooting for platinum or top overall, or other less realistic goals.
Alicia leaves us with great advice that she tells her students, “Don’t forget why you’re doing this: you’re doing this because you love to dance and in that love you want to see yourself grow and you also want to enjoy yourself, so have fun and continue to grow and learn new things.”
Keep working hard in class to hone your technique and artistry and we can’t wait to see you on stage!