Dear Dance Competitions: I have questions.
Feb 05, 2020
It's a Saturday night-- a pretty hype one at that.
Everyone is screaming, the energy is palpable, there are cameras and bright lights and the dancers on stage are just killing it...as usual.
VMO is on stage. VMO is a hip hop crew who has literally won first place at every competition I've been to for the last year.
Correction-- not every competition I've been to, but also every competition my own team has competed in. This means that VMO has beat us every time. Has beat everyone every time.
I think this means that VMO is the competition.
But I can't bring myself to remember that. I am cheering and screaming and bouncing in my seat for them. I'm sending Danyel, the director, text messages before and after stage to hype her up. Just an hour or two earlier as her crew was rehearsing, I gave her a giant bear hug. "I love you!" she said and squeezed me. "You'd better get that first place" I tell her.
I'm rooting for her. Get first place, Danyel, you guys look great. You work hard. You earned it.
And the point of this story is simple: I'm not a competitive girl. I don't really care. When I get into competitive arenas, I don't look around and think about beating or crushing the competition.
I've sometimes asked myself if that's only because I know I won't. I mean, in all honesty, we are a baby crew in almost every way, so it's not likely we're going to step on stage and overthrow the winners.
But no..that's not it. I try to put myself in the position of championship winners. Of stepping into a competition with a string of first places behind me and the knowledge that we slaughter and the odds are high we will do it again and...I just..I don't care. I don't even enjoy the feeling.
Everyone is a top dog somewhere in their life, whether its at work or with their kids or certain social circles. I've been in situations where I am "it" so to speak and even then...It doesn't matter. In fact, I get a little preoccupied with wanting to make sure others know they can win and I want them to win.
That's why last year's November competition was my last. I've decided I never want to do it again. And if I am not competitive why am I directing a competitive team, filled with dancers hungry to win? I'm not going to feed them the formula. I don't even know what the formula is.
Last week I talked animus. if you missed it, you should go back and listen, because it's the precursor to today's podcast. I have stepped away from competitions and instead have started a new performance team called Animus dance.
Starting this group was an act of courage for me. I know exactly what I want in a team and have been dawdling for a few years, putting off the attempt because of fear of failures from top to bottom. What if no one auditions. what if my vision flops. what if we spend our lives in obscurity.
Last week I talked about the connection between my mind and body, the secrets I keep from myself. As I decide to chip away at them, to get to know me better, it becomes clear that when it comes to dance performances, I am only motivated my messages I care about. When I choreograph for hype or show, I get bored by the second rehearsal. I can't tell you of one single movement of hard-hitting, hype performances I've often admired but I can rattle off, at length, the ways the more thoughtful pieces have carved their little initials into my dance heart, engraved there forever.
I'm not interested in judges evaluating my creative process. I don't know you judges, what matters to you, how you think about training or creativity, what dance means to you-- why would I want binary numbers on a paper about whether my expression was good enough for a prize? What I want is to use this universal language to say things to the world that I would say if I had a megaphone and everyone's attention, but I dont, instead, I have a stage and some beautiful bodies who, like interpreters, will take my ideas and convey them to a new group of people.
There is so much about the competition world I am wrestling with, and I hesitate to share it because I have so many friends competing and this isn't about a judgment of them. I'm not cut from that clothe and I have too many questions to be comfortable.
I want to know why female empowerment on stage so often looks like scantily clad women spreading and twerking. What about that is empowering? The only thing that sits between that moment and exploitation is context, and that's just not a big enough buffer. Women are capable of some of the most intricate and ferocious choreography you've ever seen, so to bring us back to the most debased version just feels like a cliche.
I want to know why crews that bring in beautiful, bold statements, moments that leave their mark on the audience, don't win because they didn't have 5 pieces of music mixed with explosions and guns sounds and a nice greasy bass drop with a small swaggy wiggle.
It's just a different set of standards and criteria and tons of talented people are doing it well...but I just want to know. That's all.