22nd April 2021

Dance Competitions: Practice to Lose

Practice to Lose

As a dance teacher, I spend a lot of my time encouraging kids to practice. Practice makes perfect. Practice makes progress. Practice like you perform. We have all kinds of sayings to encourage our dancers to work hard and practice their craft. Why do we ask them to practice? Because we want them to do well, to be prepared, to be successful, to “win.” But here’s the thing, in any given circumstance, that child may or may not come out on top.

If practice is the best preparation, then why don’t we have our children practice losing? I know, I know, that sounds crazy to our success driven society, but the truth of the matter is, that your child is going to face disappointment.

While we are so busy preparing them to do their best and to win, I hear very little discussion about losing. In fact, it seems that many parents try to avoid the experiences of loss or disappointment for their child at all costs. I would suggest that we do the opposite. I encourage you to put your child in to situations where they can practice losing, and still be okay.

At any given dance competition, I may have ten dancers competing for the same top spot. Simple mathematics tells you that one may win, and the other nine will “lose.” And that is not even taking in to consideration all of the other dancers from other studios in attendance. So I’m going to let you in on my dirty little secret, I actually love it when my dancers lose.

Here are the amazing things that happen when a child does not come out on top:

1. It tests whether they are dancing because they love it, or whether they are dancing to earn a trophy. I want my dancers to love dance, regardless of their placement.

2. It allows them to face disappointment in a controlled way that does not disrupt their safety or life trajectory. They are able (hopefully) to gracefully congratulate those who placed better than them and learn to genuinely appreciate the success of others.

3. They learn that while disappointing, an unsuccessful outcome does not define their experience. They come back to the studio eager to train and improve upon their skills. In short, it makes them “hungry” – and that’s the best kind of dancer to train.

Admittedly, I am not a huge fan of dance competitions in general, however there is one aspect that I do find very valuable, and that is to teach life skills. I would much rather see a child experience disappointment for the first time at ten around a dance trophy than at twenty around a job placement.

If they learn at a young age that disappointment is part of the process and does not define the journey, they are much more capable of handling setbacks in their adult life.

That resilience is worth far more than any trophy they could receive. So I say, bring on the losses! Let our kids soak them up, learn that life goes on, and love what they do regardless of the outcome – that is the true win!

Published in collaboration with All That! Dance Company
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All That Dance Company

Also by Sarah Beth Byrum:

Why Don’t I Look Like That Dancer?

Dance Class: The Do’s and Don’ts

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Sarah Beth Byrum received her Bachelor’s Degree in Dance from the University of Oregon and founded All That! Dance Company that same year. Sarah Beth began dancing at the age of three, training in all styles. Sarah Beth was published in Spotlight on Dance and featured in Family Fun Magazine. She was the recipient of prestigious Gerald E. Bruce Award by the Ford Family Foundation. She has also been awarded by the National Dance Educators Association, Oregon Association for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance, the Junior Miss Scholarship Program, and Phi Beta Fraternity for the Arts. Sarah Beth was recently honored by the University of Oregon's Dance Department with their prestigious Community Partnership Award. Her expertise has been published in Dance Studio Life magazine and she is a member of the worldwide Dance Studio Owners Association. Her passion for dance has led her to produce over fifty full length concert events, as well as being the founder and creative director for the annual production of the Nutcracker Remixed. She has received countless awards for her choreography and the technical proficiency of her students at both regional and national competitions. Sarah Beth shares her love for dance with students of all ages from toddlers through adults.

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