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We are all trying to promote unity and fair play, consideration and support, an end to bullying and equality among ALL of our children. This makes the concept of “peer competition” amongst students a tricky concept. The world has come to a place where every child is rewarded just for doing their best and “everyone is a winner,” which is by all means a wonderful approach to building a child’s self-esteem. However, there is the other side of the coin where parents and teachers alike must prepare children for what the real world is really like, especially if that child has aspirations of becoming a professional dancer. Unfortunately, no one is going to give you a trophy or an “A for effort” at an audition for a Broadway show or ballet company just because you attended. Harsh reality??..... Yes. True reality……Also yes.

So, how as studio directors do you maintain the spirit of camaraderie among dancers while still promoting a healthy spirit of competition? It’s not an easy feat for sure, but there is something to be said for the dancer who is self-motivated by seeing their peers perform well and excel and it becoming the catalyst for their own progression and goal-setting. The truth is, there is very little that you have to do except monitor the environment, check in with students regularly and oversee how students interact with one another. By no means is this to say you are to encourage your students to pit against each other or create animosity or jealousy. That is definitely not the healthy approach to this, nor productive in any capacity to the child’s training, mental health or your business. What I am saying is, dancers are naturally going to watch one another, whether it be in class or a friend’s solo rehearsal, etc. It’s just what we do as dancers, we compare ourselves and we self-analyze and critique. This is not always a negative thing if done in a healthy mindset with tons of positive support behind it. Now, the balance to this is to ALWAYs reaffirm and remind students that no dancer should obsessively compare themselves to another because it’s like apples and oranges. No two are alike and each always possesses something unique that the other doesn’t. That’s the beauty in learning and being inspired by one another. It’s also the beauty in what makes us individual and we don’t ever want to lose that. What should be their focus is taking control over their own technique, their own training and cultivating what those unique qualities are; which is going to make them succeed. This is what should drive them and propel them to the next level; being inspired by their peers.

My point is this. If studio owners create a culture of support and team-work, along with a zero tolerance for jealousy, spitefulness and malicious energy, the times when that competition amongst dancers does arise is going to surface as more of a positive motivation. This is where dancers are now inspiring each other to want to do better for themselves and others rather than tearing each other down in order to be at “the top of the pyramid.” There is a vast difference between the two approaches and teaching philosophies. What dancers will find along the way as well is that having perseverance and the wherewithal to work and toil to get ahead may indeed be a bumpy road in their dance career. (In any career for that matter.) And that’s OK. Others may in fact be better technicians, performers, auditioners, etc…. BUT, they will always be up against someone in their lives at any given time, within the dance world or not. And that is an important thing they do need to learn and recognize. The lesson for them is to find a way to applaud others’ achievements and successes and realize it doesn’t minimize who they are and what they are doing as well. It should be recognized as a prompt to want to excel and be inspired.

Think about this….wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could create an environment where someone else’s talent and accomplishments was less of an intimidation factor and more as a motivating tool to better ourselves? Wouldn’t it be fantastic if this could be achieved while still recognizing the support team that always stands behind you whether you rise or fall? So, the next time there is a bit of healthy competition going on in your studio, don’t get alarmed or immediately feel the need to call it out….watch and monitor how this competition develops. As the studio owner, navigate it towards a positive framework that can help your students inspire one another to succeed.

Good luck!                                               

See you in the dance studio,



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Jessica Rizzo Stafford

Jessica Rizzo Stafford

Jessica Rizzo Stafford is a native New Yorker and graduate of NYU Steinhardt's Dance Education Master’s Program; with a PK-12 New York State Teaching Certification. Her double-concentration Master’s Degree includes PK-12 pedagogy and dance education within the higher-education discipline. She also holds a BFA in dance performance from the UMASS Amherst 5 College Dance Program where she was a Chancellor's Talent Award recipient. Jess now works extensively with children, adolescents and professionals as choreographer and teacher and conducts national and international master-classes specializing in the genres of modern, contemporary, musical theatre and choreography-composition. Jess’ national and international performance career includes works such as: The National Tour of Guys & Dolls, The European Tour of Grease, West Side Story, Cabaret, Sweet Charity, Salute to Dudley Moore at Carnegie Hall, guest-dancer with the World Famous Pontani Sisters and IMPULSE Modern Dance Company. Jess has been a faculty member for the Perichild Program & Peridance Youth Ensemble & taught contemporary and jazz at the historic New Dance Group and 92nd Street Y in NYC. She was Company Director at the historic Steffi Nossen School of Dance/Dance in Education Fund and in 2008 traveled to Uganda where she taught creative-movement to misplaced children. The experience culminated with Jess being selected as a featured instructor at the Queen's Kampala Ballet & Modern Dance School. She has conducted workshops for the cast of LA REVE at the Wynn, Las Vegas and recently taught at the 2011 IDS International Dance Teacher Conference at The Royal Ballet in London, UK. She is also on faculty for the annual Dance Teacher Web Conferences in Las Vegas, NV. Currently, Jess is a faculty member at the D'Valda & Sirico Dance & Music Centre and master teacher & adjudicator for various national and international dance competitions. Recently, she has finished her NYU Master’s thesis research on the choreographic process of technically advanced adolescent dancers and is the creator of “PROJECT C;” a choreography-composition curriculum for the private studio sector. Jess is also faculty member, contributing writer and presenter in the choreography and “how to” teaching segments on the celebrated For more info, visit her website at

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