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To compete or not to compete. This is a consideration for any studio owner in terms of the “type” of studio they are going to market themselves as. Are you more focused on solely training, education and other performing opportunities? Alternatively, does your studio’s curriculum take the route of more of a fiercely competitive school? Do you emphasize technique as well, but also additional elements necessary to motivate endurance and prepare students to perform in the competition circuit weekend after weekend? Or, are you a balance of the two? Do you offer a strong focus on dance training, while also providing your students with one or two regionals a year to expose them to new performance venues and opportunities to listen to constructive feedback as they would at an audition? All are wonderful, they just take very different form. Each studio director and faculty are responsible for setting the tone as to what course their studio will take.

There are always pros and cons which need to weighed when making this choice. Unfortunately, examples on TV which have painted a not so positive competition environment, (though hopefully few and far between,) have used it to pit students against each other, threaten progress because they know no better way, diminish self-esteem and allow horrific examples of parental behavior to be displayed in anything but a supportive and nurturing way, in order to achieve higher TV ratings. These are extreme examples but sadly, this type of radical glorification of the competition world and support of watching these types of programs is one reason why it has gotten such a negative wrap; even if it is just dismissed as being entertaining to watch. 

There are however, many positive aspects to introducing your students to the competition circuit. If we don’t fall into the trap of “following the crowd,” that solely presents bare midriffs, tricks and bad technique, provocative content that is not age appropriate, putting pieces up on stage that are mere replications of things we’ve seen a hundred times before, etc., we can provide a venue for our dancers to perform and entertain audiences with their talent, hard work and dedication. Being on stage is the fruit of their labor so why not provide that opportunity for them in as many eclectic environments as we can? Put your studio’s stamp out there and be proud of all you and your dancers have accomplished. Remembering it’s less about the trophy and more about your students’ progress over the season is important to remember entering into competition. Judges’ scores and opinions are subjective. They are getting a three minute snap-shot into the work, sometimes after already seeing 300 pieces before yours. You and your faculty are the ones who know best where your dancers have come and where they are going, but feedback and constructive criticism from new, objective eyes is always valuable. With educated and articulate adjudicators, the insight dancers can walk away with is priceless. Dancers can learn vast and valuable lessons which are important for any career they enter into from attending competitions; especially dance; teamwork, time management, collaboration, professionalism, self-esteem, performance ability, passion for craft, recognition for hard work and merit, artistry, dedication, focus, commitment, appearance, etc…..Furthermore, don’t exclude the amazing opportunities for them to often take master classes with the judges or guest artists which allow them to try something new and be privy to eclectic teaching styles and learning environments. These are all wonderful things that can be brought out by competition if you and your faculty set the precedence to do so. 

On the flip side, not everything needs to be about competition either. It is extremely important to be mindful of creating a balance and encouraging students to perform in many different venues to expose them to varying performance experiences. To be involved in the competition season does not mean you need to be a studio which commits itself to a different one every single weekend. I, myself did not come from a competition background. However, having adjudicated for many years, I can objectively see both the positives and negatives. Like anything, again, it’s about balance, creative, thoughtful, age- appropriate content and professionalism. The directors are the ones who need to keep our dancers in check and help create the best experience for our students, no matter what venue they choose to dance their hearts out in.


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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