Competitions Vs Exams

Recently I had a conversation with a dance teacher colleague of mine.  We were discussing the marking system, the difference between exams and competitions and the benefits of both.  I want to share with you the outcome of our chat and why your dance teachers strongly encourage the exam process.
In all honesty the first thing you should know is that competition marks aren’t “real”.  They differ from competition to competition and are based on the adjudicator’s opinion on that day in that moment.  On a different day the judge could mark it differently, even if the dancers performed it exactly the same. 

Competition marking is subjective.  In most competitions there are no required skills or elements, and there are no set criteria for the judges to follow in the marking system.  An experienced judge may have their own marking system they implement but it is generally not unified by an organization. 

The marking at competitions include costuming, make-up and hair as well as choreography, style and performance.  Props, theme and storytelling also play a big role.  Technique has a place but often it’s the “show” of a piece that pushes a group over the edge into first place. That’s why so often we might see simpler technical choreography with the flash of elaborate costumes and props taking the big prize home.  This is not a judgement of competitions, we LOVE attending competitions and festivals!  It is just pointing out that we attend them for the performance experience, the feedback, the teamwork and the ability to “win or lose” with grace and good sportsmanship.
On the flip side exams are for the individual dancer.  Each dancer is marked on their own merit and not in comparison to anyone else.  Dance exams let the dancer, their parents and the teacher know their progress and their ability each year.  Exam marks are based on a set criteria that each examiner must follow.  A set criteria means that a dancer in London England with similar technical, musical and performance ability, should receive a similar mark to someone living in Red Deer Alberta.
Exam marks are based on posture, alignment, weigh placement, musicality, coordination, performance ability, grooming, and so much more.  The Royal Academy of Dance has a specification that breaks all of this down in black and white so that we can understand where this mark came from.
Dance exams are different than school exams.  A dancer may study and work harder each year and still may not receive a mark of distinction or highly commended.  This does not mean they are not progressing or that they weren’t working hard.  Dance is a physical activity as well as an art form.  Sometimes our bodies may not be able to achieve what is necessary to receive that “high” mark, no matter how much we practice.  That by no means should deter a dancer from taking the exam.  Just like not every hockey player can be an NHL star, not every dancer will be the next Misty Copeland or Travis Wall, but it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t enjoy the process or participate.  A pass for some dancers is like a distinction for another.  The process of setting the goal of taking an exam, and then working towards achieving that goal, already helps the dancer improve and grow. 

As a studio that offers participation in competitions and exams we strongly believe that the exams will have the greater impact long term.  If a dancer is choosing between an extra solo or taking the exam, we would recommend the exam.  It is really about thinking for the future.  Dance exams show future employers and Universities that the dancer accomplished something in their dance training.  That is something that a first place trophy just can’t do!

It is very hard to show on paper the life skills learned through dance, but exams can show those accomplishments and are more than just a simple certificate. They give the dancer and the parents something tangible to really see the progress and the strengths gained through their dance training.  We are very proud to have a teaching faculty that are certified in their areas of expertise and can offer solid dance training to our dancers. Nothing matters more to us than helping our students gain knowledge, confidence and be the best dancers they can be!


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