When I took over the reigns of Rosebud Ballet school back in 2006 I did not imagine that the school’s long held tradition of Annual Choreography competition would quickly become my favourite event of the year.
It’s a long held tradition with perpetual trophies dating back to the early 70s. Some of those trophies are older than me, much to the amusement of my students! These trophies list names of many dancers who have left the Rosebud Memorial Hall stage and stepped onto the world stage. Our students are always excited to see the names of successful dancers like Jason Coleman (world renowned dancer, choreographer and director) and Chloe Dallimore (her credits include a wide variety of productions from Crazy For You, Sweet Charity, Annie and The Producers) on our trophies. With many PSD students second generation dancers, their family members are also strongly featured. There’s a wonderful sense of connection and history, as we carry on the tradition and legacy inspired by Miss Sandra Allan, our school’s founder.
How does it all work?
The Peninsula School of Dance Choreographic Competition is in-house. It’s run across a day at our local community hall and all participating students bounce away with ribbons, critiques and maybe a medal or trophy. But more than that … they walk away with a great sense of pride and achievement. The PSD teachers along with parents, are always blown away with the creativity and courage that the students display. It really is an all-round great day.
I am always impressed with the level of creativity displayed for the students. The competition provides a platform for students to develop these skills. I am often pleasantly surprised by some students who struggle in other areas, and perhaps are not always the most technical dancers, and yet they step out onto the stage and shine. We have a couple of students that we affectionately refer to the Choreography competition as “their day”. I have seen this result in a great sense of pride and confidence in children who may not have otherwise for example, had the opportunity to participate things such as exams.
Whilst the day is always wonderful there were a few years where participation dropped and we struggled to get the number of entries from years gone by. I took a close look at what were doing within the school in the lead up to the competition and put in place a number of strategies that have reinvigorated the competition. In 2017 we had over 100 entries and it was our most successful day to date.
Here are some of the things we have done to help promote participation:
Educating our dance families from the beginning
Even before students are old enough to participate we actively promote the day to our youngest students. We break up the day with short performances from our “Petite Dancers” (pre-school students). The performances are simply short dances we learn in class (think Emma Ballerina from the Wiggles), the children hop up on stage with our student teachers and assistants and dance away.
We make a big fuss of them and they receive a flower at the end. This achieves two things, one, the parents love celebrating their kids up on the stage and two, they see the big kids dance afterwards.
We actively encourage our student base to attend the day if they are participating. We allow all enrolled students to attend for free and talk with parents about coming along, even if only for an hour to see what it is all about. We are not a competition school so the idea of competition is not familiar to our families so the opportunity to see what it is all about before stepping in is important.
How do I choreograph a dance?
One of the biggest sticking points for students and parents is “I don’t know what to do” and “I don’t know how to make up a dance”. In response to this we developed a “How to Choreograph a Dance” workshop which we now run every school holidays prior to the competition. We take the students through some basic principals, workshop some ideas and then allow them time to start creating their pieces. Teachers are available to help students overcome blocks and encourage the development of ideas. You can find out more about the workshop here:
The workshop is also a wonderful time to encourage the development of duos/trios and groups. Young children working together can be challenging and doing this in a supported environment can assist when things get tricky!
In the lead up to the competition teachers at our studio are also required to discuss the competition and provide opportunity within class to workshop ideas. This make take shape in the form of improvisation exercises, group work and activities that all help students unlock ideas and develop confidence in choreography.
Information for Parents
Providing as much information for parents as possible is also key, even down to how to quickly and easily edit a music track in iTunes. Although, I must say in recent times the students are pretty good at this themselves! Feel free to take a look at the notice we hand out to our students well in advance of the competition here:
I have also found it useful to provide some suggested music for classical pieces, this seems to be more of a challenge for parents over the choices available for jazz, hip hop etc.
In the lead up to the day we try to have our running oder out as soon as possible but we always ask parents to keep the day free. Dates are always provided at the start of the year so it is planned well in advance.
Parents are able to hire costumes from us for a small fee, this is also a helpful service for them and provides some extra income for the competition. Purchasing of medals and trophies adds up very quickly!
On the day
Parents are asked to report to the desk 20 minutes prior to their item with music on a device or USB. We eliminated CDs in recent times. My number one tip would be to remind people to remove passwords, remove cases and make sure the song is downloaded and in it’s own playlist.
Students then report to a teacher side-stage. Unless the child is exceptionally nervous we encourage Mum or Dad to go and sit back in the audience and enjoy. Hovering parents can absolutely make children more nervous!
Side stage is thrilling. I just love spending the day with my students in this capacity. Keeping them quiet, calming nerves, cheering each other along, laughing together and just generally having a ball. This is truly where the magic is! It is a lovely way to spend time with students outside of the studio and watch as their friendships blossom. At my studio we are very intentional and overt in our expectations of students displaying support and camaraderie towards each other. I expect nothing less. I then usually spend half the day with tears in my eyes as I watch the kids lift each other up, calm nerves and pretty much take my job away!
How does the day run?
I have included below a sample running sheet to give you an idea of how the day runs. Essentially each section is adjudicated with placings and HMs. The adjudicator at the end of the day then awards the perpetual trophies. As I described earlier our competition has been running for many years and the trophies are treasured amongst our dance community.
Our perpetual trophies are awarded in the following categories but if you are starting from the beginning you could simply offer overall trophies across age groups and then add to them as the competition builds over time.
Junior Ballet, Junior Stage, Junior Choreographic (5-8yrs)
Intermediate Ballet,Intermediate Stage,Intermediate Choreographic (9-12yrs)
Senior Ballet, Senior Stage, Senior Choreographic (13+yrs)
Open Choreographic (17+yrs)
Sandra Allan Trophy (in honour of our school’s founder, any age group)
If you are thinking of running a competition like the one I have described, do it! With good planning and structures in place it will soon become one of your favourite events on the calendar.