Dancers today are capable of more than ever
in the way of turns, leaps and acrobatic feats.
Nowhere is this more evident than at competitions, where it seems like the bar for virtuosity
rises every year. Many people argue that we’ve
gone too far, and competitors shouldn’t be so
focused on double-digit pirouettes and flips.
Dance is an art form, and there must be ways
to judge a performer that have to do more
with quality than quantity.
But can a dancer take home a medal with-
out pyrotechnics? Or have expectations risen
so high that judges will overlook a piece of
choreography without that “wow” factor?
“It all depends on what kind of competi-
tion it is,” says Peter Stark, associate director
of Boston Ballet II, head of the men’s program
at Boston Ballet School and a judge at Valen-
tina Kozlova International Ballet Competition.
“If it’s for students, where we are judging po-
tential and looking for dancers we can shape,
tricks are less important. But at competitions
for professionals, we need to see fully formed
Stark says that who the judges are mat-
ters too, as you are most likely to find school
directors judging student competitions and
artistic directors judging professional competi-
tions. Company directors want professionals
to show the extent of their range—including
their virtuosity. A certain level of technical
prowess is necessary not just to win a competi-
tion, but to get a job.
But tricks can be a gamble. When performed
without technique, they simply highlight the
limitations of the dancer. “Too often we see
technique compromised for the sake of the
trick,” says Shelly Power, incoming director
of the Prix de Lausanne. “Pushing through
is dangerous if that foundation is not really
there.” Dancers will lose points for attempting
a trick they can’t pull off.
Choreographer Al Blackstone insists he’d
rather see two clean pirouettes on a straight
leg and strong demi-pointe than five messy
spins. Still, he admits there is a place for a
meaningful “wow” moment. “One beautiful trick that is emotionally driven is worth a
thousand that have no context,” says Blackstone, who judges for JUMP Dance Convention. He gives the highest scores to dancers
who can connect to and move an audience.
“Don’t focus on what you can do, but what
But if the dancer has the ability to turn and
you can say.”
Artistry can have a virtuosity of its own,
adds Stark. “The dancer can have a nuanced
use of emotion and musicality that stands
out,” he says. He admits that strong chore-
ography also factors into the equation. “A
dancer can be a muse to a tremendous piece
of choreography,” says Stark. “A mediocre
dancer can move up with a strong piece of
A dancer’s physicality can also make a
tremendous impact, as a bare-bones trick-less
piece can bring forth other qualities. “If a
dancer’s body is ideal, a simple piece of chore-
ography without tricks can really emphasize
the dancer’s physical presence,” adds Stark.
leap with bravado and polish, that’s a skill, and
judges agree it will be rewarded. “Tricks push
the dancer and in some instances it’s correct,”
The most successful dancers are the ones
who bring it all together: an amazing dancer
in a strong piece of choreography that in-
cludes some awe-inspiring technical bravado
performed with exquisite artistry. “Ideally,
we are looking for everything—line, form,
placement and balance,” says Stark. “We want
it all.” n
Can You Win
Many artists bemoan the emphasis on extreme technique at
competitions. But do dancers need technical bravado to place?
BY NANCY WOZNY
2O16–17 DM COMPETITION & CONVENTION GUIDE
Judges agree that tricks can
have a place in competitions—
but they can also be a gamble.