Natasha Sheehan says competing gave her a crack at rep beyond her rank. Photo by Erik Tomasson, courtesy SFB

Why Do Pro Dancers Still Enter Competitions?

As a student, Katherine Barkman competed in several prestigious ballet competitions, and even won first place at the Youth America Grand Prix in Philadelphia. But at age 21, already a guest principal dancer with Ballet Manila, she decided to return to the competition stage as a professional. She found herself humbled by an experience at the 2017 Moscow International Ballet Competition.

"I was pretty intimidated, thinking, This is the big leagues, this is the Bolshoi Theatre," says Barkman, who was eliminated after the first round. "You are not just judged on how good you are for your age."

Competitions have long had a place in the training of young dancers, allowing them more opportunities to perform and learn under pressure. But even after you've secured a company contract, there are myriad benefits to putting yourself in front of judges.


Enhance a Slow Year

Simply joining a company does not mean you will be dancing the roles you want. There may be time spent understudying or standing in the corps. "Some dancers have times when they have not been cast well," says John Meehan, chair of the jury for the USA International Ballet Competition in Jackson, Mississippi. "They need a goal, and a competition can give them the incentive they need."

Katherine Barkman, here with Joseph Philips, won silver at USA IBC and Varna IBC this summer. Photo by Ron Fung, courtesy Barkman

Prove Yourself in a Principal Role

Competing can give you a chance to work on repertoire that would typically be beyond your rank. During her first season with San Francisco Ballet in 2016, artistic director Helgi Tomasson invited Natasha Sheehan to compete for the Erik Bruhn prize. The experience gave Sheehan, then 17, her first crack at Giselle, along with a contemporary pas de deux by Myles Thatcher. She won at Bruhn, and wound up reprising the contemporary piece at a gala the following season.

Get More Exposure

Competitions are a see-and-be-seen event, and a win can give you name recognition. "A competition can get your name out there, make you more known," says Sheehan. "Other directors gave me compliments, and it helped build some bridges." Even noncompeting partners get to be seen by several directors at once, which could lead to guesting and other gigs.

Broaden Your Dance Community

"A competition is a chance to get out of your dance bubble," says Meehan. The opportunity to see other styles and network with peers from around the world can give you a new perspective on your work.

Get More Feedback

"All dancers need mentors," says Lisa Macuja-Elizalde, artistic director of Ballet Manila and coach to Barkman. "No matter how experienced you are, you need someone looking at you when you rehearse or perform." A competition can be a way to get more input through additional coaching and mentoring.

Win R-E-S-P-E-C-T

Sure, you could win money—first place in Moscow comes with a $30,000 prize. But even if you don't medal, you can earn respect. For Barkman, the reward of overcoming the challenge in Moscow and then winning silver medals at USA IBC and Varna IBC this summer was personal. "I know some professionals might join a competition for money or to have a big career boom, but it is the event itself that inspires me," she says. "The months it takes to prepare, the networking, honing my abilities as a budding artist—it is all about pushing to step outside of my comfort zone to find more artistic growth."

Latest Posts


Clockwise from top left: Photo by Loreto Jamlig, Courtesy Ladies of Hip-Hop; Wikimedia Commons; Photo by Alexander Iziliaev, Courtesy Pennsylvania Ballet; Natasha Razina, Courtesy State Academic Mariinsky Theatre; Photo by Will Mayer for Better Half Productions, Courtesy ABT

The 10 Biggest Dance Stories of 2019

What were the dance moments that defined 2019? The stories that kept us talking, week after week? According to our top-clicked articles of the year, they ranged from explorations of dance medicine and dance history, takedowns of Lara Spencer and companies who still charge dancers to audition, and, of course, our list of expert tips on how to succeed in dance today.

We compiled our 10 biggest hits of the year, and broke down why we think they struck a chord:

GO DEEPER SHOW LESS
Christopher Duggan, Courtesy Nichols

I Am a Black Dancer Who Was Dressed Up in Blackface to Perform in La Bayadère

On Instagram this week, Misty Copeland reposted a picture of two Russian ballerinas covered head to toe in black, exposing the Bolshoi's practice of using blackface in the classical ballet La Bayadère. The post has already received over 60,000 likes and 2,000 comments, starting a long overdue conversation.

Comments have been pouring in from every angle imaginable: from history lessons on black face, to people outside of the ballet world expressing disbelief that this happens in 2019, to castigations of Copeland for exposing these young girls to the line of fire for what is ultimately the Bolshoi's costuming choice, to the accusations that the girls—no matter their cultural competence—should have known better.

I am a black dancer, and in 2003, when I was 11 years old, I was dressed up in blackface to perform in the Mariinsky Ballet's production of La Bayadère.

GO DEEPER SHOW LESS

Here's the First Trailer for the "In the Heights" Movie

Lights up on Washington Heights—because the trailer for the movie adaptation of the hit Broadway musical In the Heights has arrived. It's our first look into Lin-Manuel Miranda's latest venture into film—because LMM isn't stopping at three Tony awards, a Grammy award, and an Emmy.

GO DEEPER SHOW LESS
contest
Enter Our Video Contest