Tarkan Seregül Photography, Courtesy Smyth

5 Ways Competitions Can Lead to the Career of Your Dreams

I have to admit, I've had a wonderful career. I've danced with The Royal Ballet and The Joffrey Ballet, done a stint on the West End in An American in Paris, played the Snow Cavalier in Disney's The Nutcracker and the Four Realms with Misty Copeland, and will soon be performing as Older Billy in the Australian tour of Billy Elliot: The Musical.

How did I get in this position? Through the eight international ballet competitions I've entered.

If you want to travel the world performing and doing what you love, competitions are your ticket to finding the freedom to dance wherever you want to go.

You'll get major exposure. 

At competitions, you're seen by a lot of people. The juries alone are made up of artistic directors from major companies around the world. You could easily be hired by them.

I actually was—when I won the gold medal at the Genée International Ballet Competition in 2008, Ashley Wheater of The Joffrey Ballet was the head judge; we stayed in contact and five years later he offered me a contract. I've also received guesting gigs and gala opportunities.

I consider myself more of a performer than a class taker, and find it's better to be seen onstage than in a studio. Directors can watch how you actually perform, not just how you take class.

Courtesy Smyth

You'll enhance your visa application.

If, like me, you want to work in countries other than the one you were born in, I say good luck and God bless—but competitions might help!

To get a work visa in another country, you're most likely going to need to prove that you are "an alien of extraordinary ability." I have seen many great dancers trying to perform in the U.S. in particular who have been denied since they don't have any documentation to back up their talent. Winning a medal or even becoming a finalist in an international competition can provide valid evidence that you are at the top of your profession.

You'll get to perform—and improve.

This is the fun part. Competitions give you the chance to dance on some of the world's best stages, push yourself, try new rep, fall down and get right back up. It's certainly a great way to build confidence.

When I competed at the USA International Ballet Competition in 2014, I was coached so intensely and got to focus on every detail that I improved not only my technique but my overall stamina as a dancer. There was a feeling of, Wow I really worked for something!

You'll travel the world.

Ballet competitions have taken me to some of the most amazing and some of the strangest places on earth. Some competitions actually pay for your flights and accommodation, plus a per diem. It's essentially like having a dancing holiday. These offers change yearly, but the two competitions I did in Beijing and Shanghai were fully covered.

Courtesy Smyth

You'll meet other dancers.

Not only can you make new friends, but you can see other talent out there and get a grasp on how different dancers work around the world. I've been blessed to learn many types of technique, collecting insights from teachers and competitors into a toolbox of knowledge I keep with me.

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Jason Samuels Smith, photographed by Jayme Thornton

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I turned to tap at the outset of the European lockdown as a meaningful escape from the anxiety of the pandemic. As a dance historian specialized in dance film, I've seen my fair share of tap on screen, but my own training remains elementary. While sheltering in place, my old hardwood floors beckoned. I wanted to dig deeper in order to better understand tap's origins and how the art form has evolved today. Not so easy to accomplish in France, especially from home.

Enter the L.A. Tap Fest's first online edition.

Alongside 100 other viewers peering out from our respective Zoom windows, I watch a performer tap out rhythms on a board in their living room. Advanced audio settings allow us to hear their feet. In the chat box, valuable resources are being shared and it's common to see questions like, "Can you post the link to that vaudeville book you mentioned?" Greetings and words of gratitude are also exchanged as participants trickle in and out from various times zones across the US and around the world.