The way Duncan Cooper tells it, victory at a major dance competition can be a double-edged sword. "Winning does show that you have a high level of ability and skills," says the Universal Ballet Competition judge and Revel Dance Convention faculty member. "But at a professional audition, some people just won't care—and others will expect you to bring way more to the table because you're a winner." To translate a competition win into forward progress in your career, you need plenty of authenticity, savviness and a bit of sheer luck.
Start Before You've Won
Does the idea of networking right after an awards ceremony feel inauthentic? It shouldn't, because you should have started connecting from the moment you entered the ballroom. "When I was younger, I wasn't thinking about leveraging connections," says Ballet BC's Sarah Pippin, who grew up netting titles at New York City Dance Alliance and The Dance Awards. "It's only when I look back now that I can see I was building relationships with teachers, choreographers and other dancers." Exchanging contact info with a fellow finalist or favorite faculty member before heading home will go more smoothly if you introduced yourself on the first day.
Be Graceful, Gracious & Grateful
How to get out the word that you've won big without falling into #HumbleBrag territory? Lean into gratitude. "Post a video of your performance, tagging the choreographer, your studio and the competition," advises Cooper. "Thank and tag anyone and everyone involved." At most, they'll repost you. At least, they'll be reminded of your name—and your recent success—via their notifications. (One exception? Reaching out directly to a judge, says Pippin: "I would advise against it, just because there's a boundary, where a personal relationship might not be appropriate.")
Next, make like an Oscar winner and thank your "fellow nominees." "Congratulate all the other winners and finalists," says Youth America Grand Prix artistic director Larissa Saveliev. Try to be specific when telling fellow competitors what you admire about their dancing. Everyone appreciates a sincere compliment.
Get the Word Out
The most obvious places to note your title are your social media bios and your resumé. The same general rules apply to both, says Saveliev. Namely, "Training should be mentioned before awards, and don't list a gazillion competitions." Give your most recent and prestigious achievements pride of place, and edit out any that are less recent, recognizable or relevant.
If there was ever a time to make yourself a website, it's now, says Cooper. Populate it with performance videos, high-quality dance photos, a bio that includes your wins and contact information. If job opportunities pop up due to your new titleholder status (or the relationships that formed in the process), you want to be sure you're easy to reach.
As thrilling as a big win can feel, it's not the end goal. As Saveliev says, "Be proud of what you've achieved today, but also remember that winning the prize is just one step that brings you closer to your career goals." Taking first place doesn't necessarily mean you're a better dancer than the runner-up—and it certainly doesn't mean you're now free to rest on your laurels and simply let the jobs come to you.
"I'm really proud of and grateful for everything that my competition/convention background gave me," says Pippin. "The various wins helped bring about professional connections that are now important, but the titles themselves? They didn't really do very much. The relationships that are formed last a lot longer."