Growing up as a dancer, I never noticed a division between the recreational and competitive dancers within studios—two labels that I have grown to dislike. Instead, there were the dancers that competed and the dancers that chose not to compete; however, everyone received respectable training. Somewhere along the way, the paradigm made an obvious shift, and I am not sure that it was for the betterment of the studio environment or the overall reputation of the dance industry.

 The first time I noticed the recreational/competitive dancer situation was around 2004-2005. I was in college and was teaching at varying studios. At some studios, I noticed a divisive line between recreational and competitive students. Recreational students were literally treated like second-class citizens (even the term “recreational”, as it is often used, is somewhat degrading and insinuative of “less than”). From class curriculum to performance opportunities to overall amount of attention given, it was obvious the students were not receiving an appropriate “bang for their buck”. The more I thought about the issue, the more ridiculous it seemed and the more it bothered me. If parents are paying for dance training and dance education, should it not be of equal caliber? Granted, some students may dance less or more, some students may take dance more seriously than others, and students that fully commit themselves may advance faster and will likely find themselves at an accelerated placement. But, if you choose not to compete, you should have the opportunity to advance and achieve the highest level of technical training alongside your competitive peers.

I think this divisiveness is one of the primary points of contention when discussing “competitive dance schools”. We all know that people hold very strong opinions about whether or not competition is the appropriate way to train a dancer. I think there are incredible benefits to having students compete; however, competing is a serious commitment, and if a family is not ready to make that commitment (financially, time-wise, or for a myriad of other reasons), then they should still be able to receive proficient dance training without being categorized as “just a recreational student”.

Think about it using these perspectives. If a student signs up to take swim lessons, the students are not separated into “competitive” swim lessons (learning strokes, practicing laps) or “recreational” swim lessons (splashing around in the water). Or, when students join the third grade, they are not split into the “competitive” and “recreational” students. Rather, when students sign up to swim, they are taught to swim, and when they attend school, they are taught different subjects. When students sign up for dance, they should be taught to dance. Granted, within any of these scenarios, students will likely be split into cohorts based on level, commitment, interest, etc., but to classify and categorize students prior to the initiation of their training seems unnecessary.

When I decided to open my own studio, I knew, wholeheartedly, that I wanted to be an “equal opportunity training center”. At my studio, the competition students take technique class with our non-competition students (based on age, level, and placement), and at year’s end, they all perform together. It is imperative to our culture to give every student that walks through our front door the opportunity to excel and to feel welcome. By implementing this philosophy, I have seen more passions ignited, interests sparked, and, overall, more appreciative students and parents.

At the end of the day, a student’s technical/performance prowess stems from a combination of great teaching, excellent listening, extensive practicing and polishing, and personal passion. I know that our studio is giving every child the chance to tap into his/her fullest potential. That’s what matters most to me, and I challenge other studios to re-evaluate their programming and strive to do the same. As teachers and studio owners, we have an incredible opportunity and commitment to inspire children, and we should strive to reach as many students in the most equally inclusive way possible. After all, it will only improve, your studio, your brand, and the overall reputation and perception of the dance industry. Plus, you have the chance to positively influence the artists of the future. What could be much better than that?

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4 Responses to Eliminating the Idea of ‘Recreational’ Students: Shouldn’t All Students Receive Equal Training?

  1. Dana Aniello says:

    I totally agree with your opinion and share them. At my studio everyone is trained the same. Our competition dancers are dancers that just want more opportunity to perform in a bigger venue, that’s it.

  2. Lindsay Roberts says:

    I think this is great! Although all our students do receive equal training, we do have a competitive and non-competitive program. What do you call your groups? How do parents know what classes to enroll for?

  3. Julie says:

    I have been to both types of studios, the fast-paced competitive studio environment with company dancers taking 15+ hours a week of training plus individual privates and extra rehearsals, and the training-only focused conservatory type program that is more integrated. Let’s say you have two girls both starting the year in a Level 1 jazz class. The competitive dancer is taking that class, in addition to probably many others, having group rehearsals in perhaps jazz and individual privates for her jazz solo, as well as other training opportunities required of her such as conventions and/or master classes and the non-competing student has that one jazz class. It’s very possible that the gap between what each is capable of over time gets broader and broader to the point where it is no longer an appropriate class to meet the needs of both. It’s truly not fair to either of them if they are integrated into the same class considering what they likely need to focus on becomes different over a short period of time. I do believe that non-competing dancers should have access to equally great training, but I do think it can be a dilemma to try and meet the needs of both within the same class setting. How do you challenge one and not overwhelm another if they aren’t ready for the same things? In my area, there are some wonderful conservatory programs that offer comprehensive training across a multitude of levels with performance opportunities as well. At many of the competition studios in my area, it would be an unrealistic expectation for a dancer who is not interested in making that kind of time commitment to be able to remain at the same level over time. It basically boils down to how the studio owner wants to run their business and what aspect they want to focus on, which is truly their perogative (as Bobby Brown would say… lol!). Fortunately in my area, there are great options for either, whether you want to train hard or train and compete hard.

  4. Sasha says:

    Actually swim classes for competitive swimmers are separate from regular swim lessons as well as classes for gifted and talented children in school. It’s just part of life nothing is truly fair and it’s a good lesson in preserverance and hard work. If you are devoted to your craft you can excel in any level of class.