Today’s post features a guest article from the Artistic Director of Groove Dance Competitions, Conventions, and Workshops, Daniel DeFranco. Read below as Daniel shares his 5 tips for Studio Directors as we head into the peak of competition season!

Competition Ins and Outs
5 Tips For Studio Owners & Competition Team Directors

By: Daniel DeFranco

It is the season for last minute costume orders, choreography changes, and rehearsals, pulling students from dances, gluing rhinestones and designing hairstyles.  Competition season is upon us and that means STRESS.  This article discusses five “Big Picture” ideas to try to keep in mind amidst the ensuing requirements and responsibilities placed on a studio director.  With SO much to do, it is very easy to forget the reason we take our students to competitive events and what the best approach to enjoying the chaos may be.

1)      Quality vs. Quantity: There are some studios that bring 3 dances to competition and there are some that bring 150.  The studios that usually sweep the competitive environment are not necessarily the largest, they are genuinely the best.  In today’s competitive environment, there are many different approaches to entering numbers.  Some studios believe that the more entries they have, the better chance they have at winning.  There may be a fragment of truth to this idea, but, for the most part, studios with high quality dances are performing the best.  Whether we would like to admit it or not, in the competitive dance world, your studio is often remembered by how you perform at competition.  It is the only time that most other dancers will have a chance to see your students in action.  For this reason, you only want to put your best foot forward.  Don’t ever feel pressured to enter at least one number in every single category, division and age group: Pick the best ones.  Do not be afraid to pull numbers.  If a number is not ready to represent your studio at its best…DON’T BRING IT!  While it may disappoint the kids/parents in the short run, in the long run, you will motivate them to make sure their number is ready for future performances.  The more seriously you take your competition team, the more seriously the students will take it and the better they will become.

2)     Brief Your Parents: Your competition team parents should not be treated in the same way as your other parents.  The parents of competition students should have a much better working knowledge of the competition circuit, what to do, where to be, when to be there, etc.  Before each competition season you must have one (if not more) competition parent meetings with mandatory attendance.  Mistakes such as forgetting costumes, incorrect directions and missed hotel bookings are usually easily prevented with proper information.  Let’s face it: PARENTS DO NOT READ!  You may have sent home all of the information in a newsletter for the past 5 months, but it is highly unlikely that they read most of it.  When you force someone to sit in a room and listen to what you have to say, you have a much better chance of the message being understood.

3)      Website Website Website: It is 2013.  Chances are you have a website, but is it up to date?  A website is only as valuable as its most recent content.  Not only should you have a website for existing and potential students, but you should have a special page section (possibly password protected) for your competition team.  The absolute quickest way to reach a group of people is via the Internet.  Your competition section of your website should be updated frequently and accurately.  Another great plus to having an accurate website is when a parent or student claims, “I didn’t know that….”, you can quickly refer them to the website where there is a paper trail of the message.  You must have an active, accurate and effective digital communication infrastructure set up between you and your most involved students (and parents).  The truth is, it saves you time, money and headaches.

4)      Sportsmanship: This is by far the most important tip anyone can give a studio director.  You (as the director) set the vibe for your team, your parents, your students and your other instructors.  They take your reaction as a cue to behavior and what you say and do GREATLY affects the demeanor of the entire competition family.

A studio owner, and one of my friends, does a great job to promote camaraderie and good sportsmanship.  She assigns each student a team buddy, throws a big pasta party for the students before each event, and always carries herself in a dignified, levelheaded manner.  The team buddies (an older and younger student pair) usually get each other a small gift or cute card before each event.  The pasta party involves all members of the team and helps them to have some fun before a stressful weekend.  Finally, and most importantly, she displays the characteristics she wants to come across in her team.  The way your entire body of students and parents portray themselves at competition is a direct reflection of your studio.  Setting the right tone is everything.  Stay calm under pressure; stress never solves anything.  Insist that students and parents not only be there for their own numbers but there for all team numbers to support others.  Make sure that students do not spend the entire time in the dressing room and instead see whom they are up against.

Never tell your students or parents that you don’t agree with the judging decisions (even if it is the truth).  The second you do, they will believe that they have the right to do the same and will never be happy unless their child comes in first place every time.  Do not give in to nonsense (i.e. parent drama, student drama, etc.). Demand that students act like young adults and solve petty problems on their own.  This portrays the message that what you are concerned with is the bigger picture of making sure competition goes well and everyone looks good on stage and learns something.  Drama’s best fuel is recognition.

5)      Be Prepared: Little issues should never be the source of stress.  Be sure to cross your T’s and dot your I’s.  Costumes should be received and altered at least 30-60 days prior to the first competition.  Prop construction, coordination and transportation need to be dealt with weeks in advance.  The competition director (or assistant) should always have spare tights, shoes, hair nets, etc.  Something will go wrong, and the more prepared you are, the better off your team will be.  Sort out food prior to the competition.  Do not wait until you arrive to find out the nearest Subway is an hour away.  Make sure you either bring food for the team or direct the parents to do so.  Hunger is inversely correlated to happiness.

Be sure to register your entries early.  Do not wait until a few weeks before the event to submit your entries.  Be sure your registration is complete and paid for 30-60 days in advance.  Problems are much easier to resolve with more time.

All in all make sure you make the competition season positive.  The main reason we take our students to competition is for them to meet other people, get some stage time, and have a lot of fun.  Try to make the experience minimally stressful for all parties involved, and, most importantly, focus on education.  Use the critiques as a learning/teaching tool and try to support what the judges say.  Make sure your students have not only enjoyed the season but also learned from it.  Teach them not to be threatened by talented dancers but inspired by them.

Daniel DeFranco is the Artistic Director of Groove (feel free to connect with Groove via Facebook and Twitter). Read more about Daniel’s background and his vision for the competitive industry here.

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