Dominic Antonucci considers the pros and cons of dance competitions. This article was originally published in the June 2015 issue of the Dancing Times and is reproduced by the kind permissions of all involved.
Competitions have always been somewhat controversial in the dance world. The idea of quantifying or scoring a subjective art form is inevitably problematic and there are many who disagree with doing so, at least in principle. Technique, execution and line are naturally easier to score than artistry or interpretation, and so competitions have sometimes been tagged as being 'all about the tricks'.
Despite dividing opinion, however, competitions have helped further the careers of young dancers since the 1970s and continue to do so. I recently had the honour of being a judge for the ballet category final of the newly launched BBC Young Dancer competition. It brought back memories of my own competition experiences as well serving as a reminder of the benefits and potential pitfalls that they may hold for developing dancers.
While I was a member of the corps de ballet of American Ballet Theatre, funding for the arts was at a low in the US. American Ballet Theatre’s rehearsal and performance weeks were cut down to a minimum. This left me little opportunity to perform and develop. Out of necessity, I sought as much 'guesting' work as I could find, just to keep busy and pay the bills.
My mentor and coach at the time was David Howard, who had prepared several young dancers to international competition success. David suggested to me that a competition may be exactly what I needed to boost the progress of my career and at the very least provide me with a goal to work towards and a structure in which I could improve.
Training for the Jackson International Ballet Competition marked a significant change in the way I approached my ballet practice. I could recognise the purpose of each exercise much more. I had more sense of controlling my own outcomes as they related to my dancing. I felt a greater responsibility towards my work. After all, especially in competition situations, it is only you out there and the stage can feel a very lonely place if you are underprepared.