A gold by any other name

Expressions Company at Nuvo Dance Convention competing with "Piano Man."

Expressions Company at Nuvo Dance Convention competing with "Piano Man."

I’ve been involved in the dance competition circuit since before there even was a circuit. When I started competing, there was one competition, run by a local family out of Portland and it was one time a year. We drove up with homemade costumes and high hopes. We sat on a stage and 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place winners were handed a trophy and everyone else was sent home with a participant ribbon. We were excited when we won, we were disappointed when we didn’t, but we had smiles on our faces either way.

I took a group of five dancers to the Nuvo Dance Convention in Seattle this past weekend. These girls are top dancers at my studio and have been to regional competitions in Portland multiple times, bringing home top honors more times than they probably needed to. In other words, they are used to winning. Nuvo, however, is a different level of competition. Conventions are ripe with some of the best dancers in the country and dancers were attending from throughout the nation.

For those of you who may not be familiar with dance competitions, each dance is scored against a point system. The system is said to be “bronze, silver, and gold” – but then they also throw in a “high gold” just to throw the whole system out of whack. And between you and me, I have never seen anyone get a bronze. I’ve rarely seen anyone get a silver. So, most of the competitions we attend the dancers are alternating between getting gold or even higher gold and my girls know that the “higher gold” is where they want to be.

As we sat in the convention center at Nuvo and awards began, I started hearing the word “silver” repeated over and over again. I was pleasantly surprised. There were multiple groups receiving a silver award, which immediately made me think, “oh no, my girls are going to get silver.” I started getting a little concerned thinking that they would be upset if they ended up getting silver instead of gold. After all, they’ve never received a silver before.

Sitting there in that convention center, I suddenly realized something. I didn’t care one bit about the color of that award, but what I did fear is that my dancers would let that color shake their self-confidence. And then I remembered something else. They can only feel less than if I make them feel that way. In my heart, I knew how proud I was of them, so why was I scared about the placement? As adults in these dancers lives, they look to us for validation. If we are truly, honestly, and sincerely proud of them, they will be okay. The same way that I was okay walking in to my mom’s open arms with a participation ribbon in hand all of those decades ago.

Long story short, the girls actually walked off that stage with a gold level placement. Truth be told, they’ve received gold countless times and I often feel like “gold” doesn’t even feel like an accomplishment anymore since they have now gotten used to scoring “high gold,” “lightning gold,” “sparking gold,” or whatever the new catch phrase is for the highest scoring level. I wondered how they would react to their placement. I walked up all smiles and one of my dancers grinned back saying “we are really proud of ourselves for this.” As well they should be.

Your child knows the difference. They know when the competition is difficult. They know when the dancers around them are incredible. They know when the “gold” means something and when it doesn’t. Let’s start giving our children more credit. Let’s teach our dancers to be resilient and humble. Let’s teach them to watch other dancers score higher and walk away with admiration and a fire to work harder. Let’s start making “gold” really means something again.

Aluminum Foil Award of Awesomeness

Competitions have changed a lot through the years. The dancing has gotten better, the costumes have gotten smaller, and the awards have become more confusing. Back in the good old days (yes I’m that old), the awards used to be one of two systems – either 1st, 2nd, and 3rd or Gold, Silver, and Bronze. They were easily recognizable and everyone knew where you stood at the end of the day. In the new era of “no dancer left behind,” we have elevated these awards to a whole new level. I recently returned from a competition where the award levels include Gold, High Gold, and Lightning Gold. That way, no matter what you score – you still won Gold. Now don’t get me wrong, I understand why they do it. This way every dancer feels like they achieved the top level. However, I hate to break it to you, but your kids are not dummies. You can call the levels whatever you’d like; these dancers still know what 1st, 2nd, and 3rd means.

As we continue to elevate dance awards, where does it end? I often joke with my dancers that soon they’ll be competing for the overall, top platinum, diamond, sparkly gold pillar of awesomeness. So, I am calling on all of you dance teachers, dance parents, and dance supporters in general to stop the madness! Your dancer knows how well they did regardless of what you call their award. Let’s start being honest with our dancers by praising their achievements, commending them on their strengths, and giving them an honest assessment of where they need to improve.

In fact, let’s take it one step further. How about we, as the adults in charge of their dance education, allow them to fail and still feel valued. It is up to us how much power we allow that diamond pillar of awesomeness to have over our dancers. They are looking to us to set that standard. Of course we want our dancers to do well, but if they don’t place well at a dance competition, that should not define their sense of self worth. So let’s not allow it to.

During last year’s competition season, I set my own goals for my team that had nothing to do with their placement level. I told them I didn’t care what award they brought home because we would know whether they were successful based on our own measuring stick. I told them I would be proud even if they brought home the Aluminum Foil Award – my own tongue in cheek reference to the crazy placement system that has taken over the dance competition circuit. I figured if Platinum was the new top level, then Aluminum Foil had to be somewhere near the bottom.

That competition day, my dancers performed beautifully, and placed well, although to be perfectly honest I can’t remember exactly how well. What I do remember is watching their faces light up as I passed out my own hand made awards to them – foil wrapped ding dongs with a label on which I had written “Aluminum Foil Award of Awesomeness.” My dancers cracked up, hugged, cheered, and celebrated over these silly little ding dongs. These foil wrapped awards got more attention, talk, and selfie posts than their actual trophy.

Your dancer wants to feel successful, and valued, and appreciated. But I promise that aluminum foil does the job just as well as sparkly platinum – as long as it’s wrapped in love!

Aluminum Award
Aluminum Award