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My daughter has recently started at a school where they do a lot of eisteddfod competitions. She never did this at her previous studio and I wonder how important this is in a career as a professional dancer.

Each school has a slightly different focus and some schools do place a lot of emphasis on competitions and eisteddfods. Performing frequently can help the young dancer enormously in learning how to prepare herself physically and psychologically for performing on stage and in developing strategies to manage performance anxiety. However, it may also involve significant financial expense with the combination of costumes, travel, and competition entry fees. Performing regularly exposes the young dancer to the standard of girls of a similar age, and of the grades above them, which can be both; positive or negative. Girls who are used to being the best at their small studio may get a rude awakening that there are girls at other studios who are far more capable than themselves. Depending on the personality of the student, this may be taken on as a challenge to improve her own skills or as a devastating blow to her ego, resulting in feelings of incompetence or worthlessness. It is a difficult time between the ages of 11 and 15 with girls maturing at different rates, and rapid changes due to puberty often have an impact on technical skill. One girl who was amazing at 10 may suddenly lose her flexibility with a growth spurt and be devastated that the girls she used to beat are now out performing her.

Watching the older students perform can give girls a level to aspire to, especially if they have watched a particular dancer develop over several years. It is important for the girls to watch and appreciate performance skills such as conveying emotion as well the technical skills and acrobatic tricks which they often hang onto. It is also extremely important though, that students are learning the correct ways of doing particular steps, and do not include movements that are beyond their skill level at a certain age as this will rapidly increase their chance of injury.

The decision to participate in competitions is really a personal preference, and depends mainly on the personality of the young dancer. There are many dancers who are dancing and performing at a professional level that did not compete in such competitions extensively at a young age, and many that did. I do feel however, that as the girls get older it is good for them to enter various competitions to help gain experience and understanding of the demands performing under pressure on stage, as performing a solo piece in a competition is very different to performing in the dance schools end of year show. Care must be taken to ensure that the push for presentation and performance dramatization does not take of the place correct execution of technique in their dance training.

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