Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Competition in Dance: Coming to terms with ACDFA

This week I will be headed to the American College Dance Festival Association (ACDFA) Baja region festival.  This is an annual festival that I have been to about 10 times, beginning as a student at UC Santa Barbara.  It is a four day event of dance classes and performances for college dance programs to share and enjoy the art of dance

ACDFA festivals are amazing, filled with interesting and stimulating activities, performances and people.  But, I would be lying if I didn't also share that these festivals have a tendency to activate me into a state of anxiety. 

But, this is my Year to Live, and the last thing I want to do is have a stressed out ACDFA experience!  So, I started to dig around to figure out what exactly was charging me up and ruffling my feathers.

"Oh! Hello, Ego! Funny meeting you here!"

Not so surprising.  A laundry list of things set my self conscious ego into a tizzy. Here is the short list:
1.  I'm not one of the crazy popular teachers whose class is overflowing. 
2.  I can't remember everyone's name from year to year.  (Badges help-- but still)
3.  My choreography/performance is generally not at the caliber of Research 1 institutions (even though I don't teach at a Research 1 institution-- my ego is that crafty!).
4.  All of the above makes me feel generally dumb and insignificant within my own profession and passion.

Funny, not one issue has to do with the fact that I am there to mentor students or guide them around the festival.  All that is actually rather comforting.  I believe and trust that I am helpful to my students.  I know that I have information and knowledge that is useful to them. I like being there for them and feel rewarded helping them decide on classes, prepare for performances and understand the diversity and detail within the scope of their festival experience.

But, being in a large conference environment makes me question what I am offering the larger dance community.  My silly ego wants something more!  

I am truly embarrassed to even share this, but it is the truth. And in my year to live, I can't waste time lying.  I see the favorite teachers and the favorite choreographers year to year, and I see that I am not one of them. And, that just plain sucks.

The negative hitch to ACDFA is the pseudo-competition element that is involved with the event.  During the festival there are 3-4 Adjudication Concerts in which pieces are performed (anonymously) for a panel of 3 adjudicators (more commonly known as "judges").  No score is given (thank God!), but after they have given verbal feedback for each piece (really these feedback sessions are the best and worst aspect for my ego) they pick a top 10 to perform in a final gala performance.  It truly is an honor to perform in the gala. And the piece that do are usually exquisitely crafted and performed.

Now, of course EVERYONE wants to be in the gala.  And, this is what sits so uneasily with me as a dance educator.  I understand the concept of healthy competition, but I don't think it is healthy for me (and I am guessing other sensitive types too).  Granted, I say all of this, and I don't even have a piece in the adjudicated concerts this year.  This is old muck that has been churned up just at the prospect of attending to watch! 

 I love feedback. I hate competition.  

It is part of the reason I don't watch any dance shows on TV (also. . .I don't have cable).  Trying to measure dance or measure art in order to be given value is counter to everything I believe in.  And, I think most of the faculty members who attend ACDFA festivals would agree with me. Probably most of the ACDFA board members would agree with me.  Hell, I bet many of the "Adjudicators" agree with me too.

And yet. . .

And yet. . .

We crave validation and approval so fiercely that we engage in this way.  That we swallow the poison with the medicine. . . and, hope it doesn't kill our spirit in the meantime.

My stomach upturns just at writing this blog.  And, my eyes well up. 

In moments, like this I feel ashamed for past beliefs and past behavior, and I remember just how much I love the art of dance.  ACDFA is not the villain here, our human frailties are.  We want so much. I want so much.  I wanted so much.

I am learning to want less. To rediscover my self worth in a smile and a plié.  

...just a plié.

Want to read more about my ego?  Try out this recent blog of mine.  Are you vain? 
Or check out this whopper question: Ego vs Artist
Wondering about my Year to Live?  Check out where this all started. A Year To Live- 323 Days Left
Want to imagine me in a totally overwhelming dance class situation?  Then this is for you:  On being "just ok"


  1. I got super stressed out just reading about it. That's not how you roll. I like how you roll.

    We love your choreography because it feels good in our bodies when we move it. So thank you for giving it to us.

  2. This is the nature of the current dance world, too, though isn't it? Dance as an ephemeral art, difficult to quantify let alone define what's good and what adds value. (Although, we do generally recognize bad when we see it.) And yet, there's not enough funding or performance opportunities to go around -- hence the competition. The dance world is, I think, one of the most competitive and time sensitive (those knees and hips don't hold out at performance level for ever) ... and yet the reward is so elusive. A great plie, a fulfilling class, a well danced piece ... the accolades and financial reward are available for not 1% but 0.01%. So yes, to continue, you must find self-worth and value in different, creative ways. Great post, as always, Beth!

  3. Thanks Laura and Tabs!
    It was actually somewhat nerve racking to write and then post my unglorified feelings on this. I have been thinking more and more about the nature of putting yourself out there and taking the risk of being criticized. We take risks because it helps us grow; it puts us out of our comfort zone and reminds us to really look at what we are doing in order to re-evaluate whether it is what we want or not.

    I feel really grateful for this process. I learned so much and the festival hasn't even started yet! I feel new conviction to go deeper into my current solo, spend the time with it to dig out its essence. To honor my artistry by practicing it.

    A friend and mentor told me today "I hope you never get over your insecurities, because you put a voice to what the rest of us experience." I laughed and said, "I will be the sacrificial lamb." haha.

    If you want honesty I guess I'm your (wo)man.

    Thanks for reading and supporting me in this way. It is powerful! And, deeply appreciated.

  4. (Scot again)
    The most popular is often not the best: Beta Max vs VHS, HD-DVD vs Blue Ray. There are other examples which, for reasons of publication and close-to-homeness, I cannot share here, you might also appreciate.
    Each artist's art, is that artist's art, unless or course they plagiarize, but that doesn't apply here.
    In another Doctor Who-ish paradoxical comment (spoilers (this really isn't fair given you don't have cable, but maybe you have Netflix)), remember that, despite your need to be established, and you feeling that you're getting old in your profession, you are not old in your profession. The duet you invited to your Gala? both performers have at least a few years on you. Merce Cunningham was captivating when I saw him perform at 82. Rudy Perez was still capable of more at 74 than I was at 24 when I was working with him.
    Long story short: we cannot judge ourselves by others, for others are not ourselves. Frida Kahlo painted her eyebrows, didn't she? Dance yours.

  5. Dance as we are. Eyebrows and all. Love it.