Competitive dance is a popular, widespread sport in which competitors perform dances in any of several permitted dance styles—such as acro, ballet, contemporary, jazz, hip-hop, lyrical, modern, musical theatre, tap, and improv—before a common group of judges. This is in contrast with other activities that involve competition among dancers based on purpose, or specific dance styles or genres, such as pom squad and dancesport (competitive ballroom dance).
The competitive dance industry largely consists of competition production companies—also sometimes called dance competition companies and dance competition lines—that conduct regional competitions at stops along their annual, nationwide tours. Dancers who compete at these regional competitions are students ranging in age from approximately five to eighteen years old. After competing regionally, most schools go on to compete nationally towards the end of their season. Dance schools (often referred to as dance studios) arrange for their classes to compete as groups. Advanced dancers may be chosen to compete solos, duets, trios, or in a small group dance in addition to or in place of large group routines. Competitions typically begin in January and end in July or August.
Competitive dancers must be physically fit because even short dances can be physically demanding. Dancers must continuously train to maintain and improve their technique, balance skills, strength and flexibility. It is advised that dancer avoid activities that put them at risk for injury or illness, especially while attending competitions. Except for holidays and short breaks during the summer, competitive dancing is typically a year-round activity: dancers attend classes during competition season, to refine their competitive routines, and during off-season to prepare for the next upcoming competition season. Some dancers attend dance intensives during the summer to improve technique. These intensives normally last a few weeks and happen in various locations around the world. Intensives are typically very intense, as the dancers follow rigorous schedules. Twelve hour or more days are extremely likely, as many classes and activities are crammed into each day.
The music used in competitive dance routines is typically adapted from commercially available songs created by professional recording artists. Dance routines are subject to time limits at most dance competitions, and consequently the original, commercial music is usually edited to conform to such time limits.
There is no industry-wide standard for scoring. The maximum number of points issued by each judge, as well as the maximum possible final score, varies among competition production companies. Although it is common for judges to issue a maximum of 100 points each, at least one company implements a system in which judges may issue up to 200 points, based on the rationale that such a scoring system is similar to that employed in public schools. Although scoring at dance competitions vary, judges usually give scores based on score technique, performance, costume, music, and difficulty level of the performance. Each competition's ranks are different. The performances are usually ranked within each dance category.
Most competitions have opportunities for dancers to win title positions. Titles include Mr. and Miss Dance for petites (ages commonly 8 & under), juniors (ages 9-11), teens (12-14), and seniors (15-19). These competitions normally include dancers who choose to pay an extra fee to run for title.
Some competitions also have the opportunity to enter a “photogenic” contest. They usually require you to pay a fee, submit photos, and then you will be judged and may win.
Dance competitions are organized and conducted by independent competition production companies. In 2007 there were at least 150 such companies operating in the United States and Canada alone. Competition production companies move from one metropolitan area to another, stopping for a few days in each area to conduct a regional competition. By touring in this manner, these companies are able to generate profits while at the same time enabling significant numbers of dancers to attend local competitions. Some companies also conduct one or more national competitions after their regional tours have ended.
The competitive dance industry has no oversight body or standards organization, although at least one effort was attempted to establish a limited set of competition rules and safety standards in the industry. Competition production companies seldom coordinate their tours with each other. Tour start and end dates, as well as cities visited, vary from one company to another. Most companies conduct regional tours from approximately January through May, while National competitions generally run from June through August. It is not uncommon for two regional tours to be visiting the same metropolitan area at the same time.
Dances and performers typically are categorized in various ways so as to create different competitive divisions. These categories are not standardized, and may vary significantly from one competition to another:
These divisions are intended to ensure that dancers will compete against others of the same age and experience, and similarly-sized groups, and thus avoid unfair comparisons (e.g., beginner vs. advanced).
The choreography of a dance routine—which is the design of movement and flow of steps in the routine—is copyrightable. Consequently, video recording is often prohibited at dance competitions in order to steer clear of copyright infringement issues. Some competition production companies employ professional videographers to capture and sell video recordings of competitive performances with the restriction that video recordings may only be sold to the subject performers or members of their studios, thus avoiding infringement. When no professional videographer is available, competition production companies will sometimes permit each attending dance school to designate a videographer to record performances of students from that school.
Unlike videography, still photography does not infringe copyrighted choreography. Because of this, many competition production companies permit photography at their competitions. Virtually all competitions prohibit flash photography, however, both for the safety of performers and to prevent undesirable distractions. Some competition production companies employ professional photographers to capture and sell photographs of dance performances. In such cases, photography by audience members is typically prohibited so as to provide an exclusive market for the official photographers.
At the end of a competition, studio owners collect a packet of judges' critiques. Inside the envelope will include handwritten judges scoresheets with detailed corrections and notes for each routine. In some cases, competition companies may email audio critiques to the studio owner. These audio critiques provide a recorded video of the performance with the judges notes on top. Competitions provide live critiques. Once the dancers are finished performing they will remain on stage while the judges give the dancers their critiques in person.