Touch the Wall

In the summer months, our family has the same routine each Tuesday. Check in with our 3 swimmers at 4:00, warm ups at 4:30, and the swim meet 5:00 – 9:00pm, unless there is the dreaded sound of thunder, in which case we settle in for another hour or two. Our kids will swim in about 4 events over the course of the long evening, as we spend the down time playing cards, visiting the snack bar, and chatting with friends. 

When our kids race, we enthusiastically cheer them on – despite the fact that they can’t hear us when their heads are underwater. The coaches are right alongside us “pull”, “two hands”, terms that all swim parents hear regularly throughout the swim season. In all honesty, my kids could literally tread water across the pool, and I’d get choked up when they touch the wall. I see their feet vigorously kicking and I can’t help but to recall them as toddlers, splashing about in the water, popsicle stained smiles begging me for just five more minutes in the pool before we pack up. When the race is over, the high fives are flying as the kids exit their lane, and we resume our places in the crowded waiting area until the next event is called.

One of the swimmers will touch the wall first. 

The coveted “heat win” is something every young swimmer hopes for… and if they grab the win, hopefully their parents will quickly navigate through the crowded pool deck to capture the moment with a photo. Six or seven other swimmers will exit the pool, processing their placement in the race. They’ll walk away from the pool, accepting the results as they wrap in their towel, and carry on. For our kids, the question comes next… “Was it my best time?”

You may be asking yourself what this has to do with dance…

Besides daydreaming about having my own swim team full of dancers gracefully diving into the water, pointing their toes along the lane, and wearing fashionable swimsuits with rhinestone appliques… I see a lesson we can learn from these young swimmers.

Obviously there is a big difference between a swim meet and a dance competition. For one thing, there is no wall to touch, undeniably declaring a winner. We are competing, yet the metrics in which each dancer is measured are not clearly defined… at least not in terms that an untrained eye can see. Straight knees, use of plie’,  pointed feet, turn-out, body alignment, and arm placement, are among the many technical components of dance. They can be difficult to assess from the point of view of a parent, and can be easily distracted from with strong stage presence, choreography and costuming, all other elements that are being scored in this environment. Judges at these events know what to look for in each of these categories, however, some of this can be subjective. Therein lies the challenge… no wall to touch.

I loved a particular number that I saw at a competition this year. I remember the swell of the music with the flowy costuming and graceful movements making me feel like I was on the beach, wind in my hair, with beautiful landscapes surrounding me. My friend didn’t care for the piece… it didn’t move her the way it did me. I was shocked. How could she not see this the same way I did?! And why, in turn, did she prefer another piece that made no impact on me? It was clear that the group she preferred had strong technique, but it didn’t invoke the emotional response in me like the other. Yet, she thought it was one of the best pieces she’d ever seen! It was obvious that we saw these numbers from two different points of view. I have to imagine this is happening with the entire audience, including the judges. That’s not to say that the emotional impact is all that matters. Judges have specific guidelines while scoring that reflect Technique, Choreography/Costuming and Stage Presence.. A certain routine may score very high in one of these categories, but balance out with a lower score on another. If I was a judge, perhaps the scoring of my favorite piece would have been 50/60 technical score, and 38/40 for the overall impact. I recognized that there were technical components that needed strengthening, but I did not love it any less because of that. 

How we feel when we watch dance is why the subjectiveness of dance competition scoring is so difficult to process. As teachers and parents, it is inevitable that our dancers will make a strong, personal impact on us when we watch them onstage. How could they not? We have seen their transformation over the years, endured the long days of rehearsals, and coached them with common goals along the way. We are emotionally invested in them, and when they step onto the stage our hearts may even skip a beat or two. 

“Was it my best?”

Dance competitions provide an opportunity to get onstage and gain experience in a performance environment. There are many other performances at my studio such as Recitals, Nutcracker and Summer shows. I encourage students to maintain a healthy balance in these types of events and recognize that a score or award is a reflection of a subjective viewpoint that we must be open to respecting with good sportsmanship. With each performance, our goal is growth, which can be achieved by reaching for your personal best. 

My advice to dancers is to “Stay in your lane”. Touch the wall when you get there, and know that you have our support. We are always going to be on the sidelines cheering. When you leave the stage, wrap in your team jacket, and carry on with your chin up. 

P.S. Auditions for the MKSD Swim Team are coming soon. Who’s in?

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