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The Mable Ryan Awards - and thoughts on children's competitions
Last week I had the opportunity to attend the Mable Ryan Awards, which is the Cecchetti Society's flagship event for young dancers. I had never attended or entered students before, partly because being in London it is so far away but mainly because I had always been slightly suspicious of dance competitions. As a young child I competed as a ballroom dancer and vividly remember the jealousy and nastiness I encountered on occasions when I was successful. I also remember the calculations of the adults as they analysed the number of entries per category to work out how likely it was that any of us would be 'placed'. I remember feeling slightly anxious, and wondering what it all had to do with dancing. Later I switched to a school which only did ballet and did not take part in competitions. As a teacher I have never got involved in local competitions. I worry about my art being turned into a sport; I worry about the pressure on children to reach a certain standard or include certain 'tricks', including dancing en pointe when the child isn't ready; I worry about the extra pressure on parents for costumes/travel/time; I worry about the same children winning all the time and the implications for everyone else; and I worry about fostering a competitive and unsupportive atmosphere among parents and between schools.
I was delighted, then, to attend the Mable Ryan Awards which didn't really feel like a competition at all. Rather it felt like a celebration of Cecchetti ballet training in which every child was valued regardless of where they were at on their dancing journey (notwithstanding that they were certain entry criteria for some categories), and all participants wore their usual Cecchetti regulation uniform with hair neatly presented and minimal makeup, so there was no agonising over (or judgement of) costumes! Further, since the event was held at the prestigious Sadler's Wells, it gave the participants a wonderful opportunity to experience dancing on a professional stage. Of course, certain individuals were singled out for their achievement, but for me that wasn't what the day was about, and it was an experience I would consider repeating. I must mention my hardworking Cecchetti teacher friends who gave their time backstage and front of house to ensure a successful event. Well done all!