Burnise Silvius. Photo: Joburg Ballet
As the new year approaches, dance teachers from all over the country are delving for a new arsenal of creativity in preparation for the numerous dance competitions ahead. Dance, as a competitive sport, has in recent years annexed participation motivation in dance, and victory in these competitions has become the backbone of many dance schools’ aspirations.

These competitions kick off annually with regional trials which culminate in national events. Dancers who then qualify are given the opportunity of competing internationally. The dance competition industry is vast and appears to be as lucrative an enterprise just as it is an expensive endeavour for dancers and their parents. Parents fork out up to R50k for their children to compete overseas.

Parents are more often than not fiercely and competitively involved. For the competitive teachers, their studios’ reputations are at stake. Good results are good for businesses. For them, dance consists of training champions and winning trophies. Unfortunately, these self-rewarding attitudes are modelled to young dancers as appropriate and desired behaviour.

In most highly competitive dance schools, it is commonplace for only the best dancers to feature. The better dancers receive more attention than the rest. For the less skilled dancers, and those who simply want to dance for the sheer fun of it, the back line would be their destiny.

Unfortunately, it is common knowledge that virtually all of these championship dancers stop dancing at the age of 16 or 17. Once these dancers have reached their pinnacle in the amateur competitive arena, very few pursue careers as professional dancers.

It would appear that, in them, no appreciation for dance, theatre and the arts - other than competing - had been instilled by their teachers and parents.

It is indisputably true that competitions have attracted many new student dancers. There is nothing wrong with healthy competition in moderation. In the present milieu, one has to ask whether any room is left for intrinsic motivation.

Dancers who are intrinsically motivated value the process of development. They want to feel as though they are accomplishing something valuable by improving themselves.

Those who are extrinsically motivated value the outcome. They value rewards that come in the form of the approval of others and the recognition that it brings them.

Research in the field of sport psychology shows that athletes who are intrinsically motivated are more committed to their own progress, show greater perseverance, handle failure more proactively and set more appropriate goals.

However, it is significant to take note of our elite dancers' comments on competitiveness and their own motivation orientations.

Prima Ballerina Burnise Sylvius tells that she has never been a competitive dancer. In fact, she participated in only two competitions in her life. These convinced her to never do it again. “I believe that every dancer is different and has something unique to offer”, Sylvius explains.

“My fellow dancers are my role models. Working alongside all of them, knowing how hard this art form is, made me respect them and motivated me to work at my hardest every day.

"I was lucky to have been in a company where we all supported one another, especially the principle ladies I shared the stage with: Anya Carstens, Angela Malan and Karen Beukes.

"We were all so different and unique that there wasn't really a sense of competing against each other. I think motivation must come from within. If you are always comparing yourself to others, you will come up short. Be the best you can be”, Sylvius encourages.

Celebrated African dance connoisseur David April poetically adds to this. “Ernest Hemingway captures what has been the essence of my artistic being for all the years that I have been involved in the performing arts industry as a dancer, administrator, cultural activist and director.

         David April. Photo: Supplied 

"And to paraphrase, he believes that there is nothing noble in being superior to your fellow man. He goes on to say that true nobility is being superior to your former self. In my instance it would be my peers in the dance industry who have been a constant source of inspiration and were used as a yardstick for me to be a better version of myself.

"Furthermore, driven by the fact that everything that I did and continue to do is in the service of others, a competitive spirit would nullify what I stand for.”

April concludes: “That state of being superior to my former self is fuelled by determination and a clear vision. Success will be an ongoing journey for me in continuing to contribute to this ever-evolving artistic landscape."