Karen Schupp Dance

making, educating, investigating


In It To Win

AUDIO Guides

Learn more about participating in dance competitions by listening to In It to Win Audio Guides.

How To Watch Competition Dance

Why We Competed and What We Learned

A Parent/Teacher’s Perspective on Dance Competitions

Quick Competition Facts

According to advertisements in Dance Teacher, there were over 700 regional commercial dance competitions held across the US during the 2006-2007 competition season.

On average, each commercial competition organization has 22.4 regional competitions and 1.6 national competitions per year.

To perform the group section of this piece, Dancing in Heaven, in the 2012 Showstopper East Coast National Finals, it would cost $605 ($55 per dancer) in entry fees. That is about $150 a minute.

Although there are some differences in categories from competition to competition, in general there are solos, duets and trios, small groups, large groups, lines, and productions, which are then broken down into age divisions. 

The majority of competitors are girls and young women, which some feel gives boys and young men an advantage in competitions.

Most dance studios require their competitive students to enroll in a minimum number of classes per week. Therefore, participating in dance competitions can help increase studio revenue.

Some commercial competitions operate on the premise that competitors compete against themselves to achieve the highest score they are capable of at this time, meaning each participant receives an award that reflects their score. At competitions where everyone receives an award, anyone who receives a certain award or higher (usually the equivalent of a silver medal) is eligible for the national competition.  Giving everyone an award makes more people eligible for nationals, where the entry fees are higher. 

Although there is no statistical data at this time, it seems that most dancers who participate in commercial dance competitions do so because they love to dance and perform, not because they love to win.

Karen’s jazz solo circa 1985. She tied for first place with this solo in the Niagara Falls, ONT Kiwanis Music Festival. They only had one trophy for her category, and they gave it to the other contestant. They were supposed to mail Karen her trophy. She’s still waiting.

Photo Credits: Alli Dodt and Ralph Schupp

Long before So You Think You Can Dance and Dance Moms, dance competitions focused on jazz, tap, lyrical, and ballet were alive and well throughout the US, and served as a venue for local dance studios and students to display their skills as both a team and individuals, and as a means of profit for the individuals and corporations who ran them. Dance competitions exploded onto the scene in the late 1980s and early 1990s, and laid the ground-work in many ways for some of today’s most popular reality TV shows. In It to Win provides an inside look at the beginnings of dance competitions through one competition dancer’s story.

Take yourself back to the late eighties, 1987 to be specific, where you will meet Miss Karen. Miss Karen is

the persona that I embody as I describe my experiences of growing up (literally) in a competition dance studio in the 1980s and 1990s. Old competition dances from the late 80s and early 90s are recreated, revised, and revisited to take viewers on a “totally radical” journey through my childhood and early adulthood, while revealing the positive and not-so positive aspects of participating in this cultural phenomenon. All of this is detailed through “mockumentary” videos that explore dance competitions through autobiographical, ethnographic and satirical lenses to create a work that is both entertaining and thought provoking.