The Dancer's Guide to Competing on a Budget

December 29, 2020

It’s no secret that competition dance is expensive. Like, really expensive. Add in a global pandemic that has left millions of Americans unemployed and it can seem downright outrageous. Still, dancers need to dance! Dreams need to be chased, technique needs to be honed, and vital career relationships need to be established.

So, how can dancers ensure they get in front of judges during this year of economic hardship? Creative budgeting!

We caught up with three financially savvy competition/convention participants who’ve become experts at taking part in competition dance without breaking the bank. Here they share 15 budgeting tips that will rock your world.

1. Look into credits from canceled events

Last season, many dancers only competed once (if at all) before shelter-in-place mandates went into place across the country. Remember, you should be able to get refunds or credits for COVID-canceled events. Be sure to participate in what you’ve already paid for!

It can also be nerve-racking to invest money into competitions when events can easily be canceled due to high infection rates. Take comfort in knowing most competitions are offering refunds within seven days of the event. To be sure, check in with competition administration before registering.

2. Take advantage of scholarships

Pandemic or not, scholarships are a great way to cut convention costs, something Center Stage Performing Arts Studio dancer Mya Tuaileva has worked hard to utilize. These winner scholarships cover convention fees for any regional city Mya would like to attend throughout the year, as well as the cost of classes at Nationals, should she choose to attend.

Check to see if any scholarships you earned in the 2019–20 season (or even the 2018–19 season for some conventions, like NUVO or JUMP) have been extended to 2020–21. Most conventions/competitions will disclose this information on their website.

3. Get those early rates

Early rates at conventions are generally less than standard rates. (For example, at New York City Dance Alliance, rates are more than $50 less if you register early.) Plan ahead and book promptly to shave off some extra dollars.

4. Tap into multi-city discounts

If your studio is attending more than one regional workshop in a single year, some conventions give discounts. Take RADIX: Dancers attending more than one 2020–21 regional workshop receive a 50 percent workshop-fee discount for each additional city.

5. Go virtual

Perhaps the best way to save money and still participate in conventions this year is by taking advantage of virtual options. Some conventions are offering virtual weekends well over $100 cheaper than in-person weekends, while still providing quality classes with the teachers you know and love.

6. Participate in costume swaps

All dancers know the expense of competitions goes well beyond participation fees. One of the more unexpected costs is costuming. To help dancers manage this at Woodbury Dance Center in Minnesota, teacher Jessie James collaborated with dancers from Center Stage Performing Arts Studio in Utah to buy and sell gently used costumes. “Center Stage parents get to make some money back on costumes they won’t wear again, and my dance parents here in Minnesota are saving costs on new costumes,” James says. “We have figured out 10 reduced-rate solo costumes for the year so far, and it’s been really helpful.”

7. Sell old costumes

“I try to sell old costumes to help pay for new ones,” says Tasha Tuaileva, Mya’s mom. “There is no reason to keep them.” Tuaileva generally makes these sales by connecting with dance moms around her studio who are on the costume hunt, but every so often she will make a sale through those who connect with her on Instagram. Dancers may also want to consider reusing their own costumes from previous years, or wearing hand-me-downs from older siblings, if they have the option.

8. Limit the number of extra small-group numbers, in favor of solos

In a normal year at Woodbury Dance Center, senior dancers participate in two numbers as an entire group (generally jazz or contemporary), and three to five extra small-group numbers. This year, to help dancers financially, there will just be one to two extra.

At Center Stage, dancers have some flexibility in choosing how many numbers they would like to participate in. Mya Tuaileva always opts for fewer small-group numbers in order to do a solo, so she can prioritize technique and one-on-one time with her dance teachers.

9. Use in-house choreographers over big names

Though it’s always exciting to bring in big-name choreographers, this year it might be financially prudent to take advantage of in-house talent. “My fee is a bit less than bringing in an outside choreographer,” Jessie James says. “We have been trying to take advantage of that the best we can. Luckily we have a lot of teachers who are really talented.”

10. Revamp numbers from the past

Recycling numbers from previous years (especially those you didn’t compete much) is a great way to save on expensive choreography fees this year. “We’ve taken two or three numbers from last year that we didn’t get to compete much, added a few dancers, and plan to reuse them,” Jessie James says. “Normally you can’t recompete, but this year Break The Floor is allowing it, and from what I’m reading, other competitions are doing the same.”

11. Go local

Choose to attend competitions that are close to home. “To save money, I try to help Mya do competitions that are local or somewhere close I can drive to,” Tasha Tuaileva says. “We usually only travel to one or two out-of-state competitions per year.”

12. Team up with a friend to split travel costs

“I usually like to take another dance mom and daughter with us so we can share the cost of the hotel, or gas if we don’t fly,” Tasha Tuaileva says. Beyond being cost-effective, splitting travel adds to the experience. “It’s a lot more fun that way because you get to spend the whole weekend with your good friends,” Mya Tuaileva says.

13. Maximize regular class times if private lessons aren’t an option

Many competition dancers add multiple private lessons on top of their packed dance schedules in order to improve their chances at winning competitions. To save money this year, forgo extra privates and maximize regular class time by staying focused and pushing yourself every day. “I try 10 times harder in class because I know I can’t just do a private lesson every day like other dancers. I can’t mess around,” says Mya Tuaileva.

14. Practice at home

If private lessons at the studio with a teacher are out of your budget, rehearse your solo at home. Move some furniture (you’re probably an expert at this by now), and work on your own.

15. Get your money’s worth at convention

Once you’re at convention, make the most of it. As with anything this year, it’s not a given, so don’t waste your time there. “When I’m in class I try to stand toward the front and in the middle, so when they look out they can see me,” Mya Tuaileva says. “I try really hard to stand out. I wear bright colors. I make sure I only talk to my friends before or after class, and I never sit down. I try to be very respectful and focused. I’m there to learn and take notes so I can become a better dancer.”