Who Wins? Dance Competition Culture and Shifting Democratic Ideals in the United States

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Dance competitions, events where local dance studios focused on contemporary, jazz, ballet, hip hop and tap compete in regional and national events for awards, are not simply venues for entertainment; they are a microcosm of social and cultural values in the United States. Competitors need to persevere despite personal challenges, the open entry system for competitions makes it seem that anyone who can pay entry fees has an equal chance at winning first place, and the construction of a glamorous performance all reinforce the myth of the American Dream—if you work hard, you can achieve fame.
Drawing on original and previously published theoretical and empirical studies of dance competition culture, this article investigates dance competition culture in relation to shifting US democratic ideals. If dance competition culture does in fact reflect broader US socio-cultural and political values, what does this mean in relation to Donald Trump’s ascendency and the emerging political values of the “Generation Z,” youth born after 2000 (the key participants in dance competition culture). Examining both the dancing that occurs in and the frameworks and practices that support dance competition culture raises valuable questions about the performance of US democratic ideals on the dance competition stage.
Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalNordic Journal of Dance
StatePublished - 2018


  • dance
  • education
  • competition
  • democracy


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