For most of us, our dance friends are our favourite friends. There’s just something extra special about spending all that time in class and travelling the world together for competitions.
However, for many Irish dancers, competing with your friends can make things complicated. It’s certainly not easy to compete against your friends. Whether you often win at competitions or you struggle to lose to your friends, both sides can feel the effects of not knowing how to handle it all.
So, here, we’re sharing our top tips for navigating friendship in the competitive world of Irish dance.
1. Separate Friendship and Competition
First, you’ll need to separate friendship with the competition. There’s a time and a place for both of these relationships and it’s important to keep the two apart. After all, they’re two very different things.
In friendship mode, you’re there to support one another, listen to each other, and go back and forth doing the things you both enjoy. In competition mode, you’re focused on yourself, determined to do your best by avoiding distractions.
Make it clear to your friends that, at a competition, once you start warming up and getting in your dress, you’re in competition mode - not friend mode. Urge them to do the same, focusing on themselves when it’s time to compete.
That way, you’ll have a mutual understanding with clear boundaries between who you are as a friend and a competitor. Then, after you step off stage, you’ll be ready to go back into friend mode. Making the distinction is important to navigating both.
2. Push Each Other to Get Better
Aside from the friends you only see at competitions, you’re likely to have friends in class with you and it’s common for things to get competitive during the training process on top of competitions. The trick is to look at the competition in class as a way to get better.
It’s all about perspective. From one lens, you might see competitiveness with your friends in class to be a threat. You might start nitpicking every little thing, causing resentment - or worse. Instead, you can also look at this “friendly competition” as a way for you to rise to the occasion and push yourself (and your friends) to improve.
This kind of competition is incredibly valuable. Without it, we’re likely to stagnant, improving much more slowly than friends who have healthy competitiveness that pushes both parties to break barriers in their training. Looking at competitiveness through this lens is key to navigating competitive friendships in dance.
3. Avoid Comparison
Making comparisons is the worst thing you can do when navigating competition and friendship. When you compare yourself to your friends, no one wins.
All of us are unique individuals with our own strengths and weaknesses. Therefore, comparing yourself to anyone else is essentially pointless. Instead, focus on being better than your past self. After all, that’s all you can really do.
Comparing yourself to your friends will lead to either resentment or an inflated ego. If you compare yourself to a friend who does well in competitions and receives a lot of attention from teachers, you’re likely to start feeling resentful instead of focusing on your own progress.
On the other hand, if you compare yourself to a friend who’s not doing as well in competitions, you might start to develop an ego that prevents you from improving and reaching your full potential.
Overall, it’s always best to only compare yourself to your past self and no one else - especially not your friends.
4. Respect Each Other’s Feelings
Of course, winning feels amazing and losing, well… doesn’t. So, if you’re at a competition and your friend wins or loses, respect their feelings about the results.
After losing, your friend is allowed to feel disappointed, upset, and it’s possible that they might not be in a friendly mood afterward. Similarly, if a friend wins, allow them to celebrate without expecting them to protect your feelings.
Both experiences are valid and part of being a good friend is respecting one another’s feelings, win, or lose.
5. Spend Time With Your Friends Outside of Dance
When dancing is the only thing you do with your friends, it’s easier for tensions to run high. Irish dancing is inherently competitive and therefore, it’s important to spend time with your dance friends outside the studio.
Go shopping, play board games, have sleepovers - do whatever you like to do with your friends that’s not dance-related and it’ll become easier and easier to separate the competitive side with the friendship side since you’ll have more experiences to draw from.
Even if you employ each of these tips, your friendships in the competitive world of dance are still likely to get complicated now and then. Accept that it won’t always be easy and, that way, you’ll be more prepared when things get tough - because they will.
When you look back on your Irish dancing journey, you will remember the people you shared these incredible experiences with and the lessons you learned a lot more than the competitions themselves. So do not get worried over day-to-day disagreements or what someone might have said about you or your performance. This is all part of the journey and so long as you dismiss it and keep moving forward it will only give you more strength to reach the top!