What do Ribbons Mean?

by Samuel Anspach on October 12, 2015


About the author:

Despite having little past dance experience, in 2.5 years Sam has become one of our top dancers, placing in Open Latin/Advanced Nightclub at various intercollegiate competitions. In the Spring of 2015, Sam was elected Vice-President of Cotillion and will be graduating in 2016 with Economics and a minor in Multimedia Communication Writing. Here is his advice on ribbons, dancing down, and competing.


Sometimes the hardest part of being at a competition comes after you’re done dancing. I’m talking about the ribbon ceremony. Regardless of whether you made it to a final and are nervously waiting for your number to be called or if you didn’t get one callback all day, it is always discouraging to not do as well as you had expected. Not doing well at comp can really hurt one’s self-image as a dancer, and the point of this article is to explain why placing poorly is not so bad, and certainly not a reason to quit. Instead of just thinking about callbacks and ribbons, ask yourself the following question:

How would you have done at this comp two months ago?

This is a very different measure than ribbons and is equally as important to consider. What truly matters for any competitive dancer is not how well you place at any given comp, but how you’ve been progressing overall. The danger with competitions is evaluating your performance solely based off of the ribbons, and this applies to both winning and losing.

If you did poorly at comp and evaluate your dancing solely on the number of callbacks and ribbons you receive, then you will generally not recognize all the progress you’ve been making and become discouraged. Callbacks and ribbons are rankings of individual dancers. They do NOT capture what you’ve been able to become as a dancer, i.e. ribbons received at one competition are not directly comparable to ribbons received at another, unless it were the same level with the same judges and the same dancers. Any veteran dancer will tell you that some competitions will be much more rigorous than others.

A similar issue exists with winning. Although nice, ribbons are not the reason we compete; they are a ranking relative to others. Winning should not be taken as a substitute for considering how we would have done against a younger version of ourselves. Winning at competitions is secondary to progressing as a dancer.

Dancing Down

Dancing down gives no real reward for a high cost. When we dance down we are more likely to get those blue ribbons, which feel good to hold, but don’t really mean anything. What does a first place Bronze ribbon mean to a couple that could hold their own in Gold? As a measure of progress, ribbons obtained in this manner are useless.

The cost to dancing down is tremendous. When we dance down, especially for newer syllabus level dancers, we slow down our rate of improvement. By not shooting for our real level and the one above us, we don’t have that level of competition that we push ourselves to match. At syllabus levels, this means we stop ourselves from learning new choreos and developing new technique. Not being ambitious retards your rate of improvement.

In Summation

Moving into higher levels is intimidating and getting last can feel disappointing, but dancing down is not the solution. Part of being a good competitive dancer is recognizing the true value of callbacks and ribbons and evaluating oneself accordingly.


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