What We Gain By Losing

What We Gain by Losing
by Rhee Gold

In Good Company

Although I discourage using the word “lose,” it’s the best way to make my point. Some of the smartest and brightest people got that way from losing many of their battles. We learn from the losing process or by not getting what we want. It’s how we improve ourselves. When we don’t win or achieve the desired result, we go back to work, ultimately becoming better at what we do.

If you feel bad about losing, remember these events in the life of Abraham Lincoln:

  • He failed in business in 1831.
  • He was defeated for state legislator in 1832.
  • He tried another business in ‘33. It failed.
  • His fiancée died in ‘35.
  • He had a nervous breakdown in ‘36.
  • In 1843 he ran for Congress and was defeated.
  • He ran again in ‘48 and was defeated again.
  • He tried running for the Senate in ‘55. He lost.
  • The next year he ran for vice president and lost.
  • In ‘59 he ran for the Senate again and was defeated.
  • In 1860, the man who signed his name Lincoln was elected the 16th president of the United States.

When we go to a dance competition without walking out as the big winner, do we try to come up with excuses? Maybe we tell ourselves and our students that the reason we didn’t do so well was because the “competition was fixed” or that the “judges didn’t know what they were doing?” Maybe we say, “That school knew the judges, that’s why they did so well and we didn’t.” Another one of those excuses, “That school spent so much money in entry fees, the director of the competition told the judges to score them high!” In reality, if a competition director told a panel of judges who had to win, they wouldn’t be in business too long. The dance community is small and people talk; most judges wouldn’t put up with being told who should win and who shouldn’t.

On the other hand, if we are always the big winner, how would we get better at what we do? Teachers and students who are exposed to stronger talent or choreography are really being given the opportunity to see how far they can go. Going home from the competition without the trophy, but excited to make yourself and your students better is really getting the most from the experience and your entry fees.

We can’t allow ourselves to cultivate a generation of young people who believe winning is everything. I’ve encountered parents who have completely lost their cool because of the results of a competition, and I’ve had teachers who were my lifelong friends refuse to speak to me or yell at me after a competition because their students didn’t score as well as they had hoped. They’re not thinking about the values we emphasize in educating dancers—courage, or perseverance, or passion. They’re thinking only about winning.

What do we do about it? Lighten up.

Dance is a performing art form, not a sport. It isn’t one team or the other scoring so many runs or goals; it’s far more subjective than that. Its artistic and technical qualities are subject to the interpretation of judges—who, remember, are using their own judgment—and who   happen to be human beings with their own whims, preferences, and emotions.


  1. Chrfis Grau on February 13, 2010 at 9:21 pm

    I so totally agree with this. I have had my school now for almost 40 years. At least 30 of it has been competing. And yes for the longest time I was all about winning. And I did just what this article said, I blamed the judges, said the competitions were rigged, and that the schools with a lot of entries would always win the most. But after going through some rough times at my school , I had to look at everything in my school in a different way. I looked around at all my trophies and plaques on the wall and could not remember when I won any of them. I don’t even remember what competitions I did 3 years ago. So I decided to take my school in a different direction. We still do competitions, but from day one we tell our kids over and over again that we do not care if or what they win at these competitions, and hope that at least some will get it. We tell them the most important thing to us is if they feel they did the best job they could have done and that we are proud of them. The only down side is that I still have parents who only care about winning and have instilled that into their kids and nothing I do will ever change that.

  2. Lisa Kaplan Barbash on February 14, 2010 at 8:15 pm

    Thank you Rhee for sharing all of these wonderful articles for dance teachers and students. This article is ohh soo true, and I think it is important for parents and dancers to realize that they are not letting us down either. We simply want to know that our dancers are consistently growing to their potential. <3 Thank you, Lisa

  3. Debbie Falconer on April 25, 2010 at 3:24 pm

    Just coming from a weekend at a competition – Rhee, I completely agree with your view. Our studio keeps the same philosophy. Yes, we rehearse and strive to do our best…if we don’t come away as the overall winners? its ok, we go back with the weekend’s inspiration, rehearse and prepare for the next competiton. If we do come away as overall winners, then we sit back and say Yeah! all that hard work and it is being recognized.

    With that said, how is it that 10, 11 and 12 year olds given inappropriate costumes and choreography ( and bad-behaving parents ) continue to receive accolades? I will never choreograph or even suggest to the parents an inappropriate piece and/or costume! I constantly read competition’s rules and 9 out of 10 have a specific Age-appropriate/family atmophere/disqualification section…why don’t they follow this???

    Thank you for your thoughts and guidance,


  4. Dana on May 2, 2010 at 11:04 pm

    Thank you for the article. Very wise and true words. Our dancers have gained so much and have improved over the years simply due to the fact that we have not scored well.

    I agree with Debbie though. It seems the competition judges do not follow their own rules. Age appropriate song, costume and choreography choice seems to go out the window when there is a great dance to go along with it. It can be discouraging to the kids and teachers when this happens over and over.

    I do wish the judging was a little more streamlined though. Certain deductions for specific technical skills (pointed toes, straight legs, proper foot & arm positioning through movement, etc.)