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The Difference between Performance & Competition

The Difference between Performance & Competition

by Ana Gherasim

After my last article on The Trouble with Salsa Competitions, a few people have come up to me with a question that bent my brain:

“If you’re so against competitions, why do you perform?”

I didn’t understand, at first. Performing a choreographed routine and taking part in a competition are two different things; to me, that question sounded like:

“If you don’t like oranges, why are you eating that apple?”

It took me a bit of reflection to understand that what is a very clear distinction in my mind isn’t apparent to everyone. So here is my follow-up article on the difference between performing and competing, for anyone who was confused about that.

The Short Answer

Simply put, all salsa competitors are performers, but not all salsa performers are competitors.

There are myriad salsa routines which are performed in front of an audience but are never entered into a competition. The point of these routines is simply to entertain the audience and to present the dancers’ and choreographers’ artistic concept; they are not meant to be scored or ranked. I’ve taken part in a number of choreography projects, and performed my share of dance routines, but none of them have been competitive routines.

I imagine that competitors are motivated to perform and compete (at least in part) by the goal of winning and the prospect of their accomplishments being rewarded with both recognition and a material prize. I perform and choreograph because I enjoy the choreographic process, because it allows me to present my artistic point of view, and because it’s a chance to show the audience what we do here at Azucar.

If that was all the explanation you were looking for, then thank you for reading thus far. If you’re interested in more details about the difference between different kinds of salsa routines, and what I’m personally drawn to, then read on.

Competitive vs. Non-Competitive Routines

A choreographed routine performed on stage is not a competition routine unless it is specifically created to be performed in front of judges, in the context of a competition.

The first major difference between a competitive routine and a non-competitive one is this: competitive routines must adhere to the rules of the competition into which they are entered. This might mean they have to contain specific elements (certain required moves or spins or styling), or they have to NOT contain specific elements (competitions regulate the types of lifts and tricks that can and cannot be performed; shines/non-partnered elements must be kept below a certain percentage of the length of the routine; and so on). Non-competitive routines have none of these requirements or limitations – the choreographers have complete freedom.

As I stated in my last article, the rules imposed on competitive routines are a necessity – you need to have people do similar moves in order to judge who’s doing them better. This is also one of the big reasons I don’t compete – what I enjoy about choreography is the freedom to create my vision; I don’t want to have to deal with required moves, or wonder whether my feet are pointed in the “right” direction for every turn, or change an element for fear of getting penalized. I want the choreography in my mind to be reflected on stage with as few “filters” as possible, and competitions don’t really allow for that.

The second major difference between competitive and non-competitive routines is their intent and purpose. A competitive routine is, at its core, a demonstration of skill. Much like gymnastics or ice skating competitions, competitive salsa routines are a collection of technical skills done as correctly as possible, with artistic elements added in between. A non-competitive routine is, at its core, an artistic piece. There is basic technique involved, but the moves themselves are not the focus; the point is to express a feeling and elicit an emotional response from the audience.

Let’s compare two amazing routines:

Junior & Emily Alabi

The brother and sister salsa duo of World Salsa Champions, and one of their most talked-about routines:

The best competitive routines drop your jaw with difficult technical elements, acrobatics and dozens of spins; the intensity is at 10 from start to finish. The tight, bright and revealing costumes help bring attention to the dancers’ lines while allowing for full range of motion. The music (which barely contains a shred of salsa in this case) is cut and mixed to suit the routine. In short, everything is tailored to allow for maximum impact of the technical skills being showcased. And that feeling of “wow, that’s impressive” will be the same across all of the best competitive routines.

Ana & Joel Masacote

The couple behind Masacote Entertainment, who take musicality and personal expression to new heights in every routine:

The best non-competitive routines tell a story, illustrate the music, make you feel like a part of their world in the same way a play or a short film might. They feel almost like they have a plot – the intensity will ebb and flow and take you on a journey. The costumes, moves and styling are all tailored to suit the music – in this case, only one song is being used, and it’s used in its entirety. Odds are you won’t remember any of the specific moves, but you’ll remember the theme of the routine and the feeling you had while watching it; and those will be very different from one artistic routine to the next.

Competitors vs. Performers

This wouldn’t be an Ana Rant™ without delving into an existential question, so here it is: why do some dancers love to compete, while others shun competitions? I believe it all stems from what dancing means to you.

Dance is one of a handful of human inventions that can be both a sport and an art. Some people are more drawn to the sporting aspect – they see it as a skill set to perfect. To them, competitions are a chance to better themselves and to mark their place in the salsa world. And that’s a noble and ambitious goal.

To others, dance is an artistic and creative outlet – they don’t care who’s “better” or “worse” than they are, and oppose the view that there’s a “correct” way to dance. To them, competitions are stifling and restrictive; they don’t seek to compare themselves to others, but instead are happiest when they can express themselves with complete freedom.

As you might have guessed, I’m in that second camp. While I am constantly striving to get better, it’s not so I can compare myself to anyone else – I only seek to be better than I was yesterday and to find my unique style and artistic point of view.

“Why do I perform?”

I perform to put my soul on stage; and hopefully some of you will enjoy watching it dance.

  • salsa
    May 4, 2018

    This is really a nice post, that you have updated us with all of innovative information that can be very useful for future aspect.
    Dancing has been important to every human society throughout history. For the new dancer wanting to learn to dance for the first time, Salsa is a great choice. Salsa makes you feel healthy because you move your body all the time.

  • Tayo
    September 25, 2019

    It seems from this post (starting from when you talk about the videos) you are implying high intensity –> Competitive high story-telling –>performance. When I think you are really looking at different types of performers. Even they didn’t have a competition in mind I could still see Juniour and Emily creating that routine for pure sake of its entertainment value (is the routine in the video even a competition piece? The setting they are in doesn’t seem like a competition, and they mix a lot of different songs together and a lot of competitions put a limit on that). And there are people who compete whose dance style is much more similar to the second video than the first, focusing less on individual big moments


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