Skip to main content

Differences Between Dance Team, Competition Dance and Studio Dance


In the last ten years dance has explode onto the forefront of our nation's attention with shows like Dancing with the Stars, Dance Moms and So You Think You Can Dance. These shows are wonderful entertainment but offer a very skewed view of the dance world.

There are many facets of the world of dance, but for non professional (usually high school age or younger) there are three main categories: studio dance, competition dance and dance teams. The differences to the practiced eye are quite obvious, but for someone who is not familiar with dance,the differences are more subtle.

This article will discuss and define the difference aspects of the dance world thus lifting the curtain to allow others a peek inside.

Dance Teams


Dance teams (also known as dance squad) at schools have become very popular and are no longer just in high schools. Their popularity has sky rocketed so much that elementary schools have created their own teams in preparation for high school.

Purpose and Trend

Originally dance teams were created to promote school spirit with dance. The team would perform during half time of basketball and football games. Some would also bring their spirit and energy to pep rallies and perform short dances on the sidelines prior to half time.

In present years, focus has shifted from school spirit to competitions specific to high school or collegiate teams. Dancers may present work in various categories:

  • Jazz
  • Pom
  • High Kick
  • Hip Hop

Some competitions may include a lyrical/contemporary category.

Rules are very strict and teams must adhere to competition regulations. In each category dancers must present the specific style. For example, Pom is required to have poms and usually requires a pom pass which is a trading of poms with another team member. There are usually regulations on different types of lifts and stunts simply for safety sake.


Most dance teams have multiple uniforms. Traditional teams have a skirt uniform like a cheerleader would wear and a pant uniform in which to perform. As far as shoes, jazz shoes have become very popular in recent years, but for performing on a football field, some teams still prefer dance sneakers.

More competition focused teams tend to have a costume for each event in which they will compete. This means they will most likely have a costume for jazz, hip hop and high kick and more traditional skirt or pant uniform for pom.

For at school events, dance teams may be a little more casual with makeup and hair style, but for competition they are always identical. Hair is almost always worn securely back somehow unless the piece is suited better with a different style.

Scroll to Continue


Training varies from school to school. Some schools simply audition dancers and those who fit the criteria and already have the training are accepted onto the team. Often these schools only have a Varsity team. Schools that have Junior Varsity teams give the opportunity for more inexperienced dancers to make the team, work hard and move up to the Varsity level.

Most dance team members have at some point have had some sort of training. Sadly, many choose not to continue with studio training once they have made a dance squad. For some this is acceptable as the dance team holds their own technique classes or has private classes for the team with a local studio. Others merely work their routines and are expected to maintain their dance ability outside of practice.

Specific Style

Dance team dancers are fairly easy for an accomplished eye to spot as their style tends to be unique to them. Dance teams favor strong, bold, linear lines of the arms and legs. Because they are performing from far away, formations are crucial. The team not only needs big, bold choreography, but formations to match. The formations (where the dancers stand) and the transitions (how they move to their next spot) must be choreographed just as well as the technique portion. The choreographed formations are unique to dance team due to the location of their audience.

Pros and Cons

As always, there are pros and cons to dance teams. On a more positive note, dance team promotes a support system and a family atmosphere as the team spends most of their time together. It is also great for preparing to become a professional NFL or NBA dancer in the future. On a more performance related note, dance teams are taught to emote all the way to the last row of bleachers in the football stadium and understand how to connect with the audience over a great distance.

The largest con is for dance team that do not further develop the technique of the dancers. During competitions, teams rely on their right side because that is most dancers stronger side. This means it will be much cleaner and better executed.

Then of course there are the stereotypes of the passive aggressive mean girls that cause drama within the team and are damaging to other girls self esteem. Of course, when a group of girls are together, there are bound to be conflicts, but more often than not, teams get on fairly well.

Coaches plan bonding events like family picnics, sleepovers and pool parties to promote team respect and unity. Because most teams are not funded by the school, team members also must collaborate and work together on fundraising projects.

High Kick Example

Dance Team Jazz Example

Dance Team Hip Hop (Collegiate) Example

Dance Team Pom Example

Dance Competitions

Competition Dance is a world all its own that has significantly evolved over the last ten years. It has pushed the boundaries in not just technique, but with tricks and costuming as well. Competitions will take teams as young as 5, but the common age to start competing is 7 or 8. There are the rare 'adult' or over 19 dancers, but they are few and far in between.

Purpose and Trend

The purpose of competition contrary to its name, is not winning, but receiving feedback. Teams are judged by a panel of professionals and divided by age and occasionally ability. This is done to ensure that a team of 12 year olds is not competing against a team of 8 year olds. To find the age category, the average of the team's ages is used.

Judges give feedback on technique, formations, choreography and performance. They score based upon unison movement, correct technique, high energy performance, etc. The dancers and their instructors take these comments back to their studio and work to improve the things the judges felt needed to be corrected or changed. Now that technology is so advanced, the judges speak into microphones and each group receives a DVD of their dance with judges verbal comments.

Right now contemporary dance with an emphasis on acrobatics is trending in the competition world. There are of course the more traditional categories of jazz, tap and ballet, but competitions now include hip hop, lyrical, contemporary and even modern.


Competition dancers are all about the glitz and glitter. The more sparkle the better. Rhinestones are found on everything now: costumes, hair pieces, jewelry, shoes and even on the face by the eyes. Instructors pick the costumes from a variety of companies. Generally for competition the most expensive companies are used and in some cases the costumes are hand made.

High ballet buns and ponytails are currently the 'in' hairstyle in the competition world. A few years ago it was low ponytails and ballet buns. Costumes and hair change like the wind in this particular field.


Competition teams spend hours perfecting their individual and group technique. Typically a strong competition team spends 20-30 hours a week dancing. They are required to take ballet class and other technique classes to continue to personally improve upon their technique. Generally speaking, all classes taken by a competition team are within the studio to which the company belongs.

Usually there is a division in the studio between recreational classes and competition classes. Recreational dancers may take a one to three classes a week and do not go to competition. They only perform in the end of the year recital. Competition classes move at a faster pace and focus on dancing as a team as well as an individual.

Specific Style

Competition is all about technique and showmanship. It is crucial to emote and to really interpret the music with the face. Right now competition dance is separated from the rest of the dance world by its abundance of tricks. They are not as intent upon choreography because they want to have an adequate number of tricks in their dance upon which they will be judged. Pirouettes have turned into elaborate turn sequences. The double pirouette used to be most impressive, however now at competition anything less than a quad is not as good.

Acrobatics have made their way into competition dance. Flips, aerials (cartwheels with no hands) and other such stunts are in almost every routine entered at competition. These are not just solo acrobatics either. Competition dance has pushed the boundaries with lifts and partner work as well.


Each competition has its own wording for scoring, but the principle is generally the same. Each team pays a competition an entrance fee. They are categorized by dance, size of the group and style of dance.

Example: a group of 14 year olds is competing a jazz dance with 16 dancers who train 15 hours a week. They most likely would fall into the 14-15 category for age, jazz for style, competitive for ability and large group for size. If they only had 6 girls they would be considered a small group and if they had 20+ they would be considered a line.

Each dance is given a score. That score then receives an award. The categories are as follows:

  • Bronze
  • Silver
  • Gold
  • Platinum
  • Double Platinum

(This is Showstoppers ranking system)

There are also various special awards for teachers, choreography, costumes, performance, etc. The score earned by each dance is then compared to others in the same age group, style and category for overall category awards. Last each dance's score is taken to determine the highest scoring dances of the day. The nice thing about dance scoring is that each and every time the main competition is your previous score.

Pros and Cons

One of the largest pros of competition dance is that the dancers are always receiving a plethora of feedback from a variety of sources with which to improve. It promotes team work and trust as the dancers must work together and trust each other to be successful.

The largest con of competition dance is time and financial commitment. Competitions typically start of Friday and end late Sunday night. Studios often will drive several hours to compete and spend huge amounts of money on classes, costumes, accessories, hotels, competition fees, etc. In order to be a hard core competition team, the investment each year usually is thousands of dollars.

Mini Small Group Jazz

12 Year Old Jazz

13 year old contemporary solo

Large Group Tap

Large Group Hip Hop

Studio Dance


Studio dance usually begins offering classes at age three and go all the way through adult. Children and adults can begin at any time at any age and get to perform at the end of the year in a recital.

Purpose and Trend

Studio dance typically readies a dancer for life as a professional dancer, choreographer or teacher. They also offer a wide range of classes for all abilities and ages. The focus is on the art of dance and how to dance technically well with the artistry to match. This is the type of dancing one would typically see in a professional dance company.

Studio dance offers the dancer the opportunity to be well rounded and learn each discipline correctly. Classes focus on technique and though are structured do allow for a more relaxed atmosphere than preparing for a competition.

There really are no trends for studio dance. Tradition is key and working to achieve the technique and artistry goal.


For classes, studio dance requires traditional dress in all classes. For ballet hair should be in a traditional ballet bun and pink tights, pink shoes and a leotard should be worn. Jazz is a leotard and jazz pants as it tap. In hip hop anything tends to go.

At the end of the year, studios put on a recital or end of the year show. Costumes are usually within a certain price point from specific companies to keep the cost low. Companies such as Costume Gallery, Revolution and Dansco are just some of the costumes companies used. No additional sparkle or accessories are usually added, again to keep cost reasonable. Hair is slicked back in a ballet bun or ponytail unless the teach has specified otherwise.


Studio training hours can vary from student to student and from studio to studio. Most studios begin offering some variation of creative dance for 3 year olds. Some studios will off Mommy and Me classes for age two. For ages 4-5, children are moved into a ballet/tap class. At the age of six they are able to take jazz, ballet, tap and hip hop. They are not allowed to begin contemporary until they are 9 or 10 and have had a certain amount of ballet. In order to enroll in jazz class as they get older, they must also be enrolled in a ballet class.

Training is traditional and is based off of a studio curriculum. Dancers must have a solid foundation on which to build in order to advance to the next level. Curriculum typically is created by the owner and followed by the staff. It is flexible depending on the progress of the class.

Classes are structured by beginning with a warm up that is focused on flexibility, moving across the floor and working in the center on technique and learning a bit of a dance. If the class is an hour, teachers will spend 15 minutes warming up, 20-25 minutes on technique and 15-20 minutes on choreography. Faculty also have the freedom to work on choreography with students.

Specific Style

Studio dance is more art driven than trick or acrobatic driven. For the most part, acrobatics are not taught in a traditional studio setting and if they are, they are separate classes. When observing a studio class, it is noted that the emphasis is on learning technique. This shows in recital, but it does not tend to be full of turns, leaps and jumps. Those technical works are present, but there is equal emphasis on performance and artistry.

Pros and Cons

The biggest pro of studio dance is the atmosphere. Even if a studio is professionally focused, there is not the pressure of receiving a score. The object is simply to improve oneself. This offers flexibility to the family as well as it as not as time consuming as competitions. Instructors are able to given more personal corrections and work one on one with students as they have the extra time.

A con is studio size. Studio dance typically has levels for everyone, but there are always more students that sign up and classes may need to be lengthened or moved at the beginning of the year. Studios tend to avoid this if at all possible, but occasionally to accommodate full classes and be sure they have all classes available.

Recital Example

Joffrey Ballet NYC Jazz Class Example

Recital Overview with Soloists

If you have any questions, insight or additions please feel free to comment! I always love hearing other opinions and as I have lived in all three of these worlds love hearing thoughts on each!


everythinghere on May 30, 2014:

wow this hub is incredible! the extensive information was beyond perfection

Related Articles