Recreational VS. Competitive Dancing - What Parents Should Know

Healthy competition is the bedrock of any strong society, especially when it adheres to the tenets of good sportsmanship, a desire for self-improvement, and a willingness to fail in order to learn how to win. Therefore, many dance companies offer recreational and competitive dance programs, both of which have specific purposes, along with quite a few differences.

Dance is a great way for children to achieve self confidence, better health, and strong social skills, but it’s important to understand how recreational and competitive dancing programs can affect these developments. First, let’s break down both programs, before diving into their key strengths and unique differences.



For parents who want to give their children a fun, creative and artistic outlet that keeps them active and motivated, recreational dance programs are hard to beat. These classes introduce kids to the wonderful world of dance, without putting them into an environment with a lot of heavy expectations attached. Optimism, fun and enthusiasm are the key traits of recreational dance classes, and kids won’t be expected to hit maximum perfection for the sake of competition.

However, some parents may decide to enroll their children in recreational dance as a gateway to competitive programs later down the road, and there’s nothing wrong with that. The trick is to gauge whether the child is really invested in the art of dance, loves the classes, and wants to take their art and performance to the next level.



Competitive dance, as the title suggests, focuses a lot more on rudiments, practice and perfection, which means children will have to possess a strong fortitude, and the willingness to go the extra mile. For some kids, this can be a bit daunting, especially if they lack self confidence and skill.

Still, many parents opt to enroll children in competitive dance classes with the understanding that they will be pushed to higher standards of perfection, particularly when it comes to executing difficult move sets. Kids will also have to perform in front of a crowd, which is great for developing both confidence, and stage presence. Still, competitive dance programs come with greater pressure and demands attached to them, which means kids need to be ready for whatever is thrown at them. It’s not a question of right or wrong, but rather, what is appropriate for each individual child.



The biggest and most obvious advantage of recreational dance is a lack of any competitive aspect. This can be a blessing, or a pitfall, depending on the child in question. For instance, some kids may be naturally gifted, and able to handle the perfectionist demands placed on them by competitive dance programs. However, other children may merely wish for a fun activity where they can enjoy themselves, get moving, and make friends along the way. 

These advantages are not mutually exclusive to recreational dance, mind you, but without the pressure of competition thrown into the mix, they can offer children a more relaxed experience with fewer rules and expectations. Similarly, recreational dance programs are a better option for kids who like to have fun in short, controlled bursts, and may not necessarily be interested in dedicating themselves to the craft. Parents can also benefit from these programs, particularly if they have a busy schedule, and cannot cope with the demanding requirements of a competitive dance program.



As mentioned before, competitive dance can go a long way towards boosting a child’s self-confidence, and sense of worth. This is accomplished by placing greater expectations on the child, which requires them to step up and excel at their craft. Greater challenges that offer higher-level rewards frequently translate into major boosts of self-confidence, especially in children. This can have a great effect as they grow into adulthood.

Competitive dancing also sharpens the attention spans of children who may otherwise be easily distracted, while putting commitments and expectations on them. Many forms of rudimentary discipline yield excellent results for children, as multiple studies have shown. Practice and dedication to the craft is vital, and if a child can stick with it, they’ll reach a personal milestone that will stay with them for the rest of their lives. And finally, it introduces children to the notion of feedback, and how to handle constructive criticism. This is an incredibly important skill for children to develop early on in life.



Gauging the respective drawbacks of recreational dance can easily be done by examining the strengths of competitive dance programs. Parents may like the fact that their children are enjoying a more carefree and easygoing set of classes, but that may not be enough for the child in question. For instance, parents who want to develop discipline in their child may find that recreational dance is too laid back to offer any sort of rigid structure. 

Due to the laid back nature of recreational dance, fewer expectations will be placed on children, whether it’s nailing a difficult dance move, performing in front of audiences, and being judged on skill and technique by teachers. Once again, this is not a problem for parents who just want their children to have a little fun, and stay active. However, those hoping to foster focus, discipline and commitment in their children may find that recreational dance programs are too light.



Competitive dance programs come with their own set of drawbacks, which are once again dependent on each particular child. Enrolling a toddler into competitive dance would probably be unwise, due to the child’s inability to truly understand the concepts of focus and discipline. Little children can easily be overwhelmed by too much structure, demands and expectations. Their world is all about having fun, with very few consequences.

Similarly, children struggling with self-confidence issues may find that competitive dance programs are simply too much to bear. The demands of the classes, and expectations to perform at a higher level may trigger feelings of unworthiness, which can further exacerbate a child’s psychological issues. In the vast majority of cases, most kids merely need to face their fears, get out there and do the work, at which point they enjoy a life-altering experience which shows them that they can overcome their apprehensions and win. However, parents should be cautious that there are no deep underlying psychological or emotional illnesses at play, lest competitive dance classes make them worse. 



There are a number of factors parents should take into account when choosing which program to enroll their child in, and many of them have been touched on in the above discussion. There are other criteria to consider, from the differences in physical risks, to the capability of each child, as well as their attention spans and levels of commitment.

Parents will also need to factor in the differences in costs for each program, and the intensity of the weekly schedule. Of course, they can always speak to a dance teacher for some help in determining which program is better for their child. Oftentimes, parents may opt to enroll children in recreational dance classes in order to “test the waters,” before migrating them over to competitive dance when the child has shown interest and enthusiasm. 



No matter what program parents choose for their children, dance is a wonderful way to build commitment, get healthy, and have a lot of fun doing both. By weighing a child’s abilities and individual personality against the nature of recreational and competitive dance programs, parents can deduce which option is best for their child’s physical and mental development. 

We get a lot of questions about this topic, and we’re always on hand to help out parents who may still be on the fence as to which program to enroll their child in. Please contact CDM Dance with any questions you might have, and we’ll be happy to help you decide which program is best for your little one!