There are probably many reasons why Starpower Talent Competition has been around (and going strong) for 30 years. It hosts tens of thousands of participants, making it one of the largest talent competitions in the country, and has even expanded internationally, to London, Costa Rica, Australia, Scotland and more. Starpower offers exciting awards, scholarships and performance opportunities for dancers. It prides itself on maintaining positive relationships with studio owners, teachers, performers and parents.
But perhaps one of the most vital elements to Starpower’s success is the man behind it all: Gary Pate. He has been involved with the performing arts since the age of five and opened his first “Starpower Competition” in Washington, D.C., with his parents 30 years ago. Starpower blossomed and remains successful due to his dedication to creating professional, fun, enriching competition experiences.
Here, Dance Informa speaks with Pate of the Starpower empire on how it all got started and plans for the talent competition’s 30th anniversary.
You first became involved with dance at a young age. What was it about the art form that peaked your interest?
“When I was young, my mother, Frances, was a dance teacher. Actually, she is currently 92 years old and still teaches tap! Dance was all around me. I loved the entertainment value in dance; it made people happy to watch. At a young age, I gravitated toward musical comedy because I was able to make the crowd laugh. It was a big thrill; an audience reaction made my performance exciting!”
And how about the competition circuit? When and why did you get involved with competitions?
“As a young dancer, there were very few performance outlets for child performers. I performed at state and county fairs, nursing homes, airports and boardwalks like the Atlantic City Steel Pier. I always wanted more performance opportunities and longed for a more professional environment when I took the stage. As an adult, I was a studio owner and master teacher when I met Grace Wakefield. We shared the same passion for kids, dance and dance education. We knew we could provide professional style performance outlets for kids, while creating a family friendly environment. We hoped and still hope to make every kid who hits our stage feel special, and every dance teacher and parent feel like they are family.”
Why do you think competitions are a good learning experience and opportunity for dancers?
“The resulting benefits of competitive dance are endless. Young dancers learn the benefits of hard work and discipline at an early age. They understand the importance of process (technical training and rehearsal time), as well as the product (performance routine they present). Young performers learn how to be a part of a team and how they contribute to a bigger picture or vision of a choreographer. Competitive dancers have excellent time management skills, as they usually have to finish homework and juggle sometimes demanding schedules between school and dance. In addition to physical training, dancers usually learn the importance of a healthy nutrition plan for optimal performance.
One of the more impressive qualities that competitive dancers possess is the ability to think ‘on their feet’. In a live performance, anything can happen. Music can skip or stop, costumes may malfunction, partnering in the choreography may go wrong. Competitive dancers learn how to make it work, and in an instant.
One benefit that can only come from the world of competitive dance is the ability to perform on a regular basis while handling the critiques of judges. This is a direct link to the audition world. Dancers auditioning for collegiate dance programs or professional jobs will most likely, at one time or another, have to deal with criticism and rejection. How one handles this may measure one’s success.
It is important to note that the benefits of dance competitions are largely dependent upon dance teachers, role models and parents. It is up to us, the leaders, to make the experience healthy and positive for young competitive dancers.”
Congratulations on Starpower’s 30th anniversary! How and why did you start Starpower?
“Thank You! We could not be more proud of the community of staff, dance teachers and performers we have with Starpower! In fact, Dance Network TV produced a full-length documentary entitled Dance Family that captures our unique family dynamic!
[Grace and I] are passionate about producing a state-of-the-art, professional arena to provide young dancers to get performance opportunities. We wanted to provide a fun, family-friendly atmosphere, where kids could create memories to last a lifetime.”
What sorts of opportunities does Starpower provide to its participants?
“Starpower is fortunate to be the largest member of the Star Dance Alliance. The SDA is comprised of dance competitions (Nexstar, Revolution, Believe, Imagine Dance Challenge, Dream Maker, World Dance Championships), the Power Pak (summer dance camp), the World Dance Pageant (educational solo competition) and Wild Dance Intensives (conventions). The Star Dance Alliance offers scholarships to various events. Speaking of scholarships, the SDA has partnered with the American Musical and Dramatic Academy (AMDA) with campuses in LA and NYC. They have awarded numerous $40,000 scholarships to our performers!
Another type of opportunity could include our three levels of competition offered. Students have the opportunity to dance in the Novice, Intermediate or Advanced levels of competition. Starpower believes all dancers of all levels of experience should feel comfortable competing and performing. At our events, there is a place for all dancers, whether they dance three hours a week or 30 hours a week.”
What sets it apart from other competitions?
“What sets Starpower apart from other dance competitions is the history of its founders. Grace Wakefield and I have been dancers, studio owners, teachers and parents. We firsthand understand the needs and desires of teachers and competitive team leaders. We have walked in their shoes! The dance competition industry is special and unique, and so are the needs and expectations of dance teachers. We fully empathize with what dance teachers experience with each competition. We aim to make the competition experience smooth, familiar and supportive for all involved! We are not copying or emulating what another dance competition does; we created the mold!”
What are you most proud of about Starpower over the years?
“I am most proud to say that we at Starpower have created memories that last a lifetime. After 30 years, we have had young competitors who are now studio owners. They want their dance students to experience the fun and excitement they did as children. We are proud to hear stories about how ‘Starpower days’ were the best times of people’s lives. People often send us their pictures and videos. Although we still have more goals and visions as a company, it is heartwarming to know that we have succeeded with our original mission statement in creating a memorable atmosphere for these kids.
I am also proud to say that both of my daughters, Noelle and Jada, are very much a part of Starpower. It truly is a family affair to us, as they are both dancers, too!”
Are there any special events planned for the 30th anniversary?
“We cannot wait for this summer to celebrate our big 3-0! We are in the process of planning some big events but can not spoil the surprises! You will have to wait and see! I will have to say, reminiscing as we sift through old pictures and videos is the most fun part of the planning process!”
Where do you hope to go from here? What are your future plans and goals for Starpower?
“We are proud of our global community created by Starpower International. It is only in its beginning stages. We surely plan to reach more and more countries and cultures with Starpower. We love to unite the world through dance! Starpower staff is in constant contact to keep our competitions fresh and cutting edge. We welcome all feedback from dance teachers and take it quite seriously. Starpower will continue working hard to make our dance competition arena the best choice for dance teachers and performers alike.”
What else is happening this year with Starpower?
“Starpower is extremely proud to be a part of the Star Dance Alliance (SDA) and especially in conjunction with the World Dance Championships. This annual event will take place in August 2017, at the Meadowlands, just outside of NYC. This highly produced group dance competition attracts dancers from around the globe for what is truly the premiere dance competition around. It is the National of Nationals, the Championship of Championships. If a competitive group is invited at a regional or national event, they compete for a chance to be part of ‘The Final Five’. The Final Five re-compete and battle for the title of World Champion. It is so exciting and fun, and truly a dream come true for the SDA! This event is viewed around the world, as it is live-streamed on www.worlddancechampionship.com. Check it out!”
For more information on Gary Pate and Starpower Talent Competition, head to www.starpowertalent.com.
By Laura Di Orio of Dance Informa.