New Virtual Reality – Creating Connections Through Online Competition

Choreography Online’s Rick Tjia Talks International Online Dance Competition

By Christy Sandmaier

Rick Tjia is giving back to the dance community and creating virtual momentum with a new competition, chance and opportunity to dance.

Best known as principal dancer with world renowned contemporary dance company La La La Human Steps and for his 16 years as a Talent Scout specializing in dance at Cirque du Soleil, Tjia has had an extensive career in dance and acting that includes performances with Ballet Austin, Boston Ballet and Delta Festival Ballet, as well as three years of work in film and television in Los Angeles doing hip-hop, jazz, tap, and ballet. He was also an acrobatic choreographer for the Cirque du Soleil Big Top touring show Volta.

Today, Tjia is CEO and President of Choreography Online which provides dancers around the world access to a diverse selection of quality choreography that can be performed on any stage. The first of its kind to ever exist in the dance world, the online platform allows dancers, teachers, dance school owners, and dance company artistic directors to easily and quickly purchase licenses to perform otherwise inaccessible dance choreographies from choreographers from around the world. By managing performance licenses in this way, Choreography Online gives both choreographers and dancers the ability to choose what they wish to share and learn. 

Tjia prides himself on having a self-described hyperactive mindset and being ultra-busy. He’s going in a million directions, always with a multitude of projects. One of the biggest, the launch of International Online Dance Competition (IODC). Born out of necessity he says as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, IODC is an online competition produced by Choreography Online open to dancers and choreographers across the globe.

With so many dancers having their seasons – both stage and competition – cut short, the IODC provides an opportunity to compete on a virtual platform whether showcasing a studio run, or entering a great performance, onto an international stage. 

“When suddenly there were no live performances and there were no competitions, everything was just gone,” Tjia said. “I was in London when everything happened and the day I came back to Canada, I had to go in to 14-day quarantine. Right away, I knew I didn’t want to sit and think about all of the challenges. I wanted to find a way to turn this whole thing around and at the same time, give people something so that all of their work for this year, this season, isn’t wasted, and without any financial barrier.”

How does it work? The framework for IODC specifically allows all dance competitors to submit their very best work filmed within the last year. For choreographers, a reel of their best work created within the last 10 years is eligible. All applicants fill out an online registration form and upload their video. Submissions will be judged by experts in each of the respective categories. Entry fees start at $5 and beautifully, 10% of all proceeds go to Artists Relief, to help performing artists affected financially by the COVID-19 shutdowns. 

So far, Tjia says the response has been positive and entries global, even though there were obvious learning curves that come from a brand new endeavor: “We’ve had a lot of moral support from organizations like World of DanceThe response has been positive. We made projections [of how many entries would be considered a success] of course, but that’s always hard. Just like Choreography Online, we had to make projections to start somewhere, but when you’ve not done something before, you just don’t know. I think it’s something that people wanted, so we’ll see how it goes! There are a lot of companies holding virtual competitions now, but I don’t think anyone aimed for quite the reach we have.”

While the dancers and choreographers won’t have the energy of a live audience to feed off, they do have the opportunity to submit only their very best work. First round submissions are due June 6 and finalists will be showcased online for the general public to vote. When determining the overall winners, the finalist who receives the highest number of public votes will be taken into consideration by the judges who include Tjia, Misha Tchoupakov, Régis Truchy, Shampa Gopikrishna and Robin Passmore.

With this in mind, it’s hard to imagine not wanting to participate. Afterall, participants have the opportunity to present their absolute best selves through their performances without judges seated six feet away, opening night nerves or mistakes that often come with pressure of a full house or having 200 friends and family in the audience. There are monetary prizes to consider as well.

As far as success in the first year, Tjia has several thoughts on what that might look like: “Obviously, we need to cover expenses and have money to continue doing what we do. I mean, everybody needs that. That’s what we do. And of course, we want to be able to do this again. But, one of my other goals… in a multi-style competition, I’ve never seen the ballet side be very strong. Strong ballet people are always in ballet-only competitions. So one of my goals personally is to have a multi-style competition where ballet dancers are strong. Really strong. So far, I’m seeing that. We made sure that ballet is ballet, not contemporary ballet. It’s the repertoire that’s being judged.” 

And of course, there’s the more personal, philosophical success as well. “As with any competition, winning cannot be the only goal,” says Tjia. “Competition is where people learn. Meeting new people, making friends from other countries, taking classes from other people, this to me, is the foundation of competition. It’s a learning experience.” 

And another chance to dance.

For more information, visit https://www.iodc.online/contest2/ and https://choreography.online

Look for more on Rick Tjia, Choreography Online and the IODC in an upcoming issue of Inside Dance.