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Starbound National Talent Competition

Starbound National Talent Competition

By Deborah Searle of Dance Informa.

Starbound National Talent Competition is proud to be America’s largest dance competition, visiting 76 regional cities and holding seven national finals each year. But although Starbound is known for being the largest competition in the industry, it is also renowned for its close family atmosphere, offering an event that is both accommodating to dance teachers and directors, as well as fun and encouraging for young dancers.

“I started Starbound in 1993,” shares Starbound’s Founder and Director Sandra Coyte. “I owned a dance studio for 12 years, so the vision was to create a competition that gave back to teachers.”

Sandra, along with her husband Wayne, wanted to present a competition where “the teachers were less taxed in what they had to do.” Sandra explains, “When I owned my dancing school, I had to go to competitions and pay for hotels and pay for substitute teachers while I was away for the weekend. Starbound came up with a rebate program to compensate the teachers. There was nothing in the industry like that at that time, we created the rebate system. Others have followed suit and it’s actually made a change in the entire industry.”


Sandra Coyte (center) and the team from Starbound.

Starbound has always been visionary, leading to the organization’s success. “I am one of the very few who come with the background of owning a dance studio – it gave me the insight,” says Coyte. “Teachers feel very at home at our event. They know that they are being cared for and we listen to their concerns and ideas. At every single show we have comment cards that we have the teachers fill out and we take them very seriously. We have meetings about them and we’ll actually alter things in our program based on what the teachers need and want.”

Starbound also knows what the young competing dancers need and want – a fun, exciting and encouraging atmosphere. “Self-esteem is a huge thing for me because not only was I a former dance teacher, but I’m also a former school teacher, and I come from a long family of educators. So for me, having someone feel good about themself, especially a child, is much more important than having someone beat someone else. I don't like the word ‘beat’ or ‘against,’ I like the dancers to feel like it’s more of an educational process where they get evaluated and wherever their score falls, that’s the award they get.”

Sandra Coyte

Sandra Coyte with a young dancer at Starbound.

Starbound has a unique adjudicated scoring system that enables dancers to enjoy performing without worrying about competing with the dancers before or after them. “Your score is based on your performance,” explains Coyte. “We have a set number of points and if you fall between a certain point range you are awarded an elite gold or a high gold, high silver, etc. It doesn’t matter who went before or after you, your score and your award is exactly what it would be regardless.”

“In this style of scoring everybody knows where they fall – we don’t just give a first, second and third. You might have a 295, but maybe three others have a 299 and 298, but it doesn’t matter, you know that you got a 295, which is outstanding! It’s much more encouraging for the dancers and the whole concept provides positive reinforcement, enabling the dancers to feel good and continue honing their skills.”

This positive atmosphere even goes backstage where the nervous dancers wait to perform. “We are there to have fun,” stresses Coyte. “We have a great feeling backstage as our stage managers keep it very light and very fun.”

Everyone feels at home at Starbound in this enjoyable and encouraging environment. “I’ve heard time and time again, ‘Oh, I feel like we’re coming home when we come to Starbound. It feels like we’re family.’ Our events have a family atmosphere,” elaborates Coyte. “Starbound was created by family, and the staff that have come on have become family. Then ultimately the teachers, the parents and the dancers become part of that family and you feel that warmth when you’re at our events. That definitely sets us apart.”

Another leading family business in the dance industry, that sponsors Starbound’s events, is Capezio. “We are absolutely honored to have Capezio sponsor Starbound,” says Coyte. Capezio runs programs at the Starbound events, gives merchandise to the dancers and provides all of the coveted showcase jackets for the winners. “It’s a good marriage because Starbound and Capezio are two respected companies. Dancewear companies have come and gone, but Capezio has been around a very long time, so they are doing something right! It’s fabulous to join hands with such a respected company!”