JUDGING – Part 2

JUDGING – Part 2

Now for the hard truth – Most people lose competitions, not win them.  This is not to mean there are more losers than winners.  It means in the midst of a competition, with several couples on the floor at the same time, and often judging different levels it is much easier to pick the loser than the winner.  That means if you are dancing in a competition and cross the path of a judge and the same time you perform one of his dreaded pet peeves the party may be over and you never know why.  After that everything goes wonderful.  You are Fred or Ginger at his best, but at that crucial moment when all eyes should have been elsewhere and you had your 5 seconds of opportunity and the heel came down on 3 of a twinkle and boom, bang the judge marks you third.  You think it is unfair.  The judge should only see you when you do you best stuff, and the others when they do their worst.  That would be ideal, wouldn’t it?  Not realistic, but more fun.

Luck plays a part, and it does so in lots of competitions.  This is a fact of life and needs to be accepted.  The referee misses the foul and the shot is missed.  No foul, no free throw, no points.  Luck plays a part in the draw as to the lane or position in the starting gate in races from horses to track and field, and all realize the advantage of the inside lane.  Football has tried to install various forms of instant replay to double check and second guess the officials and still luck plays a part.  The next play starts and all opportunity to challenge the play is lost.  Fair, yes in the overall scheme, because plays are missed on both sides.  As imperfect as it seems to use officials that are human beings, it beats the option.  No rules at all.  As long as there are rules, officials are needed to interpret them and decide the result.

Dance competitions do more than many sports to insure the results are fair and honest.  Judges and panels are rotated so that competitors are likely to face a variety of panels in the course of a competition.  Judges are selected by the organizer long ahead of the competition allowing even the top competitive couples to decide if the judges are fair and can vote with their feet and go elsewhere if they feel they will not receive a fair shake.  Judges are required and encouraged to cover various parts of the ballroom.  That way if you make your mistake in front of one judge, there is a good chance other judges missed it and will only know if you are still shaking your head and talking about it when you get in front of them.  Multiple judges insure that no one judge can unduly influence a whole event without the knowledge and censure of other judges and officials who gladly report such activities to sanctioning officials.

Now let us talk about some Common Mistakes:

  • Talking as you enter the Floor – Whether you want it to or not and whether the judge wants to or not; the fact is that as an appearance sport everything the judge sees from the moment they turn the page is fair and relevant.
  • Adjusting your clothes as you walk on – Finish dressing before they call your number. Some exceptions include zipping your fly and other emergency repairs that may otherwise draw attention to something other than dancing.
  • Too long an entrance – The judge tries to see everybody for equal time and has 90 seconds divided by the number of couples – distractions. If you entrance lacks the character, expression and feel of the dance it will not help your placement.
  • Getting too close to the judge – If you have a great line and are 6 inches away from a judge he can’t see you unless he has very wide peripheral vision, which most don’t.
  • Talking while dancing – It doesn’t matter if the judge can hear you or not. Moving your mouth to talk never looks like a smile.
  • Pointing – While dramatic, most judges will turn to look at what you are pointing at and mark them and not you.
  • Shaking your head – While this may work to show disapproval to your children, it won’t sway a judge that it was somebody else’s fault.
  • Starting over – Especially on individual routines. If we can, on an individual routine, we want to judge what you do, not what you mess up and then see the same thing over and over again.  That 10 seconds once might be forgotten, the second time won’t erase the first.
  • Too much exaggeration – Looking too high at the ceiling, too many arms, too much stuff loses character.  True that you must fill a large room, and be bigger than life, but this is not a football stadium.  Get real.
  • Full pockets – Leave your wallet in the room, take your pen out of your pocket. Leave the cell phone off your belt.
  • Wear clothes that don’t fit – Tight is not necessarily good. Long pants should be long enough to cover the back of the shoe.  Pockets should lay flat and not bulge out.

Now these are some of the common mistakes that are often seen that have nothing to do with the steps, level, character, or style of the dance.  Yet all too often they have an effect on what judges think, see and ultimately decide.

Choices are hard

Having said all of this, understand that most of the time these mistakes only matter when other factors are close.  Most of the time they are much closer than people think.  You see one thing and it might make a great impression on you.  Whether it matters to a judge is another thing.  Whether it matters most to all the judges is unlikely.  Judging as you did before, means making choices.  Are these choices right or wrong?  Judges, at least good ones constantly ask themselves those same questions.  Should style matter more than poise?  Should character matter more than technique?  How important is rocking on two?  How important is it in the Cha-Cha?  Dancing, as a sport, as a means of picking up girls, as an expression of the finest attributes of a man and woman working together to create a common picture or movement has evolved and continues to evolve.

The Foxtrot of today is much different than it was in the 60’s & 70’s, and even more so than in the 30’s or back in 1908 when it was introduced as an individual show number for a Ziegfield Folly show.  How will it look 30 years from now?  We can only imagine.  Better technique has enabled today’s dancers to do so much more in terms of movement and style than previously imagined, yet the future is for those that will try to push the limits, extend the boundaries, challenge the judges and make their foxtrot a contemporary dance with an old name.

Now you once again get a chance to be a judge.  Our next dance is the Swing, but since the country is such a big place you have to choose between all styles of Swing.  After all, that is what the population in general sees when asked to judge a dance competition.  All they know is the music.  They don’t know the names, the styles.  They either like it or not.  Couple # 1 dances the regular East Coast Swing.  Couple # 2 dances their West Coast Swing, and Couple # 3 dances Country Western Swing.  Who is best?  Sometimes there just is no right or wrong.  How hard will it be to make dancesport a sport the population in general can enjoy if we can’t decide which form of dance is right, correct, or proper?

We hope that judges, as portrayed in Strictly Ballroom, are fiction.  Have such judges existed?  Yes.  Is there a danger that they will continue to exist?  Yes, but only if the dancing community fails to explore and expand the depth, vitality and vigor of the dance.  Control of the sport and industry should not be in the hands of judges and officials but in the hands of the population of participants and spectators that ultimately support the music, enjoy the art, and participate in the activity and sport.  Just as football, and ice-skating have made accommodations to the spectators dance too will either adapt or fail.

Lastly judges are here to facilitate learning, the enjoyment, and the experience of dance as a sport.  To the most part, people choose to judge because they too are passionate about the sport.  If you have a question about your results, don’t ask a judge why they marked you second or third.  First, we don’t remember.  Second, we don’t care.  We are just sure you deserved it.  So don’t bother me.  Ask a judge what is his or her favorite dance.  What makes it so?  What aspect of the dance is most important to them, and learn how different people feel and think about a dance.  See how that fits into what you know and then see if you can expand your knowledge, skill and understanding to truly appreciate all that dancesport has to offer.

Michael Reichenbach


Dance Week

January 16, 2004

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