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Tricks

Let’s talk comps! “Tricks win” is a common sentiment regarding dance competitions and judging. Threads inquiring about what judges are looking for is is another common topic of conversation. Complaints about critiques are prevalent. I’m going to break this down.

Executing tricks for the sake of tricks is not interesting. It’s not something I want to see or something that is impressive. 99% of turns in second on the competition stage are not stage ready. A majority of pirouettes done on the competition stage are not stage ready. Aerials are almost always not interesting. Heel stretches (I don’t enjoy calling them that, but you know what I mean) are almost always not done correctly. You see what I mean. I could go on.

When I sit at the judges table, I’m not looking for anything specific, but what does move me and make me excited is authenticity. When a choreographer and/or dancer finds a piece of music that moves them, and the movement follows the arc and dynamics of the song, the audience feels that. They get that. Realness is more desirable than a string of technical elements lacking individual stylistic quality.

BUT if the sequence of “tricks” is executed with technical proficiency, it’s going to score well. We are judging technique, stage presence and precision. Even if I don’t like it, I’m scoring it high if it’s executed well.

It’s true that judges’ critiques can often fall short. A common complaint is that the judges don’t talk throughout the dance, then give a score. I agree that we do need to hear from whoever’s adjudicating. If a dance is very good and I find myself not speaking as much, I articulate that. It’s something like: “I am really enjoying this and that’s why I’m not saying a lot. Your technique and artistry are exquisite.”

If, as we sometimes do, we get a judge that doesn’t really know what they’re talking about, but they at least keep talking through the dance, cool. Honestly, cool. I’m (almost) never mad at that because it’s just not productive. In the end, if we are on that hypothetical professional stage, our audience doesn’t know dance but they know what they enjoy. Connection = success.

If we can take a genre that generally has a narrow audience and bring awareness to a broader audience, that’s what it’s all about. Think: Twyla. If a judge doesn’t know tap (they should, but… you know) yet the choreography moves and has relatable rhythms, dynamics and style, then it will more often than not adjudicate well. If it doesn’t, we take a look at it and see what we can improve, or we shrug it off and try again next time.

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Who cares

Every year there are a few months when competition complaints and criticism of judges are abundant. It’s consistent from year to year, even in this most unique of seasons.

  • The judges don’t know tap.
  • They only want to see tricks.
  • The scoring is all over the place.
  • Do judges take off points for…

What’s interesting is that the kids aren’t the ones who are upset. Honestly the parents (of my students, at least) are never upset either. They are excited to see their kids on stage and to see the growth in ability from one season to the next.

Dancers are there to perform, to understand the rewards of working toward something and to work through the nerves of performing on a stage, in a costume, under lights and in front of an audience and/or complete strangers who will assess them in 2 minutes.

Winning is fun in the moment, but if we don’t win, are we going to hinge our validity, progress, artistry and joy on a snap judgement numerical score given by a stranger that can’t possibly know what it took to get that dancer or group of dancers on stage?

Trust the artistic process and enjoy the ride. Nobody remembers what the score was.