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An Open Letter from Your Judges

Author: Angelina Young Savage

Dear Dance Teachers,

As you start your week by reflecting on competition and listening to critique tapes, please don't be too quick to hate on the judges or the competition.

Just a reminder, the judges sit all day. As you well know, competitions can be anywhere from 8 hours to 16 hours long on one day. They do not get many breaks--awards are long enough to shove a salad (hopefully, but probably pizza) into their faces, use the bathroom, and stretch their legs (if the judges don’t have to hand out awards). So, if a quick judge’s break is taken in the middle of a segment--it is not the competition wasting time, it is legitimately because one of your judges is on the verge of peeing their pants! And if you catch us snacking on a Tootsie Roll, almond, or a hard-boiled egg, it’s because our blood sugar is low or our stomach is growling so loudly it might be picked up on your critique! I promise we are watching your dancers, but we need an energy kick every once in awhile.

So, let’s get real. Dance teachers across the country are always asking what the judges are looking for at competition. Well, here you go! First off, some etiquette things: Please, please, please, for the love of the Dance Gods, do not be in the wings while your students are dancing, and tell your other dancers the same. It is distracting, not only to the judges, but also to your dancers onstage. I can’t tell you how many times I have to say, “Stop looking offstage left,” because a dancer is looking to the people cheering them on from the wings (and let’s face it, sometimes coaching them). I didn’t think I would ever need to address the issue of coaching or doing the dance with your students from the wings (for anyone but the itty bitties), but I do! I’m just going to leave it here, but that is nonsense. Trust your dancers to do their jobs! You have given them all of the tools they need to perform, now let them focus all of their attention on that performance! As an added bonus, try watching your dancers from the house. They look great! You did a good job. Watch the fruits of your labor from the front!

Speaking of getting real (or at this point, beating a dead horse), TIGHTS! 90% of the time, the judges sit below the stage. This puts us in an awkward situation more times than any of us would like. Wear tights. Don’t wear tights. That’s your choice. But, if the choice is to not wear tights, please examine the placement of your tilts, rolls, and chin stands! And rehearse how you want to give your tween and teen dancers the speech about waxing.

When a step or trick is called on the tapes by the wrong name, or the judge stumbles over their words, remember, the judges have been talking (hopefully non-stop) for hours and hours. Sometimes, the words don't come quickly--sometimes, the next thought is in the judge's head before the last one is out. If the judge interrupts themselves in the middle of a correction to comment on something happening in the moment, don’t be annoyed - be pleased, because you got one of the good ones who is doing their job!

CHALLENGE TO DANCE TEACHERS AND CHOREOGRAPHERS: Once judges see the same dancer doing the same solo to a different song in a different category for the 4th time (for example, the same dancer does a lyrical, contemporary, open, and jazz solo all with different music, but all in the same style--even the songs and costuming are similar), we could tell you on the tape everything we have to say before the dance begins! Please, I beg of you as teachers and choreographers, make sure that each dance is different--the style, the feel, the choreography, the costuming. Give us something to say, or please don't be upset when there is nothing new to add to the 3rd or 4th dance, because there are only so many times and ways we can say, "Lengthen your knees, pull your shoulders down, and connect to your breath." Challenge yourself to change things up, and challenge your dancer to be versatile.

Here are a few pointers that will save your audio files from literally sounding like broken records.

  • Lip Syncing: if your dancer is older than 5, please take the time to coach them on real emotion, personality, characterization and projection. We tend to fall victim to the, “I don’t know what to do with my face, so I’ll just sing my song,” quick fix. Sure, there are moments when a dancer may pause to lip sync a highlighted lyric (“You’d Better WORK” comes to mind), but when a dancer sings along with the entire song (yes, even in Musical Theater), it tells the judges that the dancer just doesn’t know what else to do with their face.

  • Talking on Stage: I’ve seen this happen in solos! In this case, who are you talking to? During groups, dancers can talk after the piece. I have seen dancers degrade each other on stage because of failed traffic patterns, yell at each other to slow down… the list goes on. All issues can be addressed after the performance. One of the only reasons to talk on stage is to cue a beginning pose or the timing for the exit.

  • Length of Dances: Sure. We all want to show off our dancers, because we train them and they are AWESOME! We also want them to be able to be onstage for their full 2.5 minutes… or maybe even push it into the 3 minute mark, because who’s counting? Well, in two words, THE JUDGES. When you are a small group, and you’ve used three Madonna songs and you’re going into your fourth, your dance is too long! Plus, by the two minute mark, you have showcased all of your dancers’ strengths. So, take 15 seconds to create an opening and 15 seconds to find your ending and there’s your dance!

We truly love watching your students on stage (because otherwise, we would be at home spending our weekends with our dance families!) We like to think that maybe we can say something in a different way, or address a certain issue that may be the breakthrough for a student to finally get what their teachers have been preaching.

So fellow dance teachers, choreographers, and studio owners, please be kind to your judges--we always appreciate when a student takes the time to come up and say, "Thank you," (we also appreciate candy!) We are real people—sometimes from your area. We love when dancers say hi, come up to talk, or ask for pictures! Find something in the judges resumé that interests you. Ask a specific question about a piece or something that you’re having trouble with. I hope I’m not in the minority when I say, “Talk to us!”

Thank you for sharing your talented students with us - we hope that we can say something that is inspiring on every critique we give!


Your Judges


Angelina is a current professional dancer, teacher and adjudicator based out of Pittsburgh, PA. She is also the co-founder and director of the Resonance Tap Experience.

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