Lace up jazz boots. Body glitter. Dabbing. Bun mohawks. Trends are ubiquitous in our world, and especially in the dance competition world! From song choice, to tricks, to hairstyles, what is trending will always show up at events whether we love them or not. For judges who see hundreds if not thousands of routines per season, seeing the same trends over and over can be tiring, and actually make it difficult to judge a routine well (how many ways can you say, “Make sure you whip harder on your “Whip/Nae Nae””?) IDA Judges Joey Ortolani, Jacqueline Baligian, and Michelle Figueiredo share their thoughts on trends - the good, the bad, and the ugly.
Trends, as a rule, go in and out of fashion, but there are some that live on no matter what we do. Joey Ortolani, who teaches competitive dance in New York as well as judges for IDA, laments that while he thought they were on their way out, toe rises and knee drops are seemingly here to stay. “Nine times out of ten, I find these "tricks" executed incorrectly - sickled ankles or slamming to the knee, respectively - and it instantly makes me cringe.” “Barbie foot”, where the ankle is pointed but the toes are flexed, also made several appearances in the “Trends We Wish Would Die” category, with both Jacqueline and Michelle agreeing that they are not fans. Michelle says, “I will never understand [Barbie foot].”
Another current trend that Jacqueline sees often is the splayed “contemporary” hand. She explains, “The problem I have with trends is that sometimes the students aren’t ready for them. For instance, there have been certain “hand” styles that have been trendy in contemporary. The fingers are really splayed and slightly curved in. And that’s fine in contemporary. But, if the student can’t adjust back to technique in other genres, they aren’t ready for that trend. That style hand isn’t the correct line in ballet or in musical theater.”
Finally, the trend of tap to lyrical or contemporary music is oversaturated. Joey says, “It used to be innovative to do tap routines, specifically solos, to music typical to lyrical and contemporary. It’s almost as if people feel pressured to do this style of tap just because it’s seen so frequently, without realizing the level of expertise it requires to execute it well. The result is often a tap routine that misses the mark because the dancer, or choreographer, would have been better suited for a classic, upbeat, energetic tap routine. Don't participate in a trend just because its a trend.” It might not feel fresh to bring back a classic, but rest assured, classics are timeless for a reason, and often judges (as well as the entire audience) will breathe a sigh of relief to see such a dance!
As for musical trends and concepts, these judges agreed that there are a few particular themes that are extremely overused. Michelle Figueirdo, dance teacher from Philadelphia and IDA judge, says, “"Schindler's List" is way overused. I have seen countless pieces with this title and there is not one dance that is a stand-out in my mind. All of the dances that I have seen with this title are basically the same: same music, movement, costumes, feeling/emotion, and lacking creativity.” For a heavy theme like “Schindler’s List”, it is extremely important to utilize dancers who have the ability not only to understand the subject matter, but to do it justice on stage with meaningful movement. Joey agrees, and uses another example of heavy subject matter being overdone on the competition stage: “While it is a noble theme/concept, routines with dancers having words such as "fat”, "anxious", “too short", "bad skin" attributed to them, overcoming these words and portraying self-empowerment, has become a very saturated concept, diluting its impact.” While it’s only natural for many artists to want to explore deeper subject matter with their students and audiences, it’s important to remember who your audience is - in the competition world, the pieces are being performed for not only audience members, but also for judges, who, in addition to looking for correct technique and placement, are also looking for innovative ideas and fresh takes on age old concepts.
Joey mentions, “I try not to spend too much time watching what other studios have done. If I happen to conceptualize a routine that is similar to something someone else has done, I can lean on the fact that it's a coincidence rather than someone else’s idea that I saw getting stuck in my head. That said, when you're at competition, if someone else has done it, don't then do it yourself the next season. If someone inspires you to try something in the same spirit, that is only natural in art, but if you see someone use flower petals, don't then next season use flower petals to the same song.” (Flower petals, leaves, and powder also made appearances).
Never fear, we won’t leave you lost and confused as to how to avoid some of these overdone trends! For inspiration to keep things fresh, Jacqueline simply takes class. “I always go back to the classics. I’ll take classic jazz classes, musical theater etc.” Michelle echoes that idea, saying, “Taking class regularly not only keeps my body moving, but keeps my mind fresh and willing to try new things while teaching and choreographing. I have found that when I challenge myself choreographically by pushing myself out of my comfort zone, I come up with new material and new ideas. I like choreographing outside of my comfort zone because I can see the growth in my pieces year after year.” Joey makes a good point regarding music: “Inspiration from the music you use should not be underestimated. I spend hours and hours searching for music and trying to use the most obscure means of finding new or untouched music for competition. I find that your song choice is often where your success begins and ends.” Consider music from other countries, older music and music from local artists to ensure that your pieces will be unique and sure to stand out in the crowd!
Not all trends are bad! We asked what trends these judges secretly (or not so secretly!) love, and got some fun responses! Michelle says, “This is no secret, but I love clean technique which is FOREVER and not a trend! Basics should always be taught first. With a solid foundation, dancers are taught correct technique, which is crucial to their career. With proper technique, it will be easier for dancers to stylize choreography and execute trendier/trickier moves.” Good technique never goes out of style! Joey enjoys the musical trend of “obscure orchestral and instrumental music. From an artist’s perspective, I love that composers and orchestras that would probably otherwise not get much mainstream play are being heard and [their music] interpreted into movement. A beautiful piece of music I’ve never heard wakes me up way more than the most high energy hip hop routine.”
What are your favorite trends? Is there anything from the past that you’d like to see resurrected? (All Celine Dion lyrical production numbers, all the time). Let us know!