An Inside Look into Judging and Scoring at Competitions

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IDA Judges: Katie, Colin, Eliza @ Diva Dance Competition - In-Studio LIVE!

Have you ever wondered what goes into judging and scoring at competitions? How do judges determine their numerical scores, how does personal preference come into play, and how do levels affect or not affect how the judges score? This week on Making the Impact, Courtney and Lesley sat down with IDA judges Jesse Miller and Colin Shea Denniston to give listeners an inside look at the ins and outs of judging and scoring.


First, it’s important to note that every competition is different: they all use different scoring rubrics, different criteria, and different computer software. All four judges note that they’ve worked for multiple companies and the systems are never the same. Another major difference is that some competitions ask judges to give one holistic score (i.e. an 87), while other competitions ask the judges to score within different brackets of technique, performance, presentation, choreography, etc. While the broken-down score might provide more insight into how the judge arrived at their total score, the system is much harder for judges who have to do quick calculations in the span of seconds between routines.


In terms of assigning numbers and calculating the broken-down score, there are two approaches, which Colin explains as top down and bottom up. Top down means that the judge starts by noting what adjudication range the dancer falls into (i.e. gold, high gold, platinum, etc.) and figures out how to crunch the numbers to make that stick. The bottom up approach refers to judges who assign individual numbers for technique, performance, etc., and the total of those numbers determines the adjudication range.


But what if the judges are just scoring your dance with one number? If your judges are doing their job, their critiques should back up their scores; you should know by the end of a critique why the judge scored you the way that they did, where they took off points, where you gained points, etc. If the dancer is losing points for their costume, for example, that should be communicated in the critique.


One aspect of scoring that often comes up is personal preference. It’s important to remember that judges get hired for their individual points of view, but that these preferences shouldn’t really affect your scores. Colin and Jesse agree that it’s okay to share a preference on a critique as long as it doesn’t affect the score and as long as the judge is explicit about the fact that they’re sharing an opinion in that moment. Colin offers the example of an approach to stylization with jazz hands. He won’t take off points, but rather make a suggestion given the style of the piece.


One instance where all four judges agree that preference becomes relevant is when the dancers are at an incredibly high technical level. There comes a point where all of the dancers are in the most elite adjudication bracket and the highest score for each judge, often by a tenth of a point, will probably be based on the judge’s stylistic or aesthetic preferences.


In addition to preferences, another area that is often contested is levels. Now in the year 2021, levels are here to stay in the dance competition world, for better or worse. Colin and Jesse note that there isn’t a streamlining of levels, so at one competition, everyone might be on the same one-hundred-point scale, while at other competitions, the scale might look different for each level. It’s important that competitions communicate these scales with their judges and with their clientele of studio owners, teachers, parents, and dancers so that everyone is on the same page. Depending on these scales, judges can score accurately for dancers at every level.


At the end of the day, it is critical to remember that your judges are people and that people have opinions. While elements of technique and performance can be looked at objectively, a lot of dance is subjective, which means that the scores you receive don’t just depend on you, but also on the backgrounds of the people behind the table and who else showed up to compete that weekend. Try to use competition weekends as an opportunity for growth and take the time to listen to your critiques so that you can continue to grow and shine on stage as the season progresses!

Diva Dance Competition - In-studio LIVE!

Thanks to our guests, Jesse Miller and Colin Shea Denniston, for joining us on the podcast this week! You can follow them at @jessekmiller and @colindenniston.

Maddie Kurtz is an IDA staff writer/admin, choreographer, judge, and dance educator. Check out her other articles on the IDA Blog, visit her website, and follow her @maddiekurtz92.