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Q + A with Courtney: April Edition!

Check out our podcast episode from our LIVE Q&A event! Listen now on Apple Podcasts & Spotify!

On this week’s Live Q+A episode of Making the Impact, Courtney was joined by IDA Judges and teachers Dione Hamza and Michael McCarthy. The group discussed a range of topics, including defining artistry, strengthening contemporary routines, and what judges are looking for when they judge title contestants.

One question that immediately came from a viewer was, “We've been hearing judges talk a lot about artistry. Can you explain in a practical way what artistry is? And how can a teen/senior dancer improve their artistry?” Dione emphasized the importance of feeling the music and knowing the intention behind a dance. She noted that so often, choreographers throw every trick that the dancer has into one routine, instead of paying close attention to what the dance actually needs to further the story, mood, or tone. She also explained how important it is for dancers to fully understand their song and the content of their routine to be able to fully live inside of it. Michael agreed, saying that for him, artistry comes back to connection, “how are you connecting to the music and how are you connecting to the message that you’re trying to portray to us?” He also emphasized the importance of transitions and both Dione and Michael agreed that a dancer’s energy is absolutely key when it comes to finding their full artistry.

Another topic of discussion was around contemporary routines. Let’s face it: contemporary dances have taken over the competition scene and, as a result, based on numbers and probability, they tend to win. So what makes a strong contemporary piece? Michael explained that choreographers have to first understand the differences between lyrical and contemporary dance. Lyrical technique is rooted in ballet and jazz and most judges agree that the dance should have some sort of storyline. At the same time, contemporary tends to be a little more grounded and rooted in Modern dance technique, as well as a little less codified in vocabulary and more abstract in terms of narrative. He also noted that for him, musicality helps to make a strong contemporary routine and the routines that stand out are the ones that are super dynamic. To get a fuller idea of these differences, check out Episode 4: Lyrical vs. Contemporary.

In addition to numbers playing a role in why contemporary dances tend to win, Michael also posited that since most kids want to do contemporary, they tend to be most excited about that style and therefore they give their all in terms of performance of their contemporary routine(a) and end up scoring higher. Dione also mentioned how that passion for contemporary tends to come out a little bit more obvious in block scheduling when the contemporary dances are back to back with all of the other styles, no matter the size or age of the group on stage.

After diving down the contemporary rabbit hole, the conversation later shifted to a discussion around title: what do judges look for when judging title contestants in competition? And why is there often no title option for young novice dancers? Dione first answered the latter question, explaining that for the youngest dancers, the purpose of competition is just to get them comfortable with being on stage; there’s no need to overload them to the point where a fun activity becomes stressful. When it comes to what she’s looking for, it’s all about performance quality. She explained that the top score winner and title winner often differ because of this criteria. Michael added that sometimes there’s a photogenic and/or interview component, both of which can sway the results, and at nationals, title contestants are also often judged on their performance and etiquette in convention classes throughout the week.

It was a great discussion filled with lots of wisdom, so be sure to tune into the full episode to gain more insight on even more hot topics!


Thanks to your guests, Dione Hamza and Michael McCarthy for joining us on the Q&A podcast this week! You can follow them at @dione.hamza and


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.

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