The 2021 Competition Season - Best Practices for Block Scheduling

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As 2020 draws to a close, dancers across the country are gearing up for the 2021 competition season. With the COVID pandemic still raging, competitions are, inevitably, going to look a little different this season, as they’ve already started to throughout the late summer and fall with makeup and pre-season events. This week, Courtney and Lesley chatted with IDA judges Marissa Anderson and Hillary Zbyszinski to talk about this new normal and how to best navigate it. Both judges have attended and/or judged events in the current climate and are able to offer valuable insight.


One way that competitions are keeping attendees safe is through block scheduling, which is when each studio is allotted a time slot to compete all of their routines, usually two or three studios at a time. This means that the dancers (and parents!) are in and out within the span of just a few hours. Obviously, this presents many challenges, especially for the judges who are used to seeing routines from all studios spread throughout the weekend.


While Hillary notes that critiques will probably not change much since all dancers should still always receive quality feedback for all routines, judges agree that scoring might look different. While judges always look at what is presented to them at face value, many competitions require judges to find a range of scores based on the talent level of the city. This requirement is mandated by the competitions and is harder to find when seeing the same dancers performing over and over in the same level with choreography that probably looks similar. The situation might also feel somewhat uncomfortable if two studios at opposite ends of the scoring spectrum are competing in a given block and the adjudication scores end up falling in super high and low pockets of the numerical scale. Courtney suggests watching the livestream of the rest of the competition to better understand the scoring and rankings. Tuning into the livestream can also help to inspire everyone and create the amazing energy that we usually feel during a packed competition weekend.


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Another major challenge is for choreographers. Normally, even if many of a studio’s routines look similar, they’re interspersed over the course of the weekend so it is less noticeable. Now, with this recital-like format, it will be super obvious if all routines look the same. Mariss encourages choreographers to get creative and instead of viewing these new guidelines as limitations, use them as an exciting way to innovate. Hillary suggests that choreographers bring in someone who doesn’t know much about dance competitions to take a look at all of their routines. If that person thinks all of the dances look the same, consider making some adjustments. It’s also a good idea to have someone take a look at all of the solos that one choreographer has created since these similarities will be extra pronounced.


A few other cons of this new system include the difficulties for the dancers. First, the turnaround time is quick which means that dancers need more stamina than usual to get through all of their routines with fewer breaks in between. Additionally, dancers can’t see their competition compete live, nor do they get to experience the excitement of award ceremonies. Also, unfortunately, dancers can’t run their routines before they take the stage. However, Marissa and Hillary both suggest looking at these supposed negative aspects as positive ones.


Marissa notes that her students never run their dances before they compete because they are expected to be focused and ready to go on arrival. Hillary agrees, noting that if the dancers don’t know the routines by the time they arrive, one run isn’t going to make a difference. On the topic of stamina, the block schedule model presents a great mirror to the professional world where dancers have to sustain themselves for multiple hours if they’re in a show. Block scheduling focuses dancers’ energy and forces more professionalism and preparation. One other positive takeaway is that parents don’t have to give up an entire weekend for competition--dancers are in and out within the span of three hours. In a lot of cases, this new normal also shifts the focus from trophies to education. Quality critiques are still part of the package, even if scoring looks different, and because overall awards don’t happen live, everyone pays more attention to special judges’ awards.


While block scheduling might not be ideal, it’s certainly better than no competitions and dancers should remain grateful for any opportunity to perform. Let’s all remember to give ourselves--dancers, teachers,


parents, and judges--and each other some grace as we get through these difficult times, and continue to look forward to a return to competitions the way we’ve known and loved them for decades!

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Thanks to our guests, Hillary Zbyszinski and Marissa Anderson, for joining us on the podcast this week! You can follow them at @hzbyszinski and @marissastaniecdance.

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.