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What Makes You Stand Out When The Competition Is Fierce

Guest Blog Article by: Vanessa Huntoon

Dancer: Shea Levine

Competition season has finally arrived! All of your hard work - and your teachers' hard work - is ready to be showcased. As a judge with over 20 years of experience , as well as 16 as a professional dancer in LA, I consider myself well-rounded and versatile in all styles. So when the competition is filled with fierce competitors, what do I look for when placing those top spots?

If everyone is executing the same technical elements in the style that they are competing in, there has to be something that makes you stand out. As a judge, I take entertainment value into huge consideration. Every number doesn’t have to be a super dramatic, sad contemporary piece. If I see a fun, well-executed tap or jazz routine, and I enjoyed every moment, or it made me feel something, or it made me want dance with you, this is what I look for. It’s what I call the “it“ factor. Your dance should be able to appeal to the masses, both dancers and non-dancers alike. Maybe someone watching knows nothing about dance, but feels whatever emotion the piece is trying to convey. It could be as moving as a story-telling lyrical or a fun, upbeat musical theatre dance that makes them smile. As dancers, we are artists that display art through movement and athleticism.

Make bold choices and take risks. If you aren’t sure what the piece is about, ask your choreographer. The steps are just the way to tell the story or convey an emotion. Judging is all subjective, so as a judge, I can feel excited about a number and maybe my fellow judges didn’t feel the same. As a judge, I respect that risk taking. Even if the routine is not is not my personal style or preference, I will always score a piece higher that comes out with commitment and with the passion and love for dance shown clearly throughout the routine. I tell my students that I’d rather a judge either love your routine or hate your routine, but the goal is to make them feel something. That is a bigger compliment to me than a generic response, with the same critiques and same consistent scores.

Dancer: Kaili Olmsted - Delmonico Dance

It’s not about just the steps, but making the audience and yourself feel what you are trying to convey with the presentation. I was once told by a former teacher that an amazing dancer can make any choreography look good. This is true. This is because of their commitment.

We dance because we love it, not for the placements or trophies. We dance to share our passion. Don’t be afraid to let the audience members into your performance and allow us to connect to your feeling and movement. I will always put artistry and real feelings first. I have seen many beautiful numbers that are jam-packed with hard elements, but for some reason I felt nothing. I would score higher the dancer with one less turn or lower leg extension, but who moved me.

So go out this season and share your passion. That’s what the judges want to see! Don’t be afraid to let your heart take over. Your technique and hard work will already be in place. Enjoy your time out there on that stage. I can’t wait to see you all shine this season!


Vanessa Huntoon received her training in Arizona at Ballet Arizona, Dance Connection, and Dance Source with Brian Friedman. She was chosen to be on the prestigious Edge scholarship in Los Angeles with some of the top teachers in the industry . She worked as a professional dancer for over 15 years and on many tv shows and commercials with leading music artists. She has been an experienced dance educator for over 20 years teaching across the country with dance competitions, setting choreography at studios and working as a competitive dance adjudicator.

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