Hear it from a Dance Judge

by Miss Tara

I love it when dancers don’t dance apologetically; when they are dancing full out, and connecting to their audience and music and are committed to their choreography; drawing us in, inviting us to be a part of what they are dancing; projecting to the balcony and beyond.  You can never discount technique, as it is imperative.  However, do not forget about that command of the stage through your presence, preparation, polish and being genially committed to what you are doing will get you places!

One of my favorite parts about judging is that I have the ability to offer feedback to dancers in new ways that may click differently for them. Right away, I want them to know I enjoyed being there and adjudicating their performance. I think that comes across through a positive tone and consistent commentary from introduction to the end of the critique. I always try to give concrete, constructive critiques, instead of making general statements like “stretch your feet,” or “reach from your back.” I give notes on what I think they can improve on but I also let them know what I loved.  Kids and teachers feel better about hearing what needs work when they also hear what they are doing well! I encourage them to keep doing those things and continue to work on the other comments given to bring it to that next level. I always try to give shout-outs to dancers who are drawing my attention and focusing on the positive elements of what I’m watching. If someone is absolutely killing it out there, I definitely want them to know!  I always consider the age of the dancer(s) on stage, and speak to them as I would my own students.  Younger dancers understand things differently than older, more mature teens.  I also think it is helpful to give tips on how to apply the critique I am presenting, and I try to use imagery to convey the message without having the ability to speak directly to the dancers and teachers.  It is important to me that children are able to listen to their critiques and hear something their teacher has not previously said, or at least hear it in a way they have not heard it before 


Nothing can replace being prepared so there is no anxiety over the sorts of things that can be prevented.  Remember, we are on your side as a judge.  We want to see you succeed.  Being “judged” sounds so ominous.  We however don’t really get wrapped up in mistakes, but look more at how you recover from them and what you give us a whole.  Have fun, relax, enjoy your gifts as a dancer and share them with the audience and us.  There is only one you – come out and show us what makes you who you are!  I often say to dancers on critiques, “come onto the stage and ask for it!”  We want to give it to you!


I think the most exciting takeaway for me as a judge has been seeing all of the amazing talent; it is so exhilarating to get to witness the next generation of dancers in action! Judging has also made me a better teacher because sitting at that table forces me to be extremely articulate with my language choices on my critiques; I cannot rely on my abilities to demonstrate or offer feedback. By bringing this clearer, more specific communication into the studio, I think I am able to appeal to a greater variety of learning styles in a given class, which helps all my students. I also get inspired choreographically, and cannot wait to get back in the classroom with my students to inspire them and share my great passion of dance!


One of the most challenging things is making sure you are talking and offering critiques throughout the entire dance, that are beneficial.  Everyone knows that they need to point their toes more, or reach further.  Coming up with helpful critiques and thinking of things to say in all styles, even if they are not your area of expertise, to further a performance or a dance as a whole is challenging in the short amount of time we have to see the dance. 


When a judge is judging they have a sheet that tells them the score someone needs to achieve to be awarded a certain place.  Therefore, when they are watching a dance, they use a cheat sheet to tell them what range of numbers they need to enter into their computer to make sure the dancer receives a gold or platinum, etc.  When the scores reach the tabulator, they look over the individual judge’s scores and enters them into the computer to get the final score.  If a dance is .3 or closer to moving to the next highest award level, the tabulator will discuss with the director if the dance should be moved up to the next award level or not.  If the director and tabulator both agree, the dance should be moved to the next award level; they go back to the lowest scoring judge and have them change their scores.  They do this so there is a wide range of awards at the ceremony instead of just all high golds, etc.  Sometimes though, if a studio has say 3 dances that have scored at the highest level already, they may decide to leave the dance alone and award it where it originally placed.


Every weekend, competition judges sit through hundreds of routines. If you want them to remember your performance, you have to show that you are enjoying yourself onstage. You can do 12 pirouettes in a row, but if I do not see your personality, I am not into it.  If you can whip out a clean double with confidence and you are living it up onstage, I love it.

At the end of the day, remember your score is a reflection of someone’s opinion on that particular day. Dance is subjective. Each judge will look at each routine a different way.  Competition doesn’t determine the success you’re going to have or what kind of dancer you’re going to be. Do not let it define who you are as a dancer.  Use competition as a chance to grow as both a performer and as a person. Dance because you believe in what you’re doing. There might be someone who can do more pirouettes than you can, or who has higher extension than you do. However, no one can be more you than you can. So show us you. 


– Miss Tara
PDC Dance Instructor & Competition Dance Judge