Sometimes you have to Judge: What I see at Competition
One of the things I truly enjoy doing is judging competitions. I always joke around about not judging people in life unless I am getting paid to do it, and that would be at competition. Since the first time I judged a competition, way back in the late 90’s, I have found myself sounding like a broken record when it comes to certain things…There are new things that have popped up over time and eventually worked themselves out – (clears throat) Fouettes!!! Especially in a Tap number, got way outta control for a while…That said, lets cover some of the most common things I have to say when I adjudicate a competition…Remember, it is just my opinion and there is no right or wrong(within reason).
The number 1 thing I mention when watching dancers perform has to do with turning. Besides arms being a challenge, it is spotting that drives me cray cray. I have written, literally 1000’s of times, this statement – “Be sure to spot, sharp, eye level, and on the accent”. Press your shoulders down and snap that spot. You dont need to do 500 turns for me to see your technique. So many judges I have worked with also love to remind dancers – “We would rather see one or two, really well done turns, with proper technique, rather than 3 or four poorly done turns”. These statements ring true when dancing anything from a Solo up and including Productions. I feel the better you hit those spots, on the accent, the more together a group of dancers will be. Two other turning side notes – Those turning arms come from your back near your shoulder blades AND try not to telegraph every turn….hide your preparations 😉
When I watch tap dancers I constantly note to get your knees over (or past) your toes. Use your forced arch (to make it easier or fun to remember, I call it “pop” – Pop the heels up and the knees out), think about your relationship with the floor, and press down from your center. All of this contributes to the idea of creating compression between your hips and the floor. This helps you develop a strong technique and promotes very clear, clean sounds. Also, as a tap dancer, make sure you are tapping under yourself and NOT away from yourself.
Now, I know we are all aware of how important it is to pointe your feet when you are dancing, however, this technique still eludes many dancers. I have two specific things I would like to point out on this topic. 99% of the time, even for those with excellent technique, I “bust” dancers forgetting to pointe when they are going down to, or, getting up from the floor. I think it is more a break in concentration than anything else. Make a note of it…That is the most vulnerable moment, for un-pointed feet, for so many performers. Aside from that, it is totally O.K., and often a great choice, to flex a foot here or there. I like to see that technique/leg line when it fits or is appropriate. The issue isn’t to ALWAYS have pointed feet, the issue is to have something definitive. It is when I can’t see which you are doing that I make a note, not when you are clear about what the foot is doing….Flex or Pointe; One or the other works, but a sloppy foot “just out there” doesn’t cut it.
One word – TRANSITIONS. Great rule – make every transition in a dance as important as each individual step in a dance. Transitions are the threads that tie your whole performance together. Treat them as such. They should be rehearsed and discussed. Just because you can do individual steps really well, it doesn’t mean you can do them really well in seamless succession. As a tap dancer I often take the last 4 counts of one step and the first four counts of the next step and drill that “transition” as if it was an individual step…It helps tremendously.
Let’s talk about props – First off, scenery and props are two different things. Please make a note of that. Props are awesome and should be part of a dancers learning experience. To me, scenery is not needed unless it is relevant and in a production number. That leaves “set-pieces” ex. stairs and chairs. All I want to say about this is one thing – If you bring set pieces onto the stage with you, make sure you use them for more than one 8 and more than once. Easy Peasy. I also like when the dancer brings their own props or set pieces on them self.
Speaking about “bringing on”. Entrances and exits don’t need to be elaborate (unless it has direct correlation to the “character” the performer portrays, or is relevant to a group piece). I am so grateful when I have a performer walk straight out onto the stage. Total confidence. Hit their mark, ready to go. That is the most professional way to start the majority of the performances I adjudicate.
I know how hard it is to pick songs with clean or proper lyrics. I know how hard it is to pick a song period (finding music will be a different blog post). I have read all sorts of stuff recently about teachers are not happy about how competitions are managing the whole “appropriate”, not “appropriate” songs and movement. That said, I heard both the words “Bitch” and “Sh*t” in songs used at a recent competition I adjudicated. I am just going to offer help to those who are not sure what words are in the songs they choose….Please visit Lyrics.com to check on any song you want to use for your dancer(s). That said, a Hip Hop dance isn’t a Hip Hop dance if you arent even using a Hip Hop song. Make sure you have the correct style of music for your dances. Example – Don’t do a Lyrical piece to an instrumental song. There are no lyrics….. Uh Huh.
On the same topic of appropriate; As far as choreography and movement, without getting too deep into it, I only have one serious concern I want everyone to consider at the moment…We are dealing with girls and young ladies. I know the #tilttuesday thing is super popular, however, PLEASE CAREFULLY CONSIDER WHICH BODYLINES YOU DECIDE TO SHARE OR EXPOSE TO YOUR AUDIENCE. Like the Fouette epidemic of the early to mid 2000’s there is a certain move people are over using without using logic. It has to do with a very questionable bodyline that choreographers are having dancers share with the audience on a pretty regular basis. I think we all know what I am talking about. It seems like when a “new” move or style is unleashed on the dance world people run to copy it. Instead, take the time to try create your own “move” or “style” that works for YOU. That choice will benefit you every time. I promise. It is much better than pointing your “special personal parts” at audience members because someone else did and it looked different. Moving on…..
I love stage presence. Who doesn’t? Every dancer wants that quality in their repertoire. That said, work on being natural, happy, comfortable and confident when you dance. For some people it is natural and for others it comes with time and live performances. Careful with adding un-natural, choreographed, facial expression. It can often be a distraction rather than pleasant to watch. I have seen “duck face” popping up on the face of many competition dancers. I just want to address that before it runs wild like the Fouettes and “look at my privates” epidemics. Sometimes a smile is all it takes. Along with epidemics comes song choice.
If you heard it at every competition you have ever attended – DONT USE IT ANYMORE! Just saying. If there is a super popular song, try to think outside the box. When Blurred Lines went viral I had dozens of people asking me to choreograph a piece. They all wanted to see how I would approach the rhythms and counter point. I resisted for a while until I got what I needed to be inspired to use it (and not have the SAME EXACT SONG as everyone else). I searched for a cover. Youtube is AMAZING for finding covers. I choreographed to Blurred Lines but it wasn’t the song you heard 1000’s of times, it was the version I USED covered by Frank Persico(www.reverbnation.com/frankpersico to become a fan or come like his Facebook page. Covers are brilliant and I highly suggest using them. If you haven’t seen the #Taplife – Live performance of my Blurred Lines watch the Taplife Live Performance of Blurred Lines now. To me, it works so well because you know the song but you don’t know the version. People are into it but it isn’t the “same old thing”. Here is another great version of how a cover flips the script, Sail – Acoustic Cover.
Don’t force Choreography. If a step isn’t ready, don’t put it in the dance. Perfect your movements before you bring them on stage at competition. Ex. illusions. Straightforward; Period.
Finally – This is a general rule to always remember. Make sure your energy matches the energy level of the song you’re performing to. Pretty self explanatory.
This isn’t everything I write at Competition but these are certainly the highlights. Hope this information helps and contributes to both your personal growth and professional growth (and your dancers). I truly take pride in my “job” as an adjudicator and I honestly want to help the DSI (Dance Studio Industry) as a whole. What we leave behind is our legacy. We were given a beautiful art form to protect, contribute to, and share with the youth(and audiences) of the world. Let’s make sure we do it with justice and dignity. Thank you for reading this post. I truly enjoy sharing my thoughts with you all. Namaste.