Dance competitions

It’s one thing to judge a ballet soloist among ballet soloists who are relatively the same age and have had similar training. It is quite another to judge and rate soloists who are age eight or nine competing with professional adults with many years training and experience. Throw in lindy hoppers, tap dance duos and a slew of young people who love hip hop and what have you got? Something that is basically impossible to judge without bias. You may luck out if one or more of the dancers is a natural, a born star who shimmers that je ne sais quoi and captures your heart.

If you love ballet and know it, perhaps you can appreciate the skills necessary for rating ballet competitors. However, how would you then be at judging a group of hip hop dancers who use their bodies so differently, or a child doing acrobatic dance? What if you love children, find them cute and precious and so would excuse anything in them that you know you would find fault with in an older dancer?

I scrap that mode of judging all together. If there is something technically glaring that intrudes on my enjoyment of the dancing, I will look at it and if I were judging, I may mark off for it. Otherwise, I will judge the performance by:

  • the performer’s presence: what s/he or they exude as they perform, the kind of energy they’re filled with, how interested, uplifted, or transformed I am by the dancing and dancer(s) and whether I’m carried through the entire performance without becoming distracted, annoyed, or highly dissatisfied.
  • Do I notice – sickled feet, a sudden drop in energy, something jarring, tension in arms or hands, movement that seems thrown in or from another style that doesn’t serve a purpose?
  • the craft of choreography – the experience of the art form and the elements of dance used effectively and in unique ways to create a cohesive dance that has a strong beginning, middle and end and its own kind of magic.

I watched some Live to Dance episodes and found myself completely disagreeing with the judges at times and partially agreeing on others. White Tree Fine Art struck me as having improved choreographically the second time I saw them perform. I so enjoyed these two performers until the last phrase when he was lifted up into the air over the stage floor. This seemed to come out of nowhere and somehow didn’t fit the piece. I wondered if Nikki and Ethan had been unable to finish the dance so that the last phrase had been tacked on or mentally conceived instead of flowing from what had come before. The end of the piece really jarred me.

If I were naive I’d become angry at the idea of dance competitions altogether, but I realize that for many people, especially in the U.S., competitions and team sports are a way of being. We love to cheer others on. We love being on the winning side. And for the smart producers of all the television competition shows, what a great way to provide an evening of quality dancing, drawing in people from all walks of life and opening the viewing public to new forms of dance.

But what do you do if you’re one of the competitors?

Know that a lot is luck. Celebrate that you made it as far as you did. Show us you love what you do.

Dance for most has never been about winning but instead about the joy of it, expressing one’s soul. Perhaps you thrill to learning new technique, feeling strong as you leap, jump, spin, roll and open yourself to the moment. Perhaps you love the flow of it, working to music, challenging yourself physically, or making dances. Then a competition serves as an opportunity.

Learn about technique and dance craft. Remember that dance is a visual art and not just about how you feel when you dance. Are you all about music? What about shape, design, pattern? Do you use levels, contrasting qualities and rhythm? Do you meet the audience fully, or is part of you afraid and held back or held in check? Do you flail?

If you know you gave each performance your all, you’re a winner in my book. You experience and take chances in ways that nondancers may never know and only poets can come close to describing.

Please send me your last pair of shoes, worn out with dancing as you mentioned in your letter, so that I might have something to press against my heart.
~Johann Wolfgang von Goethe