Becoming an adjudicator / judge has been one of the pivotal moments in my career as a dancer. Having a peek at the other side of the dance floor, I've had my fair share of realizations. Now that I have started judging dancesport competitions in Asia, I have come to realize that there are certain aspects that we take for granted as competitors. Some of these might seem obvious, but I can still see a lot of competitors make these mistakes over and over again.
Once you've trained and done hours of practice perfecting your timing, posture, footwork, characterization, choreography and presentation, it's time to get on that floor and compete for the top spot. When you do, bring these tips with you:
1. Face the judges with confidence
As soon as you enter that competition floor, keep your head held high and your chin up. On certain occasions where I’ve been judging, I have encountered competitors who have looked at me with frightened eyes, troubled eyes, or eyes who dart around with nervousness. This already gives me a first impression that you are not ready and well-prepared. Don’t be scared of judges! We’re people too. And after all, unless your organization has hired someone who has never competed in dancesport, then these judges know exactly how you feel and what it feels like to be on that floor with all that pressure. If you’re still too uncomfortable to look people in the eye, here’s a quick trick: look them in the forehead in between their eyes. It makes them think you’re making eye contact even if you’re not. Most importantly, don’t be too hard on yourself and try to have fun! You’ve already done the hard work with all that training and that’s already an achievement in itself.
There are rare times that no matter how much you practice and train, nerves get the best out of dancers and you fail to show the judges the perfect spirals and spins that you've spent hours practicing. For this, I wrote a blog post about tips on managing your nerves which may help you on the day of the competition.
2. Show your number
I know this is quite obvious, but I still see a lot of competitors make this mistake. In the most recent competition I was judging in, there were actually a couple of dancers – especially the male partner since they carry the competition number on their back – who did not have a single part in their routine where they showed their number to the other side of the floor. They faced me the whole time and I didn’t get a chance to look at their number and I had to make a mental memory of the good ones and wait until they left the floor so I could get and write down their number to mark them into the next round. And this was the eliminations, where there’s a huge number of competitors on the floor. I’m not sure if all judges will have the same patience to wait until a dance is over and you’re walking out of the floor to mark you. So make sure your choreography is going around so that there is a chance that the man is able to face all sides of the floor.
3. Have a game plan
Another thing I have realized as a judge, in general, elimination rounds is when we pick the best ones from the lot to give them a chance to get into the next round. There is no ranking yet and there is no careful analysis of each and every aspect of your technique. During the finals, when there are only six couples on the floor, is when judges have time to carefully assess. We are asked to rank couples so we get to compare them with other competing couples and really check the quality of each.
Following this assumption, I suggest you prepare a strategy that will pace you for the whole duration of the competition. Elimination rounds are when you really need to get noticed and picked out from a crowded dance floor. Maybe you can start your routine on the parts where you have an eye-catching highlight followed by a well-executed basic step. Or maybe you want to start with a very strong and fast intro to your routine. No matter what it is, make sure to grab attention in the most elegant of ways. Once you finally get into that Final, you are no longer fighting for attention. There is plenty of space on the dance floor for six couples. And the judges will for sure look at you as judges will need to assess and compare you to the other five in order to do their job and deliver their ranked couples from first to sixth place. It is during this time that you can amaze them with the quality of your dancing. Show them your world-class technique and flawlessly executed basic steps.
4. Know your dance floor
Aside from floor craft and knowing where you need to start and end up on the floor with your routine, one thing couples forget (or take for granted) is the lighting. Let’s face it, not all competition venues have the best lighting. Know your dance floor. It helps to watch categories before yours. You will notice where there are dark areas on the floor and areas that are flooded with spot lights – where competitors are more visibly seen. It is not the most important thing for competitions, but it certainly shouldn’t be taken for granted. After all, in a competition where there are twelve couples (or more) on the floor and judges are given a minute and a half to decide, you wouldn’t want to be the dance couple dancing in the dark corner.
5. Have style
Lastly, be “visually pleasing”. Style does not only mean following the latest trends on the dance floor (if done right, being the odd one out can sometimes work too), it also means really knowing your body type and working with highlighting your assets and improving your weaknesses. For example, if your legs aren’t that long, make sure the lower part of your costume starts above your hip bone for both men and women. For women, make sure your skirt is cut either very high up on the hips, on the knees, or really low to the ankles. Anything in between will make your legs look shorter. If you are blessed with the gift of style, then you are lucky! If not, consult with a stylist, or work with a great designer to plan your whole look. I myself know some rules in style as I’ve taken Social Graces and Personality Development classes where one of the course is power dressing. Maybe you can look one up for yourself too. It always helps to get constant feedback from a trusted circle / team. After all, your look on the floor (hair, makeup, costume, shoes) can either attract to or distract judges from your dancing. For more help, I wrote another post on this: Common Mistakes Dancers Make that Distracts from their Dancing.