In the good ‘ole days, dance competitions would provide teachers with an audio cassette tape of judges’ comments as well as a stack of papers with scribbled commentary and corrections. Teachers could either pass this on to their students as-is or decipher the hieroglyphics for them. Although dancers walk away with tangible ribbons/trophies/cash, it is important for teachers and parents to ensure they are also learning from the experience. The judges’ score sheets provide can educate in a very real way, but if it is impossible to read or understand – well, you’re not really getting the most out of those entry fees, now are you?
Most score sheets contain five categories or some variation of these: Appearance, Choreography, Technique, Presentation (Overall Effect), and Showmanship. They can be worded a few different ways, and it may seem like some of the categories overlap. For example, Showmanship and Overall Effect may go hand in hand because the dancers’ showmanship contributes to the judges’ overall opinions of the routine. Also, technique and choreography may go together because of “difficulty.” Essentially, the difficulty is choreographed in the dance; however, the dancer’s technique makes that difficulty possible. Let’s break down the score sheet for some deeper understanding.
Appearance is an easy one, and as I like to say to my students, can easily score points. What does your costume look like and how does it fit? How do you fix your hair and makeup? How appropriate are all of these things for your age and the music selected? Let’s say you’re dancing to a song called “When I’m sad, I wear black,” but you’re wearing a bright pink, frilly dress. The costume is not appropriate for the music. What if that same costume was put on a 20 year old dancer? The costume should fit the mood of the song as well as the dancer’s age. It should also not hinder or distract from your performance in any way. For example, there has been a trend in dance competitions where students performed contemporary routines with long, straight hair. When done correctly, this can be beautiful. But even the slightest problem and it’s distracting, your hair is getting stuck in your lip gloss, and by the end of the dance, you look like a sweaty, messy hair, disaster. No one likes a disaster.
Choreography can include a number of different things. Is the choreography original or creative? Formation changes and the creation of levels within the routine can add to these points for creativity as well as add to the variety of movement. The student’s musicality also comes into play here because they need to be able to sit the choreography they are given right in the “sweet spot” or the “pocket” of the music…just some ambiguous terms for making sure the choreography compliments the music and the dancer brings these two elements together. Finally, difficulty is a major part of the choreography score. Is the routine difficult enough for the dancer’s division and age group? A 17 year old advanced soloist would not do single pirouettes, pivots, and step ball changes because the difficulty level does not seem appropriate for her age. So, what does this mean for kids who can’t really do difficult jumps and turns but really love to dance? Find a competition that separates each routine into different ability levels. It’s never to late to compete, but you also don’t want to be discouraged because you’re incapable of holding up to those who have been competing since age 5.
Technique is almost always the highest weighted section of any score sheet. It is the bread and butter of why you compete in the first place. It is the tie breaker for title awards and overall scores (if necessary). This is also a very broad and somewhat subjective section because there are so many different components. Some judges focus on feet and legs, while others focus on core strength and shoulder placement. Since this is such a long topic, I’ve written a separate blog on competitive technique. Check it out here.
Presentation/Overall Effect can be assessed a few different ways, but as a judge, I always used this section to give the dance a “Pick a number, one through ten” score. It didn’t matter what their competitors were like; instead, I used this section to assess my overall enjoyment. Did I want to watch it again? Was it entertaining? Did it leave me with heightened emotions – sadness, happiness, amazement? Then, I would give the dancer a score based on my overall opinion of the dance after it was through. Rarely, did I give the dancer less than 5 out of 10 points. Half of the battle is getting on the stage, and truthfully, the dancers are not completely in control of what is presented. This is the category where they can make or break the points value simply by being themselves.
Showmanship is one of my favorite categories to judge and probably my least favorite to teach. As a judge, I get to see cute smiles and beautiful displays of emotion but as a teacher, it is often difficult to pull emotions out of a dancer that has yet to experience that emotion. Heartbreak, for example, is probably not possible for a 10 year old dancer. They will try, of course, but the emotion will not come from an honest and true place. An honest emotion, even down to a realistic smile, is the core of a showmanship score. How that honest emotion is projected to the audience (known as “projection” on some score sheets) is also part of this score.
Nowadays, more and more companies are moving towards video commentary and digital score sheets to make the most out of the competitive experience. I recently attended Starpower competition in Baton Rouge, LA with my studio (Lakeview Creative Arts Center), and I was pleasantly surprised with their system. After the competition, I was sent an email that contained a link to their online video commentary. No paper to keep track of? Score! And, I can forward the email to my students so they can access their comments. They are able to view a video with commentary within the file, therefore being able to see what the judges mean at the exact moment it happens. Now, “Stretch those feet!” is doable because they can see exactly where the feet weren’t stretched. No more playing a guessing game!
Let’s get real here. I’m not promising that after reading this blog you will win a dance title nor am I guaranteeing a first overall win. But what I will promise you is that a lot of what you’re about to read you already think you know. You have felt like you (or a fellow dancer) were unfairly judged at the last competition you attended. But let’s face it…technique is almost always the highest weighted section of any score sheet. It is the bread and butter of why you compete in the first place and could be the tie breaker for overall placements. It’s also a broad and somewhat subjective assessment of how you dance. Each judge focuses on certain technical elements because of their former training. While one judge may notice every foot and leg problem, the judge right next to them can find arm placement most important.
In my personal experience as a teacher, dance team coach, and competition judge, here are my 5 hot ticket technical elements essential to maximizing your technique score:
Remember dancers – you never know what the judges are looking for. But studying these 5 technical elements and implementing some corrections in your competition routines will help you increase your technique score. Also, don’t forget that every time you compete, you are being scored by three different people. The score you receive is largely based on their opinion that day. Don’t let low scores get you down; keep working hard and soon you will see yourself in first place!
You’ve seen it before – a soloist enters the stage in a beautiful, rhinestone-filled dance costume and, as you look down at your own catalog-purchased ensemble, you wonder how much it cost them to have the costume made. What doesn’t help is TV shows like Toddlers in Tiaras talking about how their pageant costumes cost thousands of dollars. With entry fees and dance lessons, how could you possibly afford to buy one of those costumes?
The good news is that a lot of these dance teachers and parents are able to assemble these costumes for relatively less than you might think. The trick is to find the appropriate “base” for the costume that will save you on having a seamstress assemble it. Here are some tips for finding and creating great competition costumes, even if you can’t really sew:
1. Discounted formal gowns: When department stores put gowns on clearance after prom season, snatch up the ones that don’t feature billowing skirts or designs that would be difficult to cut. Also, some fabrics will fray, so stick to the silky, heavier fabric. Cut the dress to the desired length and either hem the bottom or use a bonding agent such as Fabri-Tac or Stitch Witch to ensure the edge is finished. Add some bloomers or booty shorts underneath and you’ve got a solo costume that no one else will have.
2. Booty shorts and tops: When you want a costume with a little less coverage, the best thing to do is to buy booty shorts and top set in a color or pattern that you love. For a jazz routine, zebra print booty shorts with a colorful top may also be a great option. You can add rhinestones to the entire ensemble, add a tutu or ruffles to the back of the shorts, or add a cute cropped jacket. These are some simple add-ons that goes a long way. Just make sure when you’re stitching it to the back of the shorts, you leave room for the material to stretch over the dancer’s bottom when putting the costume on. A good rule of thumb for this is to either tack it on when they have it on their body or pin the tutu and sew it while it’s off.
3. Lingerie: Yes, you may hesitate at putting your child in lingerie, but there are actually some really great options that don’t appear racy once they are rhinestoned and accessorized. A good option for this is to find a baby doll lingerie dress that does not feature sheer fabric. Bigger department stores such as Wal-Mart and K-Mart will have inexpensive options to start with. Add some rhinestones to the dress, and experiment with beaded trims to accent an empire waist.
Sophia Lucia has been posting pirouette videos for a few weeks now, gradually adding more and more turns in the hopes of beating the record held by Alicia Clifton for the most pirouettes in passe. Just a few days ago, Lucia recorded an amazing 39 turns at her studio in California. She is only 9 years old but will certainly be a force to be reckoned with in the world of dance! Click on the link below to see her most recent YouTube post:
A common problem among dancers and dance teachers is finding hip hop music that is appropriate for all audiences. When giving a performance, there are usually many age groups in the crowd. While teens and young adults may like certain song selections, older age groups may prefer something entirely different. There are many ways to ensure your song selection will be well received by all audiences.
First, try to select a theme for the routine. Some of the most excellent themes take a word or phrase and use songs that follow that word or phrase. For example, you may select songs with the name “Baby” in the title and do an entire routine surrounding that word. Using a grouping of songs that follow this pattern, the routine could be about growth or learning to dance from a small child. This will allow older members of the audience not familiar with the song selections to have a connection to the routine and maximize enjoyment overall.
Secondly, popular music is not always the best choice. Many older audience members will claim they have no idea what the song is saying. Or younger members will say they’ve heard a certain song too many times and they’ve since grown tired of it. Your music should be interesting to hear and also fresh to the audience’s ears.
Finally, look for interesting parts of songs. Find a song with great “break down” sections to vamp up your compilation. There are acoustic versions of many songs that will add some dimension to the mix. Karaoke versions of some songs also allow you to hear some of the beats you would not normally hear over the lyrics.
Making a great hip hop mix is a difficult task, but if you can master some new tricks, you could create a great song compilation that all audiences will enjoy!
Getting ready for a dance competition can be really exciting but also very scary, especially if you’ve never competed before. Here are some tools to use when getting ready for the big event:
Because of all the TV exposure choreographers are getting in recent years, we are able to understand the magic behind a fabulous dance piece: the choreographer. Hours of sweat, tears, and more sweat are put into what evokes emotions in us we never knew we had, but we don’t take the time to understand where the movement comes from. Choreographers are the “(wo)man behind the curtain,” so to speak — the often unrecognized reason we are able to enjoy dance in the first place.
Gina Starbuck is a triple threat performer who has worked with celebrities such as Nikki Minaj, Josh Kelley, Gavin DeGraw, and many more. She is also an accomplished singer/songwriter and her debut EP, Pieces of My Mind, is available on iTunes. On faculty at many different studios and conventions, Starbuck has also worked with TV shows such as America’s Got Talent, So You Think You Can Dance, and, most recently, Mobbed. But if this isn’t enough, she is also a philanthropist; her annual fundraiser, Art4Life, raises money for the American Cancer Society and supports cancer awareness.
I first encountered Gina Starbuck at a Hollywood Vibe Dance Convention in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. I hadn’t really heard of her before, but from her picture on the lobby’s display board, I gathered that she was spicy and maybe a little bit intense. I had forced one of my male students to take the entire convention, although he was only interested in hip hop and had never taken a jazz class before. He was definitely dragging around that morning, regretting the fact the he ever agreed to do as I asked and attend the entire convention. So…in walks Gina, a tiny little redhead with tons of personality. The class lit up as she took the stage, and I was intrigued. If she is capable of making a room of teenagers wake up on a Saturday morning, she must be something special.
It’s been about a year since we attended that convention, and I still get requests to play the song Miss Gina used in class so that my student can go over “his jazz dance.” It created a fire in him to broaden his dance horizons and learn more styles. He has since learned that he is a very fast tapper and is more flexible on his left side. His double pirouette is getting better every day, but his jumps are what he wants to work on the most. It’s hard to believe that a spunky little firecracker got this reaction out of him, but that’s the magic of an excellent choreographer and teacher. Thank you Gina Starbuck for the impression you’ve left on my student and students across the United States.
In case you don’t already know, Dance Moms is a reality that follows the Abby Lee Dance Company as they compete around the United States. Season two is shaping up to be very interesting as a new little girl, Kendall, is added to the team. According to Abby Lee, she isn’t as technical as the other girls (despite the fact that she has an Ah-mazing aerial and can turn for days like the rest of them), but we are more interested in the fact that her mom Jill drove for an hour and a half to attend class for the past few years when Abby Lee was right down the street. The moms obviously feel threatened by her; when Christy whips out past competition books (who keeps those, anyway?) to show that her daughter Chloe and Melissa’s daughter Maddie beat Kendall in a past competition, Jill seems very taken aback. I’m sure any mom would in that situation.
So, the question we ask of you is this — do you feel threatened by anyone at your studio? What do you do to handle the situation and (hopefully) remain calm?
The worst thing for any soloist is to be prepared to take the stage during a competition and suddenly, you hear your music playing! After rushing to the wings to make sure you didn’t miss your routine, you realize another dancer has the exact same music. For a competition judge, it is difficult to separate the two routines when they are set to the same music. Here are some tips to selecting a piece that will work for the dancer(s) and also be original:
Get as creative as you can when searching for a piece of music. Use what inspires you to create a piece that will mean something to you. Winning an award would just be icing on the cake!