Whether it's bad behavior during awards or lip-syncing onstage, it seems every competition judge has a pet peeve or two. DT talked to three competition insiders: Phyllis Balagna of Steppin' Out—The Studio; Lauren Adams, faculty member and judge with New York City Dance Alliance; and Noelle Pate from Starpower. Here's what drives them crazy, and what you can do to avoid making their "don't" lists.
Pet Peeve #1: Lip-syncing. "I can understand maybe mouthing a few words here and there, but to lip-sync an entire song—no, no, no," Phyllis Balagna says. "Dancers must learn to perform routines with natural, unforced facial expressions. As a judge, I find it distracting. I want to focus on the choreography, staging, dynamics, storytelling abilities and, of course, their talent."
Pet Peeve #2: Unexecuted movement. "Follow through and finish what you start," says Lauren Adams. "Make sure your dancers finish each movement. If they don't have enough time, it's OK to pull some phrases to make it more attainable. When you fully complete the movements, the work will be more connected, grounded and energetically charged."
Pet Peeve #3: Over-rehearsing. "Don't exhaust the kids before it's time to perform," Noelle Pate says. "It's smart to run through your dances before going onstage, but conducting full-on rehearsals in a hallway, on the grass or out on the street is just dangerous. Be confident in your rehearsals from the studio and trust your dancers."
Pet Peeve #4: Tricks. "It's hard to watch movement that can potentially harm the body," says Adams. "The dancers need to understand where each movement initiates, and to dance from a supported place. I become disengaged when there are too many elements separate from the expression of the piece. For example: The dancer is having an emotional experience in her lyrical solo and then suddenly starts throwing second turns or leg extensions into the piece with no expression in the eyes. As a choreographer, you need to find a way to make that phrase connected. Focus on the artistic details of the routine, so it doesn't feel like a compulsory skating competition filled with tricks."
Pet Peeve #5: Hovering teachers. "It's so distracting when I'm judging and I see teachers standing in the wings and peeking around the curtains to see what the judges' reactions are," Balagna says. "Part of our job as teachers is to trust our students, stand back and allow them to perform to their fullest. Once your dancers are assembled and ready for the stage, they need to bond as a group. They are capable of getting on and offstage alone. Don't be a distraction to them or the judges."