No matter how much you and your dancers rehearse, things can go wrong at Nationals. But don’t wait until you get there to anticipate tricky situations. DT spoke with competition circuit judge Sarah Jo Fazio about how to prepare your dancers for nightmares at Nationals.

"Memorable routines are clean and original," says longtime judge Sarah Jo Fazio. (Darlene Ceglia's Dance Project at DanceAmerica)

What should dancers do if . . .


. . . they forget what they’re doing onstage? Remember this: The judges don’t know the dance! As long as you keep moving, the judges won’t know whether or not you’re doing the correct moves. My motto is “When in doubt, chaîné out.” Do a chaîné turn, take a breath and do anything you can come up with. Try to get your mind back in the routine and just keep moving.

If you blank during a group dance, look around and figure out where you are. Look at the person next to you and try to get back on the music.


. . . the music skips or shuts off in the middle of their performance? I like it when the dancers keep going. They can gain points from me for doing that. If you hear the song in your head, that’s all you need. The competition will usually let you perform again, but if you just keep going with a smile and don’t let it affect you, you’ll get a good score. The music becomes irrelevant if you’re able to perform without it.


. . . they fall or drop a prop in the middle of the routine? If the prop isn’t necessary—like a hat—leave it alone. But if it’s a prop you’re going to use and it’s vital to the dance, find a way to strategically get it back, like reaching down to grab it during a move.

If you fall, pop right back up and keep going. Do what you have to do to keep going. You never know what you’re going to get on different stages. Some are slick and others are sticky. You can’t control the floor and neither can the judges. A fall is a fall and I hardly ever deduct points for it.


. . . they get injured before the weekend is over? Your health is more important than a competition. Take care of your body first. It makes me very stressed out when I see a dancer come onstage wearing a knee brace. That means there’s something wrong with her knee and she needs to let it heal.


What are the most common mistakes you see? I see choreographers putting steps into routines that they think will earn the dancer a high score—but because the moves are not executed properly, it actually lowers the score. A great example is the fouetté turn. Don’t put it in the routine unless it can be done exceptionally well.

As a judge, I want to see a dancer do her best. So don’t show me any weak-nesses. I rarely give points, but I do take them away. Every dancer starts out with the full amount of points I can give her. If I see a move that she can’t perform well, she loses points from me. Had she never attempted that particular move, I wouldn’t have known she couldn’t do it, and she would’ve kept her points.



Photo: Darlene Ceglia’s Dance Project at DanceAmerica. Photo courtesy of Darlene Ceglia's Dance Project.

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