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12 Performance Tips From Competition Judges Who Have Seen It All

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Help your dancers improve their performance—and scores—with this advice from veteran competition faculty: Martha Nichols, Judy Rice and Suzi Taylor.


Connect with your ensemble.

Everyone can be dancing at the same time, but not necessarily together, because they don't acknowledge each other. "Relax and have a good time," says Martha Nichols of New York City Dance Alliance. "Be grateful to be up there dancing with the people who you like. Be truly present onstage."

Check out these Latin dancers as they connect and dance together on the World of Dance stage.👇

Mind the musicality.

Dancers need to listen to the music, and teachers need to work with their students to actually listen.

Here's an example of Keone and Mari Madrid finding magic in their musicality.👇

Pay attention to transitions.

Be creative with transitions so they're transparent (we don't see them). In other words, don't use skipping to go from one combination to another. Transitions separate the amateur from the professional.

If you're looking for inspiration, we're big fans of Chad McCall's seamless transitions set on these Orange County Performing Arts Academy Dancers. Give 'em a look!👇

Choreograph well within the technical ability of your dancers.

Don't be seduced by tricks, and keep choreography appropriate to the technical level of the students. "Resist the urge to stick poorly performed fouettés in each number," says Judy Rice of Artists Simply Human. "It's a holdover from the days of mandatory tricks."

This Sabrina Phillip combo? Yeah, it definitely fits the technical ability of the dancers. Plus there isn't a single fouetté in it! Excuse us please—we're drooling.👇

Be consistent when it comes to style.

Don't stick a classical pirouette in a hip-hop piece.

Kyle Hanagami knows how to make each piece of movement feel entirely appropriate to the genre he's choreographing. This one is a must-watch!👇

Wings are for exits and entrances.

Dancers should not be visible in the wings, and they should be clear on which wing to come and go from. Go over this with your dancers before you get onstage.

Brightyn Brems, Dance Awards 2017 Mini Female Best Dancer winner, demonstrates how to stay out of sight while in the wings.👇

Start strong.

First impressions count. Even the way you come out onto the stage and stand is important.

Travis Wall's "Strange Fruit" on this season of SYTYCD has one of the strongest starts we've ever seen. Honestly, we've got chills. Give it a watch.👇

Avoid unflattering angles.

Turn or angle movements to avoid crotch shots.

Here's Tate McRae showing off her lines with the perfect angle.👇

Costumes should match the tone of the piece.

An earthy number set to a cool indie song should not be costumed in hot-pink dresses with sequins and diamonds. It's confusing. And factor to consider, seeing tiny tots covered in bling while gyrating to a suggestive song is a hot-button issue for judges, so make sure the costumes are age-appropriate.

Here's a 2015 throwback for you. Justin Bieber's costume team deserves a bonus for staying on point with this video.👇

Just say no to stirrup tights with shoes.

Stirrup tights are fine with bare feet, but they cut the line with shoes.

Check out Dyllan Blackburn in her winning mini jazz solo at Radix Nationals 2017. She steered clear of the stirrup tights/shoe combo. #winner👇

Tags have to go.

Cut the tags out of your costumes and use a Sharpie to mark out visible brand labels on shirts.

Like this👇

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Wear the pair.

The trend of wearing only one shoe so you can turn needs to stop. No professional company does this and neither should anyone in a competition team.

Here is a video of Shaping Sound performing on The Ellen DeGeneres show with cohesive footwear. It's all or nothing, and we think they nailed it.👇

Dance Buzz
PC Break the Floor

Two competition routines are equal in technical proficiency, artistry and choreography. One consists of all girls, the other includes a boy. Guess which takes home first prize?

If you guessed the one with the boy, you may be privy to an unspoken and much-debated phenomenon in the competition dance world: The Boy Factor. According to The Boy Factor, a competitive piece is more likely to win if there's a boy in it.

"If it's all technically equal and one group is all girls and the other group has a boy, the one with the boy will win," says Rysa Childress, owner of All Star Studios in Forest Hills, New York. "Boy soloists are sometimes scored higher than more technically proficient girls because if a boy has good stage presence, we let him slide," says an anonymous competition judge. "And most of the feedback will be for the boy."



The Boy Factor doesn't just have to do with competition scores: It's how we treat boys throughout their dance education. "We idolize the boys," says Ashley Harnish, a teacher at a competition studio. "We build entire dances around one boy, and we teach them that we need them more than we need the girls."

On the surface, The Boy Factor is flagrant sexism. But what's really behind the phenomenon? "So often, young male dancers are bullied because our culture says that dance is for girls," says a second national competition adjudicator. "This stigma pushes some judges to reward boys by scoring them higher than their female competitors." The Boy Factor also stems from a simple fact: There are far more girls than boys in the dance world.

"Judges see boys as valuable commodities," says Marissa Jean, a staff member at Broadway Dance Center's new building for children and teens and a teacher at several competition studios. "To encourage their career in dance, judges will throw a little extra their way. It could be placing them in the top ten or giving them a special award. They nurture them a bit more than the girls."



But by trying to retain more male talent, are we suggesting to girls that they are less valuable to the dance world than boys? "There's so much about this getting into these kids' psyches," says Childress. "Like, 'Oh the boy will beat me no matter what.' How do we teach self-worth knowing that you're going up against a boy, so what's the point?"

The Boy Factor is a product of and a contributor to the culture that sends the few men in dance up the glass escalator: "Many boys growing up in the dance world are not told the word 'no' often, so they tend to climb the professional ranks more quickly than the women," says Jean. We often bemoan the absence of female leadership in dance, but the damage is already done if we've taught young women that their gender determines their value to our community.

So what can be done about The Boy Factor? First, we could change how we encourage boys to continue dancing. Instead of empowering young men by devaluing young women, we could work as a community to dispel the culture of toxic masculinity that discourages boys from pursuing dance in the first place.

But it also falls in the hands of judges and teachers. "We need to increase awareness," says the second adjudicator. "A lot of us judges don't realize what we are promoting and the messages we send through our scoring and awards. If enough of us band together, I think we can make a difference so that this part of our field is less toxic."

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