Top competition judges tell DT what they love to see in competition—and what studios should avoid.


-Pick appropriate music.

“Music should be something a dancer relates to. Seeing an 11-year-old emote to a song about reflection upon life or true love does not make sense. How are they expected to honestly relate to that?”—Adam Cates

-Take the time to cut your music properly.

“The biggest problem I see in music is sloppy editing. There are many music editing software programs available today that aren’t very expensive. With a good quality stereo system, music editing is quite simple.”—Angie Gallis

-Choose appropriate costumes.

“Make sure your shoes are appropriate for the number. I saw a group do a Fosse-type number with jazz sneakers and it just didn’t work.”—Joey Zarzecki

“There was one group I remember who came out with push-up bras and lace panties. They were wearing men’s white shirts over them with jewels dripping down their chests. We disqualified the number because we felt the costumes were so inappropriate.”—Jim Keith

-Be creative in your choreography.

“I would say that 95 percent of the routines I judge all look the same—same over-used songs, same moves and no suggestion of a particular choreographer’s individual style. Choreograph around your strengths and then concentrate on style and originality for the rest.”—Gallis

“Dance is an artistic form of communication; choreographers should know what feelings they are trying to communicate and/or what story they are trying to tell. The most interesting pieces are those where the choreography is music-specific, meaning the choreography makes use of the accents, lyrics and instrumentation that make that song unique.”—Cates

-Expand your technique.

“You need to teach technique outside of the competition routine. I teach master classes at competitions where girls who were doing turns in second onstage can’t even do a simple plié chainé in class.”—Keith

“Dancers need to show both sides. So much choreography is geared toward the right side. It makes me wonder if the dancers can even do the left.”—Zarzecki

-Apply proper stage makeup.

“Eyelashes are a must! They really open up your face for us sitting in the back.”—Zarzecki

“One mistake I see is the assumption that stage makeup is the same as street makeup, only thicker. Because of stage lighting and the distance between the performer and the audience, highlight and shadow techniques differ from what you would use every day. I recommend consulting a makeup designer from a local theater company who can give each dancer tips as to how to best accentuate his or her features onstage.”—Cates

-Use your props.

“The best way to utilize a prop is to use it as much as possible in the choreography. Also, be creative! Challenge yourself to see how many things you can do with that prop, then incorporate as many of those ideas as possible into your choreography.”—Gallis

-Take care of your dancers.

“I think curfews are important at overnight competitions in order to have your dancers at their peak. Make sure they get at least eight hours of sleep and bring food from home so they can stay nourished. When dancers are in multiple performances, they will get tired by the end of the day and it will show in their dancing.”—Zarzecki

“Do an actual dance class warm-up to prepare your dancers. Having them run their routine in alleys or hallways on concrete is only going to hurt them.”—Keith


-Use songs just because they’re popular.

“Beware of using the same music that everyone else uses. Even though Christina Aguilera’s ‘Car Wash’ and ‘Roxie’ from Chicago are great songs, judges and audiences get tired of hearing them over and over. With iTunes, Napster and internet search programs, the vast music world is at your fingertips. Find unique music that will make your number stand out.”—Cates

-Borrow from cheerleading.

“Do not use cheer music remixes for a dance routine.  I love a high-paced jazz number, but not with all the cheer sound effects.”—Keith

“I want to see a real, genuine smile rather than all the oohs and ahhs. The cuteness and forced emotion only take the dancers so far.”—Zarzecki

-Use props to distract from rough technique.

“There was one group that built a big bridge and it looked really cool with the girls on cables doing splits, but then I looked down at the dancers who were representing the water and it was all sloppy.”—Keith

-Focus on tricks.

“So many competitors today think that more tricks mean higher points. Not so in my opinion. I always score higher a routine with less difficulty, but with clean technique, where you can see the choreographer’s vision and style.”—Gallis

“When numbers are just a series of tricks, the tricks lose their luster and mean nothing. Pick a few tricks that you do well, incorporate them artistically into the choreography and they will stand out.”—Cates

-Tolerate sloppy technique.

“Having a dancer do difficult technique before she is ready will only hurt her body and her dancing in the long run. I would rather see a girl do a single and hold it. That shows more technique than someone spinning around three times.”—Keith

“Dancers should execute movement that makes them look good. If a dancer’s fouetté turns or illusions are not impeccable, then she should definitely continue working on them in class. These tricks should not be put into her solo.”—Cates

-Be risqué.

“I was judging a large teen hip-hop number. It started out great, but then the dancers did a move where they pulled down their oversized pants and exposed that they were wearing skimpy red thong-ish underwear while doing hip thrusts. It was vulgar and unnecessary for a dance competition full of children.”—Cates

-Forget your competition etiquette!

“Do not stand in the wings and coach or count for your competitors. They either know the dance or they don’t.”—Zarzecki

“Be 100 percent ready at the time you are supposed to compete. Although most companies will still let you go on if you are not ready, it is unprofessional.”—Zarzecki

“There have been a couple of instances where a whole studio’s negative attitude was so horrible throughout the entire competition that I requested not to judge that particular city again if that studio was going to compete there.”—Gallis  DT

The Conversation
Dance Teachers Trending
Photo courtesy of Hightower

The beloved "So You Think You Can Dance" alum and former Emmy-nominated "Dancing with the Stars" pro Chelsie Hightower discovered her passion for ballroom at a young age. She showed a natural ability for the Latin style, but she mastered the necessary versatility by studying jazz, ballet and other forms of dance. "Every style of dance builds on each other," she says, "and the more music you're exposed to, the more your rhythm and coordination is built."

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by Harlequin Floors
Burklyn Ballet, Courtesy Harlequin

Whether you're putting on a pair of pointe shoes, buckling your ballroom stilettos or lacing up your favorite high tops, the floor you're on can make or break your dancing. But with issues like sticking or slipping and a variety of frictions suitable to different dance steps and styles, it can be confusing to know which floor will work best for you.

No matter what your needs are, Harlequin Floors has your back, or rather, your feet. With 11 different marley vinyl floors available in a range of colors, Harlequin has options for every setting and dance style. We rounded up six of their most popular and versatile floors:

Keep reading... Show less
Studio Owners
Getty Images

Dance teachers have a lot of strengths (communicating corrections, choreographing gorgeous movement, planning excellent recitals, cleaning technique—just to name a few) but when it comes to interior design—talent isn't exactly a given. So when studio owners remodel or build, worrying about the decor can feel a little overwhelming (you've got just a few too many other things to worry about, don't you?).

No need to fear! In 2019 we have Pinterest, which shows us all the latest trends we should know about. To help you make the best design decisions for your studio, we've compiled a list of public Pinterest pins we think you'll love.

You're welcome!

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by Insure Fitness
AdobeStock, Courtesy Insure Fitness Group

As a teacher at a studio, you've more than likely developed long-lasting relationships with some of your students and parents. The idea that you could be sued by one of them might seem impossible to imagine, but Insure Fitness Group's Gianna Michalsen warns against relaxing into that mindset. "People say, 'Why do I need insurance? I've been working with these people for 10 years—we're friends,'" she says. "But no one ever takes into account how bad an injury can be. Despite how good your relationship is, people will sue you because of the toll an injury takes on their life."

You'll benefit most from an insurance policy that caters to the specifics of teaching dance at one or several studios. Here's what to look for:

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
Vanessa Zahorian. Photo by Erik Larson, courtesy of Pennsylvania Ballet Academy

At the LINES Ballet Dance Center in San Francisco, faculty member Erik Wagner leads his class through an adagio combination in center. He encourages dancers to root their standing legs, using imagery of a seed germinating, so that they feel more grounded. "Our studios are on the fifth floor, so I'll often tell them to push down to Market Street," says Wagner. "They know that they should push their energy down to the street level." By using this oppositional force, he says, dancers can lengthen their bodies to create any desired shape.

Keep reading... Show less
Studio Success with Just for Kix
Bill Johnson, Courtesy Just for Kix

Running a dance studio is a feat in itself. But adding a competition team into the mix brings a whole new set of challenges. Not only are you focusing on giving your dancers the best training possible, but you're navigating the fast-paced competition and convention circuit. Winning is one goal, but you also want to create an environment that's fun, educational and inspiring for young artists. We asked Cindy Clough, executive director of Just For Kix and a studio owner with over 40 years of experience, for her advice on building a healthy dance team culture:

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
Getty Images

After years of throwing summer parties at your studio, you're likely fatigued by coming up with themes and event details. You want your students to have a good time, but you're also up to your eyeballs in choreography and costume decisions.

Never fear! We've come up with party themes and activities to do during the event. Delegate tasks to your teachers and office managers, and voilà! You have a stress-free party ready to go.

Have a blast, people!

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by World Class Vacations
David Galindo Photography

New York City is a dream destination for many dancers. However aspiring Broadway stars don't have to wait until they're pros to experience all the city has to offer. With Dance the World Broadway, students can get a taste of the Big Apple—plus hone their dance skills and make lasting memories.

Here's why Dance the World Broadway is the best way for students to experience NYC:

Keep reading... Show less
Dancer Health

Q: I recently returned to a modern dance class after a long absence. While I didn't feel any acute pain at the end of class, the next morning I could barely walk from the soreness in both my Achilles. What can I do to fix this?

Keep reading... Show less
Studio Owners
Getty Images

Q: I'm trying to think of ways to maximize studio space and revenue during the summer. What has worked for you?

Keep reading... Show less
Studio Owners
Getty Images

In 2019, dance parents are more eager than ever to observe their child's progress, and stay up-to-date with the ins and outs of what's happening in the classroom. That means yearly recitals aren't always enough to keep them satisfied—especially if you have rules against visitors observing class from week to week. The solution? Visitor observation weeks. Trust us, the guardians and loved ones of your students will love you for it!

We caught up with Suzanne Blake Gerety, vice president of Kathy Blake Dance Studios and regular contributor to Dance Teacher's "Ask The Experts" column, to hear her tips on how to have a successful visitor observation week.

Keep reading... Show less
Dancer Health
Adequate dorsiflexion mobility is needed to find a supple demi-plié needed to bound into the air and land safely. Getty Images

Dancers are trained to think often about the range of motion, stability and power of their extended lines: the point of the foot, the reach of the penché, the explosion of the sauté in the air. But finding that same mix of flexibility and strength in the flexed foot is just as integral to technique and injury prevention. Without adequate dorsiflexion mobility, it is nearly impossible to find the kind of supple demi-plié needed to bound into the air and land safely.

Keep reading... Show less


Get DanceTeacher in your inbox