"The best judges come from the competition circuit," says Jill Wolins, who trains adjudicators for the Star Dance Alliance and Starpower National Talent Competition. "If you competed as a kid, you have proper respect for how hard these dancers work. It's not easy to do what they're doing."
Wolins began judging competition events in 2001 in between dancing as a Rockette and performing on Broadway/national tours of The Producers, The Will Rogers Follies, Sweet Charity and Grease. And, yes, she came up on the circuit herself, before earning a BFA from the State University of New York at Buffalo.
"The most important thing to remember is to be respectful of another person's process," she tells aspiring judges. "If you speak in a supportive tone, your information will be received. If you speak in a condescending tone, dancers and teachers will put up a wall to your feedback."
One of her strategies is to always lead with a compliment before giving critiques. "As a judge you can immediately tell what it is the teacher is emphasizing in each routine," she says. "For example, if you have a tap routine with really strong and precise arms, you know the teacher has worked hard on that with their students. I like to compliment them on the thing they are doing a really good job at, before helping them with the technical or showmanship details I think they could improve."
Her advice extends beyond the actual judging to self-care and managing logistics. "When you create your schedule, don't plan to work every weekend or you'll burn out," she says. "On those 13-hour-long competition days, everyone needs different things to survive. For example, sugar is bad for my long-term energy, but for someone else it's exactly what they need."
Her thoughts on staying interested through endless hours of contemporary numbers? "If you're good at your job, you won't get numbed out by them," she says. "Every kid is proud to show you what they have been working on. Every kid deserves your attention. This isn't about you."
Also, remember you're dealing with children. "Be constructive and help everyone, not just your top-10 scorers."
AFTERNOON ENERGY BOOST "Collagen powder and bone broth. I know that's a fad right now that not everyone will agree with, but they work for me."
FITNESS FAVORITES "I like Barre classes, doing my own ballet barre and streaming fitness videos."
POSTCOMPETITION RELAXATION "I like to get with girlfriends and laugh. I don't want to be around anyone who hasn't worked as long hours as I have that day—don't show me anyone fresh!"
BEVERAGE OF CHOICE "Green-tea latte with almond milk—if Starbucks ever closed, I might not survive it."
MUST-LISTEN "Oprah's SuperSoul Conversations podcast."