News: Jury Duty

Dancers compete at a ballet competition, and the jurors disappear into a conference room to deliberate. But what really determines the scoring? The USA International Ballet Competition, the quadrennial event in Jackson, Mississippi, will be held June 12–27 this year. Jurors from 13 different countries assess the skills of the 119 competitors, who have submitted video applications to be considered for the rigorous three rounds of competition. Once admitted, these dancers compete for cash; bronze, silver and gold medals; company contracts; and scholarships.


Bruce Marks is the chairman of the international jury and has been associated with the competition for 21 years. He says, as far as the criteria for judging, there is no one single answer. “We expect high technical ability, but that is only one part of this. I continue to emphasize in my jury orientation that elusive thing called artistry—not only the ability to connect with an audience, but also to show the multifaceted nature of the artist,” he says.


Marks stresses diversity of opinion among the 13 judges—each pair of eyes sees something different. During the two preliminary rounds and final, the scores are based on a 1–10 system, with the high and low numbers thrown out, like at the Olympics, so that bias won’t creep in. Marks won’t allow jurors to discuss the artists in the jury room until the final deliberations. “I want people to score based on what they think and not to be intimidated by anyone,” he says. About half the competitors move on to the second round.


There are two categories, the junior division (ages 15–18) and the senior division (ages 19–26). “In the junior round we are looking more at the potential or future of the competitor,” says Brooke Wyatt, the USAIBC artistic administrator. “In the senior round we are looking at the whole package.”


Judges don’t always agree. When Robert Joffrey and Yuri Grigorovich were co-chairs of the competition, deliberations would go on until 3 or 4 a.m. Marks expedites the process, he says. The top senior award with a cash prize of $10,000, the Grand Prix has only been awarded four times since 1979: to José Manuel Carreño, Nina Ananiashvili, Andris Liepa and Johan Kobborg. Gold, silver and bronze medals are awarded, but only when deemed fitting.


Marks admits that ballet competitions are not for all dancers. “Some of my favorite artists—Galina Ulanova, Carla Fracci and Alessandra Ferri—I’m not sure those kinds of people could win this kind of competition.”


The greatest benefit is experiencing the USAIBC, with its classes, competition and camaraderie. “A medal is nice if you get one, but the process is the prize,” Marks says.



Joseph Carman is a contributor to Dance Magazine and author of Round About the Ballet.


Photo courtesy of USAIBC.

Teachers Trending
Courtesy Lovely Leaps

After the birth of her daughter in 2018, engineer Lisa McCabe had reservations about returning to the workforce full-time. And while she wanted to stay home with the new baby, she wasn't ready to stop contributing financially to her family (after all, she'd had a successful career designing cables for government drones). So, when she got a call that September from an area preschool to lead its dance program, she saw an opportunity.

The invitation to teach wasn't completely out of the blue. McCabe had grown up dancing in Southern California and had a great reputation from serving as her church's dance teacher and team coach the previous three years (stopping only to take a break as a new mother). She agreed to teach ballet and jazz at the preschool on Fridays and from there created an age-appropriate class based on her own training in the Cecchetti and RAD methods. It was a success: In three months, class enrollment went from six to 24 students, and just one year later, McCabe's blossoming Lovely Leaps brand had contracts with eight preschools and three additional teachers.

Keep reading... Show less
Courtesy Shake the Ground

Dance competitions were among the first events to be shut down when the COVID-19 pandemic exploded in the U.S. in mid-March, and they've been among the last able to restart.

So much of the traditional structure of the competition—large groups of dancers and parents from dozens of different studios; a new city every week—simply won't work in our new pandemic world.

How, then, have competitions been getting by, and what does the future look like?

Keep reading... Show less
Getty Images

Despite worldwide theater closures, the Universal Ballet Competition is keeping The Nutcracker tradition alive in 2020 with an online international competition. The event culminates in a streamed, full-length video of The Virtual Nutcracker consisting of winning entries on December 19. The competition is calling on studios, as well as dancers of all ages and levels, to submit videos by November 29 to be considered.

"Nutcracker is a tradition that is ingrained in our hearts," says UBC co-founder Lissette Salgado-Lucas, a former dancer with Royal Winnipeg Ballet and Joffrey Ballet. "We danced it for so long as professionals, we can't wait to pass it along to dancers through this competition."

Keep reading... Show less

Get Dance Business Weekly in your inbox

Sign Up Used in accordance with our Privacy Policy.