On any given day competition judges may see dozens—even hundreds—of dance teams. So what does it take to make a lasting impression in the face of fierce competition? According to longtime judge Christopher Smith, bringing your “A”-game across the board might be the only way to succeed in an increasingly competitive circuit.

“Judges nowadays are looking for the total package,” says Smith, who has judged for Hoctor’s Dance Caravan, Dance Masters of America and Triple Threat, among others. “We’ve seen a lot of teams that can do all the tricks but lack entertainment value, and we’ve seen the opposite with all personality and no technical skills. So winning teams will have to combine stage presence, technique and difficulty level.”

To further pinpoint the factors that can make or break your success at competitions, DT spoke with veteran judges to get their hard-earned insights.

Go against the grain.
Following current trends—and doing it well—is a solid strategy, but blazing new trails is a surefire way to stand out. Try exploring genres that don’t get much stage play. For Smith, the current deluge of contemporary routines has him craving something out of the ordinary. “After seeing a big push toward this style for the past two years, I’d like to see things become a bit more diverse—funky jazz, lyrical, musical theater, rockin’ jazz,” he says. “I enjoy contemporary, but sometimes you can have too much of a good thing.”


Robin Dawn Ryan, owner of her namesake studio in Cape Coral, Florida, says that daring choices can also be an attention-getter, no matter the genre. “You want to be the studio that everyone is talking about as they walk out of the competition, so you might want to make your routines edgier,” says Ryan. “But you have to be careful of age and appropriateness. You don’t want people talking about your studio in a way that’s distasteful.” Ryan recommends finding original music for your routines rather than Top 40 hits or songs heard on “So You Think You Can Dance.”

Minimize distractions.
Every point counts, so often-overlooked factors like appearance can really affect competition outcomes. As a judge for Showbiz, Starpower and Hall of Fame, Ryan always keeps a watchful eye out for uniformity. “When there are so many good groups, you start picking at stuff, and appearance is where it begins,” she says. “Onstage everyone should have the exact same hair, makeup and jewelry. Otherwise, it pulls the judges’ focus.” Some of Ryan’s specific pet peeves are: belly rings, various shades of lipstick, tights worn inconsistently among team members and colored nail polish.


At one recent competition Ryan judged, a team’s look was the deciding factor between two top contenders. “One group took such command when they walked onstage. Nothing was out of place; the grooming was impeccable,” she recalls. “The other group was stronger technically, but they didn’t have the presentation.”

Don’t force your overall impact.
In presenting your team as the total package, it’s necessary to cultivate a balanced blend of choreography, execution and charisma. Smith, the national director of Hollywood Vibe, says that he considers the competition’s “Overall Impression” category to be the most important on the score sheet. “It encompasses the feeling of the choreography, the dancers’ technique and their ability to connect with the audience.”


While the level of difficulty is a weighty factor, many judges frown upon choreography heavy on tricks and light on substance. “I dislike routines that are all about the ‘Ta-da!’” says Smith. “It’s about telling a story with meaning, not ‘I can put my leg way up here.’”

Think outside the box.
Creativity and innovation can also tip the scales in your team’s favor. Robert Lee, who has judged for 5678 Showtime, Tremaine and Hollywood Vibe, among others, loves to see teams “explore artistic and creative movement while keeping strong technique as a base.” In one standout hip-hop routine, one dancer acted as the conductor to groups of dancers who moved in correlation to various instrumental sections. “It was brilliant; the kids did such a great job and had the intention and the passion,” says Lee, who recently opened Elevation Studios in Signal Hill, California. “Creativity is a huge factor in what I love to see, but it also needs to have technique behind it.”


While there isn’t an exact science to taking home the trophy, knowing how judges think can make a big difference. Yet even when all judging criteria are taken into consideration, teams will still win some and lose some—it’s the experience that ultimately counts. “The bar has been raised so high, and the turns and technique have improved so much,” says Ryan. “But it’s really about discipline, having a kick-butt attitude and the confidence where everyone comes together as a team.”  DT

Jen Jones is a freelance writer and certified BalleCore instructor in Los Angeles.

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
Dance Teachers Trending
Lani Corson. Photo by Royce Burgess, courtesy of Corson

Aerial work is growing in popularity in the dance world these days. Don't believe us? Check out this Dance Magazine article! If you're a studio owner who didn't grow up with aerial training (let's face it, how many of us really did?), then you may be feeling a little apprehensive about what to look for when bringing on a new aerialist faculty member. You know exactly what you want from your ballet teachers, your jazz teachers, your tap teachers, heck—even your tumbling teachers! Aerial, however, is a whole other ballgame.

To help you feel confident you're bringing in a teacher who is safe for your dancers, we sat down with Lani Corson, NYC aerialist, circus performer, adjunct professor at Pace University and teacher at Aerial Arts NYC, to get the inside scoop on exactly what you should be looking for.

Enjoy!

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
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
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
Site Network
Unsplash

Is dance a sport? Should it be in the Olympics? They're complicated questions that tend to spark heated debate. But many dance fans will be excited to hear that breaking (please don't call it breakdancing) has been provisionally added to the program for the 2024 Summer Olympic Games in Paris.

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
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
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
Dancer Health
Thinkstock

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

mailbox

Get DanceTeacher in your inbox