Last weekend, my sisters and I judged one of the last dance competitions of the season. Competition season for studios typically runs from March-May with national competitions being in June and July. Spring is definitely a busy time for dancers. It’s even more crazy if you’re also dancing on a drill team because their competition season runs from December-February. Anyway, I thought I’d share some pictures of the weekend and a little bit of insider info on what it’s like to be a judge….and a dancer. I’m sure no one really cares about this info, but I’d like to record it for myself. Hope you don’t mind the random photos inserted in the post either.
This was a trio lyrical routine that we performed together several years ago.
Most competitions hold their solo categories on a Friday night and their team categories will compete all day Saturday. This is exhausting for both dancer and judge (and everyone else working at the comp, ie concessions, door monitors, score sheet runners, coaches, and directors.) If you are competing a solo (or two or three) then you can expect to be at the venue warming up by 3:30. You’ll compete at your assigned time and then stick around for award at 9:00 or 9:30 PM. Awards usually take around an hour.
Then you’ll be back at the venue Saturday morning by 8 AM. Most dancers compete in anywhere from 5-10 team routines- taking the floor at your assigned times all day long (usually grabbing lunch in between routines and costume changes,) and then stick around for awards which can start anywhere from 5 PM to 10 PM depending on how long the competition is. It’s a very long and tiring two days and it’s not the only comp you’ll do. Each year, most teams compete at between 3 and 10 competitions. If you’re dancing on a competitive team, you can expect to be at a competition every other weekend during the spring.
Dancing in a church play
I say it’s exhausting, strenuous and can be stressful but it’s also a lot of fun. There are down times in the dressing room with the other girls on your team, funny costume malfunctions, silly photo ops and general good times all day long. But when it’s time to take the floor, it’s serious business. You’ll find dancers stretching, wrapping their ankles, applying ice, and practicing in practically every corner of the building. Everyone wants to perform at superior level. This is the time to push your body to it’s top potential.
After a recital
I love that judges are all veteran dancers and competitors. We understand just how much effort and practice every single move that the dancers do takes. We understand that some of the dancers on the floor may be dancing (and smiling) through injuries so they don’t let their teams down. We understand the exhaustion. We understand what it’s like to get out on the floor and panic because it’s slippery. All of this helps us judge fairly.
Being a judge is fun. I love sitting in the stands all day watching the dancers out on the floor. I remember what it feels like to stand out there waiting for your music to start while worrying that your heart is going to beat right out of your chest, and “Oh crap! I’ve drawn a blank and can’t remember the first step.” Then the relief that floods over you as the music starts and your body just magically does what it’s trained to do without even having to think. Then the wash of adrenaline as your energy picks up. You glance up at the judge and they’re smiling!! They’re smiling!! That is a good sign. It feeds your fire, you feel your teammates around you pushing themselves and you give even more of yourself to the routine. It’s an amazing feeling.
We went to California to dance at Disneyland every summer.
I also remember what it feels like to have something go wrong in the middle of a routine you’ve been practicing for six months. Your music stops, your hair piece falls out, you injure yourself, etc. In that moment of panic out on the floor, you always react in the same way. Keep smiling! Keep dancing! Don’t stop. Don’t let on that anything is wrong. If your music stops, you don’t. You keep going without it and if your team is well trained, you’re timing will be impeccable even without the beat of the music. If you pull a muscle, or sprain an ankle (like I did once after landing wrong out of a switch leap,) you ignore the throbbing pain, smile, keep dancing, and deal with it when you get off the floor. You’re an athlete and that’s just what athletes do.
Jen and I auditioning at Southern Utah University.
We were accepted to the dance program but neither of us ended up attending that school.
Waiting to audition to dance in the 2002 Olympic Opening Ceremonies.
Best performance experience ever!
Being a judge is also very, very hard. When you arrive, the first thing you do in the judges room is sign all of your judging sheets. There won’t be time to do this later. You will be judging every other routine that comes on the floor. This means that you have 2 minutes while your routine is dancing to judge them and then 2 minutes while the next team is dancing to tally your scores and get your next judging sheet out. Basically you’re scribbling like a mad woman all day long. The first thing you do when a team enters the floor is take note of their costume color and write it on your judging sheet. This helps to avoid mix ups. Then you ignore the front of your judging sheet and flip to the back side.
Every judge does it differently but I draw on long line down the middle of my judging sheet. On one side I write a plus sign at the top and on the other side I write a minus sign. The entire time the team is on the floor I am writing positive and negative things on the back of their sheet. Anything from technique problems to spacing or timing issues to suggestions on how to make the routine better. As soon as the routine is over, I quickly flip the score sheet back to the front. On the front is a list of skills that should have been completed in the routine. I circle the ones that were done well and check the ones that need work. Then I give them a score in appearance, routine, execution, and showmanship. Add the scores up in my head, record a total, write a giant Awesome Job! just above my signature and hand the sheet to the runner. Then I grab the next sheet. There’s usually no down time to rest your hand, go to the bathroom or anything else. If you need a drink or you get hungry, you ask the lane runner to bring you something from concessions.
By the time lunch hits, the judges are in desperate need of a break. Lunch is catered (this time it was Cafe Rio,) but we only get 20 minutes to eat it. We grab our next score sheets, sign them and head out for the second half of the day. The last routines are usually the production numbers which means they are a medley of songs and typically around 15 minutes long, each. I don’t enjoy judging these routines because by the end of the day, writing for 15 minutes straight is painful. Not only that but your brain is fried and you still have to come up with decent, constructive criticism.
After the last number the judges convene in the judging room and pick overall winners and specialty awards. Then we grab our paycheck and high tail it out of there. Judges don’t stay for the awards. It’s just an unspoken rule.
Luckily, the competition this last Saturday was not too long. There were 388 routines listed on the program for Saturday. Dancers compete in the big gym, small gym, and the auditorium simultaneously. We were out of there by 5 PM. Just in time to go pick up Nellie Bean from the babysitter. She was a sight for sore eyes after a long day!!
So that’s it. I usually judge four or five times per season, so it’s not bad at all. It’s nice to get a little extra side income too and it is a way for me to keep one foot in the dance world. I think my sister’s will agree that it can be hard at times because being at competition all day will make you a little nostalgic for the “good old days.” It makes my mom nostalgic too who never missed a single dance performance and sat all day long on those hard bleachers at competition just to support us. Dance is a bond that we’ll always have between us.
I can’t wait until Nellie babe is old enough to wear her own tutu!!