Sunday, August 28, 2011
Confused Over DWTS/SCD Scoring? What Pro Ballroom Judges Look for
Are you a fan of Dancing With the Stars and/or Strictly Come Dancing and find yourself wondering just what judges are looking for? Or why a couple didn't receive a 10 from a judge(s)? A good starting point to discuss how professional judges score and what factors they look for in real competitions, then apply these rules to the dances you see on TV.
To start, there's a difference between the requirements of World Dance Sport Federation adjudicators'(or Judge,both terms are used) licensing and television reality show judging. Of course you expect formal competition to have more stringent qualifications for the judges themselves, but did you know that some of the most famous television competitive ballroom dance judges aren't even necessarily ballroom dancers themselves?
One of the most well-known television ballroom dance judges, Carrie Ann Inaba, seems so incredibly knowledgeable in her critiques of the celebrity dancers in ABC's Dancing with the Stars. Carrie, who was introduced to American television as a Fly Girl dancer on In Living Color, doesn't actually have a background in ballroom. As a hip-hop dancer and choreographer, she has danced with Madonna and J-Lo, but wasn't a competitive ballroom dancer. I personally like Carrie very much. She's personable, open-minded, a great dancing judge. But Carrie would not meet the qualifications for an adjudicator's license from the WDSF.
Len Goodman, on the other hand, was a professional ballroom dancer and winner of the British Championships at Blackpool in his twenties, and currently owns his own ballroom dance studio in Dartford, England. It's the same with Mary Murphy, another ballroom dance champion and accredited dance judge and choreographer for So You Think You Can Dance.
The World Dance Sport Federation has a set of stringent qualifications for those applying for an adjudicator's license. The adjudicator applicant must have passed an exam in the Technique of Standard and Latin American dances. He or she will need to know precisely every form and figure in the syllabus of the Waltz, Tango, Foxtrot, and every dance included in ballroom dance competition.
Additionally, the judge must include his or her Curriculum Vitae (CV), which will list formal education, dance experience as a competitor, dance instructor adjudicator or lecturer, and list dance education such as examinations, seminars and congresses. These Professional Dance Qualifications give the adjudicator the background and experience to knowledgably judge the competence and skill of the
Not only must judges ensure that competitors adhere to the rules of ballroom dance competition, but judges themselves have strict rules to abide by. For instance, a judge is not allowed to do any coaching at all during the competition. A judge cannot even converse with competitors or coaches during the competition in order to avoid even the appearance of impropriety.
Judges must also be careful to mark dancers solely on their performance of the dance being adjudicated at the time. They cannot take into consideration any previous performances, championship titles or reputation.
One of the greatest qualities of a judge is the ability to remain objective, to give marks that are based completely on the technical skill and quality of the performance. When you are worried about your marks and maybe feeling intimidated by the scoring process, it may help you to remember that judges have been in your shoes before. They know that jittery feeling you get in the pit of your stomach just before the music begins. And they also know every detail of the syllabus, every step of your dance, and exactly what a pair of champions should look like.
Levels of Competitive Ballroom Dance
Bronze, silver and gold levels of ballroom dancing each have their own syllabus of steps, goal for the dancer and difficulty level. Learning what they mean help the dancer know where they belong based on their skill level.
Bronze Level Ballroom Dancing
Bronze level is the most basic level of ballroom dancing, and this is where all new students should start. The goal of this level is to teach the dancer good balance, rhythm and how to move their body. They learn how to dance with a partner and work as a team.
In American Style ballroom dances like Waltz and Foxtrot, there is very little “continuity”, which is where the dancers pass their feet and flow into the next step. Instead, they end most patterns by bringing their feet together. The patterns in bronze level tend to be fairly simple, although they increase in complexity and difficulty as the dancer moves from beginning bronze to intermediate bronze and then to full bronze.
Silver Level Ballroom Dancing
When the dancer has mastered the basics of bronze level, they are usually ready to move on into silver. This is when ballroom dancing really gets fun—the steps flow more gracefully from one to the next, and the dancer learns to make bigger movements with more turns and arm styling. They are expected to use good technique, balance, partnering skills and do it all with flair.
While the beginning silver steps are more difficult than bronze, they are still fairly easy and most dancers can execute them with varying levels of success. For example, bronze level dancers often add silver steps to their repertoire, but they do not execute them as well as they should. As one moves up the syllabus toward full silver, the patterns become much more demanding.
Gold Level Ballroom Dancing
Gold level is the highest level that the syllabus goes to. Dancers at this level have even better balance and perform even more difficult patterns than silver level dancers. At this level, it becomes very apparent if the dancer has not established a good foundation in their dancing, because they are unable to perform many of the steps at all, let alone well.
Open Level Ballroom Dancing
“Open” in a ballroom competition means that the performed steps do not have to adhere to any syllabus. Choreographers for these events are able to either modify syllabus patterns or make up their own. Dancers who do open level choreography should have a firm grasp of all of the syllabus requirements. This allows for a lot of creativity and fun.
By starting at the bronze ballroom dancing level and moving up through gold, a dancer gets a good foundation in technique, balance and partnering skills.
What Judges Look For
Judges use the “Impression Judging“ system. The criteria that a judge might choose to consider are actually too numerous to examine individually in the brief time allotted, (1½ to 2 minutes), since at least six couples are being judged simultaneously. Therefore, the judge must rely on the impression each couple makes relative to the others. The experienced judge, having seen and studied dancing at all levels, can quickly assess these factors collectively. When you watch DWTS and/or SCD, keep these things in mind and do your own judging.
The judges' evaluation of performance is based on originality of the particular genre. Did the couple execute the dance and make it their own? Did they sell it? Was there chemistry between them? Were their respective personalities highlighted during the performance, along with their skills? Did they exude emotion? Was the performance real? Was it believable? Contenders must be actors as well as dancers.
Posture - One of the most important aspects. Good posture makes you look elegant and exude confidence. It improves balance and control, and allows your partner to connect well to your body in the smooth dances. One's competition result is often directly proportional to one's postural correctness.
Timing - If a couple is not dancing on time with the music, no amount of proficiency in any other aspect can overcome this. The music is boss
Movement - If the couple executed and coordinated the movements of the Feet, Legs, Body and Arms based on the Characteristic Style of the Dance in question.
Styling - This involves the dancers' lines which include posture, full graceful extension of their legs, arms, center balance and fluid continuity, giving the look of big, yet flawless and seamless.
Evaluation also includes the couple's individual and combined strengths as supporting partners. Did they hold their own on the dance floor, yet dance as a unit?
Musicality and Expression - The basic characterization of the dance to the particular music being played and the choreographic adherence to musical phrasings and accents.
Presentation - Does the couple sell their dancing to the audience? Do they dance outwardly, with enthusiasm, exuding their joy of dancing and confidence in their performance?
Foot and Leg Positions - The stroking of feet across the floor in foxtrot to achieve smoothness and softness; the deliberate lifting and placing of the feet in tango to achieve a staccato action; the correct bending and straightening of the knees in rumba to create hip motion; the extension of the ankles and the pointing of the toes of the non- supporting foot to enhance the line of a figure; the sequential use of the four joints (hip, knee, ankle, and toes) to achieve fullness of action and optimal power; the bending and straightening of knees and ankles in waltz to create rise and fall; the use of inside and outside edges of feet to create style and line all fall under this most important of categories.
Shape - Shape is the combination of turn and sway to create a look or a position. For instance, in Paso Doble does the man create the visual appearance of maneuvering his cape? Does the lady simulate the billowing flow of the cape through space? In foxtrot, does the man use the appropriate shape on outside partner steps to enable body contact to be maintained?
Lead and Follow Does the man lead with his whole body instead of just his arms? Does the lady follow effortlessly or does the man have to assist her?
Floorcraft - In Ballroom dance, this refers not only to avoiding bumping into other couples, but the ability to continue dancing without pause when boxed in. It shows the command of the couple over their choreography and the ability of the man to choose and lead figures extrinsic to their usual work when the necessity presents itself.
Intangibles - Things such as how a couple "look" together, whether they "fit" emotionally, their neatness of appearance, costuming, the flow of their choreography, and basically whether they look like "dancers"; all have an affect on a judge's perception and therefore on his markings.
Different judges have different preferences in what they want to see, and weight these factors differently. One judge might be especially interested in technique, while another wants to be moved by musicality and expression. While both factors are obviously important and need to be considered, it can result in couples getting widely disparate markings. Because the judge sees each couple for only a few seconds, anything that draws the attention, either positively or negatively, could very well be the deciding factor on how you are marked. Most judges try to do a conscientious job. And the use of a panel usually insures that the end result is the correct one.
Don't worry if you don't do well in a competition. Concentrate on what you learned from the experience and use it. Dancing is a process. The more practice, the better the performance.
Scoring on DWTS and SCD is a bit easier than competition ballroom dance. Most competition dance floors can really only hold about 12 couples dancing at a time. If the field for an event is larger than that, organizers will hold qualifying rounds (several groups in separate rounds of about 10-15 couples) until they whittle the field down to about 24 couples, then the quarterfinal round (2 separate rounds of about 12 each), then the semifinal (1 round of about 12), and finally the final (1 round, usually 6 or 7 couples). The rounds for a particular event may run in succession or may be interspersed with other rounds for other events.
In preliminary rounds leading up to a final round of an event/heat, the judges are asked to "recall" a certain number of dancers to the next round. Judges select to recall couples they think are the best and the couples with the most marks moves into the next round.
Once six or seven couples reach the final, DanceSport uses the skating system method to determine the results. This means that the judges rank every couple in every dance from 1st through 6th or 7th. The couple with the most 1st place marks is the overall winner. The couple with the next highest number of 1st or 2nd place marks will place second, and so on. Tiebreaker rules determine which couple finishes higher in the event of a tie. These rules can be very complex, and an official known as a Scrutineer has the painstaking task of taking all the judges' marks and tabulating the results for callbacks and making the necessary calculations to determine the placements, applying the tiebreaker rules in close cases.