What’s the Limit?

Graham Oswick asks dancers for their thoughts on judging higher levels of competition, with a list of responses. “I would like to know what the general thoughts are on judging higher levels of competition. What is and what is not acceptable? I am so confused.”

By Graham Oswick

I have thought for a long time about writing this article but now feel that I can’t suppress my thoughts any longer. So here goes!

I would like to know what the general thoughts are on judging higher levels of competition. What is and what is not acceptable? I am so confused.

I have regular discussions with many highly regarded professionals on what they consider good dancing (or not!). Generally I am in agreement with their views. I am very clear on my priorities which are:

1. Must be in time with the music for without this you are not really dancing (Definition from the Oxford Dictionary: a series of steps and movements that match the speed and rhythm of a piece of music)

2. A good understanding and performance of the basic elements for each dance and that they should be incorporated and clear to see within the choreography thereby keeping the character of each dance.

So this seems very straight forward. Maybe a little too clinical for some tastes but surely this should be the start point for any adjudicator! Beyond this of course we can include shades of musicality, individualized interpretations etc.

What grieves me is that I see dancers of a very good level with fundamental footwork errors, ahead of the music, huge steps with no foot pressure possible as a result, dancing figures with the wrong timing (not by choice) and the marks not reflecting this at all in some cases. Are we saying that if an individual/couple are super talented in some other areas that these flaws are then acceptable? If so, where is the limit or cut off point? At what level does it become ok to commit these errors without expecting any retribution?

I had a situation some months ago where a fairly well educated junior competitor, who had been watching a recent event on You Tube, asked me why I was teaching him certain dance principles which he was unable to recognize and were they really important in today’s dancing?!!. Also asking if I was sure about the footwork of a certain figure as it was being danced differently by the couple he had viewed (and I am referring to the type of step that does not have ‘alternative‘ footwork). This makes us look ridiculous as a profession in my view.

I saw the inclusion of the basic dance per round in the WDC World and European Championships as a massive step forward in terms of promotion of and education within our dance genre. So far this has also been a little disappointing as there appears to be very little differential in the assessments of these dances. How can this be?

How can we tell younger dancers that they must abide by certain rules when they are being flagrantly disregarded by higher levels?

So help me out please; where do we go from here?

Graham Oswick


Daniela Novak

We had an adjudicators’ meeting in our country recently and somebody asked, is music still one of the most important criteria for judging. He said that he is again and again baffled by results, because couples are actualy winning competitions dancing out of time! I see this all the time, jive being the worst among the latin dances.About correct footwork, I think samba is the worst.I agree that what they do “at the top” has strong influence on younger generations.I am also worried about the fact that couples who are dancing too much without physical contact are not “punished” for it, so we have now among very succesful Latin couples some, who dance solo most of the time!

Viktoriya Drubetskaya

To quote marvelous Lorraine “Couln’t I……? Because of….” I totally agree that the up and coming dancers have to know the rules, but… It is kind of like the term Rubato in Music. First one knows the perfect rhythm and timing and able to keep it to music, and then (the hardest thing to teach and learn in music, except the very naturals) deccelarates or accelerates it depending on the feeling one wants to portray.

Hypothetically speaking, (picking the most horrible footwork here to make the point, sorry:)) COULDN’T I do the ballflat on an “a” in samba BECAUSE OF I would totally fall over at this point in time at the competition. But I should immediately go back to studio and practice twice as hard to discipline my ankles to the right inside edge of toe footwork, so as to never repeat the mistake again. And what if at that precise moment the youtube video will show that mistake, and scores of young kids will go to their teachers telling them that so and so does it differently? Then it is back to the same thing, the videos are never going to replace a teacher and will never show the 3 dimensiality of a movement. After all you are there to teach the best way you know how, and it should be enough no matter what is going on out there. Some people would like to think Math is useless, yet we use it all the time without realizing in such simple things as choosing the fashion and what we wear. (Patterns anyone?:) Isn’t it amazing? Everything has a Function even if we don’t realize it before the Form.

Daniela Novak

I think it is quite easy to see if somebody is making musical or technical mistakes because they are not precise enough or in control enough and when they “go over” deliberately, because that’s how they chose to do it. The adjudicators’ responsibility is to give to dancers feedback in the form of marks to let them know if they went too far.For me personaly too far means, that what I know, what I hear and what I see don’t fit together any more.If I hear samba and don’t see it the way how I with the knowledge of technique, music, history and development of the dance understand it, then I will not mark it.Basic character of the 10 dances should be preserved, first of all by using good music at competitions and then by not marking dancers who don’t fit the music. About how much freedom of interpretation or dancing wrong footwork the top couples can get away with i believe a famous quote by Fred Astaire might give us a clue.He said: “The higher up you go, the more mistakes you are allowed. Right at the top, if you make enough of them, it’s considered to be your style.”

Michael Herdlitzka

How did it come that speed is more important than character, exaggerated lines are “better” than clean style and balance? I heard teachers supporting their students not in developing their dancing but in “cheating on judges”. Very often I feel like Graham and it makes me think adjudicators “like” to be cheated on.

Eddie Kreutz

Albert Einstein said “The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift” I think that is a bit the problem in dance competition. Musicality is not just being in time with the music but interpreting the music. Also the relationship between man and woman, their teamwork and their interaction is almost a big problem. This all has to to with intuition, creativity, art. But these things are very hard to compare and so judges compare “rational” performance like sportivity, basic technique, figures and so on. The result is that competors “learn” the principles of judging and adopt them in their dance. Now they “know” that it is more important to do acrobatics and the biggest steps as possible to win against other acrobats, It is not any longer important to do exact basic movements but the biggest movement as possible. It is not longer nessecaire to adopt figures to the music, to the partner and to the situation on the dancefloor as is is important to win the attention of the judges.

It seems to be a spiral without end. I see just one way out of the misery : Refind the sacred gift and never ever forget this!

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