Adjudicator’s issues

By Leonid Pletnev I made up my mind to write this series dictated by time, according to my own convictions of the necessity to express my opinion and at numerous desires of my friends and like-minded persons, those who are not indifferent to their own fate, the fate of their children, of our dance world on the whole.

By Leonid Pletnev 

I made up my mind to write this series dictated by time, according to my own convictions of the necessity to express my opinion and at numerous desires of my friends and like-minded persons, those who are not indifferent to their own fate, the fate of their children, of our dance world on the whole. In the analysis of the covered aspects international problems have something in common with typical Russian ones.

Part 1: Authority of AUTHORITY. Dancing – SPORT or ART

I’m sitting in front of my computer screen and thinking what to start with. This is not just another topic – this is probably the main topic. The pillar on which all our business is standing is called ballroom dance (and now also sport dance). In actual fact this problem turns out to be far more important the dance technics, swings and sways, feet work and timing, lines and style.  This is the corner stone which determines the basic guiding lines, means and methods in achieving the main goal – the result. I’ve made up my mind not to suggest you any programs yet but to give information for reflection. The time of programs will come only with the growth of the self-consciousness of the dance community.

Breaking out from the dance salons of the beginning of the last century to competitions platforms our dances became emulative, competitive in a different way. And they were developing according to natural, common to all mankind and artistic laws for a long time which was to my mind its best time. According to the laws of ART! It was they that determined the principles of the judge’s expertise starting from the selection of experts themselves. That was the time of the triumph of aesthetics, the firmness of the declared standard, the absolute authority of an adjudicator-expert. None was then struck by the idea of inviting not authoritative specialists to the adjudicator’s panel and not the most authoritative specialists to the main competitions. Otherwise the event could not be called the best one!

Even today the kinds of the art which have emulative constituents (competitions of ballet dancers, singers, musicians, artists and photographers etc.) naturally continue the traditions of the AUTHORITATIVE expertise based on reputation, general respect and absolute trust to the person named JUDGE. The level of the artistic competition is determined primordially not by the level of participants but by the composition and the level of invited experts. And it depends on it whether the concrete contest can gather the best performers and be called “important”, “very important”, “the most important” etc.! In the art, that goes without saying, it is impossible to imagine that the opinion determining the direction of the genre development, the notions of its aesthetics, style and artistic preferences were UNAUTHORITATIVE. Our ballroom dancing has been based and is still based on this notion, the authority of the AUTHORITY! Any transformation attempts of this fundamental principle lead to the distortion of the very notion of DANCE as ART!

That is why in particular the suggestions to divide adjudicators from practitioners are unnatural for DANCE as ART. Such actions will lead to the degeneration of the genre conceived by our dance ancestors and the creation of some new one. At which we are hinted with enviable insistency at each mention of the Olympic Games. But perhaps it is enough about it? All the more it seems that the Olympiad itself in no way wants to take us for a sport worth being included in its program but for all that surprising at our insistency in the proving of the opposite. It gives the impression that soon for the sake of this someone will suggest dancing on one leg – it will be easier to get to the Olympiad…for invalids. But the goal will be achieved and the promises kept! But this place there is already taken by our life-asserting wheelchair dancers.

And what about SPORTS? It is here in the specific character of the sports expertise that we obviously should look for the root of the problem. In sports referees feature as persons watching the observance of techniques, their correspondence to the registered rules in seconds, centimeters, kilograms etc., but not the persons making the decision based upon their own preferences (ice-dancing and art gymnastic, synchronous swimming are not sports per se, that is why they usually conflict with sports approaches to the evaluation). In the ART an expert just expresses HIS own AUTHORITATIVE opinion guided by general laws. And the sum of personal opinions of experts determines the RELATIVE (according to time, place, situation etc.) result of the competition. The evaluation of the art cannot be ABSOLUTE as a matter of principle! The ART having its own laws and obeying them at the same time does not have any rules and rejects any attempts to implant them. At thatdances certainly have techniques which is over and over again revised and reedited historical classics developing in time. To understand and to know it in all its minutest detail, to keep pace with its constant development and changes, to influence properly the directions of these changes are given only to advanced specialists devoted for the whole life to the service of the chosen work one and for all.

But out of the unquestionable technical constituents of ballroom dance only foot work (and probably the correspondence of movements to the general rhythm of the dance) is likely to be the sole EVIDENT criterion. One can argue even about body lines and positions of arms –straight – not straight, more – less, right – wrong, leave alone style, the level of interaction, musical and technical interpretations and the issues which are more complicated. That is why rhythm and foot work occupy the first place among judge’s priorities. But really if the knowledge of only these aspects received elementarily from dance textbooks (which got their due to their obviousness!) were enough for the fulfillment of judge’s expertise! Then the whole manifold in its inexhaustible richness DANCE would come to the proper performance of these obvious techniques which would carry the great dance ART to an absurdity. And if DANCE is to be evaluated in all its natural variety, nuances and niceties then who beside the most advanced in his understanding specialist-professional can do it in the most qualitative way! And when the matter concerns the most principal competitions then how under the condition of CHOICE the expertise can be entrusted not to a dance professional, but perhaps to a super professional doctor, lawyer, banker etc.! The absence of choice is quite another matter but that is why professionals should provide it in the necessary volume.

At congresses and seminars one can get to know the laws, become familiar with the some recommendations and instructions but one cannot learn the real understanding of art (and even more so its expertise!)! One can learn something, the superficial understanding and the skill to conduct the same superficial expertise helping then to advanced specialists if necessary. Helping them, but not substituting for them! In our work there are a lot of different levels including beginner so called technical classes E, D, C (Beginners, Novices, etc) where the accurate observance of the obvious techniques of the dance is demanded from performers. At these levels of competitions the level of expertise can be not the highest (but this doe not mean inexpert in principle!). And if the matter concerns the main, principal competitions then specialists themselves should free themselves from everything for the sake of doing their professional duty – evaluating what is present remembering what has been, supposing and creating what will be! They should do this in spite of the pressure of work, giving up lessons and bearing honorable losses for the sake of the triumph of the professional evaluation. And the system of referee selection should be based upon attraction to evaluation of  the most AUTHORITATIVE of them. Otherwise bearing in mind that nature abhors a vacuum this place is quickly occupied by other not very professional ones. And dancers have to disentangle all this as always. With what they are occupied without evident wish and with quiet grumble.

And no matter how long we could speak about evaluation criteria (and how long we have been speaking already!) we have not found the common denominator yet. Moreover apparently remembering the relativity of the evaluation in the art professionals for the most part do not presume to define concretely expertise principles. One can speak about one’s own preferences but to bring SUBJECTIVE opinions to the general OBJECTIVE criteria means to betray the personal view. One can and should be guided by the laws and registered rules but to designating the exact criteria of dance (especially when it is already O.K. with the observance of the obvious elements of evaluation with the performers!) seems unlikely to me. Or they can be RELATIVE which will again be of little help to the cause of criterial unification.

It has been rumored for a long time already that the International Olympic Committee is discussing the idea of removing subjective (according to evaluation criteria) kinds of sports from the Olympic program. It is clear for the lucid minds of the IOC that it is finally necessary to clarify what is SPORTS otherwise soon they will be choked with the abundance of applications from new “kinds”! One can not but agree to the necessity of such energy decision. And the most evident approach is division of the existing in it sectors according to the principles of the ABSOLUTE (technical metering) or RELATIVE (the personal opinion of a referee) expertise. And then my there will be no question “is the dance a sport or an art?” It is however strange to hand over the decision-making to someone, perhaps an Olympic person. Does it turn out that the people of the DANCE are not able to clear it up themselves?

So it turns out that to combine really the DANCE with SPORTS observing the existing today norms and requirements in it one should transform the fundamental principles of the DANCE. First of all expert’s ones. And this means to betray the DANCE itself as ART!

Part 2:  Adjudicating as a credit of confidence and measure of responsibility

In the Olympic disciplines there has been existing for a long time a principle of division of referee’s and coach manpowers – a judge does not have the right to coach and a coach does not have the right to judge. Of course there is a rational element in such approach. At the same time competitions in ice-dancing and art gymnastic which are allied to us are constantly accompanied with referee’s scandals, and the “detached” referees to whom the evaluation criteria are explained at the seminars are the least respected but at the same time, note, far from poor layer of these per se non-sports sectors. So where is the problem? Why doesn’t the principle laid in the separate system work?

Under the SUBJECTIVE adjudicating there is no universal model which would provide the neutrality of an adjudicator in the total lot. Even as a result of giving up coach activities he will not all the same become more neutrally because national, group and personal interests will remain. And a human being himself with all his weaknesses will not cease being a human being after that! This means that something should be opposed to his natural weaknesses: the highest responsibility and direct dependence, for example, to his own authority, the fear of loosing it in case of breaking the principles. A «non-detached» adjudicator-coach who does not depend on the symbolic for him judge’s salary while expertising in any case lets down his authority and the coach business itself as a guarantee of responsibility (if something happens the main bread-winner will suffer!). This is like a bank credit – to get it you should provide guarantees of its return attaching a document proving solvency or for example pawning a house or a car for this.

So, acknowledging a specialist as a judge the dance community gives him an original credit of confidence which should be confirmed from the part of the judge with something – with that equivalent pledge of his authority. It is what for authority is necessary! This is that dearest thing at which we are aiming and on earning it honestly value it most of all and can use as a guarantee or a pledge.

And with its absence what else can be suggested as a pledge? Only servile loyalty! After all a dance world specialist who is not authoritative enough (a judge-dentist, a judge-lawyer, a judge-engineer etc.) is not afraid of loosing what he does not have anyway! And this goods is always is costly on the “black market”. And doing as asked there is hope of being called again and it will be possible to wear a new diner jacket and to feel oneself a participant of making historic decisions, whom an adjudicator  undoubtedly becomes. Of course, one should not treat all alike, may honest people forgive me.

In adjudicating A CREDIT OF CONFIDENCE is needed! So that an adjudicator had something to loose if something happens! That is why an adjudicator should be an honest, authoritative and unblemished person and a specialist possessing and valuing his professional authority as a guarantee for the credit of judge’s confidence!

And what should be done if judging on the whole becomes a business, the main bread-winner? It is on whom one can press in abundance – he has no place to go, for his children want to eat!

That is why adjudicating should not be a business! And it can not be a profession! For a professional coach adjudicating compared to the work in the  studio is a loss that is why it can never become his business. The salary of a judge in dancing (I do not mean bribes!) is incommensurably small compared to the income of a popular coach. The preference of the adjudicator’s business to the coach’s one most probably means the insufficient popularity and competence of a person as a coach-specialist and therefore a worthy expert, or its evident wish to use “shadow” adjudicator’s earnings (who would do himself worse!).

Accepting the said statements let us see what we have as a solid residue. On one scale there is a prepared at the seminars unprofessional adjudicator and at the same time no longer (or never) practicing (“detached”) coach, on the other scale there is also an unprofessional adjudicator, but a professional expert and a professional coach-specialist with all his knowledge and skills which are being developed in the studio every day, with the authority with which he has inverse relationship (the fear of loosing it becomes the best guarantor of the specialist’s decency while expertising).

That is why if it happens so that the full neutrality of adjudicating under any conditions cannot be provided, the natural preference in this situation is the choice in the favor of highly professional AUTHORITATIVE specialists. They at least have something to loose in case of showing faintheartedness and dishonorableness.

Today we are suggested a dubious deal. They say we are professionals and should tell them at the seminars what is good and what is bad and then they will wear evening dinner jackets and bow-ties and will reflect this in their extra important judge’s evaluations. What a nonsense! It’s rubbish! And then what for if that’s the case do we need this strange layer of beautiful dresses lovers? I am sorry for so strong appointment.

Being presidents and managers of different levels having your business which provides prosperity but loving the dance, develop the dance structures managed by you, attract financial funds, compile convenient and adjusted schedules, organize wonderful actions. Be honored and praised! This also should be done professionally!But invitation to adjudicating should not be a small change, payment for even the highest class service. For eminent administrative services one can and should give various purses, open memorial tablets and set up busts in the motherland etc.Leave expertising to professional experts! And who wants to join us – welcome to professionals! Very pleased to see you! Just please take into consideration what values are worshipped here.

And in conclusion of this chapter a little bit of pathetics about the adjudicator’s honor, responsibility and moral purity. About the «High Court» from my book «With reverence…”:

You are wearing black dinner jackets

Like cloaks from crepe

Responsibility and the triumph of honor.

You are to administer justice – it has grew stronger,

The sign of equality – the Judge and the Divinity.

You, be fair,

The price of you mistake is

An innocent fate. You will curse yourself

Pouring liquid poison into the soul,

Plunging a ruthless knife into the heart.

The undeserving one by winning

Will be deceived

By you doubly believing as to the fate.

And life will then make its own judgment –

Then disgrace to him. And shame to you.

Be aware,

Preparing for the verdict,

Think thrice and look before you leap.

Then you will be High, Court, without talk,

Everybody will believe to you! Try not to believe!

The Court is coming, please rise!

Worthy of being high!

Part 4: «Fitting criteria»

If one does not explain to a child in childhood what is “good” and what is “bad” or explains it incorrectly accidentally or knowingly confusing the notions another value scale is developed by him, he gets the contrary notions. But the most fearful is that afterwards the child is not able to evaluate his actions in accordance with the principles generally accepted in the human society. That is why the mankind has elaborated these very common to all mankind priorities and values, norms of behavior which characterize it this or that way. The same biblical “do not kill”, “do not steel”…Its Majesty MORALS!

And what if a man lives according as they say to the precepts but at the same time is constantly observing the triumph of injustice? Then the ominous, desperate UNBELIEF is born in him!

This is frightful to hear “I do not believe!” In myself, in luck, in life, in GOD!

The human being who has lost belief in the light involuntarily begins to believe in the dark. And there is no other choice! And under its influence the consciousness starts to transform, the principles, the corners of evaluation of his own actions are changing and a soldier of evil is born. The evil has its own well thought-out philosophy, its own proved laws, its own winning principles. Evil philosophy, evil laws, evil principles.

So if the truth is explained in the wrong way to a young beginning adjudicator by chance or knowingly already in his adjudicator’s childhood supporting with the personal “authoritative” example he will not even feel remorse. It is only important to manage to explain all this before he begins to think with his own personal-human mind or someone else from the principle men passes ahead and explains the values correctly.

I’m sure that somebody will say concerning me: “What a righteous man!” Of course I’m not a righteous man, I’m sinful as any of us. Because «only angels can be angels» (the book «With Reverence…»). The question is only sinful against what?

As for what concerns each of us personally each of us makes decisions personally for himself. And this decision remains his own and affects only him until starts to interact with the society. A judge however assumes the right to decide someone’s fate!  And this is not only his own business but the public one! Because a judge is a public notion. Even one is not judged according to one’s own notions (then we were not judged at all for we live and act according to our understanding!) but according to public ones, once coming into collision with them voluntarily or not. And this means that a judge should make decisions first of all in the accordance with public norms! And at the most professional level! And then it turns out that he should correspond to the following moral and professional requirements.


– honor;

– responsibility;

– adherence to principle;

– incorruptibility;

– keen self-respect;

– irreconcilability to the demonstration of any pressure upon him and the colleagues;

– respect for the personality of the “accused” (even the smallest!);

– respect for the colleagues’ opinion (with the qualified and demonstrative asserting of his).


– the highest professional training and achievements;

– presence of taste;

– knowledge of the laws of harmony, aesthetics, ethics, style and observance of them in everyday life;

– the ability to devide the main from the minor, the true from the false;

– the ability to assert ones position with reasoning in front of the colleagues;

– the presence of confidence from respected colleagues and the right for expertising delegated by them to him;

– consent of the dancing community itself with the right of the given judge for this.

Only meeting these criteria and corresponding with them one can declare the statement that “the decision of the judge’s is final and is not to be appealed!”Simply then there will be none to appeal it. In all the other cases it can and must be appealed! If there were someone to appeal to.

Here it should be said about the role of the Chairman of adjudicator’s in the correctness of the final evaluation, confidence in it and to the judge’s team on the whole. In the questions connected with adjudicating he is duty-bound and according to his appointment to provide free declaration of will of line judges, to guard them against irrelevant influence during their work, to check the correctness of filling adjudicator’s protocols and accurate work in accordance with them of the scrutiniers.

The Chairman of adjudicators should be a deeply ideological specialist with a crystal clear professional authority.

In my opinion any appeal to a judge with “recommendations” or “requests”(and with the air “only try to fail to carry this out”) is extremely insulting for him.It remains only to find out for whom he is taken here: for a full layman understanding nothing (then what for have you invited him?) or for a humble pawn-executor of someone’s dishonest intentions (and then what about the keen self-respect which a judge should undoubtedly possess?). And if you still respect yourself a little then with the next appeal point out tactlessness of the “applicant”.

There are no good adjudicators! But there are adjudicators whose opinion is trusted irrespective of the fact whether it turned out to be positive or negative (in the negative case one will try to clarify and consider it) and the adjudicators whose opinion is not very much trusted, which means that is not trusted at all.

And how can one deserve this credit? Only observing all the said norms, observing them during one’s life and evidently and convincingly.

«We have invited you to the panel of adjudicators of this championship because we respect your professional opinion and trust it. You should judge without fear and reproach without regard to achievements and ranks. The dancers who are the strongest in your opinion should win. We also ask you to decline contacts with dancers and the audience during the Festival.” 

This is approximately how the organizer and the Chairman of Adjudicators of the most prestigious in the whole dance world Blackpool Dance Festival address the invited judges every year. And believe me these are not mere words or tribute to the tradition. They are repeated from year to year first of all for the novices of the adjudicator’s team thus drawing a distinction between the undesirable and the permitted, the bad and the good. And when I adjudicated in that Blackpool (in the Blackpool Dance Festival itself and repeatedly in Junior Blackpool Festivals ones) these words were addressed to me too. And believe me they had its great effect confirming in the determination to rely only upon your own taste, knowledge and experience, for which the judge are evidently invited there.

This appeal is an original Judge’s Code of the Festival. And may be it is one of the reasons of the popularity and surprisingly record longevity of this competition (and its age is 77 years old!)? I’m sure that it is one of the main reasons.

At any really authoritative international tournament you will never see a self-respecting and respected by others judges giving technical advice to dancers or correcting something in the position of a dancing couple during the competitions. This is a TABOO! As well as that judge never afford to discuss dancing couples during the competition! DO NOT AFFORD! This is a TABOO! And any daring novice is pointed out tactlessness and far-reaching conclusions are made. 

And for example in USA the specialists invited for adjudicating are asked to refrain from conducting individual lessons on the day preceding the competitions. And in this request lies rather moral than practical (solving the biliousness problem) aspect.

Leonid Pletnev

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