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Adjudicator's Tips - so just what are they looking for?

Dad always used to say to me, 'why do you waste your time doing something where your success is based on someone's opinion of you? Why not take up football where a goal is a goal and there are clear cut winners?'

He's right of course, but only to a point. Dance is undeniably subjective, but it is also possible to be so accomplished and brilliant that you leave no room for personal preferences. It IS possible to be a clear-cut winner. And this has to be every dancer's goal - right? To simply be unbeatable. And not just in competitions either, but also in auditions as these are, without exception, the route to employment in the industry. It's not about winning medals growing up, but it IS about learning how to be successful.

So how exactly can a dancer be successful, especially at competitions?

The winning formula can be difficult to quantify and is certainly challenging for parents and pupils to see for themselves. It is easy to find seemingly convenient reasons to justify a disappointing result such as 'younger end of the section', 'new dance', 'old dance', 'content too easy', etc etc. I could go on and on. But in my opinion, an excellent dancer is an excellent dancer. 9 times out of 10, it's not what they do, but how they do it that makes all the difference.

So just what are adjudicators looking for?

1. Technique

2. Content

3. Personality/Showmanship

4. Dynamics/Light and Shade/Energy Level

5. Style

6. Preparation and Confidence

7. Costuming


Whether you are performing a classical solo, jazz, song and dance or a tap the technical base to the performance is of utmost importance. The line through your legs and feet, your posture, strength and control of what you are doing, kicks, jump, turns, chaines, developpes, jetes, fouettes, etc etc. All these things are the foundation to the routine. It is these elements that give you the base on which to build so it is important to get these elements right so that you can “put the icing on the proverbial cake” afterwards. No amount of personality can cover poor technique – so you have to put in the time to develop the technique required for your routine. In a tap routine this also means securing all your rhythms. There is no shortcut to getting great technique - you have to put in the work - so commitment, investment (time and £), patience, effort, desire.


This is a tricky one as you want to perform at your peak in a competition. So you don’t want to perform a routine that is too difficult for you to master – but equally you don’t want to do something that is too easy! If you perform a really difficult routine well then of course you will do well, but if the solo is beyond you at the time of performance and you mess it up (fall out of turns, come off pointe etc) then you can’t possibly do as well. I have a rule - if you can't do a step - don't put it in your dance. You wouldn't put a back somersault in your choreography if you couldn't do one, so why attempt a wing if you can never get your beats in. So look closely at your content and match it well to your capabilities! Trust your teachers here - they know your capabilities intimately, are very experienced with competition dances and have the same motivation as you - they want you to win. Think carefully before jumping to the conclusion that you didn't win simply because your dance wasn't 'hard enough'.


You can be the best dancer in the world but if you are boring to watch then people will not be interested. You need to connect with your music and choreography! Tell the story and bring the steps to life. And if you have lyrics in your music then it is more than likely your choreographer has used those in the routine. So you must listen to the lyrics and connect with them and then to the audience. A performance that has emotion as well as technique will always go down far better with an adjudicator and audience than a routine that is only technical. So – get the technique right and then add the passion and emotion. If you want to do your best in a competition then you have to cover all areas of your performance and the personality is what “sells the routine to the audience”!! Dance is more than just moving arms and legs - you must entertain. Work to provoke an emotional response from your audience, especially a 'wow'! Another rule of mine - always work for the 'wow'!


It is very important that you have a lot of energy when you perform. If you appear lack lustre on the stage then the audience will have a lack lustre response to your routine. Find your 5th gear and work in it! We can tell when a dancer is working to their maximum - there's an extra dynamic, legs and jumps go higher, turns go faster and the dancer constantly improves to reach their full potential. Dancers that get to the top of their game, know how to do this all the time. They don't waste a second in rehearsal or on stage.

However it is important to remember that every routine requires light and shade. That is elements of relaxation and elements of force. If you hit every movement with aggression and force the routine will end up looking forced and stressed. If you hit everything with no force or energy than you will look weak and lethargic.

The key is to approach all movements with impulse, suspension and then relaxation – this will create dynamics and give your routine light and shade. In tapping you need to create this light and shade in the sound as well as in the visual aspect of the performance.

The same goes for varying your rhythms. A 2 min Modern dance to 1/4 notes all the way through will be incredibly dull no matter how lovely the movement and choreography. Be true to your rhythms, have mis-beats, tacit, syncopation, varying note values etc which will also help you display contrasting speed of movement for improved contrasting dynamics. Some movements should move faster than others. Sustain the ones that need it. Go through your dance and analyse your varying speeds of movement and see if you are doing it as well as you can. And there is nothing wrong with stillness either. If you've had a very busy bit of choreography displaying lots of fast movements and lots of travelling, a lovely bit of stillness to break it up is worth its weight in gold.


This sounds so obvious but often it is the case that the performer has not developed the required style for the choreography and routine. For example – if you are dancing a Broadway piece from say CHICAGO then you need to research the musical and develop that specific Fosse Style! If you are dancing a classical solo in a Spanish style then you have to give your port de bras a lot more attack and energy to bring out this flavour. If tapping to a funky selection of music then you need to have relaxed arm lines and a casual approach – using your traditional arm lines will look silly and not work at all. It is not enough to simply dance the steps. You need to perfect the style required! So watch some video footage that shows the style you are aiming for and try to replicate what you see.


Again – this sounds obvious but you would be surprised how many people get out on stage and are not prepared at all. You must know with absolute certainty that you can perform all the required elements of your routine with confidence and if not you need to change them before you compete. Practise, practise, practise. It is no coincidence that the pupils that are really successful are those that practise at home and on the side in the studio all the time. And not just their dances, but technical elements and stretching also. Never waste a moment.

You should know the week prior to the competition how your routine is progressing and it is then that you should decide (with your teacher) what the final performance will be.

Performing with confidence is vitally important. It's impressive and professional. The ultimate goal has to be to make the audience forget they're at a dance competition for a moment and think they're watching a professional dance company performance. Dance with pull-up and the top of the head lifting to the ceiling. Have pride in your dancing and be as self-indulgent and show off as much as possible in keeping with the piece.


Consult your teacher about costuming options for the particular routine. Avoid buying costumes in advance then asking for routines to be created to suit the costume. Let the teacher have choreographic freedom to create something most suitable for you without the constraints of needing to match a costume.

Always wear something that is flattering to your unique body shape and figure. A well-fitting costume in a flattering colour will add a lot to your performance. Sort your costume out well in advance. Get something unique for you. Looking professional will make you feel professional and you will dance better.

The same goes for grooming. Try to avoid a pony-tail and do a fancier hair-style if possible and appropriate. Accessorise where possible - these finishing touches make a big difference.

So there you have it. Some tips to help you get the best out of your dance festival experiences. Ultimately, try to leave no room for criticism (i.e. be as flawless as possible), practise as much as possible, work to provoke a response in the audience especially a 'wow', find your 5th gear and stay in it (always push yourself beyond your comfort zone), pull up as much as you can, have oodles of confidence and perform with self-indulgence and sheer joy.

And remember – the only person you should be competing with is yourself. If you have done all the preparation you can and have performed well on the day then that is all you can hope for and you should be happy with whatever the adjudicator’s result is.

Remember – dance is subjective and while most adjudicator’s do have an educated opinion – it is just that – their opinion – and results may vary from time to time!

That is what makes dance so wonderful – everyone sees it in a different way and it doesn’t fit neatly into a structured box!

But if you cover all the elements listed above, your performance is more likely to appeal to a greater number of people and adjudicators!

So – watch everyone else and appreciate what they have to offer. And most importantly enjoy the opportunity to get up on the stage and dance!!!


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