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What do I look for when I am judging?

This is a question that I get asked most frequently. At every comp whether I am the Teacher or the Judge I hear everyone asking,

“So what is this Judge looking for”?

I can’t speak for everyone but I will give you a run down on how it works for me.

I am definitely not the Judge I used to be, and I am sure you are not the Dancer, Teacher or person you were 10 years ago either. I would have a completely different answer for you if that were the case. Back then I would have told you that I was looking for technique and personality on the stage, and while that is still important and vital, ‘we are at a competition after all’ that is not the be and end all of what I seek.


I will often get asked if I am not judging “would you have Judged that way”?  I honestly can say I don’t know because when I watch and when I judge it is a different process. When I am in the audience, I actually do not view the dancers in the same way as when I am at that Judging desk. When we are backstage, or watching in the audience there are a lot of distractions. The people around you, what you are doing such as eating, or talking to your friends or checking what routines are next or what section you are in, your mind is not 100% focused on the task.

For myself and many others I am sure, when I am employed as the Judge and sitting at my desk, I take my job very seriously. For those I adjudicate for… here is what I will be looking for which might shock you!

I am looking for a Dancer or group of Dancers to ‘give a performance’.


That’s right, actually get on stage and remember why they are there. If Dancers just want to dance without engaging with the audience, then they can do this in their bedroom or studio, but when you dance in front of a Judge or audience, that art of giving often gets forgotten, so I look to those that understand this and have been taught how to do this.

To give a performance means you get up there and dance your little heart out because it feels good.  When you give a present to someone it makes you feel the same, it is nice to give someone something.

Often a Dancer who understands this isn’t always looking for that first place but often it comes, there is a selflessness about giving and understanding its importance in dance. These dancers often do this in class when there is no audience, their dedication given to their dancing is on a daily basis.   These Dancers when on stage seem to have that “thing” that extra special glow that everyone feels when they see them.

Nerves can debilitate you and your movements, but excitement can empower a dancer and that is what I look for when they are on stage. These artists who understand giving, don’t see me as a critical person watching for them to fail. They don’t see the audience as that either, instead of anxiety about their performance they actually can’t wait to share their routine with everyone.

Now if this is your very first time performing, having the opportunity to work with this concept in the class room can make you a lot more relaxed. The excitement will be there but if you are truly nervous you have to look at other factors.  Are you not prepared? Did you just learn the routine? Do you not know your steps? If all those things are not relevant and you know the steps then thinking about sharing and giving your dance to us changes everything. For everyone.

I will of course look at technique and how it is developing for each age group, music and musicality, appropriate steps for age and safety, I personally don’t like a lot of knee drops without knee pads, professional Dancers wear them for company routines so it should be good enough for our younger growing bodies, as well as contorted body movements or over stretched positions and tricks, but that won’t jeopardise a first place.

When I am down to the final three that I am deciding on and they are all amazing, it might come down to one little particular point of difference, for instance, who didn’t have the same shoes, or hair style, or missing costumes in a group or for solos, who was a little bit more technical and had the things I personally like as mentioned, but that isn’t always the case.

Let me ask you, one of your favourite foods, do you eat them every day? or do you have some variety sometimes? Just because there are some things a judge likes, doesn’t mean that it will always govern what they are looking for.

Sometimes I really love three routines but I’m at a comp so I have to decide. So, then I will possibly look at mistakes made, different costuming for groups or technique depending on the Dancers I have been presented, for that section. That is why sometimes you might feel you can’t gauge where a Judge is coming from, one section they go for technique (because maybe they were all very technical in their eyes) and the next section technique may be on a different level so the Judge looks at other elements.


My focus on the job is 100% when I am at the desk, things can go on around me and I am not aware of them. I like to give each and every performer my upmost attention, and sometime even when I am looking down at the score sheet I can still see what is happening on the stage! (this is a unique freaky thing Dance Teachers and parents can do!).

You have heard it hundreds of times, that it is just one person’s opinion but there is a little more to it. What you can be assured of, is that for most of the time judges like myself and my fellow colleagues, love what we do and we accept this role to assist and encourage (not criticise) the next generation of Dancers.

They are children and need our guidance to carry on with life in a positive way. It must be understood that winning a competition doesn’t necessarily mean you are a better Dancer or group or studio than others that did not place. The truth is, if we ran a section immediately again the results may be different depending on how the children perform! So, does that then mean now that the particular Dancer or school is any better or less?

We judge the routine “not the dancer or the studio personally”.  One studio may not ever place at a comp but their children are all learning great technique in their regular classes, are happy and may even be working in the industry.  We must NOT lose sight of that and get too much of an inflated ego when we attend these smaller comps.

My wish for everyone going to competitions is to be a little more giving.


I will not please everyone and in most cases only three people at a time out of a large section are going to be happy with my choices. (Now that’s a tough position to be in!). I have had feedback that I am too nice because I have given out too many Highly Commended awards. While I don’t think everyone should be a winner, there is always occasions where encouragement is necessary.  I have valid reasons for giving more awards out sometimes, especially when those little Dancers come out on stage and give me a performance which I deem it worthy of mentioning and is worth awarding in my eyes.

On the flipside there are times in our lives that disappointment will come and always wrapping everyone in cotton wool to protect feelings isn’t beneficial, in fact disappointment and failing can bring us to a new level of success. It is sometimes the Teachers or Parents that feel some sort of shame or less in value by not winning, and I would like to use this position to bring into light that it is simply not the case.

We only get to give 1st, 2nd and 3rd, but in a massive section a lot of the time these Dancers and Studios have done almost the same amount of work and clearly there isn’t enough places to recognise this. Dance competitions are not always clear cut like an Olympic event, you don’t have a clear winner all the time.

If you know you are prepared, give your best and have worked the months leading up to a competition then to get the icing on the cake with a win is wonderful. But if you do all of this and don’t place, how do you react? Are your reactions because you don’t want to disappoint your Teachers? Your Parents? Your friends? Yourself?

If you truly gave everything you could and you did not place, can you work towards getting to a place in your life that you are ok with that? The sad truth to this is, it is going to be difficult if you don’t have supporting parents or Teachers behind you, but you can move beyond this.


Parents sometimes can get lost in the moment and want to protect the dancer by getting in first. “Well I don’t agree with that!” “You were way better than who came first” ….  (You know how the conversation goes). If we as Teachers and Parents after each performance, immediately started the conversation off with…

Did that feel like you thought it would?

Be honest and mention any little or big slip ups, (I saw some moments didn’t go the way you thought they would), but then say how well they went on with the routine, or if it didn’t go well, say “we can focus on that so next time we can try again”.  Then finish the conversation with good moments, like their personality came out, what was the moment for them that they liked?

Now, children are children and Dancers are especially hard on themselves so if they don’t feel like talking after a not so great performance and they may be feeling embarrassed then that’s ok too. The important thing to remember as Teachers and Parents is that we are adults and can have control over the conversation and how it is lead.

Behaviour at competitions has been lost a little, and etiquette re Judges choice, respect all round from some Teachers to Parents and Parent to Teacher, and children to Parents. We teach people how to treat us, and for competitions a lot is given to the children in order for them to be able to do this. ‘Nerves’ are ok from children but nerves are not an excuse to lose respect.

I wish everyone going to a competition for the first time or thousandth time the most wonderful experience where you come out the other side a better person and knowing something different about yourself. Life is just one big stage, give a little kindness to yourself and others into your next competition season and write in and let me know the new things you discovered about yourself.

Be yourself as everyone else is already taken, remember don’t blend in, stand out and be Stage Ready!