How is a Ballroom Dancing Competition Judged?

Are you thinking of participating in a ballroom dance competition? Perhaps you’ve already dipped your toes into to the competitive pool. Whatever your experience, you’ve most likely been curious about, or asked how judges decide which dancers are the best. What you’re really wanting to know is – What can I do to get the judges’ attention and win my division?

Aleksandr Biyevetskiy dancing with Nancy Li at Harvard Invitational 2014

When you do get answers they are all pretty much the same…

“Adjudicators are looking for couples with musicality, an excellent dance frame, exceptional posture, a strong partnership, proper footwork and an overall remarkable presentation.”

Alex-Biyevetskiy-dancing

Well, of course they are. Those are the elements of a good dancer. When judges are looking at a floor filled with couples who meet all of those criteria, and more, how do they choose? Or, even when all of the couples are very new and meet none of the criteria — what makes one couple stand out from the others?

You already know the answer. You’ve witnessed it and said the words yourself.

“They are so fun to watch!”

It’s that spark and charisma that draws people’s eyes toward certain dancers. They don’t have to be professional world champion dancers to have that “it” factor. Anyone who’s ever been to a competition, or watches Dancing with the Stars, has seen someone who isn’t the best technical dancer draw the audience in.

Some people are natural performers, but you don’t have to possess their personality to get the same results. All you have to do is have fun and enjoy yourself when you’re dancing. Of course you have to do the work ahead of time, but once you’re on the competition floor, it’s time to be a cheesy show-off (at least that’s what it will feel like at first). All of the technical elements of dancing are important, but having fun will help you achieve and showcase the full potential of your skill.

Still don’t see how having fun will help you get higher scores? Let me explain.

Timing

If you’re dancing off time, it doesn’t matter how well you execute your patterns. You will automatically take last place.

To improve your timing, get out on the floor and enjoy yourself. Instead of having a running-narrative going through your brain to keep your frame up, use heel leads and every other boring, yet necessary, thing you’ve worked on prior to the competition — actually listen to the music and dance to it. *gasp*

Posture

Trying to have good posture while you’re nervous or stressed-out is like sneezing with your eyes open – it’s physically impossible. When you’re nervous your shoulders pull up around your ears; your neck tightens, causing your head to jut forward; and your entire body curls into a standing fetal position.

When you’re excited your entire body opens up. Your head perks up. Your spine elongates. Plus, your muscles aren’t clenched.

Try it now. Think of something stressful and notice what your body’s natural reaction is. Then think of something exciting and see how you grow at least two inches in height.

Partnership

Not only does your energy affect your partner, but the physiological reaction you’re having to your emotions will affect them too. All of the things mentioned in the previous paragraph will constrict your partner’s movements, if you’re in a stressed state. However, if you’re enjoying yourself and having fun, you will support and enhance your partner’s movements.

Expression

Dancing is supposed to be fun. So, you should look like you’re having fun. Even better, actually have fun. You can attempt to choreograph facial expressions into your routine. However, if you’ve seen couples who do that, you’ll know they’re not achieving the desired result. But hey, at least they’re putting forth the effort and we’ll leave the judging to the judges.

On the other hand, when you wink, point or do a Kirstie Alley one-handed boob-lift because the moment called for it; the movement will come across as genuine, instead of unnatural.

Overall Presentation

Pushing yourself towards perfection is fine during practice, as long as you don’t bring that pressure onto the competition floor.

Get excited when you dance, and you will look confident, self-assured and your dancing will rise to a higher level. Plus, you’ll throw your competitors off their game by being one of those couples who walks onto the floor as if they own it.

Example

The story of my first competition is the best example of how focusing on having fun can overcome many obstacles. My partner and I had only been teaching a couple of months. We were inexperienced, had only danced together a few times and the two dances in the Novice category showcased the biggest weaknesses we had at the time. Plus, we decided to compete four days before the fairly large regional competition. It’s not like we had been discussing it and made our final decision at the last minute – we had the idea four days prior to competing.

Watching everyone else in the studio prepare for the comp looked like fun and we wanted the experience. That’s how everyone does it, right?

Since we were extremely short on time, we decided to do three steps in each dance. Instead of arm styling, we put our hands on our hips so we would match. I borrowed a dress, he rented a tux and we were set.

We were so excited waiting on deck with the other Novice couples. A few were talking about how long they had been practicing for the competition. Everyone but us had been preparing four to six months, which was longer than we’d been dancing. One couple was even walking through their routines. They were serious competitors. *cough dance snobs*

The emcee called our number; we walked onto the floor and had a blast. The other couples moved around the floor more than we did in Waltz. They also had actual arm styling in the Rumba. So imagine our surprise when we won first place.

Sheri Hosale and Jean Marc Casanave

The judges talked to us after the competition because they heard about how little practice and experience we had. They said the reason we won was because we had good timing, we were always together and were enjoyable to watch. They were also surprised with how confident and at ease we were, especially for our first comp.

That was the only competition Jean Marc Casanave and I danced in together. We joke that we retired our partnership as undefeated Novice Champions. I used what I learned from the experience to have a successful professional and pro-am competitive career. I prepared a great deal more for future competitions, but I never took the serious concentration I used during practice onto a competition floor. It was a formula that always paid off for me.

The best way to approach ballroom competitions is to work hard so you can play hard!

Learn to dance well. Take as many lessons and coachings as you can. Practice and perfect your routines.

When it’s time to walk onto the competition floor, trust that you’re properly prepared. Then let your freak flag fly. Make sounds when you dance Tango. (They actually have a purpose. But, who cares? They’re fun to do.) Make people a little uncomfortable with your sensuality as you dance Rumba. When you make having fun your main goal during competitions, not only will you increase your chances of placing higher – you’ll feel like a winner regardless of what the judges think.

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