Can’t read my, can’t read my, can’t read my judging face. (I’ve got to judge everybody)

– Song running through my head this Saturday before the Jack and Jill I had to Judge

This past weekend I popped my judging cherry by judging for a  local Jack & Jill at my college. It was a low pressure competition, that the rules barred anyone who has placed 1st in a regional Jack & Jill or who has competed at big competitions like Camp Hollywood, ILHC, and et cetera.

‘to the victor belong the spoils


Bobby White’s post at Swungover’s about judging questions segement hit the nail on the head of some of the questions that swam through my head as I was judging:

How much time do I spend on each person? That person is dancing technically great but looking down and not energetic, do I rate them over an individual who is the exact opposite? That follow is having salsa arms, do I penalize for that? How do I make absolutely sure my previous knowledge of some competitors does not make me positively or negatively biased against them? Oh god, that guy led a drape, do I let the extremely negative connotations of that move completely discount him from the finals? These people have the exact same scores on my prelims sheet, how do I choose which one goes to finals? That person’s number is flapping do I wait until they stop rotating so I can read it, or move on and come back?


When I was first starting to compete, one of the important things I wanted to find out was how competitions were judged. Up to the point of this past weekend information I had to work with was:

  • Two Camp Hollywood: So You Want to Compete Classes. Year 1 by Ben and Sheri Yau, Year 2 by David Frutos & Kim Clever. These were helpful in they went over how they judged competitions and gave tips especially for first time competitors.
  • Private on Judging/Competing with Nick Williams: Amazing lesson, most of it was fixing technical issues that people are marked off for in competitions. But part of it was he went down the three T’s (Timing, Technique, Teamwork) and really broke down what he looks for in each category, immensely useful in not just competition but judging as well.
  • Reading a yehoodi thread on judging and two essays found inside: Unfortunately I was unable to find the yehoodi thread, but these two articles by both nationally recognized and experience judges were useful:
  1. Nicole Frydman (On Judging):
  2. Tena Morales (On Judging):
  • Sylvia Sykes LED Talk at ILHC on Judging: Really informative talk where she went over the ideal situation for judging, dealing with possible biases and just funny things she has seen in competitions.
  • Watching competitions and judging them, then later seeing how they compared to actual scores: This is something I do once awhile when watching competitions as a game, but its great practice to do it. So when the pressure is on when you actually judge, there are less things you can worry about. You can even do this online with youtube if you want.

Actually Judging the Competition


For the prelims we had two heats with 10 leads and follows in heat one, then slightly less then that in heat two. Two of the judges got leads, two of the judges got follows, I was the unlucky one who had to judge both. You know how judges say they only get five seconds to look at you in prelims in Jack and Jills? They are not kidding. What was a bummer as a judge, is I saw some people who normally lead/follow decently at bad moments and had to mark them down. Because I had to go through 30-40 people in the equivalent of 4-5 minutes of music, I literally did not have time to give people a second glance.  Sylvia Sykes said during her LED talk something similar to these words, “Part of being a judge is sometimes awarding people you hate 1st place and keeping your best friends out of the finals.” it really came to mind in this situation.

For judging I used the system Kim mentioned in her Camp Hollywood talk in which I awarded pluses or minuses next to numbers and at the end of the heats tallied it up and the individuals with the most points went to finals. First thing I did the second any song started was scanned the room and saw which leads started on time after the intro, any leads who were off instantly got one minus off the bat. Then I looked at each individual one by one and awarded or subtracted points based on different criteria (on time, paying attention to partner, et cetera).

At the end though there were still some ties which required some thought to break. Ultimately what was the tie breaker for me was I chose individuals who I thought would make for an entertaining final. It was looking down or having the “thinking dancer” look that lost some people a chance to get in the finals.


I thought it would be easier judging finals because there was less people, boy I was wrong. With more time to pick apart a couples dancing, more questions were raised.

For the finals there was just four judges including myself deciding the placement of 5 couples. It was phrase battle style, with a warm-up (not judged) followed by an all-skate. It was a different animal to deal with because I was judging people as a couple and not as individuals. Which was killer because in some cases there was one person doing awesome but their partner was having issues keeping up.

For the finals I went with Camp Hollywood judging criteria of 50% Three T’s and 50% showmanship. I would watch each couple during the spot light and write down notes of positive and negative things I saw. The main question I struggled with was do I award more a couple who danced mostly clean but did not do anything amazing, to a couple who made some technical errors but got the audience cheering. What really made my final decisions were which couples took me along for a ride, made it difficult to not look at them.


I think it was a great learning experience and as a competitor it will help me be much more understanding in competitions I enter. It has also made me not envious at all of people like Sylvia who have to judge events like ILHC.

2 thoughts on “Judging: A First Time Judge’s Experience

  1. I had my first opportunity to judge a competition recently, and in the Jack & Jill I was really surprised how much the finals are different than the prelims. In the prelims, judges are often walking around the competitors and the competitors often pretend like the judges aren’t there (I know I’m guilty of this as a competitor). We get to the finals, and it’s my first time in the judging row of chairs, front and center, and the thing that stood out most to me was eye contact. People look at the floor, they look at their feet, and very few have the balls to look right at the judges. It’s so weird to have someone dance 20 feet away from me but look at the floor in front of my feet instead of at my face! It puts up a wall when you won’t look up and invite the judges and audience behind them (at least!) into your dance. It’s interesting that prelims don’t naturally select for those performance skills because of the way they’re set up as a sea of dancers. Next time I judge a competition in this format, I will definitely give greater weight in the prelims to people who have the guts to look me right in the face and smile!

  2. 。選んで空気、あな

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