Become a Competition Judge

If you’ve ever attended a dance competition, or even watched one on TV, you’re familiar with the ever-present panel of experts whose opinion matters most when it comes to your score. Ever wondered how they got there or what the job is really like?

Something in the shadows? Judges watch dancers while tucked behind their dim table. (Photo courtesy of LADF)

“Most competitions and conventions feature a set group of industry professionals who teach and judge their events,” says Randy Allaire, founder, president and general manager of L.A. Danceforce, Inc., and executive director of the LADF International Workshop Competition and Showcase in L.A. Many comp companies hire the same judges year after year. But don’t be discouraged; they’re always looking to add fresh faces to their panels. DS spoke with several judges and competition owners to bring you the ins and outs of the biz.

Setting the Stage

Before you start your job search, make sure your resumé is up to par. There are certain elements you’ll need in order to get a callback.

Naturally, performance experience is a huge plus, and having a working knowledge of as many genres as possible is key. “As a judge, you’ll be expected to have a knowledgeable opinion on every dance form—in addition to singing, acrobatics and cheerleading,” says Jason Leonard Kalish, tap dance teacher and judge for Hollywood Connection Competitions and Conventions in L.A., and professor for tap dance technique at Kennesaw State University in Kennesaw, GA. (Think about the judges on “SYTYCD”: They have to speak intelligently about everything from hip hop to paso doble!) Your chances of getting hired increase depending on the level—and breadth—of your dance knowledge and experience.

While there is no minimum age requirement, teaching experience helps judges to gauge and analyze a dancer’s abilities in a way that performance experience sometimes cannot. “The real aspect of judging is not judging, but rather adjudication and recorded critiques,” says Brian Santora, a dancer and choreographer who has judged for DANCEAMERICA and Dance Olympus, as well as many scholarship competitions throughout the country. “It’s your responsibility to analyze the dancing before you can effectively express the dancer’s success or shortcomings in an encouraging and effective manner.”

Making the Connection

Your next step is networking. According to Nancy Stone, vice president of Dance Olympus, DANCEAMERICA and International Dance Challenge competitions, in Ft. Lauderdale, FL, judges are often hired by word of mouth. “We’ve been in business a long time,” Stone says. “So if someone who has been judging for us forever says they have a friend who would be great, I go on that recommendation.” Speak with teachers, fellow dancers, friends—anyone who might know someone hiring at a competition. “In show business,” Kalish says, “it’s not who you know, but who knows you.”

Contact the companies you’re interested in working for and find out what their preferred application and hiring processes are. Certain comps, like Dance Olympus and DANCEAMERICA, require a headshot, video and resumé. Others want you to demonstrate your prowess in person or during a phone interview. “They may ask you cold questions, like ‘Give me corrections on the pirouettes that I just fell out of,’” says Kalish. “If you don’t know what to say, then you’re probably not ready to be a judge,” he warns. Directors want to know that you make wise, educated decisions—and can communicate well with dancers.

“Finding qualified and responsible judges is actually harder than it appears. People submit their resumés for judging on a daily basis,” says Jessica Wilson, whose role it is to sort through applications and determine who is qualified to be a JAMfest judge. “It’s not a bad idea to call and introduce yourself before submitting your materials.”

On the Job

“Judges must have the ability to analyze, compare and rank,” says Allaire. “They should understand production and choreography and need to differentiate between smart theatrics and poor technique.” They must be familiar with which techniques and performance levels correspond to the appropriate age and award levels, as well as take notes, give corrections and offer constructive criticism to performers. “Teams need to know why they were given the scores and placements they received,” Wilson explains. This means that judges need to write out comments by the end of each routine.

Patience and flexibility are two must-have attributes in the judging world. Competitions can last anywhere from five to 12 hours, and from one to five days, often with few breaks. A judge’s demeanor and attitude affects every dancer onstage, so they must maintain a level of professionalism and respect at all times. “Good judges learn how to pace themselves so that they remain effective,” says Allaire. Equal attention and care must be paid to the first dancer all the way up until the last performer.

Is Judging for You?

If you find yourself constantly encouraging others, giving corrections in an inspiring way or watching dance all day, judging may be the perfect job for you! Examine the things that you enjoy in life: Writing? Critiquing? Being organized? While becoming a competition judge isn’t easy, with the right skills, you can make it happen. When you market yourself, be natural, confident and prepared. “All in all,” says Allaire, “the role of a competition judge is part judge, part dance critic and part inspirational communicator.”

Lee Erica Elder is a freelance writer in NYC.

Dancer to Dancer

Much of Janelle Ginestra's career has been about helping others shine. She's dedicated herself to supporting and cheerleading her partner, WilldaBeast Adams; the emerging talents in their dance company, ImmaBEAST; and the countless dancers she inspires at master classes and conventions. Her YouTube channel has become a launching pad for young talents like "Fraternal Twins" Larsen Thompson and Taylor Hatala, thanks to viral videos featuring Ginestra's creative vision.

But Ginestra's a skyrocketing success in her own right—an in-demand choreographer, a social media influencer, and a dance entrepreneur, building a legacy one eight-count at a time. It's time for her turn in the spotlight. And she's more than ready. "I want to be a legend in whatever I do," she says. We'd argue that she already is.

Keep reading... Show less
Win It
Courtesy CAA

You read that right, people—Dance Spirit's giving away two tickets to the "SYTYCD" tour in the city of your choice, complete with an exclusive meet & greet with select cast members! Read on for the complete prize listing and official rules.

Keep reading... Show less
Tiler Peck and Chase Finlay in Swan Lake (photo by Paul Kolnik)

For ballerinas, it's the dream role to end all dream roles: Odette/Odile in Swan Lake, the type of part dancers spend years preparing for and whole careers perfecting. And it's a role that New York City Ballet principal Tiler Peck never thought she'd dance. Though Peck is one of the world's preeminent ballerinas, her short stature made Odette/Odile, typically performed by longer, leggier dancers, seem (almost literally) out of reach.

Then—surprise!—her name popped up on the cast list for NYCB's fall season run of Swan Lake.

Keep reading... Show less

Low on dancewear inspiration? Return to the classics in bold black and elegant white.

Keep reading... Show less

Lani Dickinson's power, grace, and raw presence make her a standout with AXIS Dance Company, whose mission is to change the face of dance and disability by featuring a mix of disabled and non-disabled performers. Born in China, Dickinson was adopted by an American couple and started dancing at 8 in Towson, MD. She attended the Boston Ballet School for two summers, studied at the Idyllwild Arts Academy for the last two years of high school, and graduated with a dance degree from Alonzo King LINES Ballet's BFA program with Dominican University of California. In 2015, she joined AXIS and won a Princess Grace Award. Catch her this month during AXIS Dance Company's 30th-anniversary season—and read on for The Dirt!

Keep reading... Show less
Dance News

Week five of "Dancing with the Stars" proved to be one of the best weeks of the season so far. (And we're not just saying that because Mickey made a cameo debut on the piano during one of the routines—although that certainly didn't hurt!) Everyone brought their A-game, and with such a fun theme the contestants were able to really let their guards down. There was true sincerity in their dancing that we hadn't seen before. But not all Disney stories end with a "happily ever after," and one couple still had to hang up their dancing shoes.

If there's one week you should watch all the routines of it's undoubtedly this one... But, ICYMI, scroll below for our highlights of the night.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance News
Via Facebook

Almost a month out, Puerto Rico continues to suffer the devastating aftereffects of Hurricane Maria. Many of the island's residents still lack power, clean water, and safe housing. Ballet classes? For Puerto Rican dance students, they must feel like an impossible luxury.

But a dance studio in Florida is working to allow a group of young Puerto Ricans to continue their training. And it needs your help.

Keep reading... Show less
Dancer to Dancer
Gianluca Russo (via Instagram)

Yes, I am a dancer, and yes, I am fat.

There's nothing quite as soul-crushing as the reactions I've received when I've told people I dance. They can range from disbelief to confusion to shock. To many people, it's somehow incomprehensible that a plus-size person like myself could grace a stage. While the body-positive movement has been trucking along at full force over the past few years, it hasn't made much progress in the dance community yet. In fact, the words "body positivity" and "dance" are almost never used together in the same sentence.

Despite that fact, dance is what helped me learn to love my larger frame. In honor of National Body Confidence Day, I wanted to talk about my first time in a studio, and about the tremendous progress I've made since.

Keep reading... Show less


Want to Be on Our Cover?





Get Dance Spirit in your inbox