Think fouettés are the key to a judge’s heart? Think again. While judges love strong technique, tricks aren’t what they remember in the long run. Instead, creativity, performance quality and moving storylines reign supreme. Here, seven competition judges dish on what made some routines more memorable than others.
Robert Bianca, Showstopper
I still talk about a number performed by 10 guys from Canadian Dance Company about three years ago. The dance was to Phil Collins’ “Take Me Home,” and it was about men returning from war. The dancers entered the stage slowly, as if they were shell-shocked by what they’d been through, and it built from there in terms of intensity, emotion and physicality. It was a technical piece, but it never felt like they were doing tricks. We were blown away by the artistry.
Christian Vincent, L.A. DanceMagic
In 2005, I saw a number called “Tricky” in Baton Rouge. The jazz dance wasn’t like the routines that typically dominate that category. The dancers wore black netted costumes with their hair slicked back. They were technically strong and as they danced you saw that they each had a mature performance quality. I have an affinity for dancers with an edge, who have the ability to go from strong movement to light movement easily—they had that. Dancers are most powerful when they have a strong focus and can connect with an audience.
One of my favorite routines is a hip-hop number I saw last year in California. The dance was performed by five or six teenage dancers from Dancing Images in Moreno Valley, CA, and I remember it because it was more like a dance concert piece than a competition routine. The movement was clean and the dancers performed well as a group. Cleanliness is so important because it allows the judges to see the story more easily.
Rolann Owens, Headliners
A dancer named Nikki Mele, from Danceology in Toronto, did a dance called “I Speak Six Languages” this year and it was a true musical theater piece. She didn’t do all the jumps and turns you see in so many numbers and she had a lot of personality. Musical theater dancers can’t just be dancers dancing a role, they need to be actors dancing a role.
Mark Goodman, Hollywood Vibe
I remember a tap routine called “Too Darn Hot” that I saw seven or eight years ago. There were at least 40 dancers in it, and the staging was unbelievable. Best of all, every kid was committed to the style of the piece. These dancers totally captured, understood and embraced the 1940s movie style of dance. Remember, your choreographer will tell you what to dance, but the music will tell you how to dance it.
Sarah Jo Fazio,
I loved a piece called “Mother,” danced by two teenage girls. The story was about a mother and a daughter over a stretch of time. It was done so the dancer playing the daughter behaved like she was a little girl, while the other dancer acted like a mother. By the end the mother was old and dying and the daughter was taking care of the mother. There were no tricks, just movement. I was in tears by the end.
Katy Spreadbury, JUMP
One number stands out in my mind: “Hit Me With a Hot Note,” choreographed by Ray Leeper. It was a great jazz dance rooted in musical theater. The dancers appeared to be having an active experience onstage instead of just doing what they’d done in rehearsal. When you’re watching a performance and it feels like something is happening for the first time, it evokes a genuine emotional reaction.