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)

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.

This entry was posted in Get A Job. Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to Become a Competition Judge

  1. neal carter says:

    I am a choreograph looking for more opportunities.

  2. Brandon Ellis says:

    Hello Dance Spirit,
    I’m interested in becoming a judge for your organization or a master class teacher. Thank you, Brandon Ellis

  3. hi Dance spirit….I have been judging for 27 years locally would like to give you a try! thank you CY

  4. Miranda Hutchison says:

    Good morning, I am interested in being a judge for Dance Spirit. I have been dancing since the age of three, and have been a professional dancer for many years. Thank you!

  5. emily Mayer says:

    I am interested in becoming a judge for your competition. Thank You.

  6. felicia says:

    I will be opening up a dance competition company and will be seeking out judges. If you’ve judged before, please email me at please put, competition judge, in the subject line.

  7. Rhonda Cates says:

    I am interested in being a competition judge.I went to UNCSA,had a professional career,and now design dance programs and competitions for The New York City DOE..

  8. Rachael Nardozzi says:

    I am interested in becoming a judge. I have danced since I was 2, went to UNLV for teaching dance if all ages and styles and work at a studio full time as an instructor, choreographer and manager.
    Thank You

  9. Brandee Meyer says:

    Hello, I am interested in becoming a judge. I have always dreams of it. I have been dancing since I was three and have learned several different styles! I love dance it is my passion and I would love to be able to help dancers!

  10. Kim Brown says:

    Greetings Dance Spirit! My name is Kim Nannette Brown and I would love to become a judge with your organization. After many years of dancing and teaching and choreographing I’m looking for a career change because I LOVE what I do!
    Thank you for your time and cooperation!

    Best ,

    Kim Nannette Brown

  11. Michelle says:

    Hello! I’m looking to judge competitions and do more summer workshops! I’m always looking for changes in my career and stepping out of the box! I have been training, choreographing and performing for many years. I don’t plan to stop anytime soon! Look forward to hearing from you!

Leave a Reply

  • DS Presents The Road To Nationals
  • Dance Spirit Cover Model Search
Copyright © 2017 DanceMedia, LLC. All rights reserved. | Privacy Statement | Copyright Notice