Competitive Ballroom Dance Judging – Letting Go Of Results


How many recalls did we get? Who gave them to us? Who didn’t give them to us? Who marked us how in the final? Why did that judge give us last? How did that judge place us higher than that couple we’ve never beaten before?

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Why do we put so much placement on the recalls and placements? It’s human nature to want something objective and quantifiable that we can point to as a barometer for our progress. But looking for something that objective in a sport that is completely subjective might be a losing battle.

Let’s look at an example of how the thought process (or at least my thought process) works from the first round to the final by using a personal example: my partner Nicole’s and my results from Prechampionship Smooth at MIT 2013 (couple #191); then, let’s see how we can take those preconceptions and processes of thought apart.

1. The Semifinal and Preliminary Rounds.

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(Top: Waltz; Bottom: Tango; WT paired as a single event.)

In the Waltz, this judge, that judge, that judge, and that judge didn’t call us back. They hate us. They think our waltz is gross, offensive even. I thought I had the proper footwork, I thought I was stretching my lines to the tips of my fingers — no, they hated it. I’m not worthy to be on this floor.

… But those five *did* call us back. They must have seen something they liked. Maybe they even loved our dancing. Good for us! We got five recalls. Yay.

Hey, look at that — 8 recalls out of 9 in the Tango. … Wait. 8 out of 9. Who didn’t call us back? All the other 8 liked us! Why didn’t s/he?

And zooming out to the big picture, we needed at least 10 recalls between waltz and tango to make it into the final. We got 13. We’re somewhere in the middle of the pack — we didn’t just squeak into the final. Good for us.

Reality check. Judges that don’t mark you into the final don’t necessarily hate you or have a vendetta against you. There are a lot of factors that go into a recall (or lack thereof): lack of visibility on the floor, your style not meshing well with their expectations, their seeing you at a point where your technique lapses or you make a mistake, etc. Sometimes, a judge will see you at the exact perfect moment of your routine when the rest is falling apart and give you a recall when you don’t deserve it. It’s a very subjective sport with snap judgments being made on the fly; you shouldn’t necessarily read any deeper meanings into a lack of a recall from any given judge.

The other fallacy that needs to be blasted apart is the idea that the number of recalls in prior rounds indicates how the final will go. The couple that gets the most recalls isn’t necessarily slated to be the overall winner. Likewise, the couple that gets the least recalls can come from behind to win every judge’s 1st place mark. What matters is that the couple got enough recalls to make it into the final; if not, then it’s time to work harder in the studio.

2. The FINAL.

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(Top: Waltz; Bottom: Tango; WT paired as a single event.)

Two 6th places in the waltz. It’s all over. Those judges loathe our dancing. We can never show our faces at this comp again.

… But look! A 1st place! Somebody loves us! *breaks down into sobs* Finally!

That tango, though. Two 1sts. We’re on top of the WORLD right now. … Except for that one 6th. WHY?!

Reality check #2. Judges’ marks are very subjective, and in any given dance, they have only a minute 30 to a minute 45 to mark 6 or more couples on the floor. They can only give so many seconds to a couple and decide on the spot how they want to place them in relation to everyone else on the floor. The judges have a very difficult task. What you have control over, however, is how you dance. Make sure that you’re consistently putting your best dancing forward so that at whatever point they catch you, they’ll have no choice but to mark you 1st.

3. The Final Tally.

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5th overall. We placed 5th in waltz and 4th in tango, tying us under Rule 9 with another couple, to whom 4th place went due to Rule 10. That’s okay. Rule 10 isn’t nearly as bad as —

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… Rule 11. The bane of Smooth dancers everywhere. Ugh. I hate Rule 11. (Except when it works in our favor.) But I hate it when it doesn’t. These are the results from the Pre-Champ Smooth Foxtrot and Viennese Waltz in the same competition. Man. So close to 3rd place! We’ll get ‘em next time.

In Conclusion.

We all play these mind games. We go to the recalls to see how many we got, to the final to see who places us where, to the final tally to see how we stack up against the other couples. But the truth of the matter is that results will always change unless you’re just that good, unless you work super hard on yourself to ensure that you’ll always get that top placement. So if that top placement is something you want, you need to put in the requisite number of hours and lessons to achieve that goal.

But more important is how you feel about your dancing and progression. Are you staying in the same place, or do you feel that you’re making progress? Are you consistently getting into the final, or are you stuck in the octofinal? What’s happening between you and your partner, and how are your partnership and your dancing shaping up? How do you feel? Don’t displace onto the judges’ marks — if you feel good about your dancing and are getting good feedback from your peers and coaches, keep doing what you’re doing, and eventually you’ll see the results that you want.

Author: Daniel Libatique [The Dancing Grad]
Exclusively for Dance Comp Review