Changing the system of judging

By Fred Bijster

Competitions are held in general to find the best. The ways to determine that are very different; it can be by measuring speed, height, strength or whatever. It can also be determined by a panel of judges. Results are influenced by better trained bodies, better material, better looks, etcetera. And of course by better skills. Competitions have the tendency to develop and improve every activity, in our case the dancing.

Rules are also there to create equal conditions for all participants. Rules in general create the format of competitions and will decide who is the winner.

In dancing judges have the final word and the main focus lies on the comparison of assessment and application  of skills of the competitors on the day. Declaring the winner by use of the skating system (in principle a majority decision). The judges will place the dancers in order of merit, not assess the individual quality, but the order. What better way to do this than by seeing all these couples at the same time, under the same conditions?

Adapting the format / rules which guard a competition (especially the system of judging) is, in itself, maybe not a bad thing. It might create a different perspective and give a different winner. Maybe even a better dancer to win. But before you start to do this, careful considerations should be given to unwanted side-effects. Are we not at the same time diminishing or deleting something that is very valuable, even a necessity for further improvement and development?

The value of interaction on the floor

This new system of judging, involving only one couple on the floor at a time, takes away an important feature.

Who doesn’t remember the many great “fights” on the floor, where the competitors were dancing fully inspired and the audience was in ecstasy? Those moments that nobody will ever forget, where the interaction between the couples enhanced the dancing like nothing else could do. The interaction being the primary impulse for a great performance. Those special moments would be wiped out at exactly those moments where you want them to occur: in the finals of a competition, sometimes already built up in previous rounds. Winners are born on moments like that and will inspire others. A great asset!

In this new format the interaction is not there. The focus of both competitors and judges will be different. Presentation (the “better looks”) most likely will take over as a decisive consideration. Not the skill, but being more clever. I do not believe it will therefore on the long term give us the same improvement of the dancing skills. The “shows” will be better or more clever. But the dancing? Already you can see the change of the dancing into a circus act. Do the right tricks and you will win!

If this new system is introduced to get a “better result”, I have my strong doubts. A different result: yes. But not necessarily better. Judges will always disagree to a certain degree.

It is part of the competition. You please the eye of one and fail to do so with the other. The judging in this system will take much longer, but the result will not be any better, I’m afraid.

And the price to pay: to loose that wonderful interaction between the dancers in the final and the involvement in it of the audience is too high a price for me. Even apart from the possible loss of the impulse to improve on skills. I’d rather have a different winner, born on the floor in a true competition, than running the risk to loose all this. Let alone the other consequence: in a time where people want everything quick and instantly and are easily bored; this new system will extend the duration of the final immensely. Too long for my taste.

And if you, as a judge, have to compare the quality, why separate the couples and by doing so changing the circumstances for the individual couples? These can’t be the same on different moments.

I always get worried when people start thinking of “better ways”. A wise man once said: “ask a committee to create a racehorse and you will end up with a camel”.

This idea might just be a perfect example of such a camel. And what is the reasoning behind it? Is it just to be different, or is it to look like something we are not?

Both reasons are invalid.

Fred Bijster

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