Judging in EXOTIC POLEDANCE. Myths and View

It’s time to tell about judging Exotic Pole Dance as DANCE STYLE. I compare it exactly with dancing because it is the dance first of all. Spiced with tricks and upper pole work but still it is the dance. That’s why judging criteria is the same as in other dance styles, such as breakdancing, experimental, hip-hop etc.


Myth No 1. «The judge must be a famous person / star.»

The judge must be a person who has understanding in the topic. He/she might not be a super performer or even a pole dancer. I have judged together with dancers of other styles, once — with theatre director and circus actor. These people are really keen on choreography assessment and artistic work, their lives are full with this. They can see techniques and assess choreography trusting their taste even not going deep into exotic pole dance. Surely to an average pole dancer who doesn’t monitor other artistic directions their names may mean nothing but if these people have shown themselves well in judging and analysis of their fields and are high demand teachers one may and should listen to their opinion.

Many people are already well informed that excellent performer not always is a good instructor, well, not the fact he/she can be a good judge. To judge one should have analytical mind, knowledge and taste. In other words, sports/dancing achievements — is  just one of criterea but not the only one determining everything, like not all healthy life-style people are good, and not all smokers are bad :D

Performing, teaching, judging are three different fields. If you are good at one of them it is not a fact you’ll be good at another one.

It’s not possible to BECOME a judge of dancing events, you can only be selected to judge. Suddenly your opinion starts being trusted, gossips appear saying you have the understanding of the topic and you start being invited to judge. A judge is important moving part of dance culture, he/she determines spectator’s taste. Competitions may lose prestige just because of poor choice of judges. A judge is an analyst and must be able to explain in simple way his/her positive or negative decision. When judging «Elite» category serious influence have nuances so that arguments can be understood only by other judges and dancers of «Elite» category. For amateurs and audience these nuances may seem absolutely odd. However the judge must be able to explain the bases of his/her decision at any circumstances and not just say «it seems this was a bit better». How, why and in what moment it is a bit better, and what can be improved — all these details must be noticed by the judge.

The fact that a judge is important person at the event doesn’t say a crown/star should suddenly appear on his/her head. Being a judge shouldn’t make you feel poncy. A judge is not a master of souls or the king, the judge is doing his/her job (ideally). There isn’t big cash flow in field of community dance, that’s why there is no sense to corrupt judges, so we can talk about unprejudiced judging. Of course, unfair judges can do favour to some contestants but often these things come to light and reputation of the judge collapses.  That is why judges are often chosen as independent (do not belong to any studio), or from other cities, or trustworthy and won’t favour familiar contestants. Basically I’m leading to the fact that it’s much bigger pleasure to perform in front of the judges who are involved. When a judge is watching attentively and reacting as an ordinary spectator — performers’ fear is disappearing and they uncover themselves as artists better. You may agree, it is not so enjoyable to perform in front of frown people showing you «I’m the boss here, you are taking an exam, let’s see what you can do». Job of a judge is to assess, not to trade their royalty. The fact that you are chosen to judge is yet a sign of respect and trust.


Myth No 2.  «Judging system is objective.»

This can’t be further from truth.  Every judge assesses basing on his/her own subjective feelings. That’s why CHOICE OF A JUDGE is extremely important. To explain, there is a certain number of criteria (columns for marks) where the judge puts points. But only he/she may know what assessment system is in his/her mind. For example, by which criteria should artistry be judged?  For instance, the judge knows ideal execution options of elements, choreography moments, using this music, so he/she will underestimate the marks if the execution in reality is not so good.

Experienced judge instantly sees clones or stolen combos and also may put lower marks for that. Audience and other participants don’t see all this. Since 2003 I have judged breakdance for one simple reason — during that time my friend and I watched loads of videos and tones of information went through us. It was time of poor internet in Russia and we watched everything we could get. We communicated with guys from other cities, exchanged video cassettes and gathered impressive collection. I could say who did, what elements and what year, so I’ve often been asked to resolve a dispute. In addition, you start having understanding of dancing tendencies, pay attention to choreography. Those times I’ve been competing a lot, so the information was very important for my own development and improvement. Then I’ve been asked to judge competitions in other cities as well. A well-informed person instantly sees if a combo or manner was stolen or created by the performer, knows ideal elements execution. By this moment I’ve been administrating few social groups for several years, I watch tones of videos and see much staff live. So experience is gained by itself.

You see, judging criteria of the performance depends on inner world and mental outlook of the judge. The more experience, the more objective marks are. If the outlook is not wide the judge judges on level: «wow, cool», «no, I didn’t like something», «I didn’t understand this at all». But, attention! judges usually judge the whole concept and don’t lower marks if style of the performance is not personally close to them.  This is not professional at all. Here is an example, I can lower marks for poor stylization or overplayed song, that’s true. This is lack of taste of the performance creator.  I never listen to pop music, girlish songs, flamenco music etc. But it absolutely shouldn’t have any influence on judging. If I see well-stylized performance with «girlish» song (or any other music which I don’t listen to), this performance will be judged fairly. I welcome any manner or experiments if they are stylish.

Some people say: «One judge doesn’t make overall decision!» but he/she can deviate it crucially. If a judge due to his/her taste and lack of experience unreasonably cuts down many points the competitor loses several positions even if other judges’ marks are fair. In same way a judge may give unreasonably higher marks, for example, «for friendship».

Myth No 3. «This judge didn’t like me because he gave me 10, and others — 20 points»

It’s not a fact. Based on Myth 2 — criteria of each judge is kept in his/her mind. Accordingly he/she has a certain points reserve. Here is an example. Let’s take 30 points system with 1 point step. Suppose, an «average» competitor will get 15 points and I’ve made a big reserve in case of super-wow-performance. Accordingly a «good» one will get around 20 points and a «cool» one — 25 points. However the other judge may have absolutely othe scale, he/she may take 8 or 10 as a base. Anyway it influences the overall score if the judge follows his/her system all the time. To understand judge’s system need to look at all protocols, probably his «10» is the highest respect :D Though actually the judge could have given you lower marks for some reason, but we can’t make that assumption until he/she explains it.

Myth No 4. «Those ones who are in top three — well done! Who isn’t — are losers and bad artists».

Let me tell you few stories. In early 2000s breakdance band Ground Zero from the USA took part in international competition «Battle of the Year». Before that they won prejudging and finals in their country. By the way, to win USA Championships means to be in top of world bands. Competition and level in the USA is just crazy. «Battle of the Year» was even of lower level than American Freestyle Session and Out for Fame. So this band comes to Europe and has to perform a show. In the USA it’s not popular, mostly there are only battles. Ground Zero performs the poorest and most stupid show and don’t go through. Does it say that Ground Zero is a bad band? No, it says that they didn’t meet the system of this particular competition. Ground Zero is the legend to present day, but most of the bands participated in that competition hardly can be remembered. Freaks will hardly get through to the next stage. But the thing is that freaks are also important, they often give emotions to audience and new breath to dance style (I mean creative narrowly focused freaks, not those who just show off). If a person is experimental he/she is often narrowly focused and loses where needs to meet a number of criteria. I know style creators who haven’t ever won anything but they are very popular and do a lot for style development. In the end, it may be just bad luck (tiredness, mistakes, injuries, etc.). A lot depends on participants’ level. If everyone’s level is poor even medal winning doesn’t help to improve the situation. I remember one competition where Tatiana Marsheva didn’t give the 1st place to anybody. This is nonsense but… why not? From the other hand, when level of participants is very high — getting into top 10 or top 20 is a big achievement. In addition, difference in marks is minimal and even top 10 participants can be very close to each other in their score. And all these performances will be perfect. Attention to spectators, watch ALL videos from major events, not only first three places. Places in competitions — it’s not dividing into bad and good with significant line, it’s very blurred. Of course, performances at the very end of the list might be really poor, but it’s impossible to divide to «black and white» those who are higher in the list.

Myth No 5. «I watched video of top three performers, I don’t understand why they got placed!  Not so impressive».

Dancing is a delicate  thing. A good artist knows what contact with audience means. Anyone who often sees performances live understands that video kills the atmosphere. A dancer can rock the stage so that audience becomes crazy and judges are shocked with the level of coolness but video doesn’t show the energy. You can see only a person who slightly messed up here, made a little mistake there. But you can’t see how he/she kept the audience involved. Angle of shooting, shooting style and editing makes the difference. Judging is being made HERE and NOW, you can’t assess afterwards or by video. Shooting is a substitute of reality for those who couldn’t see it live. You can’t assess charisma and attraction of a person by a photo as well as you can’t feel smell of pie from photo or feel the wind and smell of the sea on video. So why all think that you can judge dancing by video? By the way, it happens vice versa sometimes — dancers who look smooth and have clean technique take last places because when you see them live they have no energy and no charisma whatsoever.


Myth No 6. «Separate  assessment system is the best one»

I don’t agree. Sport is judged separately. Because in sport clean technique of particular elements is important, creativity is not assessed at all. Exotic pole dance and dancing is creativity. Attempts to judge creativity by separate protocols are similar to trying to scoop up water with fork. It’s the same if you come to exhibition and you are told not to look at the painting as a whole, but look at that stroke in right top corner. In dancing exactly separate assessment system is not objective. I came across when people wrongly got 1st place only for clean execution. Because sport, art and exotic were judged by the same protocols. It was impossible to argue with clean technique but obviously it wan’t the 1st place and everyone agreed with that. In breakdance everybody judges everything since the beginning of time and there was no problem ever with that. Separate assessment system in dancing has discredited itself and I’ve been a witness of that. System «everybody judges everything» haven’t let down for many years.

Myth No 7. «I understood the idea that a judge must be able to explain mistakes, I’ll try to elicit right up to marks»

It’s impossible to explain right up to marks (look at point 2 about subjectiveness). You shouldn’t take seriously points system, some don’t use it at all. Experienced judge can point finger at better performer analysing in mind without using marks. Points system is just some figure but not 100% characteristic. Sometimes disputable decisions are made by voting, for example, in case of the same score. Odd number of judges vote — «three vote for this, two vote for that, the first gets through». Firstly, a judge can mention some aspects to work on or which were good, but he/she doesn’t have to report for each point given. Secondly, work of judges finishes together with the end of competition. Don’t attack judges with messages «what was wrong?» Some organizers allow some time for communication with judges after event, you can stay, talk and listen there. You are just wasting their time by writing a lot in private messages after comps. A judge has judged — competitions are finished — results are ready.

Attention to organizers and judges! If system «everybody judges everything» was used  and somebody (some of the judges or participants (instructors)) is not satisfied with results of the summary — it’s their personal concern. Any recalculation shouldn’t be done. Recalculation is a statement of fact that judges are incompetent and not responsible for their decision. Why were they needed at all? If such question is raised by one of the judges — this is particular disrespect to other judges. I mentioned recalculation above but it was exactly weakness of system (separate protocols) and not inconfidence in decisions. A judge can use some notes in order to build hierarchy of dancers’ places. If opinion of other judges differs from yours — this is nothing to worry about if you are 100% sure in your decision and carried out your work responsibly. The overall result is the summary of votes. For this reason there are 3 to 5 judges (odd number is better) and not 1. Sometimes the main judge is the one who can take responsibility in disputable situations (same score), in this case there won’t be votes, one person decides everything. However this must be written in competition rules beforehand. Rada Yeremenko practices interesting alternative — prizes from organizer on her «Stripper Style» competition. For example, if an organizer likes some particular show, choreography, costume he/she is free to give such prizes. That means if an organizer doesn’t agree with judges’ decision he/she is free to prize those ones who he/she thinks deserve it but places remain according to summary. Again, it must be written in competition rules beforehand. Exotic pole dance competitions are purely commercial events, rules may be of any kind but recalculation after summary results is a bad manner.

So if you’ve decided to take part in dancing competitions keep in mind that you’ll have to go through 2 screens: 1) Rules of the competition 2) Judging assessment system which every judge has in his/her mind. Everything written above is not related to Pole Sport or Artistic pole dance competitions which have exact judging criteria of elements. Exactly for this reason there should be a good symbiosis of organizers and judges so they understand each other. That’s why choice of judges is extremely important. Some contestants even apply or don’t apply depending on who will be judging. If I’ve heard that a judge is problematic, probably I should look for another competition where my marks won’t be underscored just because I am from competitor school or my performance won’t be just disliked. If till this moment you were sure that judging of dancing competition is objective — sorry for disappointing you :) This is up to you — should you be a competitor or prefer to perform showcase.


Many thanks to Tatiana Marsheva and Vladimir «Volch» Karachunov for helping me to bunch my thoughts up together! Good luck with your trainings and performances! Translated by Marina Iris (great respect!)

Author: Slan SilverBullet