Your browser is out-of-date!

Update your browser to view this website correctly.







Another competition season is here, studio owners. While your faculty is hard at work choreographing and cleaning those amazing pieces for your dancers, it’s time to get down to the nitty-gritty and get real about what competition judges will always appreciate vs. what the masses seems to think is essential.

As with any recommendation I give, staying true to your studio’s vision and creative mission and sensibility will always be top billing. But, here are five sure-fire tips that will have the judges sitting up a little taller at their seats and dancing along with music!

Originality is Golden! Step away from what everyone else is doing. Take chances. Be bold. Be a visionary. If you’re seeing it onstage a million times, why would you want to replicate it? That’s not choreographing, that’s restaging. Think outside of the box and present concepts never seen before. Keep it fresh. Chances are it’s all been done before in one way or another, but that is no reason to copy or repeat something the judges have just watched ten times. Inside tip, if you think judges haven’t seen it …they have.

Be Appropriate! In every sense of the word. As a studio owner, think about the maturity level of your students and the venue to which you are playing to. Judges want to see costumes that are age appropriate.  Nobody with any sort of professionalism wants to see half-naked little girls dancing around the stage. Avoid trend unless it is a very specific concept. Pick costumes that are classic and flattering on each one of your dancer’s body types. There is more to costume design than exposed tummies, rhinestones everywhere and booty shorts. Remember, judges will appreciate youthful and innovative.

Judges also appreciate that your music, lyrics and content are age appropriate as well. You won’t gain points for edgy or mature lyrics with shock value. Remembering that competitions are a family-friendly show, stick with entertaining and artistic concepts that reflect the capacity of your student’s understanding and refrain from subject matter that a young dancer has no business presenting, i.e. suicide, rape, sexual promiscuity or exploitation, drug use, etc. Believe it or not, judges are over it and still scratch their heads why anyone would present this sort of material.

Stop Mugging!  Be natural. Be authentic. Nobody wants to see “mugging” or over the top facial expressions, i.e. “kissy face,” “fish face,” “stank face,” etc. Encourage your dancers to be natural, smile and emote accordingly. A judge can tell when something is sincere or not, so when in doubt BE REAL! If a dancer is performing from the inside-out this should be effortless! You will ABSOLUTELY gain praise from the judges on this one.

Professionalism and Kindness is Contagious! Judges are always noticing and watching. Even when you think they aren’t, they are. They are aware of how your dancers represent themselves on and off stage. Camaraderie, team spirit and respect for other dance studios doesn't go unnoticed. Supporting your peers will always be an important element to competition dance.

Professionalism also doesn’t necessarily mean achieving a perfect routine. Mishaps happen on stage all the time. You are not going to lose points because someone trips or loses an earring. But, judges will watch for how your dancers handle less than desirable situations. Train your dancers to keep going no matter what happens! I can guarantee a student they are going to fall at least once in their career. Remind them it’s not about the fall or forgetting their choreography, it’s about how they recover. Again, judges aren’t going to deduct points for falling; in fact they are ALWAYS more impressed with how a dancer thinks on their feet and keeps going! That’s a professional!

Keeping Time! Remember that judges are sitting there all day, seeing hundreds of numbers in a weekend. There are things you can do to keep the flow of the day going that is much appreciated. Be sure to enter and exit the stage expeditiously. Contrary to popular thought, most often, judges are not watching your entrance because they are in the midst of completing their adjudication for the number prior to you or finishing your adjudication as you exit. If they are watching, remember that choreographed entrances and exits only set you up to be critiqued earlier and start from the second you start dancing. A clean, brisk entrance and exit will always be received best.

PLEASE be respectful of the routine time limit. Other than a production number or line routine, if you can’t say it in 3 minutes, you probably said too much! “Always keep them wanting more,” is the motto to follow! Keep it at or under the time limits. Your judges will thank you.

PLEASE bring back-ups of your music! Don’t be that studio that holds up the competition because you only brought one or two copies of your music and didn’t test it before you got there!

Trick Overlaod (OK….bonus tip…...) Yes, extensions, leaps, multiple turns, acro tricks, etc. etc. are wonderful. They are a technical element that will impress anyone; one, two maybe three times in a three-minute routine. However, transitions, artistry, nuance and stage presence are key ingredients to a well-rounded piece that judges are also wanting, craving and yearning to see. NOBODY wants to see three minutes of tilts, aerials, fouettés or leaps in second (no matter how talented the dancers.) I promise you, judges will stop caring after the first minute. So, texture your routines with dimension and depth and it will take your piece to new heights and your dancers to new levels of performance.

Remember…… as studio owner, you are in charge to set the tone for your dancers. Delight the judges by following these tips and stay true to how you’d like to be perceived in the competition circuit! Keep it fresh, exciting, cutting-edge, entertaining, unique, appropriate and technical.

Good luck to all of you this competition season!

See you in the dance studio,


Join our Community of Dance Educators By CLICKING HERE

Get instant access to 1000+ videos including full length master classes, "How To" teacher training tips, Choreography with break downs and 100's of lesson plans and teacher enhancement articles

We offer dance studio owners the ultimate toolkit with business building articles, videos and downloadable forms. Topics include help with marketing, increasing revenue and improving communication.

Our Studio Owners VIP consulting services offer one-on-one coaching for a more hands on approach to your business development. Inspiration is only a click away!



Jessica Rizzo Stafford

Jessica Rizzo Stafford

Jessica Rizzo Stafford is a native New Yorker and graduate of NYU Steinhardt's Dance Education Master’s Program; with a PK-12 New York State Teaching Certification. Her double-concentration Master’s Degree includes PK-12 pedagogy and dance education within the higher-education discipline. She also holds a BFA in dance performance from the UMASS Amherst 5 College Dance Program where she was a Chancellor's Talent Award recipient. Jess now works extensively with children, adolescents and professionals as choreographer and teacher and conducts national and international master-classes specializing in the genres of modern, contemporary, musical theatre and choreography-composition. Jess’ national and international performance career includes works such as: The National Tour of Guys & Dolls, The European Tour of Grease, West Side Story, Cabaret, Sweet Charity, Salute to Dudley Moore at Carnegie Hall, guest-dancer with the World Famous Pontani Sisters and IMPULSE Modern Dance Company. Jess has been a faculty member for the Perichild Program & Peridance Youth Ensemble & taught contemporary and jazz at the historic New Dance Group and 92nd Street Y in NYC. She was Company Director at the historic Steffi Nossen School of Dance/Dance in Education Fund and in 2008 traveled to Uganda where she taught creative-movement to misplaced children. The experience culminated with Jess being selected as a featured instructor at the Queen's Kampala Ballet & Modern Dance School. She has conducted workshops for the cast of LA REVE at the Wynn, Las Vegas and recently taught at the 2011 IDS International Dance Teacher Conference at The Royal Ballet in London, UK. She is also on faculty for the annual Dance Teacher Web Conferences in Las Vegas, NV. Currently, Jess is a faculty member at the D'Valda & Sirico Dance & Music Centre and master teacher & adjudicator for various national and international dance competitions. Recently, she has finished her NYU Master’s thesis research on the choreographic process of technically advanced adolescent dancers and is the creator of “PROJECT C;” a choreography-composition curriculum for the private studio sector. Jess is also faculty member, contributing writer and presenter in the choreography and “how to” teaching segments on the celebrated For more info, visit her website at

1580 Post Road Fairfield, CT © Copyright 2022 by