As a dancer, performer, choreographer, teacher, competition judge and spectator I decided it’s time to reach the masses with my compiled list of do’s and don’ts before heading into another competition season. Use this as an inside glimpse into what adjudicators are really thinking and hope to see; while giving your students an optimal chance for success and self-confidence! More importantly…an opportunity to have fun, learn from their peers and take away the experience of performing in a new venue!

DO be original: Think outside of the box and present concepts never seen before. Keep it fresh. Chances are it’s all been done before, but that is no reason to copy or repeat something you’ve (and the judges) have seen a million times. Inside tip, if you think judges haven’t seen it …they have.

DO pick abstract and fresh music: This goes hand in hand with being original. There are infinite songs out in the world that have never been used or heard of before that a little research wouldn’t conjure up for you. Keep in mind from a judge’s perspective; if they are sitting through 200 senior solos, what is going to make your student’s stand out? Choose music no one has tackled before. There is a whole world of music out there other than rotating the 10-20 trendy lyrical or contemporary songs repeated throughout the course of a competition season.

DO be appropriate: To me, this is most important. As a studio owner and teacher, think about the maturity level of your students and the venue to which you are playing too.

  • -Costumes: Choose costumes that are age appropriate.  Nobody with any sort of professionalism wants to see half-naked little girls dancing around the stage. Think of it this way, if you costume them too maturely at a tender age, where do they have to go from there when they are seniors? Also, be sensitive to costuming your students in what is appropriate for their body type. Please pick costumes that are flattering on each one of your dancers. There is more to costume design than exposed tummies and booty shorts.
  • -Lyrics &Content: Please make sure your lyrics and content are age appropriate as well. 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, etc. In accordance, please check your lyrics as well and ensure it is clean and edited for appropriate content.

DO be objective: what are your students technically capable of and proficient at, at this point in time? What are their strengths?  Contrary to popular belief, nobody wants to see a dancer attempt fouettes or turns in second (which are not a requirement in a competition number by the way) when the child can’t properly execute a clean single pirouette. Focus on what they can do rather than what they can’t do yet. Set them up for success, not failure! A good judge will appreciate seeing clean, simpler choreography the child is capable of done well, then tricks and turns done poorly.

Do be selective: who is ready for that solo or duet? What is your selection process for deciding who is ready for that privileged small group number? It’s OK that not everyone who wants to do a solo should, or is automatically ready to do one.  These numbers should be offered to those as a reward for hard work, progress, performance quality and maturity.

Do 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. 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!


Do have dancers play to the back of the house. An occasional glance or brief smile to a judge is great but judges don’t necessarily like when dancers are staring down at them during their whole performance. A dancer’s job is to project out to the back of the house and include the rest of the audience too, so make sure dancers know this going into their performance!


DO be natural: Nobody wants to see “mugging” or over the top facial expressions. 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!


DO 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.


Do be respectful of the time limit. Other than a production number or line routine, if you can’t say it in 3 minutes, you probably said too much! Keep it at or under the time limits.


Do avoid pitfalls:

  • -Lip syncing is not a requirement in musical theatre numbers. If a student is not able to consistently articulate through the whole number, have them perform the piece sans lip syncing.  Again, it’s not a requirement.
  • -Do not allow your students to go on stage with one shoe or sock, particularly on the left foot, suggesting, “I am about to only do right turns for you.”
  • -Unless you are doing a Bollywood number or something of the like, save the glitter and rhinestones on the face as part of makeup design for Halloween. Simple, clean and classic makeup for dancers is always the way to go so we can see bright, open eyes that project to the back of the house and those awesome facial expressions!
  • -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!

Remember you are in charge to set the tone for your dancers! They will follow your lead to grasp what is acceptable, professional, artistic, and an all round great number. Delight the judges and yourselves 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 studio!