Spectators and competitors alike often ask about the criteria upon which dancers are judged, how judges are selected, and what counts more - the "technical" or "artistic" elements in a performance. Judging is a complex job and there's often lots more going on in the dance than what meets the untrained eye in the stands. Therefore, improving the knowledge base is good for EVERYONE involved.

Here's some important perspective from Skippy Blair of the World Swing Dance Council...

USASN: Explain some basic elements of judging to assist the average spectator. SB: At the core of all judging are the "Three Ts" - Timing, Technique and Teamwork. Once those areas are evaluated, things like Artistic Impression, Musical Interpretation, Creative Choreography, and Showmanship can be factored in. But it first comes down to the BASICS of the dance. If you can't dance with quality, no amount of showmanship is going to get you a top placement.

USASN: What is the scoring system used by WSDC events? SB: The scoring system is known as Relative Placement. That means that regardless of the number of points each judge gives a contestant, each judge's 1st-place score is worth the SAME number of points as every other judge's 1st-place score. This keeps one judge's scores from being more valuable than another's.

USASN: How are judges selected for various events? SB: It varies considerably. Some Event Directors leave the selection to the Head Judge hired for the event. Some use a Competition Committee to select their panel. Others select judges from several states to provide geographical diversity. Still others feel that selecting the BEST DANCERS is the way to go. And some Directors feel that they should just simply hire the most prestigious judges - period. These varied approaches are often based upon practicality as well as on overall event strategy or philosophy. Clearly, different approaches can produce different outcomes.

USASN: What should the average person look for when evaluating a couple? SB: Timing. Clean lines. Footwork. Centering. Body Flight. Action-Reaction. Substance. Creativity. Showmanship.

USASN: Any other general comments? SB: Through many years of judging competitions, attending seminars and having discussions with each other, we currently have a well-rounded set of judges that participate regularly on the national competition scene. Some judges focus more on entertainment value and talent, others focus more on technical elements. Together they produce excellent results. Many judges combine ALL of those elements and, more and more, judges are expanding their vision to include evaluating ALL of those elements at once (entertainment being a specific and important element on its own!).

Today there is quite a demand for judges' training and judges' certification. With the increase in competitions all over the country, more people are being asked to judge and they want to know more about what they are asked to do. The interest in certification is coming from a wide variety of people who are getting involved in judging - and also from NEW organizers.

The Judges' Certification Program is the result of hundreds of hours of Judges' Workshops presented by GSDTA and the WSDC over the years. The training program was designed to keep us all up to date on dance terminology, the latest approaches to technique, changing styles, and - in general - to provide a National Forum that puts us ALL on the same page.

Every dance organization eventually reaches a point where certification for judges is a necessity. None of us can learn what we need to know until we find out what we DON'T know. Examination is the only way to discover that.

Skippy Blair World Swing Dance Council www.swingdancecouncil.com 562.869.8949

Pulled from: http://www.usaswingnet.com/judging_philosophy.htm

For more than 35 years, I have been talking about the "3-way" partnership - the leader - the follower - and the music. Sometimes the MUSIC can interfere with the partnership. That should NEVER be the case in a competition.

Any standing ovation always includes kudos for the music! Go back through your videos and find the standing ovations. Yes - the dance was great - but the choice of MUSIC always added something to the dance. The dancers not only lived up to the music - but were inspired to use their creativity and expertise to make the audience hear things in the music that they would NOT have heard without observing the dance!

In competition for ALL styles of dance, there is specific music that is screened and considered "acceptable" for competition. Given a level playing field, all top level dancers will give great performances. West Coast Swing has the most variety of music that is deemed acceptable for the dance. Unfortunately, in an effort to impose little or no restraints on the dance, we have avoided placing restraints on the MUSIC.

New arrivals on the swing dance scene cannot be expected to have the ability to tell the difference between questionable or unacceptable music for West Coast Swing. Increasingly, our DJs are studying the music they play and becoming experts in their field. In the meantime, until everyone understands that certain music is unacceptable, our dance is in trouble.

It used to be that we bragged about being able to dance West Coast Swing to any music that was played. That is still a wonderful truth today! That thought was prevalent before the emergence of unacceptable music. The criteria for today's music selection should be this: Only use music that contributes to the dance.

There is no virtue in playing music that creates a challenge for the dancers. The word "challenge" is the Key Word here. It should not challenge you to dance. Challenging music should only be upper level phrasing that inspires an upper level dancer to stretch their capabilities.

A competition requires three participants: A Leader, a Follower and Music that inspires them to dance. Deejays must maintain a relationship with the Dancers that keeps them all on the Same Team. Great Music encourages great Performances.

Some people describe music only by TEMPO - "It was too slow", "It was too fast". Tempo does not identify the music. The underlying rhythmic feel of dance music should invite us to dance (sometimes insists that we dance). The absence of that feeling sometimes suggests that we should sit this one out.

There is a "heartbeat" deep in the rhythmic pulse of good dance music. It "cries out" to the dancer and brings them to the floor. Good dance music does not make you scratch your head - or blink your eyes.

Dance Identification works hand in hand with MUSIC Identification. It is time for everyone to wake up to the fact that music should be pre-selected and approved for competition. There are hundreds of pieces of music - probably thousands - which are desirable for Swing dancing. A good start would be simply to eliminate the unacceptable ones - just so newer DJs are not tempted to play them.

Many new dancers (and a few not so new) tell me they have difficulty with music identification. They ask how to tell a Swing from a Cha-Cha or a Hustle. They wait until someone else dances, and then they get on the floor. This period of learning eventually leads to dance identification, but ONLY if someone tells them what the music is. If no one ever tells them the difference, the newer dancer assumes that ALL music played at a Swing dance is Swing music.

Most advanced dancers can handle whatever music plays without having it interfere with their capabilities. However, Beginner and Intermediate dancers are cheated out of experiencing the "thrill" of the dance if they are not conditioned by music that encourages the shaping that instills the "thrill" of the dance.

No matter how much you enjoy dancing Swing to Hanzel Martinez's "Love Potion #9", it is still a Cha-Cha. Of course, a Swing Dancer can dance Swing to it. It might even be one of your favorite songs, but hopefully NOT in a competition. In a competition, an accomplished Cha-Cha dancer's Swing dancing would be compromised.

Good dancers feel the rhythm of the dance in their bodies before their feet move. In this scenario, Cha-Cha music becomes a handicap. (It may not seem like a handicap, unless you are a Cha-Cha dancer.) The point is that a dancer should not be penalized for being accomplished in more than one dance. Would Swing music be allowed in a Cha-Cha or a Hustle competition? Of course not!

The main issue at this time is having to dance to music that does not contribute to the dance. Some music does not invite great dancing. However, more than that, some music does not ALLOW great dancing.

Every follower loves to dance with a leader who creates a balance of good leads with a little leeway for personal interpretation. The music should do the same. Good music should provide a setting that allows unlimited variety of interpretation. It all boils down to: "Good SWING music SWINGS!"

Skippy Blair World Swing Dance Council www.swingdancecouncil.com 562.869.8949

Pulled from: http://www.usaswingnet.com/competition_music.htm

So, you thought you knew all about dance shoes? Well, there's a lot more to dance shoe construction than you might think. So we asked our expert, Grant Austin, of "Dance Connection" dance shoes to give us the complete scoop about brands, styles, fit, injury protection, and cost. In addition, he'll talk about the new specialized shoes that he has designed with extra padding and special toe formation to provide better comfort and protection against injuries.

USASN: What brands of dance shoes do you carry? GA: Over the past 20 years we have carried Capezio, International, Supadance, and a host of other brands. More recently we introduced our Ultimate dance shoes and Comfort dance shoes.

USASN: What is so special about the Comfort Dance Shoes? GA: The Comfort Dance shoes are all made with extra padding. This brand includes a full line of ladies coaching shoes and sandals in various heel heights to appeal to dancers from every genre. The men’s styles include low and Cuban heel options in Balmoral and Blutcher styles. We have recently introduced our Hybrid dance sneaker that looks like a casual shoe or sneaker, but has unbelievable padding and a flexible leather dance outsole. Finally we have developed a split-sole dance sneaker with a chromed leather outsole which will be available soon.

USASN: What is so special about the Ultimate Dance Shoes? GA: The Ultimate Dance shoes have always been made with extra padding and top quality materials but we recently developed a new lasting system for this brand to include the men’s shoes and the women’s practice shoes in both a 1’ and 1-½’ heel.

The “last” is the mold that the shoes are made around and is the key to fit. We created a “depth last” which allows us to add 4 mm more padding to the insole of the shoes without affecting the look or fit. In addition we also made it a combination lasting system, where we kept the heel cup normal but added width and height to the forefoot to make sure that there is no pressure across the toe joints and toes.

USASN: What foot problems would the new Ultimate Dance Shoes address? GA: What most dancers don’t realize is that dancing is a sport where the foot is put into a very dynamic state. The constant impact causes trauma. On a scale from 1 to 10, dancing ranks probably a 9, with a 10 being all-out running.

Most dance shoes are made with very little padding if any, and unfortunately as we get older, we begin to loose the fat pad in the heel and the ball of the foot. The extra padding in the depth dance shoe will soften the impact to the heel and ball of the foot area to help with various foot maladies such as metatarsalgia, bone spurs and arthritis. In addition, the extra space in the forefoot will accommodate bunions, tailors bunions, hammer toes, mallet toes, neuromas, and also the socks with the extra padding in the ball of the foot.

USASN: What is so special about the Comfort Dance Socks? GA: Most people overlook the importance of a good sock. The sock is the gasket between your foot and the shoe, and is your first layer of protection. Unlike a 100% cotton sock, which holds the moisture in, these socks are made of a special poly-blend that wicks the moisture away from the foot and out through the shoe. It is manufactured for Comfort Dance by Thorlo’s, which is the leading sock maker in the US. These socks take care of the moisture control, bacteria control, and have a special weave which eliminates the sheer. Sheer is the combination of both friction and pressure that causes calluses and blisters. The sock has extra padding in the ball of the foot, where everyone needs, but especially dancers. And finally there is also padding in heel cup for extra protection.

USASN: Besides manufacturing dance shoes, you are also a Certified Pedorthist, what is that exactly? GA: As a C-Ped I am licensed to manufacture custom footwear and custom orthotics for patients with a doctor’s prescription. Our lab, Custom Orthotics Inc., specializes in manufacturing a European-engineered custom orthotic that is the very best available anywhere.

USASN: Why is your orthotic so good? GA: Our platinum series custom orthotic is engineered to address various bio-mechanical foot disorders to include plantar faciitis, neuromas, bunions, hammer toes, arthritis, bursitis, metatarsalgia, and calluses. It transfers weight off the balls of the feet, and moves it to the arches where it belongs naturally - like when you walk on the beach barefooted, and your arches fill up with earth and sand. That’s the way a human beings foot is made to function naturally.

From the time we are born we are put in flat shoes and walk on hard concrete all day, and the foot takes a beating. Our Platinum Series orthotic is custom fit to all 5 arches and fits in all of your shoes, even ladies high heels. It supports the lateral side of the foot (outside) by cradling the 5th metatarsil bone and cuboid, and supports the medial side of the foot, which most people refer to as the main arch. But, it also is custom fit to 3 transversal arches to include the posterior and anterior metatarsil arches. By hand making this orthotic to fit just behind each metatarsil head (balls of the feet) we can tuck the ball of the feet under and bring the fat pad back in place over the balls of the feet where it belongs. By supporting all 5 arches we can improve your posture by balancing the mid foot and aligning your gait for relief in the ankles, knees and lower back.

Most custom orthotics on the market are stiff and bulky but ours are made with a surgical nylon blend that is strong but flexible, so it works naturally with the muscles and tendons of the foot and, in most cases, can actually improve the arches. Because of the durability of nylon, we can make the heel cup paper thin so it doesn’t affect the fit of the shoe or lift your heel out of the shoe like most other custom orthotics. We also have covers in black and flesh so that they can also be worn in sandals and look very natural. Our hand-made Platinum series custom orthotics have a 15 year guarantee for fit and wear, and over 8000 dancers are now wearing them.

USASN: You always refer to a systems approach to foot care, what is that? GA: The systems approach includes the combination of all the things we have talked about. A moisture wicking padded sock for better protection. A well padded dance shoe or boot that reduces the impact to the heel and ball of the foot, but also has more space in the forefoot to accommodate the big toe joint and toes. And, finally, our platinum series custom orthotics, which transfer the weight off the balls of the feet and spread it evenly across the entire foot bed, and puts the feet and body back in balance. The combination of all three products offers the dancers the best opportunity to dance for hours without pain. Even dancers that are not experiencing pain get the orthotics, padded footware and socks to help avoid injury and because they believe in preventive maintenance.

USASN: How much does all that cost? GA: Our web special for the orthotics is $279, but 80% of that is usually covered by most health insurance with a doctor’s referral. The Ultimate Dance shoes range from $119 to $139 for women’s styles and $129 to $149 for men’s styles. The Comfort Dance Shoes are the most affordable with the dance sneakers, hybrid sneakers, men’s styles and all women’s styles available for $99 per pair. To order, visit the links below.

Grant Austin Dance Connection Dance Shoes Oakwood, Georgia 770.539.9474

Pulled from: http://www.usaswingnet.com/dance_shoe_science_new.htm

West Coast Swing Videos Page