BEING A TAP CHOREOGRAPHER FOR COMPETITION IS NOT ALWAYS EASY. A LOT OF TIMES THERE ISN'T EVEN A TAP JUDGE ON THE PANEL. EVEN WHEN THERE IS, IT'S HARD FOR THE JUDGES TO REALLY CRITIQUE THE PIECES WHILE THEY ARE HAPPENING IN REAL TIME. THEY CAN USUALLY TELL YOU WHAT'S WRONG AT THAT MOMENT BUT HARDLY EVER GET A CHANCE TO TELL THE TEACHERS AND THE DANCERS WHAT THEY ARE REALLY LOOKING FOR. WHAT'S THEIR PHILOSOPHY? WHAT DO THEY EXPECT OUT OF YOUR CHOREOGRAPHY AND YOUR DANCERS? HERE IS THE POINT OF VIEW OF 4 JUDGES WHO'VE COLLECTIVELY JUDGED FOR OVER A DOZEN DANCE COMPETITIONS AND CONVENTIONS.
HERE'S WHAT THE JUDGES THINK.
1. First I look for organization. Are they clean when they walk out on stage. Prepared? Focused? Confident?
2. The beginning of the dance is crucial because it's a first impression. Choose your first phrase or step or idea wisely.
3. Timing is major. Rushing is a big big "NO"
4. Clarity of steps or the language of the dance is vital. If it's not it shows that your not prepared and/or sloppy and you cannot be understood.
5. Then we get to how the piece is choreographed to the music. You shouldn't do the exact same steps to a swing tune the exact same way you would dance to a Latin song.
6. Then we get to the range of the stows or phrases. How creative is the choreography and do the dancers look good doing the choreography. Sometimes the steps are there but the rest of the body is almost forgotten. And relaxed and forgotten are two very different things.
7. I love to watch tap dance and to hear it. Lots of times just a clean (doesn't have to be crazy hard) well thought out tap dance is more than enough to make me smile from ear to ear!!
Things I look for in a tap piece at competition-
1. I find it very important that a tap dance be filled with a large tap vocabulary. I often take off points for dances where the majority of the routine is jazz dancing with just a few tap steps in it. You need almost all of the dance to have footwork involved to make it a true tap routine.
2. I want the transitions to be many different kinds of steps and rhythms. I feel the flap in often overused as the only step for transition. There are many ways to move from place to place. You can actually move any step in any direction at anytime. Try teaching a 16 count combination of steps and have the students practice moving it in all directions. That will make it very easy for them to move any step in a routine.
3. Make sure that if you have 2 separate sections where the dancers are doing totally different step that the sounds are compatible. If you have too many things happening at once you end up with sound over load and the entire thing becomes mushy. The two groups have to reference each other and somehow connect while being different.
4. Remember when tap dancing that I can see you and hear you. Both your look, costume and formations need to be a complete package with your feet. You need to look as good as you sound and sound as good as you look.
5. Most importantly, make sure to have the gift of rhythm and silence. Often people will put so many steps into a dance that it is constant sound which will take away the rhythm and syncopation of the sound. Silence every once is awhile, or a break in rhythm will make what you are doing much more complex. Find your pocket, have some shading, and be sure to surprise my ears.
As a Professional tap dancer I will admit that there is quite a difference between the competitive world and the professional world of tap dancing. When I have the opportunity to adjudicate at a competition there are definitely certain things I look for. One is not more important to me than the other. They are all equally the same. They all contribute equally to tap dance and are in my mind major players in honoring this art form in the way we should and in the way our pioneers did in the past.
TIME: It is so imperative that we as tap dancers professional or not hold time. We need to find the pulse and hold onto it, from the beginning to the end. Without it we are lost, along with our audience and if you’re lucky enough the musicians your playing with. Time is the foundation to build from, weather it’s improve or choreographery time is everything.
RHYTHM & PHRASING: To me this is “the conversation” weather lifting a section of a tune or laying something down over top. Rhythm & Phrasing (what you are saying) is so important and something I feel there’s not enough of in competitions.
TECHNIQUE: I think this is pretty much self explanatory. Without technique we wouldn’t understand the rhythms or phrasing, weather you were in time or not it wouldn’t matter. Bad technique leads to sounds missed and sloppy conversations. This why THE PRACTICE is very important.
SWING & SYNCOPATION: Again something I wish I heard more of in competition. Swing and syncopation give a tap dancer and a tap routine an entire different dimension and feel. Something that needs to be felt and taught and something I feel is very important as a tap dancer.
GROOVE: This is last on my list but most definitely not least. In fact it’s one of my favorite’s. Groove is the soul of the dance, it’s what makes me sit up and listen. True passion brings out true groove and it can’t be taught except shown by those who have it. I could go on and on about this subject but to truly sum up groove...
The era...the 1960’s
The place...Fells Point Baltimore
The tap dancer... my all time favorite Baby Laurence in “An Afternoon in percussion” It’s up on YouTube thanks to tap dancer Jumaane Taylor and definitely worth the watch!
In a tap piece what I generally look for is entertainment and sheer value of the piece. When I judge tap dancers, sometimes it's easy to look past the performance as a whole and just focus on the technique. Technique is extremely important in the art form considering every sound is able to be heard and seen at the same time. The technique for tap dancers is like any other style of dance. It takes years of practice, But the great thing about it is that tap dancers can create new and innovative steps/combinations where as you can't necessarily do that in any other dance form. This means the performance level should come at a higher caliber and should help improve the visual aspect to a judge. Generally, tap dancers get looked over at competitions because the judges are so focused on the footwork as opposed to the entire picture. It's not just about the feet but about the performance as a whole. I applaud competitions who seek out tap judges because they know it is a very important piece of the puzzle in ones dance training and helps to gauge a better grasp on becoming a well rounded dancer.