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Unfair judging
Posted by Unhappy
2/17/2004  1:20:00 PM
Does anyone out there know why a group of judges from the same dance studio would vote as a block, placing all their students first, second and third at a New England University ballroom compeitition, hosted on Sunday, with no regard to how well other dancers were doing?

They were unfair to all the dancers, including their own. Fortunately there were other judges who judged the competition and their unfair judging did not accomplish their aim.

As a dancer myself, I would love judges to judge me on how I dance. Period. Don't give me anything I haven't earned. I know all collegiate dancers feel the same.

I just want judges to have some morality and I believe the majority of them do. But this was blatant disregard for how hard every dancer works to learn the skills necessary to compete in ballroom.


Re: Unfair judging
Posted by Jonathan Atkinson
2/17/2004  4:34:00 PM
The short answer is: Some people suck. If you're a victim of people who suck, there's not much else I can offer you. You can raise hell, complain to the competiton organizer, or file a complaint with the appropriate organization (NDCA, USABDA, etc). But you can dig yourself into a bigger hole than when you started, so I don't personally recommend it. As a general rule, the people who suck are far outnumbered by those who don't, which means that the overall results can only be affected so much by politics.

The longer you hang around the competitive world, the more you'll realize the extent of the politics, but you'll also learn how to play them to your advantage. That doesn't mean that you have to be a total sell-out, but there are certain simple things you can do to minimize the negative effects on you. For example, be nice to everyone, make a lot of friends, and don't speak poorly of anyone EVER (even your greatest rival, even though you KNOW he's nowhere near as good a dancer as you).

If you want to step it up a notch, it doesn't hurt to take lessons with other coaches. That's not selling out... that's being smart. And often, you'll find that the lessons are really good, too. Selling out is taking lessons purely for political purposes (especially when you know you're not going to get anything out of it). But if a lesson has educational value, take it. You will improve your dancing, and any political gains are purely coincidental.

You have to understand that judges don't always mark their own students better simply because they're corrupt. It's human nature to protect one's own. And there is a certain psychological element at work here, too: Your own teacher is more likely to envision you at your full potential, rather than seeing you as you are at any given moment. If a judge has never seen you before, he marks exactly what he sees. But if he's been working with you every week for the last year, he knows what you're capable of, and sometimes that knowledge can have influence over his decision, even if only subconsciously.

Moreover, every judge has his own priorities. Judge "A" may be fanatical about proper footwork, while judge "B" is adamant about great posture. If judge "A" is your regular teacher, then chances are good that you will have great footwork. Now let's say that your posture isn't perfect. Your competition has great posture, but his feet are sloppy. Judge "A", your teacher, is more likely to mark you, while judge "B" is more likely to mark your competition. Is this because you take lessons with "A"? Yes. But it's not a political outcome... it's a result of the variety of priorities each judge has in terms of what he or she thinks makes good dancing.

In conclusion, politics do exist. But not all marks are as politically motivated as you might imagine. Politically-based markings can have a certain amount of influence, but that amount is limited. It can't make a loser win, and it can't make a winner lose. All it does is mix things up a little bit in the middle. So be smart, be nice, network, don't make huge waves, and most of all... be the best dancer you can be. Dance so that they have no choice but to mark you.

Jonathan Atkinson
Re: Unfair judging
Posted by Laura
2/17/2004  5:34:00 PM
I find the people who complain the loudest about unfair judging are the newer competitors who don't realize:

(a) How their dancing really measures up -- don't go by what your friends say! OF COURSE your friends and teammates are going to say you should have placed higher! So will people who want to be your friend, or want to attract you as a partner!

(b) On anything below championship level, the judges are looking for the least offensive dancer (i.e., the couple who sucks the least). A judge I've taken lesson from tells me that on the Novice level (so that's post-Gold for you East Coast College types) he's looking for three things: the couple stands up straight, is on time, and looks like they're enjoying what they are doing.

(c) How to evaluate the trade-offs between the lessers of the evils when looking at a bunch of beginner/advanced beginner/intermediate dancers (99% of collegiate dancers fall into these levels).

(d) How the skating system works and how little a single judge's marks tend to matter, or even a few judges' marks if there's lots of judges for the heat.

I'm not saying that politics and other weirdnesses don't exist. I am saying that after 6 years in this sport I find they exist a heck of a lot less than people think they do -- especially on the lower levels (meaning anything below Pre-Championship for the amateurs).

Your best bet is to take a tape of your dancing to your coach and go over it with him or her. Ask your coach to help you to understand why you weren't placed higher, and what the deal is with those the judges who you are accusing of block judging.
Re: Unfair judging
Posted by Change Things
2/18/2004  9:21:00 AM
This was copied from dancescape:

To web-impaired:
All the BU competitors are able to view their marks right after the competition. I am a competitor and I did see a block of votes by the 665 judges in the Championship and I wasn't in the Championship, just curious to see how judges placed. Some day I do want to get good enough to dance in the Championship and I want to be assured that the judges will judge the dancing, not place their students just because they are their students.
Yes, I'm sure this happens in most competitions, whether collegiate, professional or pro-am but that doesn't mean as competitors we have to blindly accept this and allow it to continue. By voicing our disgust in these types of forums, we can change things. I want to be judged fairly for the time and effort I put into dancing. If I dance poorly I don't want my coach to place me high, then I think I'm better than I truly am! If I dance great, I want to be placed high and not worry that someone who didn't dance as well placed over me due to politics.
What has happened to integrity? Look at Enron, Lycos, etc., in the business community. Do we want to foster this type of behavior in the dance community? I for one want to start blowing the whistle, just like people did in Enron. If we need to embarrass judges to make them truly look at the dancing and place fairly, then let's do it.
If you are coached at 665 you should be just as upset as I am. If you are one of the people they placed, too bad for you. Winning isn't winning if it's given to you! And, yes, I'm sure they are finding all kinds of excuses to justify their behavior but I was there and saw a big difference in the level of dancers.
To fix the problem maybe there is a way for our college comps to be judged by outsiders who don't know the players. Or, at least don't have more than one judge from each major dance studio in Boston. Since the judges won't police themselves, let's do it for them.

Re: Unfair judging
Posted by Change Things Fan
2/19/2004  8:40:00 AM
I like what Change Things had to say. Your proposal at the end sounds like a good one.

Re: Unfair judging
Posted by Jonathan Atkinson
2/23/2004  1:47:00 AM
Yes, I'm sure this happens in most competitions, whether collegiate, professional or pro-am but that doesn't mean as competitors we have to blindly accept this and allow it to continue.

Good luck to you. Rallying and protest are probably not your best tools to quell the problem, because much of what is perceived as unfairness or favoritism is actually just human nature. For example, as I mentioned above, your own teacher will be naturally more inclined to mark you because you will tend to exhibit the qualities that he considers a priority. All the screaming in the world won't change human nature.

Again, I don't see it as much of a problem, because in the end it tends to balance itself out. For every judge who might be biased in favor of you, there will probably be a judge biased against you. Of course, we only notice the ones who work against us, so the condition is probably greatly exaggerated.

Nonetheless, if you do want to minimize favoritism, you have to go to the source. There will always be people who break the rules, and for these people, simply having rules is not enough to deter them from temptation. The solution, in a perfect world, would be to either eliminate these kinds of people from the judging pool, or make the consequences severe enough to serve as an effective deterrent. In more concrete terms, that translates to either (1) Having rules in place that ban certain people from judging, such as teachers, competition organizers, friends, relatives, or anyone else with whom a competitor might have personal ties, or who can benefit either directly or indirectly from a competitor, or (2) holding judges fully accountable for their marks, such that if a competitor can show politically-based bias (as opposed to the more palatable "I'm not so keen on his dancing" bias), the judge can be suspended or removed from the judging pool.

Now I'm going to tell you why that will never happen...

Almost all judges in the world of ballroom dancing are former competitors, as well as teachers themselves. And they get around. Unlike a local teacher, who may have a following of 20 local students, a retired professional competitor will likely have students all over the country. They may take as little as one lesson a year each from this coach, but that's still one more lesson to add to the bias. Now at a competition, with a pool of, say, 20 judges and hundreds of competitors, how many of those judges do you think have absolutely no affilliation with any single competitor? As a competition organizer, how are you supposed to locate 25 well-qualified judges who are completely unaffiliated with any of the competition entrants? I'll tell you: You can't.

And remember, too, that the student-teacher relationship is only one of many affiliations that will have a tendency to create bias. Family members and friends would have to be banned from judging each other. In fact, you might have to disallow any relationship that may serve to cause any kind of bond or sense of "playing on the same team", such as poeple from the same studio, the same line of work, or even the same country (in the case of international competitions).

Taking it one step further, even simple recognition can often have an impact on one's marks. All things being equal, judges will tend to mark people they recognize over people they don't. Again, it's just human nature. But to prevent that, you'd have to have a rule banning anyone from judging the same person twice. Yeah, right.

You see, there are just too many factors involved and too many possibilities for ties that can create a likelihood of bias on some level, and the world (especially the dance world) is too small a place to realistically expect such luxuries. In the end, one has to expect a certain amount of bias, taking comfort in the fact that bias is somehwat self-regulating.

That's not to say that certain rules can't be put in place. Certain rules already have been. For example, family members can't judge their own at an NDCA-sanctioned event. And at international competitions, they usually have equal numbers of judges from all participating countries. But that's what I would refer to as a band-aid over cancer. It may make people feel good and think something has been done, but there are still a million other factors contributing to the bias that haven't been addressed... not because they won't, but because as I explained above, they simply can't.

As for making the punishment more severe, you'll be pleased to know that it already is severe. Problem is, the punitive system currently in place doesn't really work. The rules may state that a judge can lose his NDCA membership, but I've neer heard of anybody who actually has. The dance world is small and by nature incestuous. Everyone knows everyone, and everyone works for everyone else. You want to complain about a judge's behavior? Be my guest. Watch your marks go down even more next time. Go straight to the top brass, you say? Do what you will, but don't forget, you're complaining to the judge's best friend.

To solve this problem, the whole system would need to be overhauled. Problem is, the changes that would need to be made are severe, and would negatively impact the power and the salaries of those who decide the rules. Why would anyone in such a position want to change something if it doesn't benefit them?

To really make a difference, you'd likely have to start a union or something with some serious muscle. It's been tried before. To get it done right, you'll have to put your career on the line, because if it doesn't work out, you won't have too many friends n this business. But if you're successful, and you get the majority of dancers in this business behind you,you may finally get an unbiased result, in 4th place rather than 5th.

Any takers?

Re: Unfair judging
Posted by Unhappy
2/18/2004  9:59:00 AM

Thank you for your insight and honesty. I now have a much clearer understanding of judges.

Also, thanks for admitting that some "suck" and you're right, they don't get their way in the end.

You gave some wonderful advice and I appreciate your candor.

Re: Unfair judging
Posted by Onlooker
2/20/2004  3:22:00 AM
I live in Australia. Our adjudicators are at the very least as bad as yours in New England. Judging ones own pupils
as far as I am concerned should not be allowed. Some people here work the system. By that I mean they know exaxctly who is going to judge the next big competition, so they load up with lessons from that person, and if they have the money it will be persons. I've sugested that the judging panel be picked at random on the day so that nobody knows who will be judging what.Or the panel could be rotated for each and every dance as has been done in S. Africa. These suggestions have gone down like a lead balloon. It would seem that the people in control are quite happy to leave things exactly as they are.
Re: Unfair judging
Posted by Janet
2/22/2004  11:46:00 AM
My husband and I have been competiting for 15+ years, so I have a few opinions on judging.

First, we work with a coach that judges throughout the US, and he judges us often. I dread when he is a judge because he knows all our weaknesses and in fact judges us harder then the other competitors. Then there is that "What the hell were you doing" after the comp is over!! There may be the perception that we have an edge as we speak with the "judge" throughout the comp...but it is just not so.

Next, you are generally dancing with 6 or 7 couples and are judged in 30 seconds. There is no way you can be fairly judged during this time. First they look at your top lines, and your foot work may be horrible, yet still come in 1st place.!
My partner(husband) and I dance for ourselves and we know when you walk off the floor that we were dancing to the best of our abiity , and improved from the last comp....This is the real test. The judging is secondary. I know it does stink to do your best, feel great and score poorly. You just need to get beyond that and always remember it was only 30 seconds of your whole dance career.

Re: Unfair judging
Posted by Dragon
2/22/2004  12:42:00 PM
I appreciate your comments, and do understand everything you've said. I've been there too.

What I don't like, which has nothing to do with you, but perhaps more to do with the nature of making a complaint, is the fact that most people assume a complaint implies personal injury. I wasn't dancing, but did witness what I think was true bias. Most likely, if I had been dancing, I would have kept my disappointment to myself, since complaining reveals a bruised ego.

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