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What Do Irish Dance Judges Look For? #5 — A Positive First Impression

Ariel Bennett, ADCRG, is a teacher and judge who has been Irish dancing for 30 years.

When you are competing, you are being judged on your dancing. Your job as a dancer is practice hard at home, making sure that your steps, timing, and form are as good as they can possibly be.

If your steps, timing, and form are all better than the dancer next to you, you will receive the higher score. However, if you and the dancer next to you have equally good steps, timing, and form, then every little detail matters in determining who will receive the higher score. You need to make sure that everything about your performance shows the adjudicator that you are confident, polished, and prepared―even before you start dancing.

Here are some tips for impressing the judges right from your walk-out:

1 – Always double knot your shoelaces

If your laces come untied when you’re dancing, the judge will take points off. Loose laces can trip you or the other dancer, and they make you look unprepared.

2 – Floppy = sloppy

With gillies, tuck the ends of the laces into your shoe securely so that they don’t flop around. Floppy laces are distracting and ugly.

3 – Ditto for hard shoes and reel shoes

With your hard shoes or reel shoes, you should also tuck your laces in so they don’t flop around. Other ways to do this are wrapping black electrical tape around your foot (good for both hard shoes and reel shoes), putting the ends of your laces underneath your strap (good for hard shoes), or covering up the laces with wide elastics (good for hard shoes).

4 – Check your hard shoe strap

If your hard shoe strap is so long that the end hangs way past your buckle, cut off part of the end so that it’s shorter. Once again, anything floppy is distracting and unattractive.

5 –  Polish your shoes before the competition

Polish your shoes before the competition so they look nice and neat.

Screen shot 2013-10-30 at 10.06.00 AM6 – Check your socks

Girls: wear new poodle socks for the competition so they are bright white and not dingy. Always have a spare pair of socks with you in case you get a stain on one of them. Glue your socks up with sock glue so that they don’t slide down while you’re dancing, and make sure that both socks are pulled up to the same height. Gents: if your socks slide down around your ankles while you’re competing, you should use sock glue, too.

7 – Be sure your costume looks clean and pressed

Be sure your costume looks clean and pressed (not dirty or wrinkly). If any part of your costume tends to slide around―like your shirt comes untucked from your pants, for instance, gents―use safety pins to keep everything in place.

8 – Make sure your hair is neatly brushed back from your face

Use hairspray or gel to keep any flyaway wisps of hair from sliding out of place―and that goes for gents as well as ladies. If your hair flops around (especially if it flops in your face), it’s distracting. Girls: make sure any hair decorations (headbands, flowers, bows, feathers, etc) are securely fastened.

9 – Don’t wear jewelry

Don’t wear jewelry―no watches, rings, necklaces, or bracelets. Earrings are OK as long as they match your costume and don’t swing around. If you have a lucky necklace, I’ve seen dancers keep them secure by putting a piece of sports tape down on top of the chain, taping the chain to their chest. That’s all right as long as it doesn’t show under your costume.

10 – Rock the walk-out

Finally, remember that the judge’s first look at you comes when you walk out onstage. Make it count! Don’t rush. Walk at a medium speed, with confidence, like you’re on the fashion runway or going up to accept an Oscar. Lift your chin, eyes, and chest and tell yourself that you are AMAZING. And don’t forget to smile. A nice smile shows the judge that you feel relaxed and confident.

Let me emphasize again that YOUR DANCING IS ALWAYS THE MOST IMPORTANT THING. But, especially at a big competition like an Oireachtas, most of the dancers in your competition are very similar in ability, and most of them have been practicing just as hard as you have. Creating a positive impression can sometimes make all the difference in achieving your goals.


Photo credits: Image 1: Courtesy of Shelly Allen; Image 2: Courtesy of Christine Affenzeller.

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