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I am going to be honest, I don't understand feis judging, at least not completely, so maybe the title is not quite right. Maybe this should be called 'A Parents Guide to Helping Their Dancer Understand Why.'
I don't know how many feiseanna we have been to. I have reviewed somewhere around 40 over the last 3 years, but we, and you know I mean TGC, has been dancing for 8-ish years, so lets just say that 40 number is probably doubled. The first few years, TGC generally did well, and moved up quickly, but soon she was in bigger comps, and would sometimes place top 3, sometimes middle of the pack, and sometimes, well, lets just not talk about those times.
During those years I actually got a little frustrated with the inconsistent placements, not with TGC of course, but my inability to understand how it could be so inconsistent. At one feis I saw TGC dance 5 dances, not place in 4, but get 1st in the 5th, that was after having placed top 3 in everything the week before. How do you explain to a pre-pubescent young lady why she was so good one week, and so bad (her words) the next. 'I danced against the same girls, the same dances, why, why, why...?' OK, so maybe it wasn't quite that dramatic, but that is how I remember it
At another feis, TGC and a schoolmate took 1st and 2nd in one dance, and then 7th and 8th in the next, at the same feis. Meanwhile, in another comp, I saw top 3 dancers get scores in the 80s, and other dancers in the comp get scores in the 30s. As you can imagine, after a few feiseanna like that, there tends to be discussions among fellow parents who notice similar things, accusations, talks with the teacher, etc...
It was not until last year when I had the opportunity to work in the tabulation room of a local feis where things began to make sense. I got to see score sheets, and judges comments, and things began to become more clear.
Note: the following are my observations and opinions. It is not a commentary on how all judges do things.
One thing I observed was that some judges seemed to have a certain thing they comment on. If that happens to be your dancers weak point, and that judge judges 3 of the 4 dances for your dancer at a particular feis, well, you see where I am going with this.
Another observation, a school who tends to use newer steps, compared to one that uses, what some would consider 'completely traditional' steps, seemed to score a little better with one judge, and not as well with another. Not saying it is a conscious choice, but it was obvious enough for me to notice. See the comment above about 1st and 2nd versus 7th and 8th placements.
And the scores in the 80s for top 3, versus scores in the 30s for other top 10 placements? This one actually made the most sense to me. Judges need to review lots of dancers quickly, sometimes 25 in a comp. How would you handle it? I have seen a judge that very quickly ranks dancers into thirds and then ranks within that third. So number 1 may have an 88, and number 10 gets a 38. Another judge may see the same comp, and have all the dancers within a 10 point range, but judge one groups first, then ranks. To be honest, I don't know how any of them can keep all the dancers in a comp straight, especially when there are 25 of them, grouping into thirds or not.
What about when a dancer screws up and places 1st? How does that happen? It just 'HAS' to be favoritism, right? Nope, maybe its pure luck. Judges can't focus on 2 (or 3) dancers 100% of the time, so there is a 50(or 66)% chance if your dancer makes a mistake, the judge won't see it.
A side commentary, there are also the judges who want to say something nice, no matter what. While I was privy to the scoresheets, one particular judge had comments like 'A handsome lad', 'nice blue dress' and 'lovely vest'. Upon further reflection, I wonder if these comments were saying something else.
Maybe you have come to some of these conclusions yourself. Believe it or not, your dancer probably has. Maybe not as defined as the above, but have you ever heard your dancer say 'that judge doesn't like me', or, 'I always do well with that judge'. What do you think the chances are that a judge will remember your dancer, out of all the dancers that they see throughout a feis season? I say pretty slim. Makes my reasoning above almost make sense
I have literally seen one judge give TGC a first in one comp, and not place her in another, at the same feis. When things like that happen, and TGC looks at me with a 'what the feis' look on her face, I think now I might have an answer that will help her understand, at least a little bit. There is a delicate balance of a lot of little things that can affect her score, above and beyond her talent of course, and being able to explain those things lets her know that it is not necessarily her.
So, I am hoping that something I said above may help you the same way it has helped me. My advice, be on the safe side and have a smartphone handy that can Google local ice cream parlors near the feis venue.
In discussing the latest blog post with TGC yesterday, she mentioned a Voy post about bribing judges. In an effort to find that, I found another discussion that focuses on some of the politics behind judging. Check out Zebadiah B's comments. He hits some of the same points I mention in my post, only he did it years earlier (so much for my 'original' post idea :( ) , but he also covers a topic I had not considered. The whole discussion is worth a read: http://www.dance.net/topic/8765577/1/Irish/politics-in-judging.html
Had some interesting comments on our facebook page that I wanted to share (with the permission of the submitter). More food for thought.
"One of the factors that affects placing well in one dance and less well in another at the same feis is that all dancers "hear" some types of music better than others. We say there are "reel" people and "jig" people based on which type of music they respond better to. That extends to the other three types of music as well; some dancers who are very good at other types of music never can get the hang of slip jigs, for instance. There are dancers who excel at hornpipes but, unfortunately, dance their treble/double/heavy jigs as though they were hornpipes, and that creates problems. They may both be hardshoe dances but they demand different styles, and that's true of the soft shoe dances as well. I had one elfin student who couldn't score in her single jig to save her soul. I told her to growl before going on stage for single jig competition. It embarrassed the heck out of her but it worked - the single jig was the dance they boys did back in the era when boys weren't allowed to compete slip jigs (late 1980's; boys still don't compete slips in champs) and they're supposed to have an aggressive, muscular style while slips are flowing and graceful. Dancers who dance all their soft shoe dances with the same style will score well in those which fit that style but not so well in the others. That's "musicality.""
"Also, does your school pass on adjudicators' comments to the dancers? We do. A lot of them are "turnout" and "point" which are nearly universal, but the biggies are anything to do with timing or rhythm, and the kiss of death is "late start" which can put you in last place even if everything else was excellent. We feel that if the adjudicators took the time to write comments, our dancers need to see them. It helps to understand scores."