Unfairness in Competition Judging

I came upon an online discussion focusing on unfair and biased judging in the dance competition industry; it’s participants enumerating the best strategies for handling this practice of unfair judging. There were many suggestions, including emailing one’s feelings directly to the competition, explaining to parents that the reason their child didn’t win was due to judges’ biased decisions, and explaining to the children that they did indeed perform better than the judges’ evaluations suggested. As most of my readers know, I’m not really part of the competition segment of our industry, but as I read this discussion I thought: “What part of the dance industry at large (or any aspect of the arts) is actually fair?” I think that the appearance of biased judging can actually be good teaching moment for the dancers; not necessarily a teaching moment about dance, but about life. By making complaints to competitions, discussing the “unfairness” with the parents and telling the dancers that they were better than the judging suggested, and that they should have won, is not preparing them for the professional dance industry or adult life in general.

Early in my career I applied to choreograph a national tour of the Rodgers and Hammerstein Review “Some Enchanted Evening”. I submitted a video (a VHS tape, this was a long time ago). I was called in for an interview. I traveled in a snow storm to go to the interview (which went very well) and I was offered the job. I was told to expect a contract shortly. Did I get a contract? No. I got a message on my answering machine explaining that although they felt my work was superior, they would be hiring the producer’s brother in law, and they were sorry. (At least they were honest). Was that fair? That is this industry.

I didn’t lose a trophy that day. I lost a JOB; a job that once on my resume could have changed the course of my entire career. And so I moved on.

My experience teaching college and conservatory students today is that they are unable to accept any unfairness or disappointment. I think we need to use these moments to teach them how the world actually works and how to accept things that are unfair and out of our control.

Too harsh?

4 thoughts on “Unfairness in Competition Judging

  1. Totally concur with this post William.
    My own granddaughter didn’t place at a dance competition and my son in law bought her a medal from the event organisers … I was incensed!! Our subsequent dialogue went something like this “How is this child going to learn from & to cope with failure? Can you buy her academic qualifications come the day? How is she ever going to learn that she still has work to do? You cannot protect this little one from life’s disappointments … we have to give her tools to deal with that … not reward her for her shortfalls ….” actually on reflection it was more of a monologue. He was rendered speechless by my outburst …

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    • Perhaps the outburst needed to occur😉. The “every child gets a trophy” culture has made my job increasingly more difficult.

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  2. An important part of child development is learning how to handle disappointment. Many parents are just not capable of seeing their child unhappy. One of the hardest lessons for a person to learn is sometimes you work hard, do everything you’re supposed to do, you might even go above and beyond everyone else, but you still don’t “win” or achieve what you were hoping to. Resilience and grit is built and taught and not winning a competition is often a good, rather than a bad thing!

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    • Thanks for your thoughts. Not everyone agrees, according the comments in my social media accounts. It appears that these opinions are somewhat (but not completely) generational.

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